Jimmy Page (right) on stage with Robert Plant (left)

Jimmy Page (right) on stage with Robert Plant (left) ("Jimmy Page with Robert Plant 2 - Led Zeppelin - 1977" by Jim Summaria, http://www.jimsummariaphoto.com/ is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/?ref=openverse.)

In the realm of rock music, the electrifying wail of a guitar solo has the power to send shivers down your spine, ignite mosh pits, and leave a lasting impression on the soul. From the pioneering blues licks of the early days to the mind-bending shredding of modern metal, these instrumental bursts of brilliance have cemented their place as iconic moments in musical history. But with countless legendary guitarists and countless awe-inspiring solos, declaring the “best” guitar solos is a subjective and often passionate debate. This article delves into the electrifying world of guitar solos, exploring some of the most technically impressive, emotionally charged, and culturally influential solos that have ever been played, while acknowledging the diverse preferences and interpretations that make rock music such a captivating experience. So, grab your metaphorical air guitar, prepare to be amazed, and embark on a journey through the fiery world of six-string heroes and their unforgettable solos.

Let’s explore our list of the best guitar solos across different genres in music history. As always, we at StudyFinds have researched ten sources to help narrow down the consensus. Don’t see your favorite on the list? Don’t worry; we would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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A row of electric guitars at a store
A row of electric guitars (Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

Best Guitar Solos of All Time, According to Fans

1. “All Along the Watchtower” (1968) by Jimi Hendrix

Our first pick is a Hendrix cover of a Bob Dylan song, this time with some added solos. “The fact of the matter is that in 1968 when the song was released, guitarists just weren’t doing the things Jimi was doing. Through the song‘s four solos, his distinct psychedelic tone mixed with his innovative playing style — in the third solo, he used a cigarette lighter for the slides, and his trademark wah-wah pedal is most present in the fourth solo — give ‘Watchtower’ its frenzied spirit. It’s no wonder the song became the anthem of the Vietnam War,” says Insider.

According to Rolling Stone, “Bob Dylan told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in 1995 that he thought Hendrix improved his song. ‘He had such talent; he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using,” Insider added. 

“The iconic opening notes of Hendrix set the stage for a masterful solo that remains one of the most influential solos in history. With its signature effects and thunderous power chords, Hendrix created a piece of art that fans will remember forever. He served as a bridge between blues and rock, creating an uplifting sound that still gives chills today. His precise timing and feel were second to none, making this one of the greatest guitar solos ever performed,” observes Orchestra Central

“Jimi Hendrix’s solo in ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is a masterpiece of blues-infused rock. The energetic, wailing guitar lines create an intense feeling as Hendrix shows off his impressive fretboard dexterity and creative improvisation skills. Utilizing many techniques such as bending notes, sliding between chords, and using feedback to create a unique sound, the solo has become an iconic part of rock history. The late great guitarist brought together many styles. Including blues, funk, soul, and psychedelia that come together in this incredible performance. Even today, Hendrix’s solo is emulated by both aspiring and seasoned guitarists alike as they strive to master the legendary performance,” adds Guitar Pick Reviews.

2. “Comfortably Numb” (1979) by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour

“Either of Comfortably Numbs solos could qualify it for inclusion here, so the fact that Gilmour came up with both on the same track is simply inspired. The tone is legendary by itself. Gilmour has explained he created this impression by recording five or six takes and compiling the finished solo from the best bits of each. The result is stunningly well written, with a combination of repetition and development that keeps the excitement building for two minutes, says Guitar World. “A good solo can have great tone, rhythms, melody, or expression, but only a work of rare brilliance features them all to this degree.”

“The solo on ‘Comfortably Numb’ is kind of like Joe Walsh’s work on ‘Hotel California’ on cocaine. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour gives one of his best performances. Unsurprisingly, the masterful solo on ‘Comfortably Numb’ was painstakingly worked over and perfected. It’s one of the highlights of rock history,” adds Music in Minnesota.

