38 Best Guitar Solos Of All Time: The Definitive Ranking

tom petty songs how did tom petty die tom petty playing guitar on stage
Image from Shutterstock

Table of Contents

Last updated on January 12th, 2024 at 04:14 pm

Guitar-playing virtuosos have been showing their talent since the earliest recordings of the instrument. Jazz and blues guitar players as early as the 20s and 30s were showing their skills on the fretboard. Today, however, guitar gods are mostly equated with classic rock, hard rock, and heavy metal. 

On our list of the best guitar solos ever, we mainly focus on rock music, but we do give credit where it’s due to the instrument’s innovators. 

What are the most famous guitar solos? Read on to discover the best of the best.

38 Best Guitar Solos

38. “Highway Star” – Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple

Of course, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple would make a best guitar solos list. 

Sure, the riff of “Smoke on the Water” is more well-known, but the work on “Highway Star” shows off his soloing ability better.

37. “Old Brown Shoe” – George Harrison, The Beatles

The Beatles‘ George Harrison is one of the most celebrated guitarists in rock history. Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t have many iconic soloing moments. He was more about style and feel than flash.

He brings that to “Old Brown Shoe.” The biting solo in the middle shows more than a bit of influence from his friend Eric Clapton.

Related: 10 Best Beatles Songs, 1963-1966

36. “Starship Trooper” – Steve Howe, Yes

Regarding technical ability and virtuosity, prog-rock guitarists are some of the most talented. And of that bunch, Yes’ Steve Howe is the standard.

The great thing about Yes, and prog in general, is that you get extended solos to witness their ability. “Starship Trooper” is a great example.

35. “Californication” – John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers

One of the delights of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music is John Frusciante’s guitar playing.

Though Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea is the star of “Californication,” Frusciante also offers playing worthy of a best guitar solos list.

Related: Best Rock Songs of All Time: The Ultimate Playlist

34. “Chickamauga” – Jay Farrar, Uncle Tupelo

Alternative Country legends Uncle Tupelo varied in sound from acoustic folk and country to blistering punk. Hence the genre they basically created was christened Cow Punk.

“Chickamauga” finds Tupelo lead guitarist Jay Farrar at his Neil Young wildest. 

33. “Killers” – Adrian Smith, Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden brought metal music to artistic and commercial prominence throughout the 80s.

Even before Bruce Dickinson took over on lead vocals, the band was already releasing some of its best songs. The solo on “Killers” is, well, killer. 

Sincere apologies to Def Leppard and Bon Jovi fans, but this is the only 80s rock song on this best guitar solos list. 

32. “Different Shades of Blue” – Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa is singlehandedly keeping the blues in the mainstream, almost like a contemporary Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

The soloing on “Different Shades of Blue” is as melodic and biting in the typical Bonamassa way.

Related: Paul McCartney: Biography of the Beatles’ Frontman

31. “Serve the Servants” – Kurt Cobain, Nirvana

The genius of Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain‘s guitar playing was that it wasn’t flashy but was still wild and fit his songs perfectly.

Sure, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a prime example of that, but his playing on “Serve the Servants” is gloriously reckless. 

Related: The Foo Fighters: What We Know About the ‘Cursed’ Band

30. “Let There Be Rock” – Angus Young, AC/DC

What best guitar solos list could leave off Angus Young? His work on “Back in Black,” “Thunderstruck,” and hosts of other AC/DC songs could be included.

Nothing beats the Bon Scott era of the band, and Young’s bluesy delivery on furious “Let There Be Rock” sets it apart from its more famous counterparts.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About AC/DC

29. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Tom Morello, Bruce Springsteen

Tom Morello is best known, of course, for his work with Rage Against the Machine. But a little-known secret is that his coolest work is on a Bruce Springsteen song.

The Boss transformed the acoustic folk of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” into a blistering rock song, and who better to add its excellent guitar work than Tom Morello.

Related: 17 Best Bruce Springsteen Songs

28. “Little Wing” – Stevie Ray Vaughan 

Blues was in a tough spot when Stevie Ray Vaughan hit the scene in the early 80s. The legends were dying, and nobody was coming along to fill their shoes.

He did so with impressive commercial and artistic success. His take on Jimi Hendrix‘s “Little Wing” transforms it into a long and winding masterpiece of instrumental blues.

27. “Whipping Post” – Duane Allman, Allman Brothers Band

The kings of Southern rock are represented on the next entry on our best guitar solos list.

Duane Allman left us too soon, but his work in the Allman Brothers and Derek and the Dominos will live on forever.

Not many guitarists can pull off over 10 minutes of prime soloing, but he could, as he does on “Whipping Post.”

26. “Impossible Germany” – Nels Cline/Jeff Tweedy, Wilco

Wilco’s Nels Cline is among the most highly regarded guitar players today. He immediately made his presence felt on his debut with the band, Sky Blue Sky.

