Great guitar 'breaks" (as opposed to solos).

Sure, we all love a great guitar solo. In Blues and Rock, the guitarist plays runs and scales he has learned in his pursuit of becoming proficient on his chosen instrument. In Jazz, musicians (including of course guitarists) are given more freedom---the solo does not necessarily have to follow or even be related to the chords of the song (atonality).

But by "guitar "break", I’m speaking of something else. A break was common in Pop music prior to the transformation of Rock ’n’ Roll into Rock in the mid-60’s. A break was usually not much more than a variation of the melody of the song, the guitarist merely taking the place of the vocalist. Sound boring? It doesn’t have to be. Here are my nominees for "Best Guitar Breaks Of All Time":

- James Burton in Ricky Nelson’s "Young World". I imagine many of you have never heard the song, therefore the guitar break. Elvis liked James’ playing so much he stole him away from Ricky, and Roy Orbison had him play in his band at the T-Bone Burnett produced tribute show to Roy. The tone James got out of his Telecaster/Fender combo amp remains as good as it gets. His playing on this song defines "cool".

- George Harrison in "Nowhere Man". Compare this break with that in "Young World"; it is obviously modeled on it. George’s guitar sound is SO awesome on this song; he had switched from his Gretsch Country Gentleman into a Voxx amp sound to the Epiphone Casino into a Fender amp sound. Gone was clean sound, in was tube distortion. The signal from the mic on the amp was obviously heavily compressed (the sustain is insane!), and the resulting sound is just incredible. Dig the last note of the break---George hitting a high harmonic with his finger lightly resting on the string. So cool!

- Steve Cropper in "Green Onions" by Booker T & The MG’s. A master of phrasing, Cropper’s playing on this song (not just in the break) is the model for how to play guitar. Musical, tasteful, economic. Not a note uncalled for, nor unneeded. Good songwriter too ("Dock Of The Bay"). One of Robbie Robertson’s (another very musical guitarist) role models.

- Dave Edmunds in "I Hear You Knocking" (the old Smiley Lewis song) from his debut solo album in 1970. Dave is a great guitarist in many ways (he is the best Chuck Berry-style player I’m aware of. Keith Richards WISHES he could play like Dave), and on this song creates the most intense tension-and-release I’ve ever heard in music. Extremely sexual, extremely exciting. My favorite guitar break until I heard:

- Ry Cooder in "Lipstick Sunset" on John Hiatt’s Bring The Family album. I think this is the best guitar playing I’ve ever heard. I was fortunate enough to see Little Village live (that groups’ lineup was that of the Bring The Family album, John Hiatt being "just" a member. A true supergroup, consisting of Hiatt, Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner. Talk about a Million Dollar Quartet!), and during Ry’s break in "Lipstick Sunset" I experienced the most sublime musical moment in my entire life.

Would the Andrew Gold thing in Linda Rondstat’s "You’re No Good" qualify? Very George Harrison-esque.
I like how Paul Kossoff does all these little fills during Tons of Sobs playing totally within the song.
Ever listen to the Chris Whitley parts on Cassandra Wilson’s Blue Light Til Dawn? He’s got that resonator just humming behind her.
When I saw Terry Reid a few years ago, he used a local band. The guitarist had the tastiest ’fills’- not standard riffage.
I’m sure I’ve missed more than you know, but there are a few and the Andrew Gold thing is probably more solo than break, but it is very tasty.
Since we can’t include solos, I have to omit Duane Allman on Boz Scagg’s Loan Me a Dime. Whoa!
BTW, the annual hot rod show is on now, locus is the Continental Club. I expect Redd Volkaert will be there, doing his usual fine job. What a player that guy is! 
Well, as soon as I read the post what immediately came to mind was The National "Afraid of Everyone". Although there’s just a two-strum guitar lick at several places, those just make the song. Give it so much more meaning.

I thought of "Loan me a Dime as Well" but didn’t think it fit here. 

Great thread BTW
I loved "Loan Me A Dime" from the first time I heard it, and at that moment also became a Duane Allman fan (he was okay in Derek & The Dominoes too ;-). The first time I saw Boz Scaggs, he was playing rhythm guitar (only) in The Steve Miller Blues Band (as they were then called), before their first album. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area had it's advantages!
any of J.J. Cale's tasty little genius guitar breaks on his typically always short songs....every time I hear one I wish he would have strung it out just a little's like great meal that wasn't quite enough food to satisfy.

Hey @whart, Redd must live in Austin. Last time I was in town I went into a little bar to get a drink as soon as we arrived, and there was a drumset and couple of amps on the little stage. The band was on break, but when they came back Redd was the guitarist. I guess he was playing casuals around town when he was off the road with Merle. He’s one of the better Telecasters players around.

I also went to The Continental Club that time, to see and hear Wanda Jackson. She was a Rockabilly singer (not many female ones) on Capitol Records in the late-50’s/early-60’s, with a real "growly" voice. Real good lookin’ too. Pretty face, cool black hairdo, good figure and great legs. My kinda gal ;-) . Elvis’ too; they dated for awhile. She then went into the Gospel field.

Out of the blue she reappeared in 2011, making an album with Jack White producing! The following year she did one with Justin Townes Earle (Steve's son) producing, for Bluegrass label Sugar Hill.

