So here’s my criteria:
1. It must be played within the context of a song with singing and lyrics – NO INSTRUMENTALS! Thus no Cliffs of Dover, Satch Boogie, Eruption, etc, etc, etcetera. That is getting old anyway. This basically kills my lack of jazz background as well, which is nice.
2. No live performances – no, I am not going through every bootleg of Highway Star to figure out which one’s the best. Everything here is recorded in studio.
3. I am not a musician – I don’t care what mode, scale, or key a solo is in and that all they do use recycle pentonic scales or whatever. I go by how the solo makes me feel and how it fits into the context of the song they are playing. I always ask myself: does it blow my mind and/or how much skill did they display within the frame of the given solo (I understand skill is just one aspect of guitar playing). Yes, I do emphasize skill, and that is just one aspect of greatness.
4. This is really not about which guitar solo is most historically significant or influential. But – I do throw a few bones here and there when a guy comes up with a solo out of nowhere that was head and shoulders above what was being done in the era.
Jeff Beck – Superstition (Beck, Bogart, & Appice Beck, Bogart, & Appice)
Bruce Franklin/Marty Friedman – Convoluted Absolutes (Tourniquet Where Moth and Rust Destroy)
Carl Johann Grimmark – Inner Sanctum (Narnia Desert Land)
Reb Beach – Witness (Winger Karma)
Angus Young – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (AC/DC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap)
Wally Farkas – Ranch On Mars Part 2 Set Me Free (Galactic Cowboys At the End of Day)
Vitto Bratta – Little Fighter (White Lion Big Game)
Zakk Wylde – Fire In the Sky (Ozzy Osbourne No Rest For the Wicked)
David Gilmour – Pigs (Three Different Ones) (Pink Floyd Animals)
Yngwie Malmsteen – Queen Is In Love (Yngwie Malmsteen Trilogy)
Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry Rock, Rock, Rock)
Piggy – None of the Above (Voivod Angel Rat)
Criss Oliva – Legions (Savatage Hall of the Mountain King)
Leslie West – Mississippi Queen (Mountain Climbing!)
Steve Stevens – Dirty Diana (Michael Jackson Bad)
Jason Becker – It’s Showtime (David Lee Roth A Little Ain’t Enough)
Carlos Cavaza – Bang Your Head (Quiet Riot Metal Health)
Kerry Livgren – Carry On My Wayward Son (Kansas Point of No Return)
Roger Fish – Magic Man (Heart Dreamboat Annie)
John Petrucci – Lie (Dream Theater Awake)
Synyster Gates – Afterlife (Avenged Sevenfold Avenged Sevenfold)
Matthias Jabs – Rock You Like A Hurricane (Scorpions Love At First Sting)
Steve Vai – Elephant Gun (David Lee Roth Eat ‘Em And Smile)
Ritchie Blackmore – Stargazer (Rainbow Rainbow Rising)
Billy Gibbons – La Grange (ZZ Top Tres Hombres)
Reb Beach – Madelleine (Winger Winger)
Paul Gilbert – Dr. X (Racer X Getting Heavier)
Vinnie Moore – Blitz the World (Vicious Rumors Soldiers of the Night)
J/K – These are just solos in consideration at one time or another. Some in serious contention, others just for posterity’s sake.
101) Scott Gorham – “Angel of Death” (Thin Lizzy Renegade)
Great song that doesn’t get its due and Scott Gorham’s solo fits it beautifully. Gorham is a more influential guitar player than anyone will know, especially since Iron Maiden aped Thin Lizzy’s harmony guitar attack to a tee.
If Lynch is a Van Halen clone, then he is the best one there is. The song is standard boogie rock metal, but this solo by Lynch is catchy, inventive, and extreme.
