Who is qualified to say what guitar solos are the greatest of all time? The topic is subjective and is likely to cause an uproar between fans of certain bands and people who only like specific genres. This list will contain guitar solos that have been voted the best by reputable sources, such as music and guitar magazines, and conducted surveys, so it can be thought of as the People’s Choice awards for guitar solos.
Nothing is written in stone, but these are the songs that have been chosen by people who took various surveys. They are not presented in any specific order but represent the 35 best guitar solos of all time by popular consensus.
1. Gary Moore – Still Got the Blues
When Northern Irish guitarist, Gary Moore, reinvented himself as a blues man in the 1990s, his career was regenerated by his soulful Still Got the Blues in the key of A Minor. It was issued on his first blues album, released in 1990, and quickly became the artist’s signature solo. In 2008, Moore was sued for plagiarizing the solo, which was claimed to be by a progressive rock band from Germany. Even though he claimed not to have heard it before, the courts ruled against him, and he had to pay the band Jud’s Gallery damages.
2. Dickey Betts – Jessica
Southern guitar virtuoso, Dickey Betts, won a Grammy for this upbeat number in 1973, a couple of years after Duane Allman died. It was one of the rare instrumental rock numbers that ever hit #1 on the charts. The song appeared on the Allman Brother’s fourth album, which was produced in a studio. It was written by Betts and was intended as a tribute to Django Reinhardt, a renowned Gypsy jazz guitarist. Betts designed it to be played left-handed, using only two fingers. Betts named the song for his infant daughter who inspired the tempo by her movements as he was playing.
3. Mark Knopfler – Sultans of Swing
In 1977, not long after Mark Knopfler and his brother, David Knopfler, started the British rock band “Dire Straits,” the band recorded “Sultans of Swing” at Pathway Studios in London. Mark Knopfler wrote the song in about a week. It quickly shot to number two on the US charts, winning a double-platinum award and remaining high on the charts for 49 weeks, making it one of the band’s top hits.
Mark Knopfler’s mid-song solo was played on the guitarist’s ’61 Stratocaster and contained 30 seconds of precise scales before resuming, after another verse, for an additional 40 seconds of upbeat, freeform arpeggios that elevate the song to the next level.
4. Carlos Rios – Brother to Brother
Canadian musician, Gino Vannelli, recorded this one-hit wonder back in 1978, featuring the previously virtually unknown Carlos Rios on guitar, a master of classic rock-jazz fusion with a seamless performance that sealed Vannelli’s chart-breaking deal for Vannelli’s first and last time.
5. Alex Lifeson – Closer to the Heart
In a guitar solo that brought the fledgling band Rush back to life, Alex Lifeson played a phenomenal solo on “Closer to the Heart,” which starts as an acoustic ballad and gradually builds to include the entire hard rock aspects of Rush. The song reached #3 on the US charts in 1978.
6. Allen Collins – Free Bird
A guitarist since age 12, Collins wrote and played lead on Lynard Skynyrd’s biggest hit, earning legendary status before the tragic end of his musical career when he was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed and unable to play. Urban myth speculated that Free Bird was about the late Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band; the song was written years before Allman’s death.
7. Kirk Hammett – Kill ‘Em All
Metallica fired guitarist Dave Mustaine and recruited Kirk Hammett to take his place on the same day. Hammett went on to play lead on the band’s hit song “Kill ’em All,” with a solo that skyrocketed almost overnight to propel Metallica into becoming one of the most highly revered bands in history. In retrospect, Hammett remarked in an interview published in Guitar World Magazine that the solo was fraught with errors and that he wished it could remake the song.
8. Don Felder – Hotel California
Considered one of the best guitar solos of all time, Don Felder’s unsurpassed solo on the band’s 1976 hit, “Hotel California,” continues to dazzle listeners to this day. The song also features the guitar work of Joe Walsh, but Felder, as the writer of the music, played the lead.
