The guitar is one of the first instruments most musicians learn to play before going into stardom. If you’re trying to advance your guitar-playing skills, maybe learning about the hardest songs you could play on the instrument will help.
More often than not, the most difficult guitar songs come from rock metal because of their fast-paced nature. Nonetheless, there are also songs from other genres that are just as hard to learn. Don’t worry. Learning to play them will surely improve your mastery of the guitar.
Having said that, here’s a quick list of the hardest guitar songs you could play.
Top 10 Hardest Guitar Songs
1. “Snow (Hey Oh)” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The song “Snow (Hey Oh)” is about two popular drugs; cocaine, sometimes referred to as snow, and heroin, which sounds like hey oh. Anthony Kiedis further explains that it’s also about continuously failing to start a new life and going back to destructive habits.
Some people might argue that this song is not that difficult to play, but Kiedis says so himself that when John Frusciante came into the studio playing what he thought was a “complex piece of flamenco music,” he didn’t even think it could work in a song.
What makes the song difficult is that, aside from being fast-paced, you have to play multiple strings in four different frets almost simultaneously. Not to mention the hammer-ons and licks involved in the riff.
2. “Master of Puppets” by Metallica
Metallica is one of the most prominent rock metal bands from the 80s and up until today’s time. They also wrote a song about drugs and how it controls the user’s life, hence the song title “Master of Puppets,” the master being the drugs and the puppet being the user.
While they were recording the song, Kirk Hammet pulled the top string of his guitar on the fretboard. It then ended up making an extremely high, almost siren-like sound. Everyone from the band loved how it sounded, and so they kept it on the track.
“Master of Puppets” is a relatively difficult guitar song because of how fast the song is, which is around 212 beats per minute. Additionally, the entire song is played with downstrokes. This means you must have quite a strong wrist to learn this.
3. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix is one of the most popular musicians of all time, sometimes referred to as the world’s greatest guitarist. Obviously, this list will not be complete without him. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” actually came from an impromptu jam of the band. An ABC film crew went to the studio and asked them to make it look like they were playing their instruments. Hendrix then ended up creating the riff of the song.
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” was such a huge hit that even popular guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughn covered it in one of his albums. It was also the last song Hendrix was able to perform live before his death.
The song is full of string-bending and vibratos. Even the intro involves palm mutes. The song also incorporates mastery of the wah-wah pedal. Despite being a relatively slow song compared to the rock metal ones on this list, “Voodoo Child” is a difficult guitar song because of these characteristics.
4. “This Charming Man” by The Smiths
“This Charming Man” is one of the brighter songs on this list, and it’s also one of the easiest, despite being relatively difficult. It’s about a male protagonist who got a flat tire while on a hill. He was then approached by a charming man who helped him and eventually flirted with him.
Johnny Marr, the guitarist who composed the song, said that he wrote it specifically for a BBC radio session. DJ John Peel, a vital promoter of The Smiths, granted bands studio time for up to three hours.
The song incorporates a repetitive riff on the lower strings. However, it’s mostly upstrokes, and you have to switch between the 11th, 9th, and 7th frets to the 3rd and 5th frets quickly. That’s why you must have rather good picking skills to play the song.
5. “Neon” by John Mayer
Despite not being a rock song, “Neon” from John Mayer is surprisingly difficult. That’s probably because of the quick chord changes that span over almost the entire fretboard. Additionally, the chord shapes are also very different from one another, so you need to have flexible fingers.
Another thing worth noting is that the song does not use the standard guitar tuning. The low E string is tuned even lower at C. The original version is played with an electric guitar. However, what really gained traction from Mayer’s fans and followers was his live performance in LA, where he used an acoustic guitar. The entire riff makes it extremely difficult to even sing while playing the song.
6. “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
We have yet another iconic song from Jimi Hendrix. The studio version of “Little Wing” is two minutes and 24 seconds long. Nonetheless, Rolling Stone ranks it at 188 of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
The chord sequence and progression are not that difficult. However, what gave it a spot on our list is Hendrix’s solo. He played numerous notes with surprisingly large gaps, and missing them or playing it slightly wrong somehow kills the song.
7. “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Just like “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” also incorporates rather straightforward chord progressions. However, it’s that guitar solo that makes it a difficult song to play. The entire song is nine minutes and eight seconds long, with the guitar solo lasting for four minutes.
There are a lot of off-beats, hammer-ons, string-bending, and finger vibratos on the solo. You have to be an intermediate guitar player just to even attempt to play the song. That’s because it requires advanced skills in both your fretting and picking hands.
8. “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson is best known for his guitar-playing skills. “Cliffs of Dover” is an instrumental song and is hailed as his best work. Ironically, Johnson didn’t initially think it was a great song. He wrote it in five minutes and thought it was a fluke.
His mother heard him when he was rehearsing it and said, “That song will be a huge hit.” Sure enough, the song won a Grammy Award in 1992 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
We don’t have to tell you that this song is difficult to learn. You are learning an award-winning song, after all. It’s almost exclusively for expert guitarists because you need to play the right notes at the right tempo while making sure that you get the song’s phrasing properly.
9. “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin
The beginning of “Heartbreaker” is almost percussive, playing only one or two notes per beat. Don’t be fooled. It is a Led Zeppelin song, so you can expect hard-hitting guitar parts. The guitar solo requires you to press and bend the strings past the nut. Yes, we’re talking about the strings above the headstock!
Additionally, Jimmy Page almost always plays different solos every time the band performs live, so learning the song really makes it difficult.
10. “Eruption” by Van Halen
Van Halen is another rock band known for its electrifying music. Of all their songs, perhaps “Eruption” is the most difficult. That’s because it incorporates almost all guitar-playing techniques known to man.
From fingerpicking to string-bends to vibratos to slides to hammer-ons to tapping to shredding to tremolos, all of these are part of the song’s guitar solo and riff! That’s why you need to have really advanced skills before attempting to learn this song.
The guitar is a very common instrument in the music industry. However, as Tom Petty says, “no matter how long you play the guitar, there’s always something else to learn.” The top 10 hardest guitar songs on this list are proof of that.
Ergo, keep on learning! Who knows? Maybe your song will be featured on our next list of hardest guitar songs to play.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.