93) Synyster Gates – “Lost” (Avenged Sevenfold Avenged Sevenfold)
92) Roland Orzabal – “Shout” (Tears For Fears Songs From the Big Chair)
Usually I’m not a fan of reiterating the main melody for a solo (think Smells Like Teen Spirit solo – *yawn*), but Roland hits just the right notes and adds a lot of twists to the song’s flavor with this solo. He creates another level of tension to an already magnificent song during the song’s fade out climax. When one thinks “80’s”, one should think Tears For Fears (or possibly Flock Of Seagulls – I haven’t decided yet). Tears have the more bountiful ouevre though. Okay, it’s decided, Tears For Fears are THE band of the 80’s when it comes to capturing that 80’s mystique.
90) Randy Rhoads – “S.A.T.O” (Ozzy Osbourne Diary of A Madman)
89) Criss Oliva – “Conversation Piece” (Savatage Edge of Thorns)
Sort of a B-side that the band probably jammed out real quick in the studio to fill out the end of the album, but the outro just goes and goes. You get to hear Eddie go off like never before with no restrictions. Unfortunately the engineer fades it out and cheats us out of another 45 seconds of jamming. Anyway, here is Eddie at his most unrestricted and honest, pushing himself to the limit.
Glass Hammer is that type of band that creates concept albums out of Tolkien’s works. They are comprised of two multi-instrumentalists (I can’t even find a pic of Fred playing guitar), who share the duties. Although they are primarily a moog prog band, Fred can really handle the axe, and they both used to be in a metal band called Wyzards.
Once you make it through this 16 minute epic Fred ends it with an emotional Gilmour-esque solo that caps it off perfectly. More of a solo that heightens an already great song and it works just that well within the context. Drat, no link. Here’s a good song from the same album though: “The Conflict.”
The solo simply smokes, despite all the over-exposure of the album. You can’t deny the power of Carlos and his unique sound. See, the latin explosion of the late 90’s/early 00’s wasn’t all that bad.
I think Thayil is a better riff writer than soloist, but here his style fits the mood of the trippy Like Suicide. This is another example of where the solo meets the song and that’s where it exudes greatness. The tone and texture of Thayil captures the trance-like mood of one of the Seattle project’s best songs.
Joe made the switch to vocals and the response wasn’t favorable, but this is one of the better songs on the album. He really blitzes the listener on this solo with a speedy blues approach then goes all honky tonk in quick bursts. Not much else to say but that Satch is one of the most untouchable guitarists of all time.
During this rather laborious title track – the band decides to shift gears and just lets Adrian and Dave exchange leads. The result can’t be argued with: it’s the most intense playing by the two metal giants. The rhythm changes from trudge to uptempo jam and they throw every guitar trick in the book at you.
Got to find a spot for my man Jeff Waters, who I think is the overall best thrash guitarist of all time. His solos may not be as tasty as Friedman or Skolnick, but he has his own unique style of thrash, which sounds like a little girl’s nightmare – a motif he’s frequently explored with Annihilator. He is Annihilator and Annihilator is him, which has been somewhat of a flaw with rotating members, but they do have a handful of classic thrash albums. This is his best solo, but not the best song. Starting with one of his patented tightly wound bridges leading up to a punchy solo, which bends the mind as usual.
There’s no upload, cuz of ECM, but here’s some dude playing it, showing how tough it is to execute:
Paul Gilbert may be the best working guitarist today. Starting out as prodigy shredder in Racer X, he has redefined his tone and adopted many styles into his playing. And, unlike a lot of 80’s guitar players who haven’t evolved, has become a better player for it. The man can do it all and do stuff that no one can do (he’s got a lengthy, freak-ish pinky).
The jazz-fusion metal giant has a lot of work to choose from, but I think this is his most complete work. Incorporating jazz still doesn’t hold back Alex as this is undoubtedly metal and shredder-riffic.
For a guy who doesn’t know jack about theory and just wings it, he certainly is a musical genius. He is one of the more imaginative shredders and the lick that comes at the end of the solo just puts it over the top for me, otherwise it’s just another brilliant day on the fretboard for Mr. Scary.
