For modern guitarists Edward Van Halen's unaccompanied solo "Eruption" remains one of the peaks of virtuosity and flash concentrated in under 2 minutes . However, this was not the first solo six string tour de force to inspire/discourage players the world over.
Travel back to 1937, between the World Wars; no electric guitars, no Marshall amps, Echoplex, Phase 90, whammy bars or other contemporary tools of the trade.
Django Reinhardt and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France were recording for the Gramophone/HMV label and Django was contracted to perform a solo guitar piece. He was not in the habit of playing or recording solo, had prepared nothing and was reticent to do so. Charles Delaunay, secretary of the Hot Club assured him that he only needed to improvise something and it would be great. Django relented and sat down before the mic.
In those days, 78 rpm records needed to be between 2 minutes to 3:20, so Django had Delaunay stand next to him keeping an eye on his watch to signal him at the 15-20 seconds to go point. What followed in the next 2 minutes and 59 seconds was an astounding display of truly musical improvisation incorporating arpeggios, lightning quick chromatic runs, flamenco style rasguedo flourishes, jazz chords, Gypsy melodies and an uncanny spontaneous resolution with harmonics. Take a listen, see how many licks you can cop, then try it using only your index and middle fingers.
~James H., GuitarHD
Django Reinhardt Improvisation #1
Improvisation n 1 - Django Reinhardt - 1937 Transcription: Gilles Rea