Hear Isolated Guitar Tracks From Some of Rock’s Greatest: Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton & More

It seems like near­ly every­thing that’s ever been record­ed even­tu­al­ly makes its way to Youtube—at least for a while. From his­toric speech­es by Gand­hi and Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. to the ram­bling con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries of obscure base­ment dwellers, you can hear it all. One par­tic­u­lar phe­nom­e­non in recent years is that of the “iso­lat­ed track,” the vocal and indi­vid­ual instru­ment record­ings from well-known songs, usu­al­ly tak­en direct­ly from the mas­ter tapes. We’ve fea­tured many of these, from famous drum­mers like John Bon­ham and Stew­art Copeland to bassists like Sting, Paul McCart­ney, and Queen’s John Dea­con.

Today, we bring you iso­lat­ed tracks from some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most cel­e­brat­ed gui­tarists, and we do so in full antic­i­pa­tion of a slew of out­raged “What about so and so!” com­ments. So to pre-empt some inevitably hurt feel­ings, bear in mind that the selec­tion of iso­lat­ed tracks online is—despite Youtube’s many riches—rather lim­it­ed. We’re work­ing with what’s avail­able here. And if you don’t see your Joe Pass or Bonamassa—two gui­tarists I great­ly admire—or any oth­er jazz or blues play­ers, it’s because we’re focus­ing specif­i­cal­ly on rock gui­tarists.

That said, let’s begin with what is arguably the most rec­og­niz­able gui­tar line since Jim­my Page’s work in “Stair­way to Heav­en.” You’ve heard the intro to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” an uncount­able num­ber of times—played beau­ti­ful­ly by Slash and his tal­ent­ed imi­ta­tors, and bad­ly by strug­gling stu­dents in music stores. But have you ever real­ly heard what the pre­mier 90s rock gui­tarist is doing in the rest of the song? Once Axl Rose starts wail­ing, it’s a bit hard to lis­ten to any­thing else. So take six min­utes and play through the entire iso­lat­ed track above. It’s a pret­ty stun­ning mix of del­i­cate arpeg­gios, punchy over­driv­en rhythms, and, of course, the soar­ing sus­tained lead lines and wah-wah mad­ness we know from those oh-so mem­o­rable solos. OnStage mag­a­zine has a nice lit­tle break­down of Slash’s tech­nique and tone. For a very thor­ough dis­sec­tion of the exact rig he used in the stu­dio to make these sounds, check out this arti­cle.

Before the mighty Slash, the most influ­en­tial rock gui­tarist was with­out a doubt Eddie Van Halen, whose sig­na­ture maneu­vers and tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions com­plete­ly changed how rock and met­al gui­tarists approached the instru­ment. Van Halen, writes Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock, “vir­tu­al­ly sin­gle-hand­ed­ly re-invent­ed the entire rock gui­tar lex­i­con with his blend of tone, tech­nique and sheer musi­cal­i­ty.” He did it two-hand­ed­ly also, more-or-less invent­ing two-hand­ed tap­ping, “a tech­nique in which Van Halen uses the fin­gers of his right hand to fret notes on the neck of the gui­tar, which allows him to phrase pas­sages very rapid­ly with­out the lim­i­ta­tions of a pick.” You can hear sev­er­al exam­ples in this list of top 10 Eddie Van Halen solos.

Just above, in the iso­lat­ed gui­tar track for “Pana­ma,” hear an often unre­marked aspect of Van Halen’s playing—his excep­tion­al rhythm work. Punc­tu­at­ed with grit­ty slides, dives, and bends, and the song’s famil­iar three-note riff, Van Halen’s rhythms are extra­or­di­nar­i­ly flu­id, musi­cal­ly expres­sive, and com­mand­ing­ly dynam­ic. His solo work here is subtle—not near­ly as flashy as in so many oth­er songs—but that allows us to focus all the more on how bril­liant his rhythm play­ing real­ly is. Like Slash, Van Halen had to com­pete with a ridicu­lous­ly flam­boy­ant singer, and like Slash, he often emerges as band’s real main attrac­tion.

