The 25 Best Guitar Solos of All TimeGuitarSpotting
25 Best Guitar Solos of All Time
Rock n’ roll and guitar solos have gone hand in hand for nearly seventy five years.
Ever since Chuck Berry played the first few measures of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, rock fans have been mystified and amazed at what can be done with an electric guitar and the proper motivation.
But still, some guitar solos are better than others. And rock fans have been comparing and contrasting them for eons.
So we decided it’s about time we got our shred on, and counted down the 25 Best Guitar Solos of All Time.
A Change is Gonna Come
(We’d like to welcome John C. Rios to the team. John wrote this article, and will contribute occasionally going forward here at Guitarspotting).
In the 1960s, a new fascination with rock n’ roll ran concurrent to the popular social and political movements of the time, and experimentation and innovation quickly rose to the forefront of modern music.
The British Invasion had begun, and blues guitar was turned on its ear into an outlet for musical experimentation, as rock & roll became increasingly ingrained in youth culture. Young people around the globe were listening to guitar-centric, heavily blues-influenced groups like the Yardbirds and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, along with The Beatles, which eventually led to legendary bands and guitarists like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and many more.
Across the United States, the way we judged up-and-coming rock bands began to evolve.
“Super groups” and power trios were elevated above normal artists, and one of the main criteria for success relied heavily on how good their hotshot guitarist was.
This sense of rivalry and competition sparked fan wars that would last for the next 35 years, until what some might call the death of the Guitar God.
At the center of this phenomenon in music history lies the linchpin of what defines rock music: a magical element that elevates a good band into Rock God status. These always subjective, often decadent, and sometimes self-serving sounds are called guitar solos.
We’re about to go through the history of rock & roll and take a look at my personal, quintessential Top 25 Guitar Solos of All Time.
Given all the sub-genres of rock and a discography composed of at least 5 million songs over the last 70 years, one could easily spend a lifetime compiling the Top 500 solos of all time, and still miss some truly amazing stuff. However, I’d like our readers to consider this list the spark of imagination that lights a fire of fascination with the strange, flamboyant beasts that are the gods of guitar.
Go Johnny Go, Go
25. Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode
Released in 1958, Chuck Berry’s boisterous sound, fast licks and punched up tone on ‘Johnny B. Goode’ proved him to be a skilled lead player and the great, great grandfather of the guitar solos that would follow for generations ahead.
It didn’t hurt that he wrote his own songs either, and this semi-autobiographical tale showcased his ability to combine elements of blues, country, boogie-woogie and most importantly, that guitar sound, into something new and truly unique. Popular music would never be the same.
Chuck’s cocky, flamboyant stage antics would also serve to influence future guitar legends like Angus Young, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jimi Hendrix.
24. Tom Rothrock & Jim Wise – Goofy Goober Rock
OK. Hold it right there. Put down the pitchforks and torches. I get it. Right now you’re probably saying:
“F$%* this guy!”
But let me reiterate for you a few important details about what makes a great guitar solo. First, it’s not ALWAYS about being the fastest or the most technical. Many times it’s really about how well the solo serves the song. And second, let us also not forget that the death of the “Guitar God” happened in the mid to late 1990s. Sure, there are tons of metal, rock, and legacy acts still creating and revisiting those great face-melting leads. And many of us former shredder types are now in our forties and fifties with little aspiring shredders of our own.
But in truth, the heyday of rock guitar has entered a state of hibernation.
In this song, Tom Rothrock uses a classic Twisted Sister chord progression to take us on a full tilt, coast to coast tour of every major rock, blues and metal soloing technique imaginable. It’s a two minute guitar extravaganza, hot enough to melt a fry cook’s face yet tasty enough to be served at the Krusty Krab by SpongeBob himself.
The real reason it’s here though, is that it inspired and exposed millions of kids to the righteous guitar antics of yesteryear. It made a whole generation want to shred like SpongeBob. And all of this locks it in on my must listen list. As Plankton says, his chops are just too righteous.
23. Alvin Lee (Ten Years After) – I’m Going Home (live at Woodstock)
I’m only three solos in and already breaking the rules. I promised myself that this list would only be comprised of studio recorded solos, because heading down the rabbit hole of live performances is an entirely different article. However, I will make this one exception because this particular performance doesn’t exist on a studio album.
