Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour is one of the most unique and well-respected guitarists of all time. His work on the six-string underpinned one of the most influential bands ever to have existed. The psychedelic/prog rock pioneers’ back catalogue would not be the same without the vital input of Gilmour, a man who can only really be described as a genius.
Alongside maybe only Peter Green, founder of Fleetwood Mac, Gilmour’s emphasis on emotion in his guitar licks paved a new way for guitar playing. This ethos would transform alternative music forever, and it would go on to colour the work of many of our other favourite guitarists such as Kurt Cobain, J Mascis and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien. Gilmour’s work is particularly valued as it is situated somewhere in the centre of the vast Venn diagram of guitar styles.
His work on the guitar operates as a middle ground or bridge between many disparate styles of playing, and it is this that makes Gilmour so hallowed. He shreds, but never to overkill, he has a soft touch, but not too soft, and he is technically gifted but never shows off. In fact, a lot of his famous riffs are relatively simple, but it is the way they are played that makes them unique.
David Gilmour, as a guitarist, is an intricate patchwork of influences picked up from his journey through life, and it shows. Pink Floyd guitar tech Phil Taylor mirrored this sentiment when he stated: “It really is just his fingers, his vibrato, his choice of notes and how he sets his effects. In reality, no matter how well you duplicate the equipment, you will never be able to duplicate the personality.”
Building on our description of his style, in 2006, Jimmy Brown in Guitar World wrote of the white-haired wizard: “Characterised by simple, huge-sounding riffs; gutsy, well-paced solos; and rich, ambient chordal textures”. In 1994, after the release of The Division Bell, Gilmour explained: “(My) fingers make a distinctive sound… (they) aren’t very fast, but I think I am instantly recognisable.”
Such is the legacy of Gilmour and his iconic black Fender Stratocaster, that in 2006 he was voted the greatest Fender guitarist of all time – beating Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. His wry response was typical of an experienced musician: “Best ever Fender player will come around again, and it will be Eric or Jimi or someone. You can’t believe that stuff,” he said, adding: “Much as I’d love to believe I’m the best ever Fender guitar player, it just doesn’t really make sense.”
In mentioning Clapton and Hendrix, Gilmour alludes to the fact that he was influenced by the two ’60s legends and that he feels they are more important to guitar playing than he is. Yes, Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in ’68, but he is widely regarded as the definitive guitarist of the ’70s. If we take this fact in conjunction with the way that guitar is a palace, and that Clapton and Hendrix are some of the foundations, Gilmour is very much the floor that is laid atop them.
Gilmour has also mentioned the other guitarists that inspired him. He definitively told Uncut: “When you start out, you copy”. He explained: “Trying to be too original when you’re too young is possibly not the best thing. But I learned copying Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix. All sorts of people.”
At different times in his life, he has mentioned other key influences on his guitar playing. These are peer and Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, Hank Marvin, Chuck Berry, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Beck and Roy Buchanan. In 2019, when Gilmour auctioned off 126 of his guitars for charity, the Pink Floyd maestro answered a range of questions. One of which was: “Who inspired you and how did you manage to grow out of their shadow to sound so original?”.
Gilmour’s response was brilliant as it showed the true measure of the man, totally aware of himself: “So many players inspired me. I learned from Pete Seeger, Hank Marvin, Lead Belly, Joni Mitchell, John Fahey, Roy Buchanon, Jeff (Beck) and Eric (Clapton) and dozens more. I copied – don’t be afraid to copy – and eventually something that I suppose that I would call my own appeared.”
However, there is another guitarist we would posit that influenced Gilmour in a way that was more significant than the others we mentioned prior. That said, it wasn’t one guitarist, but three. In an interview with Mojo, he explained: “I really wish I had been in the Beatles“.
Gilmour expanded on the transformative impact the Beatles had on him: “(They) taught me how to play guitar; I learnt everything. The bass parts, the lead, the rhythm, everything. They were fantastic.”
In explicitly stating that the Beatles taught him to actually “play” the guitar and learn every aspect of it, there can be no denying that the fab four changed everything for the future Pink Floyd man. In fact, in the summer of ’65, Gilmour and Barrett busked around Spain and France playing Beatles covers. In this sense, the influence of the Beatles acted as the true catalyst that pushed Gilmour in the direction of a musical career and his education in the many ways of the six-string.
For these reasons, we would argue that George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney all make up somewhat of a supreme being of guitar work for Gilmour. As for so many others, they changed the way the guitar could be approached, and without them, music and guitar playing would not be the same. They showed the young Gilmour the different aspects of the guitar and songwriting, and this impact cannot be understated. The advent of the Beatles in the early sixties opened the guitar up to endless possibilities. They were the band that “blew the bloody doors off”.
Listen to David Gilmour talk about his guitar sound, below.