9. Brian May – Bohemian Rhapsody
When Freddie Mercury decided that “Bohemian Rhapsody” needed a solo guitar part, Brian May recounted that he intended to sing a verse on the guitar. He succeeded beyond imagining. The result was perfect and as relevant as one of the most excellent rock solos ever recorded now as it was when it was released in 1975. He did it in only a few takes and helped change the course of rock and roll history as we know it.
10. Jimmy Page – Stairway to Heaven
Jimmy Page attributes the success of his fluid solo work on “Stairway to Heaven” to the Telecaster that had been given to him by Jeff Beck when he played for the Yardbirds. Under ordinary circumstances, he played Les Paul. He swore that the Telecaster was a magical guitar, and he was correct. He described his playing the solo as a stream of consciousness session. In many publications, this guitar solo is considered the best of all time, which is hard to argue with due to the hallowed nature of the song and the guitar work.
11. Kim Thayil – The Day I Tried to Live
Never before has a guitar solo so accurately portrayed the inner turmoil experienced by those struggling. Kim Thayil’s multiple, descending Firebird riffs designate this song as one that helped define the grunge rock scene. The guitar he used is a double-stringed Firebird production model.
12. David Gilmour – Money
Gilmour’s solo on the Pink Floyd song “Money” is one of the best of all time, in our opinion (and many different publications cite this as such). His rich, unique playing techniques were essential to the band’s accomplishing more than 45 million album sales over the years. Of course, we can’t deny the famous guitar work Gilmour gave on “Comfortably Numb,” either.
13. Mike Rutherford – Turn it on Again
When Genesis co-founder, Mike Rutherford, played Turn It On Again, the song helped transform the band from a popular cult rock group into a world-class hit single phenomenon. The solo was initially recorded on bass pedals at a much slower tempo and used an echo for every alternative note. Phil Collins insisted the song be rerecorded and sped up, which changed the tempo of the entire piece.
14. Eddie Van Halen – Eruption
Eruption appeared on Van Halen’s album of the same name in 1978 and, with it, helped define the guitarist’s term, “shredding.” Eddie Van Halen’s two-handed tapping technique has been used before in other solos, but never to the degree that it was used in this one. According to Esquire, the solo sealed the revolution of the rock music world during the 1980s and still holds a place as the best guitar solo to perform by anyone who wants to demonstrate proficiency at the guitar.
15. Randy Rhoads – Crazy Train
Many publications and media outlets have cited this as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time, and it’s hard to argue with them. He was critically acclaimed for his implementation of the full minor scale for the song’s main solo riff, which no one had ever done before.
Rhoads performed it in the studio, but also played it onstage when the band toured.
16. Eric Clapton – Crossroads
Noted for his freestyle playing that overwhelmed the band at times, Clapton’s masterful command of his guitar strings in the studio while recording Crossroads was never duplicated note-for-note in any performance of the song thereafter. The song is chocked full of mixes between Minor Pentatonic and Major licks that branded Clapton as having stunned the world with one of the best guitar solos of all time.
17. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Hendrix demonstrated his expertise with the Wah-Wah pedal in his long blues solo on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return” and took the world by storm. It was later covered by the likes of Joe Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughan John Petrucci, and other guitar royalty. The song was released in the UK a week after Hendrix’s death and will forever live in infamy because of it. Hendrix characterized the song as the national anthem of the Black Panthers.
18. Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode
Chuck Berry, who used a fusion of boogie goodie, blues, and country music, is credited with having one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. With this one solo, he helped pave the way for placing the electric guitar as the #1 musical instrument played in rock and roll music. The solo was recorded in December of 1957 at Chess Studios.