77) Michael Romeo – “The Odyssey” (Symphony X The Odyssey)
If you’re thinking this pick is lacking in pedigree, well Mark McGee aka Weird Al Yankovic is the guitarist for the Allman Brothers now and has been for the past 15 years. This 1990 release by west coasters Vicious Rumors is one of the premier American power metal albums. I love this song and the solo is just dangerous, starting out very slowly and diggin’ into some deadly shred licks. Plus it’s got a great beat and it’s easy to dance to.
No Youtube link: Atlantic Records doesn’t want YOU pirating Vicious Rumors assets, but here’s a grooveshark link.
I doubt that the kids in his state championship winning high school choir thought Jerry was going to be in one of the more demented bands of the 90’s. Don’t know what it is about Seattle and guitar solos, but Cantrell just seems to choose the perfect notes for this great song and it goes down just right.
72) Adrian Smith – “Deja Vu” (Iron Maiden Somewhere In Time)
In between heroine hits, these two churned out some pretty good metal. This exchange is probably Chris and Dave at their best.
Even in the day of Eddie and Yngwie, when someone heard this solo they were like “huh? what? – did I hear what I thought I heard?”
68) Steve “Steaming” Clark/Phil Collen – “Rock of Ages (Still Rollin’)” (Def Leppard Pyromania)
Before Leppard became a punchline they were a pretty rockin’ band. These are some really intense licks behind Mutt Lange’s wall of sound, which was the beginning and end of DL.
66) Eddie Van Halen – “When Push Comes to Shove” (Van Halen Fair Warning)
65) Brad Gillis/Jeff Watson – “(You Can Still) Rock In America” (Night Ranger Midnight Madness)
Yeah, I’ll probably take some heat for including that “Sister Christian band,” but this song is important as it opened the door for shred to for me back in ’83. This tune was actually on mainstream radio and had incredible chops, especially for the time. When is the next time you’ll turn on the Top Forty station and here some blazing licks? Probably never… Well Gillis was good enough to replace Randy Rhoads for awhile and Watson had a 8 finger tapping technique that was completely unheard of at the time, which I believe he demonstrates at the end of the solo.
More people should realize the greatness of Dio-era Rainbow – his voice was really at its peak and he could always rely on Blackmore’s songwriting. Oh wait, this is about the guitar solo… And, yeah, as good of a player that Blackmore is/was, he was an even better songwriter, but this solo seems to encompass all that Ritchie was at the time. Unlike other Blackmore solos it allows him room to breathe and capture what he would to in a live setting.
The cross-cultural implications of the song are pretty monumental. Who cares? This solo rules! (I guess Ed spent 2 seconds in the studio and just hammered it out with Quincy).
Where the solo begins and ends I’m not quite sure, because Marty thrashes through almost the entire song. I suppose it starts through the outro jam section then Dave finishes it up with some precambrian, but rather exciting, climatic notes: perfect way to end a classic thrash song off the best thrash album of all time. Even my friends who weren’t really into metal picked this thing up after I played it for them.
Another song that should get played on classic rock stations nationwide, but because classic rock stations suck, that won’t happen. Genius lyrics by Ozzy, and Randy heightens this already magnificent song with an emotional soliloquy.
This would be higher if it were the live version. Frampton sorta represents the 70’s blues-y rockers era for me like Pat Travers and Rory Gallagher. Stuff I really don’t know that much about.
53) Steve Morse – “Haunted” (Deep Purple Bananas)
Steve Morris can pretty much do whatever he wants on guitar. He’s the musician’s musician and this is one of many great examples of his work. His vibrato is perfect.
There’s something just very unique about this solo that I just can’t put my finger on. Seems like another well executed fast metal solo, but it has so much character and makes a great song even better. I’d put up a picture with Ronnie and Vivian in it, but apparently they didn’t get along and Ronnie pretty much hated his guts. And I don’t want to dishonor Dio.