Too many artists over the years had their best one night to comment, although, quite a few good posts above.
slaw ...were all related to geoff in some form or another, most just keep it to themselves.
Frank Zappa's guitar break during "More Trouble Every Day" from Roxy & Elsewhere is the best of his best guitar work.  Never get tired of it.  
My number one:
Jimi Hendrix on “Third Stone From the Sun” on the album Are You Experienced?
Charlie McCoy's guitar fills on Dylan's "Desolation Row".    They make the song and Charlie is not primarily a guitarist.  Genius on his and Dylan's part.
I gotta go with Ronnie Wood, The Faces, "Had me a real good time." The entire tune is a Ronnie Wood break!! From the 1st note til the last.... A great guitar line. 
Would like to mention Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine incredible guitar work on Matthew Sweet "Girlfriend". Doesn't follow any normal model. That recording is reissued now on a double vinyl. Get it :-)
Not certain if it fits, but Duane Allman (again) playing with Bonnie & Delaney, Come on in My Kitchen.
My favourite is Brian

Very tasteful mix of picking and rhythm guitar. The greatest guitarists can of course noodle but for the most part they provide rhythmic tension and release.

Andy is another example of minimal but extremely effective playing

Mike Campbell is another - so tasteful - Petty’s Wingman!

The best musicians PLAY FOR THE SONG 

@shadorne - if you like Rockabilly, Chris Spedding has been doing shows with Robert Gordon. Spedding is a pretty amazing talent, appears on lots of records, also of the "I’m not a rock star" school
@bdp24 -yep, Redd is here, as is the great Bill Kirchen, whose shows are always fun. Did you know he played trombone? Although we’ve heard him many times, his interlude of parodying different artists in the middle of "Hot Rod Lincoln" never fails to crack me up. They are both great Tele-players....
Don’t miss this concert. Fleetwood Mac Peter Green Live Boston Tea Party 1970. Black Magic Woman, Rattle Snake Shake etc. 
Mick Ronson contributed hugely to a lot of the 70ies Bowie music with his guitar.

@dweller, oh man, Jerry Douglas is one of my favorite musicians, ever! I've seen him with Alison Krauss (the two made a baby together ;-), and went to see him last time he came through Portland. Fantastic!

@whart, I first saw Kirchen live when Commander Cody was playing around San Francisco; great guitarist. Next time you talk to Bill, mention "Paul Skelton". Paul and I were bandmates in San Jose, L.A., and New York, and after relocating to Austin in the late-80's, he and Bill became pals. Paul was (RIP) also a Tele player, and is on all the Wayne Hancock albums (another guitarist I worked with---Evan Johns---took Paul's place in Wayne's band on the road). Paul was also the guitarist in the band of that Austin guy I've been telling you about, Cornell Hurd. Junior Brown has recorded a couple of Cornell's songs.

To add one to the "Great guitar breaks" list: the guitar playing at the end of Joni Mitchell's "Help Me." Larry Carlton,I believe. I will think of others.
Just thought of another one: Lukather's break in Rosanna by Toto. I think a lot of Lukather's playing as a sideman would qualify.

I believe I already mentioned "Walk Through The Fire" by Mary Gauthier (a superb song found on her fantastic Filth & Fire album) in the Tune Of The Day thread. I do so here in regard to the guitar playing of album producer Gurf Morlix, who made his name producing and playing guitar & singing harmony for Lucinda Williams up through and including her Car Wheels On A Gravel Road album.

Gurf’s guitar break on this song (it straddles the line between a break and a true solo) displays his superb abilities at phrasing---the timing of his notes. He is as good at it as anyone I have ever heard, and that includes Ry Cooder, Steve Cropper (Booker T & The MG’s), James Burton, Robbie Robertson, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Peter Green, Duane Allman, Albert King, Freddie King, B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix (who was mediocre in that regard imo), Jerry Garcia (less than mediocre ;-), and anyone else you would care to mention. I’m not overlooking Danny Gatton---phrasing wasn’t a priority for him. Phrasing isn’t even a consideration of many guitarists; Gurf milks every note, waiting for the tension created by holding a note to become almost unbearable before releasing that tension with his next. A very sexual player ;-). I will even rank Gurf’s playing on this song equal with Dave Edmunds’ on his fantastic recording of the Smiley Lewis song "I Hear You Knocking" (found on his debut solo album from 1970), still my all-time favorite guitar break (Ry Cooders’ in John Hiatt’s "Lipstick Sunset" is, I concede, more a solo than a break---it strays too far from the song’s melody to be the latter).

And then there is the tone of Gurf's guitar on this break; I’ve seen him live many times, and he always played a Fender Telecaster fitted with single-coil pickups, a guitar and pickups not known for sustain or thick "body" (yes argumentative types, there are exceptions). On this song, however, Gurf’s guitar & amp produce generous sustain and body, sounding much more like a Gibson fitted with double-coil (humbucker) pickups. He uses that sustain in service of his phrasing, and it works beautifully. Gurf’s guitar break/solo on this song is absolutely magnificent!


Great idea for a thread- excellent suggestions as above. I am a big fan of "Third stone from the Sun" as well. Are You Experienced? - such an incredible album.

Happy Listening!