I have to confess something. I'm terrified of improvising. I grew up listening to amazing jazz records that showcased the most astounding feats of improvised playing - it sounded composed but it was so free! You could just hear the gears in the player's head whirring so fast...
I've known for along time that I'm a slow thinker. Not that I'm dumb (don't ask around though) but I just process things at a pace more suited to a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and a big window to stare out of blankly while I consider my response to your insightful question.
When faced with chord changes that are moving about one chord per every one or two seconds, I just freeze. Now to be fair, I've got a lot better than I used to be. I spend daily time now, improvising over now-familiar chord progressions. I outline the arpeggios and make sure the important notes get heard. I become familiar with the 'in's and 'out's of the harmonies. But when I know I have a solo to play at a show, I write it. Not that I sit down with pen and paper, but I create a solo that will sound improvised... but it's not.
Now don't be too eager to judge. There are a ton of great (and now iconic) rock guitar solos that were mapped out ahead of time. And what I do is hardly different. Actually, anymore I don't stop at writing one solo. I try to write two or three, using really different ideas. The result is that, at the show, no one of those solos gets played. I draw confidence from knowing that I have any part of three different (well-thought-out) solos in my fingers at any given moment. And that confidence sometimes leads me down a path that none of my pre-written solos dared.
So last week, at the Clearfield Salon, when Josh and I broke it down in the middle of Rise, I wasn't too nervous. He started it off - which helped! - and I only used the tail end of what I had worked out in advance. It was a really smooth transition from the peak of the solo back into the head of the tune. Since I was already a little extra nervous that night, leaning on that one piece made the break down section come to a really satisfying close.
Next time you see us live, you'll know a little more of what's going through my head...