Guitar solos have long been part of what makes a good song great. They have inspired millions of us to pick up a guitar (or a broom, or a hockey stick) and get busy learning our scales. The guitar is such an expressive instrument that is can sound like like many different instruments, not in a processed digital, electronic way that synthesizers often do, but in a very organic and soulful way.
Much of the guitar’s sound color comes from the different types of guitars, amps, and electronic, effects used today but the real beauty of the guitar solo comes directly from the soul of the artist. There is no vintage guitar or studio trick in the world that can equal what a devoted player can achieve with his or her own two hands and heart. The sound of the guitar has changed over the years but what remains is the player’s desire to make an artistic statement: to speak things that can’t be spoken with words.
It would be impossible to compile a list that could be definitive or even scratch the surface of the great guitar solos that exist in recorded form. This list is simply a collection of a few of my favorites and as such are chosen from two perspectives: that of a music fan and that of a guitar player and teacher. I have always enjoyed lists like this. It’s fun to see what other people choose to include. I hope you enjoy this one. Feel free to comment and tell me how crazy I am for leaving solo x,y or z off my list!
These are not in any particular order.
1. Comfortably Numb:Pink Floyd: The Wall: David Gilmour
There are two solos in this song, a shorter one and a longer one. In each of them there is plenty of tasteful string bending and descending runs. Both solos exhibit David Gilmour’s favorite technique of bouncing back and forth between pentatonic and diatonic phrases. It is almost always included in any top solo list. This list is no exception.
2: Cliffs of Dover: A Via Musicom: Eric Johnson:
This one starts with a monster flurry of notes in E minor, gradually descends into a power chord and then climbs back up the neck with some awesome palm muted triplets and a lightening fast G major lick before settling into the more melodic main theme. Johnson is known as a perfectionist and it really shows in this song. This is not so much a solo as an instrumental guitar piece, with a main theme, a bridge and several different solo sections.
3: Eruption: Eddie Van Halen: Van Halen
In 1978, Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” set a new standard for guitar technique. This one is all about speed, string bending and whammy bar mainly in the key of A minor – but that’s just the first half. The second half shows off Eddie’s trademark two hand tapping technique. He didn’t invent this technique as many believe, but he sure did perfect it and bring it to the rock and roll masses. This one blew everyone away. It is safe to label this one “iconic”.
4: YYZ: Alex Lifeson: Rush: Moving Pictures
“YYZ” got its name from the letters that represent the Toronto airport – home base for the band. But more interesting than that is the fact that the staccato rhythm of the opening riff is based on the dots and dashes of the morse code signal for the letters YYZ. Alex Lifeson really shines on this song using several different scales, modes and techniques to get a really eerie sound. I recently saw some concert footage from Rio De Jenerio (Rush in Rio DVD) in which the crowd was actually singing along with parts of his solo!
5: Crazy Train: Randy Rhodes: Ozzy Osbourne: The Ozzman Cometh
Great tapping in this solo (inspired by Eddie Van Halen no doubt) then some killer licks before it it finishes off with a blistering F# minor ascending run. There are some amazing guitar fills in the song too, and the song itself is chock full of excellent riffs.
6: Johnny B Goode: Chuck Berry
That’s right – and you thought all these solos were going to be post 1970’s! Every self-respecting guitar player should learn this one. Chuck Berry has influenced so many guitar players and this is the song that best represents what Chuck meant to the guitar – in my humble opinion. There are two solos in the song that are very similar: the intro and the middle section. Both are peppered with sixteenth notes, hammer-ons, pull-offs, double stops, slides and oblique string bends. Just ask Keith Richards what he thinks of Chuck’s job on this one.
7: Stairway To Heaven: Jimmy Page: Led Zeppelin IV
Great song, great solo. Don’t listen to people who make jokes about how every guitar player plays this song. So what. It gets played for a reason. It’s great. This post is about solos, so I won’t go on about the structure of the song. The solo is extremely well put together and phrased. It does what every good solo should do. It tells a story, it goes somewhere, it has a beginning, middle and an end and it is oozing with genuine emotion.
8: More Than A Feeling:Tom Scholz: Boston
This song has a very short solo break and then a longer solo. Both are strong solos and perfectly placed to add excitement to the song. Tom Scholz has a great ability to be melodic, efficient, and at the same time to completely rock!
9: Sultans of Swing:Mark Knopfler: Dire Straits
Okay, the solos in this song are the epitome of great phrasing and taste. The crisp clean tones that Knopfler gets from his guitar have come to further define the what a Strat is capable of. Much of the warmth in his sound comes from that fact that he uses his fingers rather than a pick, but all of his sound come from the fact that he is just a great guitar player, pick or no pick.
10: Satch Boogie: Joe Satriani: Surfing With An Alien
Can’t forget this one. It’s a tour de force of classic Joe Satriani licks. It’s about speed for sure, but Joe hooks his riffs and melodies together like the pro he is. After you stop shaking your head about how fast he is playing you will see that this one would sound great at any speed.
11: Smells Like Teen Spirit: Nirvana: Nevermind: Kurt Cobain
In honor of it being ten years since this one came out, we’ve got to include this masterpiece. Putting aside the unforgettable power chord intro and chorus in this song (this post is about solos after all) the guitar solo later in the song is a hypnotizing work of art in the key of F minor. It is beautifully melodic, just a little bit creepy and serves the song well the way it leads so smoothly into the final verse via the huge F5 chord at the very end of the solo. Awesome!
Well there’s eleven, not ten. Eleven is one more than ten see… It’s kind of hard to stop here, perhaps this will be an ongoing post that gets updated once in a while, yeah, that’s an idea… Let’s hear your suggestions for more great solos! Leave a comment by clicking the button at the top of this post.