To start, Alvin Lee is a maniac on guitar and a true bluesman. The track takes us on a tour de force of the early origins of rock in a medley which includes bits of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Muddy Waters. This classic performance from Woodstock is a great example of riff-a-licious lead work and improvisation over 12 bar blues, played with lightning speed that forms a necessary juxtaposition to a more restrained bluesman like Eric Clapton.
With three different solo sections, Alvin Lee secured his rock legend status with this one.
22. Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) – Alive
Pearl Jam is one of the many causes of death for the traditional arena rock format of guitar and drum solos that had persisted for nearly 25 years prior to their arrival. However, when you take a hard look, Mike McCready is pound for pound the king of grunge-era guitar, and he was strongly influenced by guitarists like Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.
While it was a difficult decision, I chose ‘Alive’ over ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ for both energy and sheer technical merit in the guitar solo.
21. Ace Frehley (KISS) – Shock Me
You can’t have a guitar solo anthology without at least a mention of the Spaceman, Ace Frehley. Ace was, by proxy, every teenage boy who wanted to play guitar idol.
Aside from being super cool and wearing amazing makeup, Ace provided a gateway to playing tougher guitar parts. He was a great role model for someone who in many ways wasn’t the most technical guitarist.
Ace had swagger to spare and a bag of tricks that inspired a million guitarists that followed. He was arguably the first guy to describe his solo style as “falling down a flight of stairs and landing on his feet”. The other guy we’ll get to later in this list.
‘Shock Me’, while not the best or most well-known song in KISS’s discography, really showcases a young Ace at his best. Be on the lookout for the neat use of timing in the first part of the solo.
With Every Mistake We Must Surely Be Learning
20. Eric Clapton & The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Some people regard Eric Clapton as “God”. Others find his work after Cream to be listless and slow. Regardless of your position on him or his career, one track shines through above all else for its execution and pure emotional content.
The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was written by George Harrison, but features Eric Clapton on lead guitar. He was best friends with George at the time, and would later go on to marry Harrison’s ex-wife Pattie Boyd. Some say that this track represents the first emotional outpouring of Clapton’s interest in Boyd.
Regardless, the heavy chemistry and blues influence make for one of the best solos of all time.
For a bonus treat, check out Prince’s live version of this song from the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
19. Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Black Star
Love him or hate him (I once had a pin on my guitar strap that said: “Yngwie Who?”), Yngwie Malmsteen is considered by many to be one of the best guitarists of all time.
And ‘Black Star’ is a taste of everything that is good about Yngwie’s playing. It’s a solid showcase of technical skill, melodic musings, and tasteful use of speed, which complement the accompanying instrumental piece. It’s the best he has to offer and definitely something you should not overlook.
18. Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band) – Jessica
There is nothing further from our last entry than the slide guitar and southern charm of ‘Jessica’ by the Allman Brothers Band.
One of the most beautiful melodies in rock, this song was written by Dickey Betts for his daughter Jessica. And it features some of the sweetest slide guitar playing ever.
17. Brian Setzer (The Brian Setzer Orchestra) – Mr. Jazzer Goes Surfin’ & Mr. Surfer Goes Jazzin’
I’m breaking another rule with this one, but if there is anyone on the planet that can teach you the merits of Swing Jazz, Rockabilly, Surf Rock and Chord Solos, it is Brian Setzer.
Easily one of the most underrated players on this list, Brian’s two powerhouse juxtaposed solos here are great, one approaching Surf Rock with Jazz tendencies, and the other a Jazz piece with Surf Rock tendencies.
These two pieces together form a single tapestry from one of the most underappreciated guitarists alive.
16. Kirk Hammett (Metallica) – One
Hammett’s claim to fame is delivering meaningful and tasteful solos to thrash metal music.
And among his very best solos are the ones compiled inside of their deep thinking, first music video for ‘One’.
This is Metallica at their best, and Hammett at his most recognizable.
15. Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) – Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee
Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme has always been able to express himself with more than words, and is one of the more talented guitarists to come out of the “hair metal” scene.
This solo isn’t the longest or most technical from the GIT school of soloing, but definitely one of the most playful, colorful and theatrical.
It’s ‘Eruption’ for the 90’s.
It gets bonus points when you attach it to ‘Do You Wanna Play’ from the Bill and Ted’s Soundtrack.
14. Steve Vai – For the Love of God
There was a time where technique meant everything for a budding guitar god.