Play “Free Bird,” man. No, I won’t. Well, not the whole thing. But lis­ten to that solo, all 4 plus min­utes of it, above, played by Allen Collins. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s three-gui­tar attack of Collins, Ed King, and Gary Ross­ing­ton may have seemed extrav­a­gant, or just plain indul­gent, but it served an impor­tant pur­pose: dupli­cat­ing the album record­ings per­fect­ly onstage. Band­leader Ron­nie Van Zandt “was such a stal­wart and stick­ler for perfection—so much so that every­one was sup­posed to play more or less the same solos they did on the album,” writes the blog One Week//One Band, “because that’s what the audi­ence came to hear.” Collin’s scream­ing solo—num­ber 3 in Gui­tar World’s top 100—came about by chance, as did the entire song, in fact, pieced togeth­er impromp­tu by the band dur­ing rehearsal. But why does “Free Bird” nev­er, ever seem to end? Ross­ing­ton has the sto­ry:

… We start­ed play­ing it in clubs, but it was just the slow part. Then Ron­nie said, “Why don’t you do some­thing at the end of that so I can take a break for a few min­utes?” so I came up with those three chords at the end and Allen played over them, then I soloed and then he soloed… it all evolved out of a jam one night. So, we start­ed play­ing it that way, but Ron­nie kept say­ing, “It’s not long enough. Make it longer.”

On the stu­dio ver­sion, “Collins played the entire solo him­self on his Gib­son Explor­er.” Says Ross­ing­ton, “He was bad. He was super bad! He was bad-to-the-bone bad… the way he was doin’ it, he was just so hot! He just did it once and did it again and it was done.” And there you have it.

If this list didn’t have any Clap­ton on it, I’d prob­a­bly get death threats. Luck­i­ly we have an iso­lat­ed Clap­ton track, but not from a Clap­ton band. Instead, above, hear his guest work on the George Har­ri­son-penned and ‑sung Bea­t­les’ song “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” from 1968. In a pre­vi­ous post on this mas­ter­ful­ly icon­ic record­ing, Mike Springer described Clapton’s tech­nique and gear: “For the impres­sion of a per­son weep­ing and wail­ing, Clap­ton used the fin­gers on his fret­ting hand to bend the strings deeply, in a high­ly expres­sive descend­ing vibra­to. He was play­ing a 1957 Gib­son Les Paul, a gui­tar he had once owned but had giv­en to Har­ri­son, who nick­named it ‘Lucy.’”

I’ll admit, I grew up assum­ing that Har­ri­son played the leads in this song, an assump­tion that col­ored my assess­ment of Harrison’s play­ing in gen­er­al. But while he’s cer­tain­ly no slouch, even he admit­ted that this was bet­ter left to the man they call “Slow­hand” (a nick­name, by the way, that has noth­ing to do with his play­ing). Typ­i­cal­ly hum­ble and under­stat­ed, Har­ri­son described to Gui­tar World in 1987 how Clap­ton came to guest on the song:

No, my ego would rather have Eric play on it. I’ll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not inter­est­ed in it at all. And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song. The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the ses­sion, and I said, “We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it.” He said, “Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Bea­t­les records.” I said, “Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it.” So Eric came in, and the oth­er guys were as good as gold–because he was there. Also, it left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal. So Eric played that, and I thought it was real­ly good. Then we lis­tened to it back, and he said, “Ah, there’s a prob­lem, though; it’s not Beat­ley enough”–so we put it through the ADT [auto­mat­ic dou­ble-track­er], to wob­ble it a bit.

It’s the wob­ble, I think that made me think of Har­ri­son, but now lis­ten­ing to it again above, pulled from its Beat­ley con­text, I just hear Clap­ton.

Just above, we have a gui­tarist most peo­ple have prob­a­bly nev­er heard of. But for cer­tain 90s music fans and play­ers, myself includ­ed, John Squire was an unsung hero of a British band many felt deserved more atten­tion than Blur and Oasis com­bined. I’m talk­ing about The Stone Ros­es, Mad­ch­ester col­leagues of bands like The Hap­py Mon­days and The Chameleons. Although the scene as a whole thrived on six­ties-revival dance grooves with hard­er drugs, Squire stood out for his qui­et self-con­fi­dence, sec­ond career as a painter, and bluesy, Hen­drix-inspired play­ing. I learned by heart his out­ro solos on the band’s barn­burn­er “I Am The Res­ur­rec­tion,” a wicked­ly inven­tive bit of work that any­one who knows the band knows well.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fol­low-up to their 1989 self-titled debut, 1994’s The Sec­ond Com­ing, was crit­i­cal­ly shunned and almost ignored by for­mer fans. Unfor­tu­nate tim­ing, I’d say. Jack White and the Black Keys had yet to make blues rock cool again, and the band had most­ly moved from play­ing like the Byrds to play­ing like the Yard­birds. Just above from that unloved sec­ond and final record, hear Squire’s iso­lat­ed play­ing on “Love Spreads,” a song sec­ond only to “Dri­ving South” as the band’s most potent appro­pri­a­tion of the blues. Squire, in my book, is a crim­i­nal­ly under­rat­ed gui­tarist who did some of his best work on a crim­i­nal­ly under­rat­ed album.

