The 100 greatest guitar solos in rock

90) Joe Bonamassa - No Good Place For The Lonely

From: Joe Bonamassa – Blues Of Desperation, 2016

JOE BONAMASSA: “When I first listened back to my solo on No Good Place For The Lonely [on Blues Of Desperation, 2016] I thought: What drugs was I taking and how could I get some more?! I was so proud of it. It was completely improvised from start to finish, and I could never do that again. It always helps when you cut live; there’s that energy in the room, the band give you that extra kick in the ass. The fans mention Stop, and Save Me from Black Country Communion 2, and of all my solos, those are the only three I can listen back to.”

89) Kerry Livgren - Carry On Wayward Son

From: Kansas – Leftoverture, 1976

Carry On Wayward Son was written by guitarist Kerry Livgren at the last moment for Leftoverture. But as soon as the band heard it they knew it would be a hit. And indeed it became Kansas’ first major single, reaching No.11 in the US.

Much of the track’s impact is down to Livgren’s beautifully balanced guitar style. While the vocal harmonies and piano part are certainly important, it’s what Livgren plays that transforms what would have otherwise been a good song into a great one. A lot of solos come across as stand-alone pieces, but Livgren’s is symbiotic with the melody. He raises the whole texture to a rarified height, bringing out new depth and vulnerability in the track. It’s a virtuoso glide of classical and folk inspirations channelled through Livgren’s trusted Gibson SG guitar, but mixed in such a way that it’s not overly to the fore.

Livgren appreciates what enhances the moment – and what could detract – and delivers exactly the right guitar part. More than enough to consider this solo to be outstanding.

88) Neil Young - Southern Man

From: Neil Young – After The Goldrush, 1970

Neil Young’s anti-racist diatribe was well-intentioned, but its generalisation of the American south – ‘Southern change gonna come at last/Now your crosses are burning fast’ – was clumsy. Indeed Lynyrd Skynyrd felt compelled to put their side of the issue on Sweet Home Alabama. Lyrical controversy aside, though, Southern Man is classic Neil in its musical structure, a cranky country boogie that chugs on guitar and piano.

The main guitar solo – an extended cry that brings the song to a furious finish – is extraordinary. No longer softened by the piano, Young’s untamed solo is a trebly rush of stinging urgency. It sounds like he’s improvising (and he probably is), the unpretty nature of his playing an echo of Southern Man’s ugly subject matter. The climax is an insistent squeal that wrings a single note for all its worth, a corollary to his one-note solo on Cinnamon Girl, from 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

A fine example of Young’s ability to fashion emotional complexity from the thinnest of materials.

87) Martin Barre - To Cry You A Song

From: Jethro Tull – Benefit, 1970

MARTIN BARRE: “Oddly, the Martin Barre Band are currently featuring To Cry You A Song in our live set. We’re touring the USA, and the track is a great success live as it was never really done as a Tull live song, as Ian hated playing it because there was so little flute in it. For me it was the signature track from Benefit. And it was definitely influenced by Blind Faith – that groove, the way the riff built. Blind Faith was one of Tull’s favourite albums at that time.

To Cry You A Song was very much recorded live in the studio, with all the solos played on the backing track. Ian added some guitar on Leslie effects towards the end as an overdub. There are some doubled solo parts from a previous take, to layer up the guitar. I played the riff, with Ian playing a harmony on guitar – one of mine, a Gibson LP Standard. I used a Gibson Les Paul Custom with two humbuckers, and a Hiwatt amp and cabinet with no effects.

“It was a fun track to record, as was all of the Benefit album. We were made more confident by the success and acceptance of our previous album, Stand Up.”

86) Mick Ralphs - Feel Like Making Love

From: Bad Company – Straight Shooter, 1975

MICK RALPHS: “They just turned me loose and said: ‘Play something over the end.’ What you hear is what I did off the top of my head on the day all those years ago. It was just ad-libbing, basically. First or second take, as I recall. I never think about what I’m going to play – that’s the trouble! I played it on an original Gibson Flying V that I owned at the time. They only made a few of those, and I managed to get one for six hundred pounds, which I thought was a fortune back then. I think I was using a Marshall hundred-watt amp with a four-by-twelve cabinet. Marshalls today are so complicated. Back then there was the JTM100 or the JTM45 valve amp which was very simple: no overdrive, no gain – no dirt. You just had the controls on the amp to create the sound: bass, middle, presence, treble, volume and that’s it. And no pedals. I’ve never been big on pedals.

“When we play Feel Like Makin’ Love live I try to emulate the record. But a thing like that, you’re just improvising over the changes, really, so I never know exactly what I’m going to play until it happens. I don’t consider myself a lead guitarist. I’m a guitarist. Most of my stuff is based on rhythm and chords. My idols are people like Chuck Berry. A good song is based around the chords, not the lead guitar break.”

Bad Company's Mick Ralphs

Bad Company's Mick Ralphs (Image credit: Getty Images)

85) Neal Schon - I’ll Be Alright Without You

From: Journey – Raised On Radio, 1986

RICHIE KOTZEN: “Neal Schon’s solo on Journey’s I’ll Be Alright Without You is a great one. He’s one of the greatest rock guitar players for me, he plays just the sort of thing I want to hear. Here it’s the feel, where he’s sitting in the time, the way he bends the strings and weaves the solo around the melody. He’s got such great taste and that’s what moves me, not technicality.”