Synyster Gates – “To End the Rapture” (Avenged Sevenfold Sounding the Seventh Trumpet)
Billy Corbin – “Cherub Rock” (Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream)
Steve Howe – “Closer To the Edge” (Yes Closer To the Edge)
Craig Locicero/ Glen Alvelais – “Chalice of Blood” (Forbidden Forbidden Evil)
Dimebag Darrel – “Cemetary Gates” (Pantera Cowboys From Hell)
Dave Hlubek/Steve Holland/Duane Roland – “Dreams I’ll Never See” (Molly Hatchet Molly Hatchet)
Walter Becker – “Reelin’ In the Years” (Steely Dan Can’t Buy A Thrill)
Scott Gorham/Brian Robertson – “Emerald” (Thin Lizzy Jailbreak)
Jimi Hendrix – “Foxy Lady” (Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced)
Kirk Hammett – “Shortest Straw” (Metallica And Justice For All…)
Paul Gilbert – “Daddy Lover Brother Little Boy” (Mr. Big Lean Into It)
Vitto Bratta – “Radar Love” (White Lion Big Game)
John Sykes – “Still Of the Night” (Whitesnake Whitesnake)
Eddie Van Halen – “Hot for Teacher” (Van Halen 1984)
Jørn Viggo Lofstad – “Osiris Eyes” (Pagan’s Mind Celestial Entrance)
Daniel Gildenlow – “King of Loss” (Pain of Salvation The Perfect Element Part I)
Dan Donegan – “The Night” (Disturbed Indestructable)
Keith Richards – “Sympathy For the Devil” (Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet)
Eddie Van Halen – “I’m the One” (Van Halen self-titled)
This genre defining guitar solo still puts a smile on my face. Chuck includes his famous Chuck Berry intro within the solo, making it all the more iconic.
Possibly the first progressive metal song on the first progressive metal album. The solo is just a giant undertaking covering about 2 1/2 minutes of the song. Dave and Adrian start things slowly and set up a gorgeous table to wreak havoc on in the 2nd half of the solo.
I think the band was really at their peak during this era where they still had the fire and something to prove. The sonics on this song are incredible, especially Lars’ drum tone. And Kirk’s tone sounds under-produced, adding to the overall intensity of the song’s performance, coming off very raw. Yes, I know this is a cover, but I didn’t make any rules against that.
If you dislike shred, then I have found a guitar solo for you to truly despise. This solo is just obnoxious and over-the-top and brilliantly so.
Helloween wrote a monster 13 minute metal tune and wrought out some blistering solo exchanges dead set in the middle of it. They display some serious chops here, especially in the wammy department, and even out do their brethren at the time (IM, JP).
Just an odd tune with Doug Pinnick singing falsetto at first then belting it out into a megaphone. Then Ty goes off on a tangent with an extended solo, featuring his patented volume swells, that will make the hair on your arm stand up on end.
One of Hendrix’s longer studio jams that was released post-humously, showing, once again, that he was ahead of the game.
You may not think it worthy, but let me ask you this: can you beat ‘Bark At the Moon’ on expert mode? Didn’t think so.
I also love the outro solo here.
This album is nuts – the band is just so laid back and strike the perfect party atmosphere with Dave at the helm. Usually bands start getting more commercial by this time and play it safe, but VH just came out and did whatever they wanted. You can here bottles rollin’ around on the floor, goofy harmonizing guitar tones like on ‘Cradle Will Rock, and Dave just having weird conversations with people hanging around the studio. Oh yeah, this solo smokes as does the song.
Once the sci-fi story reaches a conclusion, Peart takes the tempo down and Alex really hammers out a fine, gut-wrenching, emotional solo; bringing this prog rock masterpiece to a zenith.
This is the ultimate shred song – Vai is relentless throughout. The song is like one long guitar solo itself, but the solo solo is also amazing. Billy Sheehan’s histrionic bass contribution up the ante as well.
