Discussing the best guitar solo of all time can start a pretty heated debate.
There are so many genres to consider and the style of solo plays a part in the thorny subject as well.
Imagine trying to compare “Highway Star” to “Comfortably Numb”.
Both are amazing in their own right but distinctly different.
With a spectrum as wide as can be and public opinion being so subjective it is tricky to rank a guitar solo.
Though many have tried.
But we have done our best to pick an accurate mix of solos from some of the world’s best guitarists of all time.
We hope you agree with the majority.
Each is a memorable solo that most of the world can screw up their face and wail along to with their best Fender impression.
Enjoy our list of the best guitar solos!
1. “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King
We will sink our teeth into some complex and experimental solos but we are kickstarting with those that keep it deliciously simple.
“The Thrill Is Gone” features a solo centered around the pentatonic scale.
It has a lyrical quality to it some of the phrases are played with one plucked note bent with dexterity to perfection.
His range of control over the pitch is astounding, forcing each string to find the sweet spot instead of scaling the frets.
The playing is busy throughout with plenty of licks flung before the track even reaches its chorus.
B.B. subtly gives the song exactly what it needs, filling it full of feeling, and indulging in vibrato only when that sweet spot is found.
2. “Purple Rain” by Prince
“Purple Rain” can probably be described as Prince’s defining song.
Although the megastar explored a wild assortment of genres, “Purple Rain” is known and loved worldwide and its wailing outro is nothing but epic.
The legendary musician utilizes repetition of a memorable motif that is as emotional each time you hear it as it was the first.
The phrases are built around the G minor pentatonic scale and deviate to a few modal notes that add interest to the listener.
The soaring saga of a lead dominates two-thirds of the song without boring the listener.
Prince even expanded his shredding in a 15-minute rendition performed at the Miami Super Bowl back in 2007.
It was a defining moment that he seemed born to gift the world with.
3. “Still Got the Blues” by Gary Moore
An unforgettable lamenting solo from Gary Moores’s 1990 album.
The chord progression fundamentals are a circle of fourths that provide a simple wistful background.
The coloration added with the selection of sevenths and fifths is like icing on the cake.
Moore steps up and into the lead-riff phrase of the solo stepping up with four notes complementing the four-note gap that is between each chord selection.
The sevenths and fifths allow a little extra wiggle room for notation.
He sticks with the pentatonic but adds a few Aeolian and harmonic minor notes that make it all the more miserable.
Each final note of his lead is part of the chord to follow, so we feel at home in the misery created.
He also implements traditional chromatic blues steps and uses ninth notes which make it feel very wholesome to the genre.
While it is not a complex solo sometimes the best solos are the ones where less truly shines as more.
Moore also switches from the neck humbucker to the bridge making it all the more expression.
4. “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
Much like the theme of the song, this solo is heavenly.
The song is a masterpiece with compositional interest and a storytelling style.
The solo itself is reminiscent of a story within a story, with a distinct start, middle, and end making it a song within a song.
Page sets the scene in the opening phrasing that signals the chord progression change.
The chords ring out like a town crier heralding big news.
They act as a precursor announcing the arrival of the solo.
Page then wails his way in with a delicious lick that borrows a few stray notes rounded up from elsewhere.
And with a couple of bars, he turns the folksy song into an epic.
The midriff is filled with repetitive motifs that build into a flurried onslaught.
We end with a smoother contoured melody and a dubbed secondary lead.
Jimmy then twiddles us into the final heavier verse.
See also: Best Led Zeppelin Songs
5. “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
If “Comfortably Numb” isn’t in your top ten, then you probably shouldn’t be here!
The entire track is a testament to Gilmour’s greatness.
The atmospheric qualities that he creates and maintains throughout are astounding.
With its arpeggios, the initial solo features bar vibrato as Gilmour guides us through a sliding passage.
It is in D Major and each emphasized note is milked to perfection.
His iconic black Strat, with its DiMarzio FS-1 bridge pickup aided by a Big Muff, sings brightly “pride of place” in the soundscape.
Towards its final bars, he rakes into the blues licks which adds further interest.
He builds the excitement with a tone of restraint over two minutes in his final outro solo.
It features Hendrix-style bluesy phrases that lick and build gloriously.
Along the way, we see aggressive double-stops that develop it into a concrete motif.
