The 100 greatest guitar solos in rock

60) Michael Schenker - Rock Bottom

From: UFO – Phenomenon, 1974

MICHAEL SCHENKER: “With the Scorpions, I had recorded Lonesome Crow [the title track of the band’s 1972 debut], but Rock Bottom was the continuation of that; I needed to have a song in which I could improvise and go on an adventure.

“The version that we recorded for Phenomenon had begun in rehearsals as a riff, and we kept on adding more riffs to it, and then Phil [Mogg, singer] leapt up and said: ‘This is how we’ll make it into a song.’ The live version [on Strangers In The Night] is almost twice as long, and I still think of Rock Bottom as a work in progress. When I play it live now I use the most memorable parts of the solo, and keep a space to represent my latest frame of mind.

“Mogg later claimed that I left UFO over a disagreement about which version of Rock Bottom appeared on Strangers, but don’t believe everything you read.”

59) Robin Trower - Too Rolling Stoned

From: Robin Trower – Bridge Of Sighs, 1974

ROBIN TROWER: “I think it was completely improvised. I basically used to busk solos in those days. These days I tend to think about ideas, although I don’t like to think about it too much. Obviously blues and R&B are most of what makes up my vocabulary, as it were, and that solo was where I was at as a player at the time. It was the sum of my influences. From the early days of rock’n’roll guitar players to being very influenced by BB King and Jimi Hendrix, they were the main influences going into my style at that time.

“That album [Bridge Of Sighs] was a lot of fun to do because some of the songs we’d already played live, so we basically just had to go in and perform them. With Too Rolling Stoned, however, I think we only rehearsed and got it together in the studio.

“I think the idea of breaking into that shuffle on the track was very influenced by James Brown’s Live At The Apollo. That album was a huge influence on me. In my first band, The Paramounts, we used to do a lot of James Brown stuff, and I think that informs an awful lot of what I do. As for the guitar on the track, since the end of Procol Harum it’s always been a Strat.”

58) Eddie Hazel - Brain

From: Funkadelic – Maggot Brain, 1971

Despite their name, George Clinton’s Funkadelic project began life with one foot in the rock firmament and another in the nascent realm of funk as defined by James Brown. And such diverse influences would help Eddie Hazel to create the group’s most famous instrumental passage.

During the creation of the title track of their third album, Maggot Brain, legend has it that an acid-addled Clinton instructed Hazel to “play like your momma just died” but as if he had then learned that it was not true. Hazel responded by laying down, in one take, a 10-minute, Hendrix-never-happened trip into the melancholy corners of his imagination.

A simple, delicate arpeggio plays drowsily in the background as Hazel emotes over it hypnotically with the help of a only fuzz box and a Cry Baby wah-wah pedal.

The minor-chord melancholia that bleeds from his every lick draws you in like a despondent pied piper, before distorted growls and writhing wah-wah grunts add a sense of disoriented anger to the whole scene. Later, it mellows out, as delicate, delay-flecked notes flicker, before fading out softly to the same distant gunfire that inexplicably opened the track.

Hazel left Funkadelic after the Maggot Brain album. When he died, at the age of just 46, this track was played at his funeral. Its strange, surreal strains remain a supreme example of rock guitar played with sublime, smouldering soul.

57) Dave Murray - Powerslave

From: Iron Maiden – Powerslave, 1984

Long before Bruce Dickinson’s vocals defined Maiden’s platinum-plated sound, the band built their sonic temple upon not only the clanking bass of Steve Harris and growl of Paul Di’Anno, but also the bluesy stylings of guitarist Dave Murray. What set him apart then – and still does – was the setting he uses on his guitar’s neck pickup, which gives a warm and creamy sound unusual among out-and-out metal bands.

There are numerous instances on Iron Maiden records of him using this sound to great dynamic effect, but the best in both melodic and emotive terms is in the title track of what is probably Maiden’s best album, Powerslave. Murray could always shred, but he can reel it in too.

The lyrics and Eastern-favoured riffs and chorus effortlessly transport us to ancient Egypt before, all of a sudden, the brakes are slammed on and Murray steps to the fore, embellishing languorous lines with his trademark phrasing and lilting legato runs. It’s even more effective when the song is played on stage and he can let the notes really sustain.

It’s a fair assumption that on Powerslave Murray will have used his go-to black Strat, as he had for most of Maiden’s early albums and tours. And as the band continues to grow, he’s still there, stage-right, trademark grin in place as he peels off one great solo after another.