19. Richie Blackmore – Smoke On The Water
It was in the year 1972 that Blackmore brought the fire with his solo on “Smoke On The Water” with Deep Purple. The solo appears on the band’s 6th album with Warner Brothers Music, and gained fame by being its own mini-composition that took listeners on a magic carpet right. Blackmore didn’t just play a guitar solo in a song, he told an entire story with the incorporation of minor scales, amazing string bands and carbonic minor scales, resulting in supersonic and otherworldly sounds.
20. Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover
It is reported that Johnson wrote the entire tune in about 5 minutes and incorporated an energetic, uplifting, passionate instrumental solo that he said occurred naturally, as if by magic. It consists of a series of descending arpeggios that he stumbled upon while practicing guitar at his parents’ house. The solo was recorded on an Echoplex plugged to a 100-watt 3 x 12 Marshall amp.
21. Dimebag Darrell – Floods
We certainly consider this one of the greatest guitar solos in the history of rock. Darrell gave a passionate 1988 performance that he originally wrote and that was added to the ending of “Floods” in the studio after the other parts were recorded.
22. Martin Barre – Aqualung
Jethro Tull’s lead guitarist, Martin Barre, recorded the band’s most famous guitar solo in the midst of major technical problems in the studio that, at the time led the band to think that album might not do very well.
All told, the album sold more than 7 million copies. Barre has gone on to state that he respected the solo for what it was, but that it wasn’t one of his favorites to play. He viewed it more as a partial segment of a slice of pie rather than the entire slice itself.
23. Kurt Cobain – Smells Like Teen Spirit
During Kurt Cobain‘s guitar solo that was played on a modded Fender Stratocaster with a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” In doing so, he managed to change the way popular music sounded altogether. Knocking Michael Jackson out of the top spots of the popular music charts, Kurt led the band to take over the new kingdom of rock by sealing grunge as the dominant genre of rock in the 1990s.
24. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Pride and Joy
Texas’ own Stevie Ray Vaughan made a name for himself with a stellar solo in the key of E on the Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble song, “Pride and Joy,” using his now-famous rhythm technique that alternated between full ringing chords and muted cord chops while his guitar was tuned down a step. The solo was noted for its unique use of open strings with licks leveled around the Blues scale and the E Pentatonic Minor Scale. His extended fingerings were unique to his craft.
25. Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien
“Surfing with the Alien” includes one of Satriani‘s best solos that was written during the morning of a recording session. He used a Wah-Wah pedal and a tube driver with a Marshall amp along with an Eventide 949. The entire recording session took around half an hour, but in the midst of it the Eventide went haywire and the artist was unable to recreate the solo exactly as it was in the recording. The song was released on Relativity Records in 1987.
26. Billy Corgan – Siamese Dream
Billy Corgan used what he called his “secret weapon” on his unforgettable solo “Siamese Dream.” He was referring to his Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress which still resides in his equipment collection. Added to that, was a Mu-Tron Bi-phase and a Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal that had been made famous by Pink Floyd and Santana. The combination proved to be a winner. Unlike the other artists, Corgan’s solo pushed the pedal to the extreme to create a whole new sound that led to the song’s appearance on Billboard’s Top 10 200 in 1998.
27. Tony Lommi – Paranoid
It appears that not all artists are fond of the success that their work receives. Tony Lommi expressed hatred for his solo in Black Sabbath’s Paranoia. He described it as having been written at the last minute and felt it was too short. The solo showed up on the band’s second album in 1970.
28. Dave Davies – You Really Got Me
For years, there was an unverified rumor that Jimmy Page actually played the guitar solo attributed to Dave Davies in “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. While a session musician at the time, Page did appear on some of the band’s earlier albums but did not make an appearance on the “You Really Got Me” Song. The techniques used in the solo were unmistakably Dave Davies’ unique sound, which he replicated later in “All Day and All of the Night.” The Kinks have since denied this claim, but it made a great story while it lasted.
29. Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures
Frank Zappa’s guitar solo on Zoot Allures personified his signature fusion of hard metal and funk with progressive jazz thrown in for good measure in Zappa’s signature unpredictable style. The riff contained composed melodies coupled with complete harmonic freedom that appealed to fans. His sophisticated use of cells with thirds, 7th chords, and 5th chords were mixed intermittently with cells that had 2-chords to pull the whole thing together quite impressively.
30. B.B. King – The Thrill is Gone
B.B. King’s slow cooking solo in The Thrill is Gone caused the song to become a major hit in 1969. Today, a blues standard, the artist played it soulfully in B minor using 4/4/ time nursing strings in a new way that broke from his signature style.
The song won B.B. King a Grammy in 1988. It was written by Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins in 1951. B.B. turned the song into his own with the addition of his noteworthy solo. Listening to it, one is left with no doubt that Mr. King was mourning the loss of a loving relationship.
31. Slash – Sweet Child of Mine
To create his signature solo in Sweet Child of Mine, Slash used the E minor scale along with the E harmonic minor scale and the E minor pentatonic scale scattered across the surface of the neck of his guitar.
It has been reported that the artist was not particularly pleased with the solo, although it became one of the biggest songs of his career. He resisted the tune originally because its sweet, upbeat demeanor seemed not to fit the genre of the band. Even so, when it was released in 1988, it went on to become a huge hit. Today, the song still evokes nostalgia for a couple of generations of music lovers across the world.
32. Neil Young – Cortez the Killer
Neil Young’s solo intro in Cortez the Killer was one of the longest intros in rock and roll history. He reportedly wrote the song after staying up late one night consuming a lot of hamburgers. His vocals didn’t come in until 3:22. This legendary piece of music will forever live on in the epic stratosphere of guitar solos
33. Elliott Randall – Reelin’ in the Years
Elliott Randall’s sophisticated and unforgettable solo in Steely Dan’s Reelin’ in the Years came about via his 1064 Fender Strat that sported a PAF humbucker and an Ampeg SVT amplifier. Jimmy Page has stated in interviews that Randall’s work in the song is his favorite guitar solo of all time, as it was for many fans across the world.
Randall was called in to play the solo by Steely Dan members, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who felt they had written a potential hit if they could only find the right solo to top it off. It turned out that their choice was a good one. Even though the song wasn’t written down and Randall had only heard it one time, he was able to nail the solo in a single take. After the solo was added, the song soared to #22 on the charts for the year 1972.
34. Brian Setzer – Stray Cat Strut
In an interview with The Guardian, Brian Setzer said his musical style was influenced by his father’s favorite musicians, which included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Stray Cat Strut came about when Setzer wrote a song based on a sticker that he had on his guitar depicting an orange and black cat. As the song progressed, he claims to have pulled the solo out of thin air with a view toward doing something that no one had ever done before. The solo was a major step in reviving the Rockabilly revival in the U.K. where it still has a strong following.
35. Jeff Beck – Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers
Jeff Beck credits Stevie Wonder as the operational force behind his breathtaking solo in Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.
Wonder had originally promised Beck the song, Superstition. However, Motown insisted that Stevie be the one to record it himself first, even though he had composed it for Beck. Meanwhile, Stevie Wonder composed We’ve Ended As Lovers as a gift to his wife, so to compensate Beck for losing Superstition, Wonder gave him the latter song.
The solo that Beck included in it has all the right elements to make it a blockbuster. The excellent production quality and inspiring melody, raw technical process, and emotive performance gave Beck the hand up the ladder with this one. Beck used a Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Telecaster, and a Fender Stratocaster and blended the sounds through a mixer to achieve a perfectly blended mix. While Stevie Wonder wrote sentimental, beautiful lyrics for the song, Beck seems to sing with his guitar in his own purely instrumental version. If ever there were a work of art this solo deserves the characterization.
This wraps up our list of the greatest guitar solos of all time. Did we miss any of your favorites? Be sure to let us know by reaching out to us via email on our contact page and we’ll be sure to strongly consider well-thought out suggestions.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.