Do you remember where you were when you first heard Slash’s solo in “Sweet Child O’ Mine”? What about the first time you heard Eric Clapton’s “Layla”? Beyond anything that can be written on a page, musicians have gifted us with some of the best guitar solos rock music has to offer. Letting their fingers do the strumming (or picking), these guitarists create unforgettable moments in songs that leave us breathless.
There’s a reason the guitar is one of the most popular instruments in the world for musicians. When one thinks about rock and roll music, it’s hard not to have iconic guitar solos pop in your head; you can almost hear the strings being scraped with nothing short of brilliant intensity. Whether you fingerpick your Rick Turner Model 1 like Lindsey Buckingham or pick the strings of your Gibson Les Paul like Joe Perry, being a guitarist is nothing short of essential for creating the perfect rock song.
Just think of how many songs you’ve played air guitar for pretending you were Jimi Hendrix; better yet, think of how many guitar solos you could hum in your head without hearing them. I bet it’s more than you think. While lyrics are essential to a song, the music, melody, and notes are what make those lyrics attractive and intriguing to our brains. Next time you listen to your favorite song, you may notice some new things, maybe even parts of the guitar solo you’ve never heard.
With that being said, let’s explore our list of the best guitar solos in music history. As always, we at StudyFinds have researched ten sources to help narrow it down. Don’t see your favorite on the list? Don’t worry; we would love to hear from you in the comments below!
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.
— Senex 🎸🎹🎶reserva (@mix031316) May 26, 2023
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.”
Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb pic.twitter.com/bceIR9F0ko
— Prog Rock Songs (@progrocksongs) January 11, 2023
“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.
Eddie Van Halen with his guitars, 1982. Photo by Richard E. Aaron. pic.twitter.com/WdrLFsGOmV
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) June 29, 2023
“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.
Jimmy Page playing “Stairway to Heaven,” 1973. pic.twitter.com/BUp47P1iXr
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) July 3, 2022
“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.
"'Hotel California' is six minutes, the intro is a minute long, it stops in the middle with no drums and you've got a two-minute guitar solo at the end. It's the absolute wrong format for a single." – Don Felder, Eagles pic.twitter.com/WMcvBHCKOQ
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) February 26, 2023
“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!”
You might be interested in:
- Guitar World
- Guitar Guitar
- Guitar Pick Reviews
- Music in Minnesota
- Orchestra Central
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.