Final­ly, some excel­lent gui­tar work by a gui­tarist I love, play­ing with a band I don’t. But as much as I may dis­like the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers songs, I stand in awe of their mind-blow­ing musi­cian­ship. While bassist Flea gets most of the atten­tion, their long­time on-again, off-again gui­tarist John Frus­ciante is just as much, if not more, of a stand­out play­er. A musi­cal prodi­gy, Frusciante—who replaced Hil­lel Slo­vak after the latter’s 1988 overdose—joined the band at just 18 and com­plete­ly trans­formed their sound overnight with, writes Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, “Hen­drix­i­an force.”

In RHCP’s once inescapable ballad—“Under the Bridge”—he con­cocts a “poignant Beat­lesque melody” joined with funk licks and cho­rus-drenched chordal phras­es. Frus­ciante plays with a dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ty that’s instant­ly rec­og­niz­able, whether it’s with the Chili Pep­pers, The Mars Vol­ta, Duran Duran (!), or his own total­ly odd­ball solo records. An always unpre­dictable musi­cian, his once ama­teur­ish exper­i­ments with elec­tron­ic music have grown into full-blown acid house that sounds noth­ing like John Frus­ciante. Great stuff, but I hope he picks up the gui­tar again soon.

So yeah, I could have includ­ed iso­lat­ed tracks from Dime­bag Dar­rell or Jake E. Lee, bril­liant gui­tarists both. And lots of peo­ple seem to like those Avenged Sev­en­fold guys, though it ain’t my cup­pa tea. But this list is just a sam­pling and doesn’t pre­tend to be com­plete by any stretch. If you hap­pen to find some iso­lat­ed gui­tar tracks online that you think our read­ers should hear, by all means post them in the com­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Iso­lat­ed Tracks From Five Great Rock Bassists: McCart­ney, Sting, Dea­con, Jones & Lee

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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Comments (8)
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  • Uncle GrOve says:

    Thank you for retriev­ing these jems — but I’d like to say that these aren’t iso­lat­ed tracks but instead “stems” / buss out­puts of the grouped gui­tar parts that go into the final mix. this is par­tic­u­lar­ly obvi­ous on John Frus­ciante’s sam­ple.
    Still fas­ci­nat­ing tho’
    Peace love & rock n roll

  • Nighthawk454 says:

    The “Sweet Child O’ Mine” video above is not Slash’s play­ing — fair­ly obvi­ous upon lis­ten­ing. Also, these stems come from the Gui­tar Hero and Rock Band games, and ‘Sweet Child’ in GH2 was a cov­er, not the mas­ters from the album.

  • Ian McHugh says:

    As a proud Man­cun­ian it’s great to see a small part of the rest of the world being shown the tal­ent of John Squire — just 25 years too late. =;-))

  • John William Masselink says:

    i’d love to hear some mike bloom­field tracks

  • Bert says:

    This is nice, but there’s no dig­ging into where these tracks are com­ing from? A good guess would be Rock Band, but a bet­ter sto­ry is the ori­gin of these iso­lat­ed tracks. Is it a leak, can they be ripped from game soft­ware? where is it com­ing from?

  • KC says:

    Actu­al­ly genius…its a authen­tic out­take from the stu­dio pre pro­duc­tion.
    Tey again

  • Walter Dehaan says:

    I’m to find out how to down­load this web­site or if you have any addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion on the web­site to down­load mul­ti tracks for Gui­tar only ‚I don’t see how to down­load this web­site and let me know it would be great­ly appre­ci­at­ed thank you

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