“David Gilmour always pulls off the most emotional, heart-wrenching guitar performances; Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ is the rawest example of this. Even the toughest Marlon Brando-esque gangsters will struggle to not feel overcome when hearing this solo. It’s got everything you could want in a piece of music – drama, emotion, talent, and vulnerability. It will hit you right in the gut and spread throughout your entire body until a piece of your soul is forever changed by this overwhelming display of human warmth translated through a fretboard and an amp,” raves Guitar Guitar

3. “Eruption” (1978) by Eddie Van Halen

Known for its iconic tapping, the “Eruption” guitar solo may be one of the hardest to learn, but what an epic experience to listen to. “Way back in 1978, Van Halen’s self-titled debut album featured this mind-blowing instrumental guitar solo, which went on to inspire a generation of guitar heroes. No one had heard anything as groundbreaking since the days of Jimi Hendrix, with its mix of fast legato hammer-ons and pull-offs, pinched harmonics, whammy bar dives, and, of course, two-hand tapping. The tapping gets the attention, but the tone, blistering legato, and creative note choices are all equally important. Amid all that virtuosity, Eddie still played with joyous rock’ n’ roll abandon. It makes his playing appeal to people who never listen to shred instrumentals. A true masterpiece, one that could take a lifetime to perfect,” notes Guitar World

“Remarkably, Ed was never completely happy with the released recording. ‘I didn’t even play it right; there’s a mistake at the top end of it. Whenever I hear it, I always think, Man, I could’ve played it better. His admission aside, the track is a technical opus. His tapping finale is probably one of the least understood solo sections in rock history. Eddie’s taps are not always on the beat, which makes for tricky timing changes as he switches from tapping the first and fourth sextuplet notes to the third and sixth notes,” writes GuitarPlayer.”

“The ‘Eruption’ solo is full of chromatic tapping, hammer-ons, and dive bombs, yet there’s nothing about it that seems superfluous; every single note helps hook the listener in. Even more impressive – or perhaps frustrating to other guitarists – is that the solo started off as a riff Eddie would jam with Alex while warming up for a gig or before the Van Halen recording session until producer Ted Templeman encouraged him to record it. The solo forever changed the landscape and vocabulary of rock guitar playing, and it instantly became a measure of success whether or not you could play the ‘Eruption’ solo,” adds Insider.

4. “Stairway to Heaven” (1971) by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page

Few songs encapsulate the rock genre as much as “Stairway to Heaven,” which features one of the most famous guitar solos of all time by the legendary Jimmy Page. “Starting out with a soft acoustic riff, Page builds up the intensity with a few short but powerful solos that lead up to the final, extended solo. The way Page’s guitar soars and dives gives the listener a true feeling of transcendence as they journey through his incredible performance. Even today, aspiring guitarists strive to replicate the sound and structure of this timeless classic,” comments Guitar Pick Reviews.

“So good, so monumentally epic and in-its-own-league brilliant, it took a double-necked guitar and one of history’s greatest axeman to execute it, Zeppelin’s calling card defines the solo. It should be a set text for budding guitarists, and in fact, it is. ‘Stairway’ is the highest-selling piece of sheet music of all time. The key thing is, though, no one in history has bettered the original,” says NME.

“‘It was a milestone for us,’ the Page told Rolling Stone in 1975, four years after the song had appeared on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album. ‘Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time, and I guess we did it with Stairway.’ Page was preaching to the converted. His solo on ‘Stairway To Heaven’ takes a song about fate into the celestial realm, the guitarist hurling himself skyward with a divine performance that continues to inspire quasi-religious awe,” describes Dig.

5. “Hotel California” (1976) by Don Felder & Joe Walsh of The Eagles

Ending on a more somber and calmer note, this Eagles classic can usually be identified by the first guitar strum alone. “‘Hotel California’ is one of those guitar solos whose appeal expands beyond fans of classic rock. The whole vibe of the solo leaves you in awe, especially when you take into account the last lyrics you hear before it kicks off. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.’ Wow. The guitar helps you digest those heavy words and forces you to think back on what was being talked about the whole time. Using two guitarists to perform a duet gives this piece such weight it’s almost unbelievable to believe that it wasn’t as planned as you may think. Joe Walsh and Don Felder played off each other in a more spontaneous session to create the now iconic melody. The Eagles’ classic simply sends you to another place and time, a whole different world to our own and yet somehow, as familiar as the street you grew up on,” notes Guitar Guitar.