How often does a guitar player create a solo where it seers into the rock consciousness and never leave? His solo is so well constructed that anyone listening to classic rock for a given amount of time will never forget it – I’ve never purposely listened to this song and I remember every note by heart.
I just haven’t heard a metal solo quite like this one. He marries palm muting and scale climbing perfectly, creating climax on top of climax.
This is a seminal solo that got aped by tons of metal guitarists following their lead(s). Glenn (don’t mess up that 2nd ‘n’) and K.K. just exchange some genre defining leads here.
John Petrucci throws the guitar kitchen sink at you and it crushes your skull outright. There’s funk chords, fast sweeping techniques, neo-classical licks, and a buncha other stuff I can’t play.
This solo would make the list just for its tone alone, but then Alex infuses so much passion into this thrash-ballad and bumps into the top 25.
People always think of the sax melody when conjuring up this song in their mind, but this man must have the hands of a wizard, cuz they certainly sound enchanted on this solo. His note bends and vibrato are really incomparable when listening to Baker Street.
The original heavy metal twin-axe duo practiced a lot during the 80’s and their technique evolved with the rest of the players of the era. They came up with the ultimate face-melter of a song that includes two sets of solo exchanges that will perform the face-melting act as promised.
Phil is simply the cleanest, most precise note picker that I’ve ever heard. Taking a look at his picking hand shows that he engages some kinda three finger picking technique when holding the pick – maybe that’s why. This outro solo is glorious. It shows his improvisational abilities and ahead-of-his-time technique.
The Y man was just a kid here and this is his earliest American recording. Joining with L.A. garage band, Steeler, for a brief stint in the early 80’s, he virtually creates everything he’s ever done in one solo and never topped it since.
Petrucci pushes his abilities to its limits here and renders a lot of emotion he hadn’t shown before. This solo sounds very personal to him and the intensity is shown through his playing.
Like I said before this guy is great and seemed to be at his best during his two-toned hair days. There’s parts on here that I don’t really know how he is doing what he’s doing. His vibrato is really intense throughout as well.
Like “Shyboy” this song is almost one long solo, but I really dig the intensity that Criss churns out in the solo solo, playing some meaty chords just at the right time after he shreds some ascending scales.
Toto guitarist Lukather liked to loan out his skills on various projects other than Toto. His playing here is perfect for the song and uses echo effect brilliantly.
This song is very similar to “Fade To Black”: somber heavy metal song about suicide. This song was written seven years earlier than Fade and the singing and guitar solo on Beyond are actually better.
What David Gilmour lacks in skill, he makes up for in awesomeness.
When I first heard of Phil Keaggy it was some sorta concert propaganda with a quote from Jimi Hendrix saying Phil was the greatest in the world or in regards to that. Later on in life I found that this was just urban legend, but it did peak my interest in Phil and for that I am thankful. The man is an anomaly – he has the taste and tone of yesteryear with the chops of a young speed merchant. This outro solo goes for about three minutes and you never want it end, featuring Phil grabbing continuously from his bag of tricks with a completely fluid stream of consciousness.
5. Autograph – “Turn Up the Radio”: I always thought this was pretty basic solo that just added up all the cliché’s of hair metal solo’ing at the time and put it in one song. I can’t believe this won guitar solo of the year in one of the mags.
4. Nirvana (Kurt Cobain) – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – blech..
3. Dokken (George Lynch) – “Breaking the Chains”: not sure if it’s really bad, but it sure is really bland. George is capable of so much more. However, this may be Don’s solo as he had this song on his solo album a few years earlier and George may have just replayed it, since Don Dokken was a guitar player in his earlier days. Aren’t you glad you know that now about Dokken? That Don played guitar back in the seventies and kinda quit after he saw Eddie play. I’m here for your Dokken trivia. Please tell me you stopped reading several sentences ago. I also like how this solo is supposed to set the band free from their “chains” in the music video. The band is chained up in some sorta dungeon cell then George starts playing (even though his hands are bound?) and his chains break then the solo starts destroying the rest of the band’s chains cuz it’s sooooo amazing… This solo couldn’t snap a rubberband much less steel chains in an 80’s vid! You can’t still be reading..