The climactic peak shifts us up the octave in preparation for an epic descent.
The melody and expression are unmatched by most guitarists, making “Comfortably Numb” one of the best guitar solos hands-down.
6. “La Grange” by ZZ Top
For the verse and chorus sections “La Grange” has a heavy-driven riff that bumbles under the vocals.
It provides a lot of motion and build-up but doesn’t go anywhere.
The decision to change the key for the solo section is compositionally pure genius.
From there on out everything kicks up a gear, you go from a revving engine to a full-throttle solo that is on fire!
Billy Gibbons demonstrates a wealth of techniques with his speedy shredding.
Employing a hybrid pick and finger technique he tears the pentatonic scale a new one!
With bends, vibrato, double stops, and the pinch harmonics he is famed for being the first to record the solo bent-minds the first time it was heard.
7. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne
Who knows what else the capable hands of Randy Rhoads may have brought us had he not tragically passed?
Tony Iommi often gets a lot of credit but when you listen to the energy of “Crazy Train” you can’t help but be impressed.
We are treated to two applaudable riffs before the minute mark of the song.
The first introduction of the key motif has an explosive high-speed run down that almost teases you, hinting at what is to come.
Rhoads was inventive with this one, utilizing effects to his advantage.
He tried to imitate train-like sounds chromatically ascending trill, it builds to a fast-picked minor pentatonic lick.
Then like a wayward train that has gone “off the rails” as the lyrics suggest his pentatonic trajectory heads Aeolian.
His trills are lightning speed and his bends are meaty.
The solo is well-structured with each phrase being iconic in its own way.
The culmination of which equates to one of the best solos of all time.
8. “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Most average rock band guitarists will tell you that this is one of the most requested songs on the circuit.
The cries of “Play Freebird!” are commonplace when you near the end of a setlist.
Sometimes a long-winded solo is going to lose you a crowd and it is fair to say the pros and cons of this song create debate!
But Lynyrd Skynyrd’s epic set of lifted licks remains popular with die-hard fans.
Allen Collins plays for almost four-and-a-half minutes, lifting the audience higher and higher, speeding the song without changing the tempo.
Seasoned players will tell you there is nothing all that new about anything he specifically played.
This is why we used the term lifted…
But linking the licks together in the manner he did and playing them to the point of exhaustion is an impressive feat.
Originally “Free Bird’s” saga of an outro was born of necessity.
The band had an insane performance schedule and Ronnie Van Zant was struggling to maintain his vocals.
Collins pulled out every lick he had ever learned to give the singer a well-deserved vocal rest between songs.
That accidentally became one of the group’s most famous tracks and love it or hate it it will go down in history as one of the best guitar solos of all time.
9. “Crossroads” by Cream
Clapton took Robert Johnson’s acoustic blues song and gave it the rock and roll facelift that nobody knew it needed.
He reimagined the track giving it much more drive but retaining the soulfulness of the original.
The contemporary homage was Recorded for Cream’s Wheels of Fire album, and the solos are passionate, you can hear Clapton’s appreciation for the legend that came before him.
The solo itself is spread over the five verses and each time builds and expands upon the core motif that follows the melody line of the lyrics.
Every solo starts with the same energy that the previous one left you with taking you beyond it and intensifying on to the next.
His phrasing drips like honey yet roars like an engine all over the four-minute track.
His blues licks are littered with almighty aggressive double-bends.
Clapton, ever the perfectionist can’t stand listening to his playing.
But for the rest of us, it is a significant live recording more than five decades later.
10. “Hotel California” by Eagles
“Hotel California” is a track that brought the Eagles into the limelight.
iconic twin-guitar harmony lines took the Eagles to new heights.
The coolest thing about the solo is the harmonics between the two guitars.
The solo kicks in with Felder and Walsh trading licks with one another before they glorious combine.
The mechanics behind the harmonized solo are a lot more simple than they seem.
In essence, you have an arpeggio played over each chord of the progression with one guitar playing the arpeggio with a starting on the triad below.
Each arpeggio has a tweaked end phrase that gives it character.
Although it is straightforward the double lining in close harmony leaves an impact.
11. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
The guitar is used transitionally to great effect.
The song (as if you don’t know) has distinct sections in different styles.
In Popular music, this shouldn’t work but for Queen it did and some would argue that May’s guitar playing is crucial.