“The title track from the Eagles’ fifth album, and without doubt the song the band will be most remembered for, ‘Hotel California” frequently tops greatest guitar solo polls. The solo begins at which guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh trade licks before joining together to play those iconic harmonized licks. As it turns out, those harmony lines work in a relatively simple fashion. Felder and Walsh play an arpeggio of every chord, and the harmony is created by one of the guitars always playing one note lower down in the chord. This nugget of information can take you a long way to mastering those descending arpeggios. We won’t go as far as to say you could easily work it out by ear, but if you know the chords to the song, it’s possible to jam along. And you can’t say that about many of the solos on this list,” GuitarPlayer adds. 

HigherHZ goes on to rave that the song’s “solo is nothing less than a masterclass in phrasing and layering harmonies. Not to mention how many guitar players got turned onto playing guitar just by listening to this one. The arpeggiated melodies coupled with harmony in thirds in the latter part of the solo are a dictionary definition of a twin guitar attack. Besides being a legendary piece of lead guitar work, it also serves perfectly within the framework of the song! It’s an all-time classic!”

Sources:

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About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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32 Comments

  1. Owen says:

    Jimi Hendrix – Castles Made Of Sand

  2. MusicLover says:

    That’s isn’t even Jimmy Page’s best. IMO Go back one album and really listen to Since I Been Loving You, that lead done in the very 1st take. Some other tremendous leads not even mentioned.

  3. Danny O says:

    How bout Alvin Lee, the fastest guitar player ever!

    1. Bob k says:

      Alvin Lee great on I am going home ! The best ever ! !

    2. Fred says:

      ‘Fastest’ isn’t the same as ‘best’.

  4. Bryan Graham says:

    What happened to free bird really should have been in the top three

  5. Bud Ryan says:

    What a Pathetic List – I offer as Evidence the choice of the Eagles – C’mon! I suggest you watch The Big Lebowski.

    To my mind the 2 Best Electric Guitarists are Neil Young & Richard Thompson. I’ve seen Neil 54 times In Concert so I think I know something of his Guitar Playing. One of the times I saw him was on his 2nd Country Tour at The Peir in NYC & at the end of the show he played Down By the River & the Solo he played that night was By Far the Greatest Guitar Playing I’ve ever heard & the Music Critic for the New York Times said the same thing in his Review of the show.

    Richard Thompson has a new Live Album called LIVE In Nottingham 1986 that has some of the Best Guitar Playing of his career. I have also seen Mr. Thompson a number of times in concert starting at the Bottom Line in 86 thru to The Lensic in Santa Fe several years ago & he always brought some Incredible Guitar Playing!

    And how about Andy Gill of Gang of Four who plays such Interesting Bursts of Guitar on their first album Entertainment & he did the same every time I saw them Live especially on their 1st tour of the States. The same could be said for Keith Levene of early Public Image Limited especially on their album Metal Box & they put on an Incredible Show in New York in support of that album & although it was impossible to take your eyes off of John Lydon, Mr. Levene’s Guitar was giving off Sparks all night!

    And what of the Founding Guitarists of Rock’n’Roll like Scotty Moore & Chuck Berry to name just two. And what about all the Great Blues Guitarists like Howlin’ Wolf’s Hubert Sumlin & another Founder Robert Johnson, and they influenced the Great Guitarists Duane Allman & Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers.

    You could Bruce Springsteen on that list on 1 tour & 1 song – Darkness On the Edge of Town Tour which I was Lucky Enough to catch 5 times including 1 of the 3 shows he played at the Palladium in NYC & the last of 3 at the Capitol Theater, and it was Prove It All Night where Bruce let loose every night of that tour with the Most Incredible Guitar Playing of his Career!

    The more I think about it limiting The Best Rock’n’Roll Guitar Playing to just 5 Songs is Utterly Ridiculous I would think 25 would be a minimum number but 100 would better cover it because how can we leave out All the Tasty Guitar that Jerry Garcia played with the Dead & what Lou Reed did with the Velvet Underground…

  6. Ian Caldwell says:

    Wishbone Ash Blowing free.

  7. Fred says:

    Richard Thompson? Luther Dickinson? John Fahey? Martin Simpson? Skip James? Sonny Landreth?