What makes a guitar solo great has always been up for debate among music fans and musicians. While a certain camp that loves flashy and extended leads that showcase speed and technique, others prefer short, memorable solos that one can even sing along to whenever the song comes on.
Personally, I tend towards the latter, but a healthy balance of both definitely makes for a good guitar solo. It can be simple but not lazy, or long but tells a story, or technical but never overpowering. In any case, a great guitar solo has a point — a reason for it to be there — and more often than not, takes the song to another level.
Pinoy Rock has no shortage of great guitar solos. Longtime fans and guitarists themselves are familiar with many of them throughout the decades: Teddy Diaz running up and down the fretboard on The Dawn’s “Enveloped Ideas,” Noel Mendez and Perf De Castro harmonizing “Hotel California”-style on Francis M’s “Kaleidoscope World,” Chino Singson’s bluesy breakdown on The Itchyworms’ “Beer,” and many more.
We’ve all heard these songs and know their solos almost note for note, and many written lists and playlists have compiled them. But now we feel it’s high time for an updated list that features 10 guitar solos that may have slipped through one’s radar or been overshadowed by the artists’ other songs with more recognizable guitar solos. A number of these have been done by acknowledged virtuosos, while others are by guitarists who aren’t even known for playing lead.
Arranged chronologically and not ranked, these may not be the absolute best guitar solos in Pinoy Rock, but they’re definitely worth appreciating, whether or not you actually play guitar.
“Fruitcake” – Eraserheads
Guitarist: Ely Buendia
Considering the band’s enduring popularity and importance, it’s a bit strange that hardly any list of great Pinoy Rock guitar solos includes anything by the Eraserheads. But it’s not quite surprising, either; Ely Buendia and his mates inspired people to start bands and write their own songs more than become better players. But the ‘Heads are great players, mind you, and this holiday anthem’s short but sweet solo reminiscent of (and predates) the one on the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Ava Adore” deserves the spotlight.
“Insomya” – Sugarfree
Guitarist: Ebe Dancel
Ebe Dancel is known more for his poignant, proto-hugot lyricism, big choruses, and catchy vocal melodies, but he is no slouch on the guitar, either. On “Insomya” from Sugarfree’s 2003 debut Sa Wakas, he manages a simple solo that just levitates the sad, downtempo track about sleeplessness and wakes the listener up.
“Sailing” – Urbandub
Guitarist: John Dinopol
Given the weight of the other tracks on Urbandub’s breakout second album Influence, this 311-esque reggae-rock hybrid seems like filler (or a guilty pleasure at the very least) in comparison to the likes of “Soul Searching” or “Gone.” Good thing John Dinopol embellishes the song with what turns out to be the only actual guitar solo on the entire record, and he makes the most of the opportunity to showcase his skills and elevate the track.
“Liwanag Sa Dilim” – Rivermaya
Guitarist: Mike Elgar
Nevermind the solos of “214” or “Awit Ng Kabataan” — here’s one that’s practically all flash but works. Already a guitar legend since his high school days, Rivermaya’s second-longest tenured member Mike Elgar does it all — hammer-ons, pull-offs, two-handed tapping, and more — to come up with a solo that’s both a 20-second lead guitar lesson and his bid to create an iconic, blazing guitar solo of his own to add to the band’s storied discography.
“Alak Sugal Kape Babae Kabaong” – Radioactive Sago Project
Guitarist: Junji Lerma
Underrated axeman Junji Lerma (who has also played with Hijo, Budhi, Four Corners MNL, and more) lets it rip on this standout track on Radioactive Sago Project’s 2008 opus Tang*namo Andaming Nagugutom Sa Mundo Fashionista Ka Pa Rin. Lerma riffs with the acclaimed jazz-punk-spoken word ensemble as they shift from Afro-Cuban jazz mode to high-gear punk rock, and lets loose a wild yet tasteful barrage of wah-wah’d notes that evokes John Frusciante and Jimi Hendrix.
“Penge Naman Ako N’yan” – The Itchyworms
Guitarist: Chino Singson
The intro and solo on “Beer” may be Chino Singson’s most recognizable lead lines of his output with the Itchyworms, but the guitar work on the opening track of the band’s 2008 Self-Titled album deserves as much recognition, if not more. From the unison bends of the chorus hook to the climactic solo that is as ingenious as it is melodic, “Penge Naman Ako N’yan” is a guitar tour de force, largely due to one of Pinoy Rock’s classiest players who has always known how to serve the song more than anything else.
“Kumapit Ka Tuwing Lunes” – Peryodiko
Guitarist: Kakoy Legaspi
Whether they liked it or not, the original lineup of Peryodiko was a supergroup in all aspects, and their 2009 self-titled debut is an absolute indie folk-rock classic. Ace guitarist Kakoy Legaspi (who has also played for Rivermaya, Barbie’s Cradle, Bamboo, and Brass Pas Pas Pas Pas, among others) sprinkles each track with his magic dust, and empties the bag on the closing solo of “Kumapit Ka Tuwing Lunes.” Legaspi wails and shreds to his heart’s content until the song ends, but he also gives every note space to breathe, allowing each one to count.
“Pait” – Ang Bandang Shirley
Guitarist: Joe Fontanilla
For a band that has had as many as three guitarists in their earlier days, it’s peculiar that Ang Bandang Shirley are rarely praised for their intricate guitar work, and instead loved for their “mushpit”-inducing indie rock anthems. However, “Pait” from 2013’s Tama Na Ang Drama gives Joe Fontanilla a chance to shine, as he crafts a brief but epic solo that channels Nels Cline on Wilco’s “Impossible Germany,” but flavored with his own impeccable taste that complements the track’s bitter verses.
“25” – The Purplechickens
Guitarists: Aldus Santos, Marco Harder
Singer-guitarists Aldus Santos (who usually sings lead) and Marco Harder (who typically plays lead guitar) trade places on this tuneful yet anxious track on 2013’s critically acclaimed Haláng, which sounds like the Apo Hiking Society as performed by Radiohead. Santos goes all Jonny Greenwood on the first solo with rapid tremolo picking, while Harder tackles the second with adept jazzy runs and bends.
“Four Corners” – Oh, Flamingo!
Guitarist: Howard Luistro
Oh, Flamingo! appeared on the indie scene with a fully-formed sound and identity, a funk-prog fusion with Beatles-esque melodic sensibilities. With such a tight rhythm section, it’s easy to overlook the excellent guitar work by Howard Luistro and Pappu De Leon, with their unique chord voicings and atypical leads. Their sublime 2019 single “Four Corners” features a beautiful solo by Luistro, in which he uses the fewest notes possible, bending them back and forth to create more tension and drama.