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The 15 best guitar solos of all time

One of the main factors of the Cultural Revolution that took place in the 20th century was rock ‘n roll itself.

Spearheading the age of spiritual and social change were the big rock bands of that era.

Since the guitar, as an instrument, is the focal point of almost every rock song ever written, this 6-stringed instrument became the main sign of the times.

Every rock band had a flashy guitarist that was a master of his craft and solos were a great way to showcase the playing wizardry as well as enlighten our souls in an orgasmic climax within the song.

greatest guitar solos of all time

I took it upon myself to do the daunting task of trying to come up with a list of 15 solos that are an all-encompassing representation of this legendary art form.

My approach was based upon the scenario in which an alien life form came to earth and wanted to know something about our favorite leisure time activities.

If you would say that it’s listening to rock and roll and wanted to introduce the said creature to some of the best solos ever created, this article would come in handy.

These are the greatest guitar solos:

15. Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) – The Writing on the Wall

The first ever 32 bar-long Maiden solo comes from their 2021 mammoth opus Senjutsu. Almost 50 years into their career, Mr. Smith came up with one of the most soul-shattering solos of all time.

Since the band embarked on their current tour, my Instagram feed has been cramped full of kids turning their cameras on at that exact moment in which Adrian starts the epochal solo and posting it for all of our viewing pleasure.

Heavily inspired by the modern blues giants (think Gary Moore), his phrasing is the stuff of legends.

The tasteful, yet technically proficient licks are soaring through this masterpiece of guitar work.

Preceded by the Dave Murray solo and a melodic interlude, Adrian’s solo comfortably sits over a natural minor backing track and leads us into the climactic last chorus.

His choice of notes on which he chooses to land and stay for longer is probably the best I think I’ve ever heard.

The amount of emotion he is able to bring to his solos is only matched by some of the other gentlemen you will find on this list!

14. Dimebag Darrell (Pantera) – Walk

The 90s were a strange time for guitar heroes; especially in the world of the more hard-hitting rock genres.

Guitar solos as an art form became frowned upon and thought of as being passé.

Out of nowhere (take that with a pinch of salt) came Dime with his spectacular technique and an utterly unique style of guitar playing.

Although the metal underground was full of talented guitar players, it was Dimebag and Pantera that managed to break into the mainstream and become global superstars.

The solo in Walk is a prime example of his virtuosity, a real knack for avant-garde guitar passages as well as a great sense of melody.

Often emulated, but never matched, Mr. Darrell still stands the test of time as a giant among rock guitar players.

13. R.M. Tocak (Smak) – Ulazak u harem

It is a great honor for me to introduce you fine folk outside of the ex-Yugo territories to one of the finest rock players of all time. It just so happens that he comes from my home country of Serbia.

Remember, this was before the days of the internet and it was the early 70s in Serbia. Getting to buy the western rock bands’ albums as well as getting an electric guitar was nearly impossible.

The guys from Smak managed to get their hands on all the classic Hendrix, Purple, and Zeppelin albums as well as the necessary instruments.

The blood-chilling phrases Tocak uses in this piece are a deadly cocktail of different modern-day rock melodic tendencies mixed with some of the local harmonic spices.

If you are willing to be taken to a whole different world of exotic soundscapes, lovely mystic textures, as well as masterful guitar playing, I highly suggest you check this piece. It is probably the crown jewel in the catalog of one of the best rock bands from this part of the world!

12. Tim Henson (Polyphia) – G.O.A.T.

Henson is definitely the newest entry on this list. Riding the wave of the early 21st-century guitar revival, the twin guitar attack of Polyphia is anything but going down the well-trodden path of the legendary guitar duos of the 80s.

Their Olympic-level guitar pyrotechnics are a joy to behold – an utter case of highly innovative, cutting-edge, yet highly listenable guitar bravuras.

The funny thing is, you can’t really call any part of this song a standout “solo”. The whole thing is a modern guitar showpiece that is sure to shake the foundations of all the “boomer bend” based classic rock songs and give them a run for its money.

It is worth noting that the basic track of this song is influenced by some newer trap music flavors which provide the necessary groove that is a huge factor in this song going really viral. Besides the masterful guitar playing, that is.

I encourage any guitar player that feels that his playing has gotten a bit stale to try and figure this one out. It is sure to open so many new avenues for your guitar playing, you will be surprised!

A true modern guitar masterpiece!

11. Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Rising Force

We all know who Yngwie is. Yngwie J., so not to be confused with other Yngwie Malmsteen’s out there!

This Swedish guitar virtuoso, with a help of a few fellow guitar giants of his time (try Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai for starters), created a whole new style of guitar playing.

Affectionately known as “shredding”, this guitar style took the guitar playing technique to a whole new level during the early 80s.

Although his first album might be the best showcase of his plethora of different techniques, I have chosen this song for a good reason.

Namely, this song is not instrumental and I find it stunning the way he incorporated his virtuoso style without sacrificing the overarching vibe of the song.

His fills, riffs, and all those good bits are just bone-chilling. However, the absolute superstar here is his solo!

Highly influenced by the classical composers of the Baroque era (try Paganini, Vivaldi, and Bach for starters), he embarked upon a somewhat-trodden path (check Ritchie Blackmore’s Burn solo) of broadening the rock guitar players’ harmonic vocabulary.

This solo is one of the best examples of that style. Baroque and roll at its best!

10. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower

Well, what can be said about Jimi Hendrix…

The man single-handedly invented the modern rock guitar solo as we know it. Even today, yes. He had a little help from his friends (no, not you Ringo), of course.

The blues-influenced guitar pyrotechnics are ever-present in this great guitar showpiece.

Originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower” is a fantastic song that even got better when played by Mr. Hendrix.

