Nothing elevates a song and takes it to the next level quite like a guitar solo does. These virtuoso feats may not be necessary in every song, but we can’t help but rock along whenever a truly badass solo makes an appearance.
Everyone has a favorite guitar solo, but not all solos are created equal. Today we will be looking at our picks for the ten best guitar solos of all time. So grab your plectrums and get ready to rock!
Best Guitar Solos of All Time
1. Metallica – Master of Puppets
You don’t need to be a Metallica fan to appreciate the truly phenomenal solo guitarists Kirk Hammett dishes out on this track. Master of Puppets is known for its heavy riffing and energetic rhythm section, but the track’s second solo takes the spotlight the second it appears.
Hammet dishes out a series of notes at a quickfire pace that would make most people’s heads spin. However, as a listener we can help but feel energized by the stellar guitar performance on display. Hammett caps off different sections of the solo with a high-pitched wailing, which he achieves by lifting the top string off his guitar. Now that’s taking it to the next level!
2. Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
Our next solo is a favorite among heavy rock fans. Stairway to Heaven’s intro section is iconic for it’s delicate finger picking, but it doesn’t prepare listeners for what’s to come. Guitarist Jimmy Page essentially creates a song within a song by adding extra notes that follow along with the song’s ending chord progression. His rapid mid-solo licks elevate the track as he unleashes a flurry of notes that would make just about anyone gasp.
The solo on Stairway to Heaven is rumored to have been recorded in just three takes. It was built off Page improvising notes on his ‘59 Fender Telecaster and has remained in the hearts of heavy rock listeners since.
3. Brian Eno – Baby’s on Fire
Brian Eno may be best known for his ambient albums such as Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Apollo, Atmosphères & Soundtracks. However, the British producer and musician released a series of influential art-rock albums in the 1970s. His 1974 album Here Come the Warm Jets features a solo that is difficult to describe.
The album’s third track, Baby’s on Fire, opens with a tense cymbal-driven beat as Eno sings “Baby’s on fire, you better throw her in the water, look at her laughing, like a heifer to the slaughter” in a sinister nasally tone. However, things start to go off the rails near the 1:26 mark when prog-rock legend Robert Fripp launches into the song’s solo.
The section starts with Fripp dishing out a series of notes that move up and down the scale rapidly before you have a chance to comprehend what’s happening. He then punctuates these licks with wails and growls that intensify the song’s already-tense feel.
The solo seques through multiple sections as Fripp switches gears, alternating between gorgeous sustained notes and shorter grittier ones that convey a primal aggression. He then works his way down the scale, wiggling the pitch like a mad scientist with a theremin. The solo climaxes with an inter-dimensional ripping texture that sounds unlike any other pick slide in existence. If you’re not sitting in disbelief by the end of this solo, get your ears checked!
4. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
Pink Floyd have created many iconic solos in their music career. However, none have topped the two solos on The Wall’s nineteenth track Comfortably Numb. David Gilmour plays this solo on his iconic black Strat and with an Electro-Harmonix Ram’s Head Big Muff pedal.
The guitarist modelled many of the phrases on this solo after Jimi Hendrix’s playing style. However, he applies these blues licks in a more prog-rock fashion. Gilmour states that he created the solo by recording six takes and then combining the best portions from each one to create the mind-melting sonic display we hear in the recording.
The end result is a gorgeous solo that utilizes triplets, 16th, and 32nd notes efficiently before launching into sextuplets. Comfortably Numb’s solo is proof that you can cram great tone, gorgeous melody, and engaging rhythms into a song using a single instrument.
5. Prince – Purple Rain
The late R&B and pop musician Prince was responsible for creating some of the most iconic tracks of the 80s. However, Purple Rain will always overshadow his other works for its epic emotional quality.
The solo on this track takes up almost two-thirds of the song’s runtime, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t love it. Prince dominates the tracks, wailing on his guitar in G-minor pentatonic and introducing the occasional minor 6th note for added emotional effect.
The R&B legend doesn’t make this solo overly-dense. Instead leaving spaces between lines and centering on massive hooks before the orchestral strings and piano solo close out the track.
6. Van Halen – Eruption
Eddie Van Halen is rightfully considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He penned dozens of iconic solos in his career. However, none have inspired more kids to pick up the lead guitar than Eruption. The track appears on Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 album and functions as an encore for the track Runnin’ With the Devil.
The solo on Eruption features a combination of lightning-fast legato hammer-ons, pinched harmonics, pull-offs, whammy bar dives, and two-handed tapping. The tapping usually receives the most attention from listeners, but Eddie still decorates the solo with creative note choices and sizzling legato that will be forever ingrained in the ears and minds of guitarists worldwide. This solo is wild enough to unleash anyone’s inner kid and deserves its spot on our list.
7. Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover
The last solo on our list is also the most recent one. Eric Johnson released his greatest hit, Cliffs of Dover, in 1990. The solo on this track blends swift guitar shredding with lush anthemic melodies. Johnson shows off his fantastic legato skills and riff-making ability in a single solo that would make most other virtuoso guitarists blush. In-fact, many would view this solo as a combination of multiple smaller ones.
Johnson sounds every note with emotion and precision despite its incredibly fast pace. The end result is a complex masterpiece that conveys a classical vibe, but also includes infectious grooves. This is the ultimate solo for any guitarist that wishes to test their mettle against the best.
The seven guitar solos mentioned above are considered the greatest by many people. Each one shows off a level of technical skill that few guitarists are able to achieve, and even fewer are able to compose with. Many would consider the era of great guitarists to be over, but these legends will continue to influence millions of musicians for decades to come.
Consider learning the solos in the aforementioned list if you want to improve your playing skills and impress your peers along the way. Music may be subjective, but everyone can tell when a truly badass solo is being performed.