What “Hotel California” Can Teach Guitar Players

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The Eagles recently announced they will play their ‘Hotel California’ album in its entirety on their upcoming tour dates.

Title track “Hotel California” is among the greatest, most recognized guitar tracks of all-time, simply put: it is an epic song demonstrating all the elements of Rock guitar mastery, it regularly tops – or ranks highly in – lists and charts of the best songs, guitar parts and solos ever.

Here are the key elements that make Hotel California the height of rock/pop guitar playing.

1 – The 12-string intro

The song is instantly recognizable for its significant introduction. As well as establishing the rolling chord progression (more on this below), the use of the 12-string guitar – more often used to create a rhythm guitar canvas than to be a feature part in its own right – creates a distinctive twinkly sound. This means the song is memorable from the first second, and helps to elevate it to iconic status.

2 – The 8-bar chord progression

Very often, chord progressions are 4 bars long, or sometimes 2 chords, or a static riff. The Hotel California chords breaks this ‘rule’, but does so in a significant way:

  1. The progression cycles through different chords, not repeating any until the final bar. This creates the effect of something that is ever-moving, which adds the ‘story’ feel of the song and prevents an 8-bar progression and 6-minute song from losing interest

  2. This has a knock on effect for both the main vocal, and the guitar solo when it comes. Both of these elements are essentially about how they sit above the chords. More chords equals more variation and more creative opportunity here

3 – Twin Guitars

Joe Walsh and Don Felder both play electric guitar on Hotel California, creating the harmonized, ‘dueling’ double lead guitar sound that partially made the band famous.

Again, this creates multiple effects, including:

  1. Greater harmony as both guitar lines intertwine
  2. More interest in a long song
  3. More features of narrative interest in a ‘story song’
  4. Greater energy, purpose and camaraderie

4 – Fills

Undoubtedly more famous for its guitar solo, the song’s fills are still incredibly significant. Besides the harmony created by the twin guitars as discussed above, they also serve important other purposes.

They contrast with – and respond to – the main vocal line, they fill space and create interest too.

Most importantly though, they represent a lead guitar presence that grows and accelerates as the song progresses, meaning the solo, when it comes, doesn’t feel as though it comes from nowhere. Instead it’s an extension of an idea and an energy that’s already present.

5 – The Solo

Arguably what the song is most famous for, certainly among guitarists, for whom learning this solo is a significant milestone in development.

It is one of the archetypical rock guitar solos. The reasons why include:

  1. The techniques present. This solo is almost a guide book in slides, bends, hammer-ons and pull offs, vibrato, legato, it’s all there and it’s all used to maximum effect
  2. The purpose and intent. It’s confidently played, articulate, every lick builds on the previous one, and speed and intensity grows throughout.
  3. The melody. Despite the speed, the legato, and the famous technical ending, this entire solo is ‘sing-able’. This is a crucial benchmark that so many don’t meet
  4. The length. It is two minutes long, but it doesn’t lose interest. Both guitarists work together and overlap to ensure this. This is also significant because a 2 minute solo is rare in such a commercial, popular pop/rock song, and because playing it well therefore represents an achievement of ability and consistency

Whether playing the rhythm or lead parts, on 6 or 12 strings, in basic or complex/advanced iterations, there is so much for any guitarist to learn from Hotel California.

Alex Bruce is a writer for Guitartricks.com and 30Daysinger.com

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