Former Pink Floyd member David Gilmour is a master of the guitar. Over decades of rich success, he has cultivated a unique style, unlike anybody else in the musical landscape. Like most budding musicians, in his early years, Gilmour styled himself on a series of his heroes as a way of finding his feet. However, ever the individualist, he soon learned that he could only play like David Gilmour.
Speaking with Relix in 2015, Gilmour noted that the Bluesbreakers’ albums with Eric Clapton and Peter Green were pivotal in his initial development as a guitarist. He explained: “All of those guys were incredible. I spent time trying to learn how to play their licks perfectly. I would suggest any young player should try to sit down and do that. You will wind up knowing how to play their stuff quite well. But eventually, you will find your own style from that. It forces its way out of the copying.”
However, even though Pink Floyd became one of the biggest bands on the planet, Gilmour was still envious of his peers, while they likely felt the same. During the 1980s, the music world had changed with bands such as Van Halen coming to the forefront of the scene, and as much as Gilmour admired Eddie Van Halen, he knew he was incapable of replicating his brilliance.
Speaking of his influences during a feature with Guitar World in 1985, Gilmour explained how his own vision has changed over the years and, in the process, named two of his biggest current heroes. He commented: “Of course, there were many. I was trying to learn 12-string acoustic guitar like Leadbelly at the same time I was trying to learn lead guitar like Hank Marvin and later Clapton. All of those different things had their moments and filtered through my learning process”.
Gilmour added: “These days I don’t listen to other people with the objective of trying to steal their licks, although I’ve got no objections to stealing them if that seems like a good idea. I’m sure that I’m still influenced by Mark Knopfler and Eddie Van Halen as well.”
Gilmour was then probed upon whether he’s attempted to adopt the “post-Van Halen technique” into his playing style. In response, the Pink Floyd member revealed that he’d love to have that skill in his arsenal, but he just isn’t capable of doing so.
He said: “I can’t play like Eddie Van Halen. I wish I could. I sat down to try some of those ideas and I can’t do it. I don’t know if I could ever get any of that stuff together. Sometimes I think I should work at the guitar more. I play every day but I don’t consciously practice scales or anything in particular.”
While in his early days, Gilmour tried to play like those he heard on the radio; if he was to become great, he had to move on from replication. Although he was blown away by what Van Halen could do with the instrument, he’d just sound like a pound shop version of Eddie if he tried to adopt a similar playing style.