I’ve thought about this a lot lately: what’s the greatest guitar solo ever? I know that’s a purely subjective thing, so really what I’m asking is, what’s the greatest solo ever to me? Well, that’s surprisingly easy: Frank Zappa’s lead on “Any Kind Of Pain” from Broadway the Hard Way. In true Frank style this solo is improvised, and I’ve heard bootlegs of various shows from the 1988 tour which are cool, but not as magical as this one. The take heard on the Broadway The Hard Way album is actually an edited version of this performance, chopping out a big section in the middle. Although the solo’s great in its full version, the edit on the album seems to really kick it up a notch. Here’s the solo as it originally went down.
And here’s Mike Keneally playing it at the Zappa’s Universe concert, very much like the album version.
I interviewed Dweezil Zappa recently for a magazine and we discussed this solo and the unique tone Frank used on that tour (and which Dweezil recreates when Zappa Plays Zappa performs the song). Here’s what Dweezil had to say.
“It’s a great sound that he uses. That ended up being a trickier one to play over because you can’t hide behind the sound. It’s like, there it is! The thing about that sound is, he’s not playing through anything particularly special there. On that tour he was using a Roland GP8 that I programmed a bunch of sounds on, and that was like a $200 thing back in the 80s. But his guitar had that onboard preamp and equalisation and stuff, so he had extra gain from his guitar so it would allow him to really utilise that sound differently than a guitar with different impedance and everything, because it’s hard to get that kind of sustain from a clean sound and compression without getting a tonne of noise. But his guitar was set up very differently to a normal guitar so he was able to achieve that sound without a tonne of extra hiss and noise. So it sounds good!”
What I really love about this solo – and Frank’s playing on the ’88 tour in general – is that it’s so emotional and sensitive, not qualities some people associate with Frank. But that vibe is scattered throughout his work if you look for it: “Zoot Allures,” “Outside Now,” “Inca Roads” etc. But for me Frank really, really nailed it on this solo. It’s so melodic. It tells a story. His phrasing is uniquely Frank. His tone is so clean that it would freak many players out to play through such a rig. And I guess all of that, combined, is what makes this my favourite solo ever. It couldn’t have been created by anyone else on any other night. It happened in the moment and it spoke volumes.