Well, GIT types have never had it better than this esoteric jaunt through the inner workings of a man who was once Frank Zappa’s touring lead guitarist, and the hired gun to replace Eddie Van Halen in David Lee Roth’s supergroup.
If that doesn’t tell you something about why this masterpiece of moody introspection is on this list, I’m afraid you’ll just need to listen to it for yourself.
13. Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien
What do you get when you mix Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer with a guy who taught Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa and a plethora of other amazing guitarists how to do things even they couldn’t do?
You get an outlandish over the top solo that highlights the “Professor” of GIT style guitar god royalty.
12. Frank Zappa – Muffin Man
When people were running around painting “Clapton is God” all over the place, somewhere in a dark corner of the universe Frank Zappa saw it while writing ‘Muffin Man’ and laughed heartily.
This solo has a heavy blues fusion and experimental angle that will break your mind into a million pieces, then show you a blueprint of every splintered and fractured piece with a diagram of how to put it back together again.
A huge honorable mention to Dweezil Zappa, Frank’s son, who is an amazing guitarist by any standard and can play everything from Halen to Hendrix with style. Sadly, Dweezil simply didn’t have a studio track that really cut the mustard for this list. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love him, though.
11. Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne) – No More Tears
When Ozzy asks you to take over permanent guitar duties for Randy Rhoads and help him write new material after a string of less successful applicants, you better know how to create the stuff of legends.
Zakk did just that and helped Ozzy blend in with the new metal sounds of the late 1990s.
Whereas Randy had mastered the classical metal approach, Zakk leans heavily on his blues and pentatonic roots. But don’t let that fool you… the man can cut heads with anyone from Slash to Steve Vai and walk away on top.
The solo on this track is a moody, dramatic, epic-sounding mix of Slash, Rhodes and SRV all filtered through Zakk’s own metal, pinched harmonic popping style that only he can claim.
You’re Only Coming Through in Waves
10. Randy Rhodes (Ozzy Osbourne) – Mr. Crowley
One of the most iconic and recognizable metal solos of all time, played by the quintessential example of an 80’s guitar god.
Randy’s tasteful, technical, classical style exuded feeling, exuberance and character, bringing forth the best part of his musical personality.
Despite the dark tone of the subject, both solos pay an immense reverence to the song around them and elevate it into the stuff metal legends are made of.
I wish the fadeout lasted another two minutes!
9. Ty Tabor (Kings X) – Moanjam
Yes, you read it right. Ty Tabor is in the Top 10. Now, listen why.
He is easily THE most underrated guitarist in rock music today. When compiling this list, my fourth biggest issue was deciding which of the probably half-dozen tracks from him I could put on here. The other three were Hendrix, SVR and Van Halen.
I opted to go with ‘Moanjam’ for several reasons. It is THE quintessential “how to play with a band” solo. King’s X may be the tightest rock band of all time, and Ty uses that to his lead playing advantage.
His playing screams Hendrix, Satriani, and even SRV, but with a distinctly more technical aspect than Hendrix or even SRV ever displayed, along with a hundred times more genuine blues feel and vibrancy than Satriani could ever hope for.
As a bonus lesson, check out his cover of ‘Manic Depression’ and the entire Dogman album for a glimpse at his incredible guitar tone.
8. Joe Walsh & Don Felder (Eagles) – Hotel California
One of the single most overplayed songs on rock radio. If somehow you managed to miss this one and are fortunate enough to be able to experience this with fresh ears, then be prepared for a treat.
Felder and Walsh weave a tapestry of pull offs that make up a true and instant classic. Despite its abuse by radio DJs nationwide, ‘Hotel California’ is the stuff of dueling rock god dreams.
7. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) – Comfortably Numb
Another highly overplayed song on rock radio, but a truly epic blues-laden masterpiece.
Gilmour soars to melodic heights using the simplest and most direct methods possible to reach them.
The first solo brings to mind a bird soaring high over a misty, beach surf, while the second solo brings the same bird back in armor and arms it with ominous firepower, then sends it off to dive bomb nearby battleships.
All I can say is that acid is a mean drug.
6. “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott (Pantera) – Cemetery Gates
Dime was one of those guys like SRV who was meant to play guitar.
Despite every opposing odd against him, he still somehow impossibly became one of the best of all time. Dime could play Kerry King style thrash metal solos, and without missing a beat jump into melodic Rhodes style arpeggio work, hop over to a straight up Ace Frehley style rock riff, and land firmly on SRV-quality Texas Blues.