Cline and Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy create walls of guitars throughout “Impossible Germany” that combine straight-up rock, prog, and even a bit of Southern rock. 

Related: 22 Best Weezer Songs: Take Me to the Rivers

25. “Dark Light” – Ace Frehley, KISS

Because he was in a band better known for its stage antics than musicianship, the guitar playing of Ace Frehley sometimes gets overlooked. Despite that fact, he played some of the best guitar solos of the 70s.

If you need an example of why he stacks up with the greatest guitar gods, check out his wild solo on “Dark Light.”

Interestingly, Lou Reed helped with the lyrics on this one. 

Related: 18 Wild and Shocking Facts About the Rock Band KISS

24. “I’m So Afraid” (live) – Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac

What makes Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar playing so impressive is that he equally excels at everything from complex acoustic fingerpicking to heavy rock solos.

The latter is on display in “I’m So Afraid,” which is always a show-stopper when performed live. It certainly has one of the best electric guitar solos.

23. “Zoot Allures” – Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa is another guitarist who could have half his catalog on a list of best guitar solos. 

I’m more of a fan of his expansive work, but he’s equally adept at shorter-form solos, as on the title track from Zoot Allures.

22. “Lady Cab Driver” – Prince

We’re Music in Minnesota, so of course Prince is going to appear on a best guitar solos list. I mean, he’d deserve it anyway, but it’d be especially criminal if we left him off.

“Lady Cab Driver,” from 1999, is Prince in his prime. Of course, you should also check out his playing on the version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from George Harrison’s induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Related: Is Prince Overrated?

21. “Stage Fright” (live) – Robbie Robertson, The Band

The Band is known for the musicianship of all its members, from drummer Levon Helm to bassist Rick Danko.

Sometimes lost in the shuffle is the fluid, subtle, but no less awe-inspiring guitar work of Robbie Robertson.

Som of his best guitar solos are on more country-oriented material, but he goes nuts on the Last Waltz version of “Stage Fright,” making it one of the best live guitar solos of all time.

20. “Catfish Blues” – Muddy Waters

Speaking of The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson was right to introduce Muddy Waters in the film as “the blues at its most.”

One of the genre’s innovators, his 1940s work is among the best, most heart-wrenching blues you’ll ever hear.

And yes, this song gave the Rolling Stones their name. Needless to say, Keith Richards and original Stones lead guitarist Brian Jones were fans. 

Related: 30 Best Blues Songs: Discover the Blues

19. “12th Street Rag” – Roy Clark 

For the country side of things, we have perhaps the greatest guitarist of all time, Roy Clark.

Don’t believe me? Check out his insane work on “12th Street Rag.” Few other guitarists can play that fast but still with so much style and finesse. 

Related: 50 Best Country Songs 

18. “I’ll See You in My Dreams” – Django Reinhardt

Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt was the original guitar god.

Like Roy Clark, he could play fast, but he never lets the melody get lost. It’s impossible to listen to his songs like “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and not just have your jaw drop.

Related: 21 Best Jazz Songs: The Definitive List

17. “Beat It” – Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson

Yes, the best Eddie Van Halen solo is on a Michael Jackson song.

The master lays all of his tricks on “Beat It” to stunning effect. For my money, it’s even better than Van Halen’s “Eruption,” which is the typical choice for a best guitar solos list.

Related: Michael Jackson’s Net Worth: The Impressive Wealth of the King of Pop

16. “Crazy Train” – Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne

As is often cited, the late, great Randy Rhoads helped catapult Ozzy Osbourne‘s solo career after he left Black Sabbath.

Come for the iconic main lick, stay for the fantastically shredding solos. Rock guitar playing at its finest. 

Related: 10 Best Ozzy Osbourne Songs

15. “Fade to Black” – Kirk Hammett, Metallica

Many Metallica songs could make a best guitar solos list. “Enter Sandman” comes to mind.

“Fade to Black” is one of Metallica’s ultimate statements, and it’s punctuated by Kirk Hammett’s thrashy-but-tasteful leads.

Related: 35 Best Metallica Songs, Ranked

14. “Crossroads” – Eric Clapton, Cream

Clapton is God, indeed.

From the Yardbirds to Derek and the Dominos, Cream to Blind Faith, he’s recorded dozens of the best guitar solos. 

On “Crossroads,” Clapton transforms Robert Johnson’s blues standard into a heavy rock masterpiece.

13. “Walk This Way” – Joe Perry, Aerosmith

Aerosmith’s blooze rock dominated rock radio in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

During that time, Joe Perry provided the rock world with many iconic riffs, but none as big as “Walk This Way.”

The highlight of this one is the perfectly bent notes in the solos. 