84) Brian Jones - The Spider & The Fly

From: Rolling Stones – Out Of Our Heads, 1965

While Satisfaction would take blues rock to strutting new heights, its B-side – recorded at Chicago’s famous Chess Studios during the band’s first US tour – is an example of just what skilled instrumentalists the Stones were becoming, with a feel for the musical lineage they were mining allied to a sense of adventure and creative mischief.

A beautifully languid, prowling alley cat tempo introduces the tale of our hero sat backstage, weighing up the pros and cons of hooking up with a lady who was ‘common, flirty, she looked about thirty’, when he remembered his girl back home telling him to ‘keep fidelity in yo’ head’. It’s lit up by a sublime and unusual guitar solo from Brian Jones, which weaves in country, folk and blues influences within a few seconds’ laid-back caressing of the frets.

Its opening strains have a peculiar elastic quality as he bends the tone up and down as if in imitation of a pedal steel or slide player, before lazily evoking the bluesmen who inspired Jones.

“It’s a Jimmy Reed blues with British pop-group words,” Jagger once explained. “Which is an interesting combination.”

He just doesn’t know quite how good they are, does he?

83)Mark Tremonti & Myles Kennedy - Blackbird

From: Alter Bridge – Blackbird, 2007

MARK TREMONTI: “I knew that solo [on Blackbird] was the last one I had organised for the record. I put a ton of pressure on myself for that one, because as a band we felt that was the strongest song on the album. I saved it until the end and made sure it was right. I put everything that I could into that solo. I think I wrote it on my Charcoal Burst PRS.

“When me and Myles [Kennedy] went back-to-back having our different styles I think it just worked; it adds depth. One guy soloing can use different vibes and feels, but it is more apparent when you have two different players with different styles and influences playing together.

“Did I know it was a special solo at the time? I liked what I heard but it didn’t sink in how special that whole song would become until we started performing it live. That is Alter Bridge’s theme song now.”

MYLES KENNEDY: “We were in Nashville, and Mark and I were sharing a condo. A lot of times I just improvise – I never know what I’m doing until I’m in the studio. But this time I really felt like I wanted to go into it with a gameplan. “I remember sitting in my bedroom and essentially trying to play what I was singing in my head, piecing it together. And so I came up with this melodic approach to the first guitar solo, before Mark comes in and really starts blazing at the end.

“I played a PRS Modern Eagle. Getting real nerdy here, the entire neck was rosewood, so it had a completely different sound to it – very cutting.

“If I re-recorded it, would I change anything? There’s an effect on there, called a Unvibe, which is very Hendrix-y. It’s maybe a little heavy, I’d maybe pull that down a little bit. But then I think people are pretty used to it by this point.”

82) Tommy Bolin - Quadrant 4

From: Billy Cobham – Spectrum, 1973

With the arrival in 1978 of the Van Halen album, to some Eddie Van Halen and his kamikaze playing style appeared full-blown out of nowhere. But there were two lesser-known recordings that contained similar high-octane playing by other guitarists, both albums being released five years earlier – Ronnie Montrose on Montrose’s self-titled debut, and Tommy Bolin on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. And on the latter, the album’s kick-off track, Quadrant 4, is a genuine stand-out.

The all-instrumental tune begins with a rapid-fire solo that many have been fooled into believing is guitar, but is actually Jan Hammer letting rip on his synthesiser, with Cobham himself thundering away on his kit and keeping pace impressively.

After the tune’s main bionic boogie melodic theme is introduced, it’s Bolin’s turn to steal the spotlight, for a full two minutes. And it’s breathtaking stuff. Utilising an Echoplex unit (which would go on to become his trademark) at various points to create laser-gun sound effects, Bolin’s soloing is so in-your-face that it holds your attention firmly for the entire duration and never lessens its grip. That is until the recurring theme returns to close out the proceedings.

While the Spectrum album went on to become a landmark recording of the jazz-fusion genre (and a clear blueprint for Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow and Wired), sadly it is the only recording to feature the killer core group of Bolin-Hammer-Cobham in full flight. The guitarist died from a drugs overdose, aged just 25, three years after its release.

81) The Edge - The Fly

From: U2 – Achtung Baby, 1991

As U2 frontman Bono colorfully put it, the band’s The Fly was “written like a phone call from hell, but the guy liked it there”. He also described it as “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree”. With that in mind, it makes sense that for the recording of it guitarist The Edge would be replaced by an evil twin – call him The Edgy. Instead of constructing the customary elaborate cathedrals of sonic grandeur, on this track he’s teetering on the steeple, a dark presence daring himself to cartwheel through the air.

In the two minutes leading up to his solo on The Fly, Edge/Edgy plays it stark and dissonant. Jagged metallic riffs. Harnessed feedback. Chords that sound like boxes of broken glass being shaken. Claang, schplaang, zzzppfftt… And then, three minutes in, he goes for it.

The first note in a solo is always crucial. You’ve got to grab the listener’s heart (and related body parts). And the opening notes here are fantastic, sounding like screams in a canyon, spiraling upwards, expanding the song’s boundaries. But unhinged as this new Edge is, he can’t hide his always exquisite sense of composition, and his minute-and-a-half spotlight ends up being the melodic heart of the song, the verb to the noun of the title and the balance to Bono’s menacing whispers.

Classic Rock

Classic Rock is the online home of the world's best rock'n'roll magazine. We bring you breaking news, exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes features, as well as unrivalled access to the biggest names in rock music; from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses to the Rolling Stones, AC/DC to the Sex Pistols, and everything in between. Our expert writers bring you the very best on established and emerging bands plus everything you need to know about the mightiest new music releases.