The solo is pretty brief, considering it is a six-minute saga.
But those nine explosive bars provide a musical interlude that takes us from an evocative piano ballad into an unexpected operatic venture.
It also serves as a modulation into another key.
May provides an articulate melodic break, with an expressive, lyrical structure and regal edge.
He uses dynamics well within his phrases building the speed he plays with.
He is liberal with his timing, comfortable hanging on a note guided by the backbeat and ignoring the stricter rhythm the rest are playing to.
Pre-bending his way to the next sweet spot with beautiful vibrato in his wake.
It is also fair to note there are other fantastic demonstrations of his skills aside from the solo in the heavier outro sections that create a great juxtaposition.
12. “Eruption” by Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen shook the world back in 1978 with the release of his opus “Eruption”.
At the time purely instrumental stand-alone guitar solos weren’t a thing.
From the explosive bluesy eight-bar opening to the technical tapping of the finale, Eddie takes the listener through his entire bag of tricks.
Warming the crowd with lightning licks that develop over the following bars, borrowing chromatics from the major and minor pentatonic.
The sheer speed of the hammer-ons and pull-offs was more than impressive as crowds watched Van Halen push the boundaries with his ax.
His tapping is erratic, moving from the first and fourth sextuplet notes to the third and sixth notes.
While the tapping often gets the most attention the pinched harmonics and whammy bar diving are equally as iconic.
The best thing about the whole track is Eddie’s wreckless abandon, he plays so liberally.
Even the recorded version isn’t the perfect take, he often stated that all he hears is a top-end mistake.
But for the rest of the world “Eruption” is a masterpiece that has inspired many future guitarists to learn the instrument.
13. “Cliffs Of Dover” by Eric Johnson
Next up is another instrumental offering.
When the entire thing is instrumental it is hard to ascertain where the solo is, so we’ll generalize from start to finish.
Johnson won a Grammy for his exquisite playing and heavenly tones with this one.
He uses the E minor pentatonic as his sounding board to navigate from blazing through from the root note and initial bend.
There are Dorian passing notes and he reaches pentatonically into the relative major (G).
He touches on the blues scale amid his pentatonic traversing and makes his way using string-skipping arpeggios.
These open-voiced triads play with the octave of the chord notes.
The whole thing is very smooth even with the speedier 16th notes, this is largely due to the tone he manages to achieve.
It is warm, sustained and almost violin-like in places, courtesy of his “Virginia” Strat fed through a 100-watt Marshall Super Lead, with an Echoplex and BK Butler Tube Driver.
14. “The Trooper” by Iron Maiden
“The Trooper” is another solo that makes good use of the natural notes, a double solo to be exact!
There is plenty that this legendary metal song brings to the table when we listen to the guitar parts.
It opens with heavy homophonic motifs that are double-harmonized.
The motif has a rhythmic pause that builds anticipation.
Then we break into the trademark galloping rhythm.
The theme of the song was centered around The Charge Of The Light Brigade, the galloping compliments the military theme.
The solo section gives each guitarist a chance to shine.
Most of the track is in E minor, but in the second solo, it changes to A minor.
Dave Murray brings in a power chord progression that is finally more structured stepping down and introducing a reinvigorating chord leap change.
Adrian Smith wails over the top with soaring bends, and descending blues scale licks.
Some descents are legato; like falling down a ladder hitting every rung, and others are rapid and Valkyrie-esque.
The progression changes key shifting everything up a string below the secondary solo which adds interest.
Murray again favors blues-style licks but adds trills and traverses the neck and frets bending without a care in the world.
15. “Highway Star” by Deep Purple
The solo for “Highway Star” is one of Ritchie Blackmore’s defining moments.
To analyze it, firstly we have to take into account that he recorded two parts in harmony giving it that double guitarist vibe that we can hear on the Iron Maiden track we discussed above.
It has a Bach-like sound, with rapid arpeggios that descend throughout.
The arpeggios follow the main chord progression of the song.
Blackmoore wrote the solo out note for note before the recording, something he had never done previously.
The key is d minor which gives the held parts in a C-natural much more impact.
It generates a Bluesy sound when it crashes with the third of the C# too.
There are lots of fourth intervals and chromatic elements.
The speed is probably one of the things that grabs attention.