Related: Steven Tyler’s Net Worth: The Riches of the Aerosmith Singer

12. “Beck’s Bolero” – Jeff Beck

Rock and classical, together at last. And it isn’t prog!

Jeff Beck, one of the greatest guitar players of all time, struts his stuff all over “Beck’s Bolero,” which shows his virtuosity and versatility.

When it comes to the best guitar solo songs, it hardly gets any better.

11. “War Pigs” – Tommy Iommi, Black Sabbath

While many consider “Paranoid” Tommy Iommi’s ultimate solo, his wild work on “War Pigs” rocks even harder. 

Those hammer-ons and pull-offs, though. 

10. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Brian May, Queen

Brian May, Queen guitarist extraordinaire, has one of the most distinct guitar sounds in rock. His playing elevated many Queen songs even more than vocalist Freddie Mercury.

There isn’t much to say about “Bohemian Rhapsody” that hasn’t been said, so I’ll leave it at that. Listen to it and marvel.

Related: 31 Inspiring Facts About the Rock Band Queen 

9. “Free Bird” – Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd

Speaking of songs that there isn’t much left to say about, here’s another heavy hitter. 

Skynyrd were masters of the classic Southern rock double and triple guitar attack, and they reached its pinnacle on “Free Bird.” 

Guitarist Allen Collins, along with Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s secret weapon, are in top form here. 

8. “Stairway to Heaven” – Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin guitarist and all-around guitar god, got his start in the Yardbirds. As did Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. My goodness. It’s a well-known fact, but it’s still amazing.

The solos on “Whole Lotta Love” hit a lot harder, but “Stairway” makes this list of best guitar solos for its subtlety and beauty. 

Related: The 16 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time

7. “You Really Got Me” – Dave Davies, The Kinks

Jimmy Page, a session musician at the time of the recording, is rumored to play the hot solo in “You Really Got Me.” Both he and Kinks guitarist Dave Davies deny it, though.

Either way, the furious solo on “You Really Got Me” is one of the best of the sixties.

6. “Hotel California” – Don Felder and Joe Walsh, The Eagles

I’ll sit through this too-long parable about hell every time it comes on the radio to hear the ridiculous solo at the end.

Don Felder and James Gang founder Joe Walsh play this epic, multi-layered guitar part with defiant effortlessness.

Related: 10 Best Eagles Songs

5. “21st Century Schizoid Man” – Robert Fripp, King Crimson

“21st Century Schizoid Man” narrowly finds a spot on our top five guitar solos.

When King Crimson released In the Court of the Crimson King in 1969, nobody could see it coming. It still sounds like it was recorded in the future.

Take “21st Century Schizoid Man,” for instance. What even is it? My goodness. The crazy fast, almost jazzy riff is only a prelude to the more extensive work throughout. 

Related: 30 Best 70s songs: Rock, Punk, Disco, and Some Serious Wildcards

4. “Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry

What is the most famous guitar riff? It’s difficult to say it isn’t “Johnny B. Goode.”

Let’s face it: if there isn’t Chuck Berry, there isn’t any other guitar player on this list.

The way that Chuck Berry could fit a million notes in a solo without losing “the beauty of the melody,” as it were, is always breathtaking. 

3. “Comfortably Numb” – David Gilmour, Pink Floyd

The solo on “Comfortably Numb” is kind of like Joe Walsh’s work on “Hotel California” on cocaine. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour gives one of his best performances.

Unsurprisingly, the masterful solo on “Comfortably Numb” was painstakingly worked over and perfected. It’s one of the highlights of rock history.

If you’re looking for one of the best acoustic guitar solos, of course you have to go with “Wish You Were Here.”

2. “November Rain” – Slash, Guns n’ Roses

“November Rain” gets this high on our list of best guitar solos because it features like 12 different solos that could each make the list. For our money, though, you can’t beat Slash’s work in the coda.

It’s hard to beat “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” but that one only has like six great solos. 

Related: 20 Best Guns n Roses Songs: Their Best, Ranked

1. “Machine Gun” – Jimi Hendrix

What is the greatest guitar solo ever? That’d be Jimi Hendrix‘s “Machine Gun.” 

After all these years, Hendrix is still the greatest guitar player of all time. His solos, which incorporate blues, hard rock, psychedelic rock, funk, and everything else, are practically indescribable. Which is why I need so many words to even try.

While Jimi Hendrix Experience tracks like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” are more well-known, hardcore fans know that the expansive work on “Machine Gun” is his best. He sets his Stratocaster on fire, metaphorically this time. 

You Might Also Like:

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





The Cure Captivates in Saint Paul

Illenium at The Armory 11/9/19 Minneapolis MN

Illenium Sets Minneapolis Ablaze with Three-Night Spectacle at The Armory.