2. Flotsam and Jetsam – “Der Fuhrer” (Doomsday for the Deceiver) – not sure who plays it and I’m not going to look it up.
1. Twisted Sister (JJ French) – “We’re Not Gonna Take It”: He repeats the lead verse and just adds a little wammy to it – big deal. Why even have a solo?
Yeah it should be higher but I consider ten a landmark – a fitting number for rock’s most revered guitar solo.
I always thought this song was an 8 minute plus epic, because the solos were so massive it made the song feel like a prog metal tune. Turns out the song is just over 4 minutes. This solo exchange is so good it creates some kinda time-space wormhole expanding reality as we know it (especially on Marty’s end).
Simply one of the best songs of all time and Prince drains every ounce of emotion out of each note during the solo. One of the strangest cultural phenomenons was this unusual song becoming seeped into the bloodstream of the mainstream.
Schenker seemingly blends blues and rock seamlessly and has incredible improvisational skills. If it weren’t for Van Halen stealing the spotlight, he would have been a bigger force on the rock scene. This song can never be played-out, I’ve tried it. You can’t get tired of it, and the Scorpions would steal this guitar tone for years afterward.
Love how May holds a high pitch feedback noise for 20 seconds before drilling us with a massive chord to begin the blitzkrieg. The perfect fuzz-tone solo.
If Hendrix wasn’t considered the best at the time, he would leave little doubt after putting out Electric Ladyland. Where Jimi would take out all his anger on the establishment with this monstrosity of a solo. There were sounds and studio wizardry that allowed Jimi to create feedback effects never heard before to accompany the intense attack.
In the mood to traverse the astral plane? Then check out this song. Tipton pours out his soul in the solo and it matches the mind trip vibe of the song perfectly. I won’t link the song, because I don’t want anyone’s mom suing me in case they take a shotgun and shoot wide right to the head, survive, then blame the song. BTW, Halford goes through every octave known to humanity during the tune. FYI, Glenn also plays piano on the song.
Edward plays this lightning strike of a solo twice during the song’s runtime and actually tops himself the second time around. The beauty of VHII is how Ted Templeman would crank up the guitar volume during the solos. It’s like he knew he had the golden goose and let him lay his eggs.
Three Marty solos in the Top 20? Is he really that good? If you read Dave’s autobiography, he says that he was clean from drugs when Marty first joined the band, but Marty was so good that Dave got depressed, started using again, and had to go back to rehab, because his playing couldn’t compare to Marty’s. So yeah, Marty is so good that he put Dave Mustaine back into rehab. I like this solo because it shows two contrasting styles weaving into each other: Dave’s brash, primitive new wave of British Heavy metal vs. Marty’s exotic neo-classical finesse. Another pick that’s bound to go over like a lead zeppelin.
I don’t know why “Crazy Train” is always rated so high on guitar solo lists – the riff is iconic, but the solo sounds so atypical for the genre. Besides, “Over the Mountain” and many other of his solos are so much better. He completely pushes the envelope for what was being done at the time here. The band stops playing three times and just lets RR let loose and pulls out a white rabbit every time, and the tone… I don’t think we’ll ever hear this refined rawness in metal. It really defines ‘electric.’ It’s like when he touches the strings you can feel the crackle of lightning and the guitar sounds like it is alive like Frankenstein’s monster coming to life. Most metal today loses this facet, and guitars sound so processed and mechanized. It’s like they are afraid of showing the feedback or the raw power of electric guitar played straight through a Marshal stack man. Randy was not afraid, and figured out how to control it. Randy sounds like he is grabbing ahold of a wild beast, jumping on top of it, and riding it until it breaks to his will. His playing is so disciplined, but his instrument is a rabid animal.