But the real genius underneath the track is the classical music influences that Ritchie has in his heart.
16. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
Slash is often the subject of hot debate when it comes to his guitar skills.
But his Jekyll and Hyde style solo on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is one of the most memorable solos of all time.
It has a real split point in the middle that breaks it in two.
We start with a very simple 3-note descending motif constructed in a modal fashion that follows the progression.
Some seventh notes give it a harmonic minor feel.
He echos some of Axl’s melodies.
The notes chosen in the phrasing are provided some character and identity with the vibrato and bending-on.
The second half of the solo builds into an aggressive blues explosion.
It takes place an octave above the first half of the solo and the juxtaposition between the two parts kicks everything up a notch.
Slash also changes from neck to bridge pick-up at the moment between the two and uses a Cry Baby pedal.
All these changes at once create a powerful shift of dynamics.
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” without the solo would be an otherwise relatively boring soft-rock track.
The solo made the band’s breakthrough single a rock staple.
17. “Fade To Black” by Metallica
In March 1984, Hammet recorded a timeless melodic solo at Flemming Rasmussen’s Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen.
The entire album was more progressive stylistically than the band’s debut.
The solo of “Fade To Black” marked the shift in style for the group and hallmarked the new era.
Again, it isn’t anything overly complex and is constructed mostly from arpeggios as many we have analyzed.
The arpeggios are limited to two strings rather than three or four like we are accustomed to post-Malmsteen.
It dances over the natural minor scale and dabbles with the Phrygian mode to bring us the C.
Hammett is known to improvise the majority of the midsection; it is never truly the same twice if you see the band live.
When he starts running into the rapid 16th notes at 142 bpm he uses pull-offs to facilitate him in pulling off the feat.
18. “Beat It” by Micheal Jackson
So, unsurprisingly, given that he was such a legendary guitarist, Van Halen secures a secondary spot.
MJ and Van Halen might seem like the most unlikely of pairings but the end result was something incredible.
The happy accident was Pete Townshend’s suggestion.
He declined Jackson’s offer when he was approached to work on the superstar’s Thriller album recommending Eddie instead.
Quincy Jones asked him to play the solo but Van Halen wanted the chord progression beneath the original solo space changed.
It was a big tweak that the guitarist wasn’t sure the megastar would be happy about.
Jackson viewed his changes as proof that the guitarist cared about making a good record and not just earning his paycheck as an instrumentalist.
Among the rest of the disco tracks on the album, it truly stood out.
With its rocky edge provided by the late legend.
Full of the guitarist’s signature, whammy dives, harmonics, fluttering, tapping, and metal slides those few seconds shine.
19. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles
Like Van Halen, the “Guitar God” Eric Clapton also gets a second spot this time for an unaccredited guest spot in The Beatles lineup.
Harrison had begun joining his bandmates in writing and composing but there was little enthusiasm for this slow piece.
That was until Clapton stepped into the studio with them.
On their best behavior with the guitar legend present the rest of the fab four finally listened to what Harrison had on the backburner.
Clapton Picked up Harrison’s “Lucy” Gibson Les Paul and ran it through a Fender Deluxe and began his memorable descending pattern.
Provocative and tear-jerking he bends melancholically downwards through the haunting melody line.
His vibrato control is on point and the release notes are bitter-sweet.
Much like the title of the track, Clapton allows his guitar two (maybe not so gently) weep its way through two harrowing climactic solos full of heartache.
It was the first of Harrison’s songs that demonstrated he was as capable as McCartney or Lennon at writing and composing.
20. “Sultans Of Swing” by Dire Straits
Knopfler brought this one to life with a Stratocaster with a glimmer of Fender Twin grit.
The song has an infamous motif, which is used as a sounding board for the dreamy solos.
You can hear his rockabilly, blues, and jazz influences brought together within his lyrical style solo.
Each solo is distinct, the first with single-note bends with precise phrasing that demonstrates his scale knowledge.
It is elegant, swoony, and rousing.
Played in a fingerstyle reminiscent of Chet Atkins, Knopfler used mainly his thumb and index to claw hammer his way through it.
The solo that heads into the outro is the showstopper.
When Knopfler finally breaks into those speedy arpeggios we are all just cheering along as they build.
21. “Lenny” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Another great song that shows us that distortion isn’t everything is “Lenny”.