His guitar work here is one of his more contrived pieces since it was all about serving the song with this one. You shouldn’t approach it in any other way; it’s a Dylan song for Christ’s sake!

The phrasing, the technique, the expressiveness of his playing…It’s all here! A must-hear for any guitar player!

9. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) – Stairway to Heaven

Yet another James enters the list! Affectionately known as Jimmy, Mr. Page is first of all a master composer.

Playing wise, he is incredibly creative, but somewhat sloppy. Especially live. However, his studio recordings retain the earthy quality mostly because of a healthy dose of sloppiness.

His soloing style is mostly blues influenced, and this piece is no exception. “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the greatest songs ever created. Its ever-building intensity climaxes at the point of Jimmy’s solo and carries on to excel ‘till the very end of the song.

The solo features a tasty blend of impressive technique, melodic phrasing as well as much-needed rest notes. It’s a true example of incredible compositional ability, technical abilities, and working to suit the best needs of the song.

It is for a very good reason that this song was banned from being played at guitar stores at a certain point!

8. Allen Collins and Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd) – Freebird

This one’s a usual suspect since it’s featured on almost every list of greatest ever guitar solos. It’s a resident on most lists with good reason.

This one is a real cornucopia of everything you want in a guitar solo.

It starts off in a more melodic and thought-out passion with melodies that pierce through your heart in the best possible way. The next section is a showcase of everything that rock guitar playing brought to the table. The sheer power, intensity, and flair are taking the whole song to another level.

The guitar-playing duo took everything that they had learned up to that point and played their hearts out! This is truly an emotional guitar-playing behemoth of a solo!

7. Brian May (Queen) – Bohemian Rhapsody

How could you possibly make an already perfect song even better? Well, ask Brian May. Since the man has the knack for doing such things.

The best example is, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Soloing over a somewhat complex harmonic structure, he managed to create a lead break that even yo mamma can sing and hum to. The sheer emotional quality of the solo and the point at which it appears in the song are just legendary.

One of the most impressive feats here is the rhythmical phrases he incorporates. Notice the overlapping triplets he plays! Wow! It is utterly impressive and truly inspirational.

One of Brian May’s fortes is his distinct sound, courtesy of a custom-made guitar (by him and his dad) and the fact that he plays with an English pound instead of a guitar pick.

May is one of the best guitarists to study if you are a budding guitar player and/or a composer!

6. Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover

This is an exercise in string skipping, but not only that.

This is not really a solo. It’s a whole song that is instrumental in nature in which the guitar tells most of the story.

Mr. Johnson’s technical abilities are only matched by his compositional skills. How often do you bump into a song that equally impresses guitar nerds as well as your parents? I would imagine it’s not very often.

Well, this song managed to emerge out of the status of a cult guitar hit and become a real mainstream hit.

What else can be said… Once you know how to play this one, you know how to play pretty much everything!

5. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) – Eruption

Off all the songs on this list, this one most definitely deserves its name to the fullest!

It is no wonder that EVH is considered to be the Jimi Hendrix of his generation. His playing style and ability are what revolutionized rock guitar in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, laying the groundwork for the modern-day guitar playing style.

The centerpiece of his opus is definitely “Eruption”. Full of sizzling licks and guitar acrobatics played with an impeccable taste for phrasing and voicing.

It is worth noting that this piece is literally one guitar track without any backing track. Still, it managed to become a certain sort of modern-day guitar vocabulary.

You won’t find a budding guitar player that doesn’t try to learn how to play this great piece! If you haven’t heard this one, it’s a total must!

4. Don Felder and Joe Walsh (Eagles) – Hotel California

This is definitely among the mellowest entries on this list!

This 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!

3. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) – Smoke on the Water

Ah, Mr. Blackmore… The forefather of shred guitar!

This impeccable piece of guitar extravaganza is a lethal blend of bluesy licks, neoclassical harmonies and a ton of eccentric guitar acrobatics.

It starts off with a series of bluesy licks coupled with counter-intuitive harmonizing over a static chord. After that, it launches into a legendary sing-along baroque-inspired part.

And finally, it climaxes with a waterfall of tremolo-picked chromatic scale-inspired licks that launch the song into an epic, orgasmic level of intensity.

It’s another true masterpiece!

2. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) – Sultans of Swing

This one is a piece of finger-picking heaven!

Mark Knopfler was a literal God with a Strat in hand (at that time at least) and his unique pickup choices, coupled with the decision to pick with his fingers made for a highly recognizable sound.

However simplistic the harmonic content is (mainly natural minor and pentatonic licks), his narration achieved with the successive combination of spectacular phrases really does wonders on this baby.

Better yet, this whole thing was a spur of the moment creation! It was unpremeditated, jammed-out, and improvised, the Sultans of Swing solo is a masterclass of utter creativity!

The stuff of legends, right here!

1. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) – Comfortably Numb

Ah, the emotions!

This one features two distinct solos. The first one is mostly in the major scale and its soaring quality manages to penetrate deep within the listener’s soul; leaving you almost in tears.

There’s nothing technically complicated, but, emotionally, it’s incredibly deep and complex.

The latter solo is the showcase of the sheer power of a rock guitar solo. The bluesy licks over a minor chord progression are key to the emotional magnitude of this pup.

The Fender Strat in the hands of Mr. Gilmour is quite a lethal weapon!

Conclusion

There you have it! My list of the best guitar solos of all time!

It was no easy task doing this. I am still tearing my hair out because of the solos I had to cut out to fit the predetermined number of allowed list entries.

These solos are here to emotionally affect you, inspire you, and be engraved in your guitar-playing DNA for the rest of your life.

The good thing is, no matter how good or bad you might be at the guitar, learning to play any of these solos will instantly make you a better musician. Both technically and compositionally!

So, until next time… Pick up that guitar!

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