He was a phenomenon and no one solo could sum up that legendary skill, but this one is a fitting example of a good chunk of his talent.
To Be a Rock and Not to Roll
5. Slash (Guns n’ Roses) – November Rain
If ever there was a blueprint for a guitar solo – one that deserved to be played by a swaggering, windswept, long-haired axeslinger outside a church in the middle of some windblown ghost town – this is THE one.
Like ‘No More Tears’ earlier in the list, Slash is the King of this sort of dramatic blues lead.
And he is at his most epic arena-rock best for this one.
While I am also a huge fan of ‘Paradise City’ and everything on Appetite for Destruction, this rock ballad epic wins the day.
4. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) – Stairway to Heaven
Speaking of EPIC guitar solos and the man that influenced EVERYONE who ever claimed to be a Guitar God, Jimmy Page has a library of solos that will spin your head around.
The thing to learn from Page is that emotion goes a long way.
Jimmy, while not always the most technical or tidiest player, was able to invoke melody and emotion from the blues in dramatic and epic ways. And while his improvisation skills were fantastic, Jimmy was at his best when he was writing solos for songs he arranged.
The song in question here is literally a three minute build up to the guitar solo. When it hits, it crushes everything around it and leaves you wanting more.
Other notable solos from Page include ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’, so be sure to check those out too.
3. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
What else can you really say about one of the most influential and innovative guitarists of all time? Jimi was a living incarnation of rock mythos right down to his tragic death.
His playing was undefinable.
His incredible tones and unique physicality allowed him to do so much more than other players, and his gangbuster style of attacking everything he played from twenty different angles until it fell over or stood up and pushed back made him probably the single most iconic player of all time.
Jimi’s biggest strength was his willingness to attempt things even he wasn’t sure he was capable of doing.
‘Voodoo Child’ is his serenade to all his naysayers and critics. Also check out ‘Voodoo Child’ and ‘Red House’ live videos on YouTube. In all honesty, the album version doesn’t do him justice.
2. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood
In my house there is only one king of the blues, and that man is Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Stevie was everything good about the marriage between blues and rock. A tremendous player with the unbridled soul of a blues man. Like Jimi, he loved Buddy Guy and both carried a huge flame for his playing.
Stevie had it all: chops, speed, feel, technicality, physique and even melody. What SRV can teach us all (besides everything about the blues) is that we don’t need to have a massive bag of tricks.
Stevie was amazingly good at what he did, and sounded like virtually no one else could because he felt every note of it. Being that good at one thing makes you sincere and can land you a studio gig with David Bowie or allow you to show up one of the greatest technical guitarists on the planet at an unplugged performance.
Feeling the music so honestly can make you one of the best guitar players alive.
‘Texas Flood’ is SRV’s ‘Voodoo Child’ (though he covered ‘Voodoo Child’ often and usually blew even Hendrix out of the water with his renditions) in that it represents his own personal blues style and sums up, inarguably, why everyone needs to give Stevie a listen.
1. Eddie Van Halen – Eruption
No surprises here coming from a guy who grew up with more posters of this man on his walls than Heather Locklear or Catherine Bach.
Eddie was the ultimate guitar hero.
From his boyish charm, to his “Brown Sound” tone, to his wild “Frankenstrat” guitar, Eddie had it all.
With an endless bag of tricks that no one had ever seen before, plus incredible chops and versatility, it any wonder why he is at the top of this essential solos list?
These last few entries have all been songs that epitomized the players.
Eddie has so many essential tracks from ‘Cathedral’ to ‘Little Guitars’ to ‘Intruder’, plus a plethora of classic in-song solos ranging from ‘Hot for Teacher’ to ‘I Can’t Wait to Feel Your Love Tonight’, and through the entire Sammy Hagar era.
It’s almost impossible to pin down his very best work. Instead, I selected the track that started it all.
The one single track that when you heard it for the first time, it puzzled and amazed you. ‘Eruption’ was Eddie’s introduction to the world, and became his calling card.
It was a ginormous ladder, taller than anyone had ever attempted to climb. Eddie scaled it in style. And when he landed, he had already secured his place in the annals of rock guitar royalty, and won over millions of disciples to his charm and skill.
It’s been nearly forty years since its release, and this solo will never stop impressing itself upon new generations of musicians. Enjoy!
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What’s Your # 1?
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