Like Knopfler’s track above this one’s tone is essentially clean, the heaviness is added with the picking itself.
Stevie takes the listener on an emotional musical walkabout.
The intro and outro treat us to crystalline pitch harmonics.
At its heart, it is a blues track that lazily licks keeping within the limitations of the genre.
But we are also unexpectedly treated to shimmering chords above it that almost have a surf-rock Hawain feel.
We also get jazzier further in as he keeps us on the edge of our seats guessing.
He battles between the upper and lower frets lifting us with notes that sing and ring out like an adult lullaby.
The lows take us from euphoric heights to excitement you can feel in the depths of your chest.
Masterfully combining the major and minor scales we get led wherever he wants to take us.
One of the most relaxing guitar solos by far.
22. “Under A Glass Moon” by Dream Theater
We use the word shredding quite liberally when we describe some of the more iconic guitarists out there.
But Petrucci’s playing in “Under A Glass Moon” is the dictionary definition, if ever there was one.
He puts many of his competitors to shame in 59 seconds flat.
As though trying to give someone a guitar masterclass in less than a minute Petrucci shows off from the get-go.
He demonstrates alternate and sweep picking, tapping, and whammy techniques, as he aggressively scales his ax with spitfire phrasing.
Just for starters!
He uses the pentatonic, C# Dorian and E Lydian modes to give us a tour of his guitar neck.
Like a realtor rushing us from room to room with no time to inspect the furnishings or take in the color scheme.
23. “All Along The Watchtower” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The rule-breaking Jimi Hendrix wasn’t to everyone’s liking, his boundary-pushing sounded like whole lotta noise to many.
“All Along The Watchtower” serves as a good example of how creativity was at the root of Hendrix’s playing and not just a novel disregard.
Because it is a cover version you can listen to the two and hear clearly what the guitarist brought to it.
Many guitarists consider the Hendrix cover canon.
With its four meaty solos screeching through a run of octaves and bluesy pentatonic he adds so much interest to Dylan’s track.
The rhythm playing is also notable and gives the cover trademark Hendrix vibes.
The main solo has those huge octaves, wahs, and funky muted scratches that give it a distinct groove.
Just as the lyrics of the song describe the wind, the final outro solo is where Hendrix truly begins to howl.
24. “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry
We couldn’t skip over this one!
You might think it hasn’t got many as many bells and whistles if you listen to it next to some of the experimental and progressive rock and metal that followed.
But every track that followed built upon the structural foundations laid out by Berry!
In its heyday, “Johnny B. Goode” had one of the wildest guitar solos out there.
Chuck Berry was one of the most influential musicians of the era and helped pioneer an entire genre of music.
The guitar is the key instrument in the mix, the rest is pretty non-complex and the progression follows what is now typical of a 12-bar blues structure.
The solo kicks in with BErry almost trying to play as though he is the pianist or horn section taking the lead.
The fast-paced strumming and its iconic twangy bends dance atop the bluesy foundations like a scat singer improvising on the spot.
Chock full of dyads and phrases that became the blueprints for generations to come Chuck’s rock ’n’ roll riffage sits in the minds of many.
25. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” by Jeff Beck
Inspired by Roy Buchanan’s volume swells, Beck gives us this dedicated masterpiece that shows off impressive dynamic control.
The flow and attack are controlled using the volume dials throughout this bad boy.
It’s a sadly underrated solo that really ought to hold its own.
It is an earlier Beck track before he had his signature ax sound set in stone.
It demonstrates the player’s bend precision elegantly.
The swells are like whale songs.
We are taken as listeners from vulnerable to raging and from clean to filthy.
The instrumental has a lyrical melody as Beck gets his Tele-Gib to sing like the best of vocalists reaching their peak.
The intense moments are impassioned and the breaks into other modes and modulations are great momentary side steps.
Just when you think you have ventured too far from the gentler landscape we started in, he brings us back to home ground.
Best Guitar Solos – Final Thoughts
Ranking the best guitar solos of all time can be explosive, especially if you have friends who are die-hard fans of the more obscure groups out there.
There are however a few that are so well-constructed, so well-played, and perfectly placed in the song that they become memorable and catchy earworms.
When a solo hits so hard that you want to pull out your air guitar, then it is unarguably one of the best.
Today’s list should have hit the spot, even if they weren’t all to your personal taste.
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