56) Robert Fripp - 21st Century Schizoid Man

From: King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King, 1969

JAKKO JAKSZYK (King Crimson): “Even at the tender age of twelve, when I first heard this I knew it came from some other place. This solo rang out from an alien location. The bespectacled, serious and seated guitar player from the strange and majestic King Crimson bent notes for tension and effect, not as part of some pentatonic blues tradition. The searing sustain and buzz-like tone coaxed from Robert’s ‘Black Beauty’ Gibson Les Paul Custom through a Hi-Watt stack was unlike any other guitar solo we had ever heard. It was scary and modern, like a surreal dystopian landscape. It was cool and bordering on the atonal. A befitting explosion amid the nihilistic nature of the song’s lyrics, and placed in between the tight sax/guitar passages and terrifying unison runs that followed the sax solo.

“Here was a rock guitarist with a classical technique and jazz leanings using unusual scales and odd rhythmic metres. A man who had little concern for ‘crowd pleasing’ or merely showing off his superior technique. No one played guitar like that. No one coaxed that icy tone that went from angular and dissonant to heart-breakingly plaintive in a moment. Few can play like it now. If they do, however, we know exactly where it comes from: the fingers and mind of Robert Fripp.

“It still touches and amazes me now, nearly fifty years after it first appeared on vinyl. Especially since I get the unique privilege of watching him play it close up every night.”

55) Jerry Cantrell - Man In The Box

From: Alice In Chains – Facelift, 1990

JERRY CANTRELL:Man In The Box was the song that garnered interest from the record company, but funnily enough, when we recorded it, they didn’t like it as much. They thought it was too slow and kinda drudgy, not heavy enough. And I’m like, ‘That song’s a fucking hit and it’s going on the fucking record’. It’s still a song that people react to, and one of the solos that people try to sing back at you. I remember the first time that happened to me, it was like, ‘Wow, I’m just gonna stop playing, you guys sing it, man’. It’s still one of the solos people react to the most.

“We recorded that first record at London Bridge Studios [in Seattle], then finished it off at the Capitol Building in LA – so I think I did the solo there. I remember our producer, Dave Jerden, wanting to really capture me with the best tone possible. For that solo, we ended up using an amp that I hadn’t used before, which was a Marshall modified by Reinhold Bogner. The first half is done on my G&L Rampage guitar, which I always play, and the second half was on the neck-position pickup of a Strat I built in high school wood shop – with a neck that was going to Eddie Van Halen, that I got for 25 bucks. I used a Crybaby and a Talkbox, doubled, in the intro sections and the solo has some of that as well.

“The solo is not that fast, and it’s basically all in the E blues box. Would I change anything if I recorded it again? No, absolutely not. That was where we were at the time, and I don’t think I could have put a better solo on that song. It’s special because of its perfections and its imperfections.”

54) Steve Vai - Shyboy

From: David Lee Roth – Eat ’Em And Smile, 1986

By the mid-80s, if you were a rock or metal guitarist it was almost impossible to compete with Eddie Van Halen. It seemed like every single player was incorporating the two-handed tapping technique that EVH helped popularise, but not many were trying to put their own spin on it. So when it was announced that Van Halen singer David Lee Roth had split in 1985 (coming off the mega-successful 1984 album), an obvious question among rock fans was: “Who the hell will fill Eddie’s stadium-sized shoes alongside Roth?” The answer was: Steve Vai. Although he had previously played with Frank Zappa, PiL, and Alcatrazz, it was not until signing on with Roth’s stellar solo group (which also included bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette) and the release of 1986’s Eat ’Em And Smile that guitarists worldwide marvelled at the shred-tastic talents of Vai.

And at no other point on the album are his abilities more glaringly on display as on the gonzoid Shyboy, which has speed-demon playing and whammy-bar abuse in the middle of the track. Additionally, at various points, Sheehan (who wrote the ditty, which was originally recorded by his previous band Talas, but DLR’s is the definitive version) appears to be battling Vai for centre stage – especially towards the end, where they play a tricky bit in unison. Single-handedly, this solo served as confirmation that Roth had done a dandy job locating the perfect replacement for his old sidekick.

53) Peter Green - So Many Roads

From: John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Looking Back, 1969

Succeeding a popular member of a band is never easy, but taking over the vacant hot seat when Eric Clapton (aka Jesus’s dad) left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers after the game-changing Beano album must have felt like walking a tightrope over a shark-filled pool. Very, very few guitarists would have been up to the task. So when Mayall found Peter Green it was like he’d received a second gift from God.

There’s plenty of evidence on Mayall’s A Hard Road album to show that Green was a rare and stellar talent indeed, but nowhere does his star shine more brightly or more intensely than on the track So Many Roads. His solo is beautifully constructed, fluid, unusually (for Green) note-packed, and aggressive in its biting attack. It employs the same kind of huge echo as on his Mayall showpiece The Supernatural, with a Les Paul/Marshall dirty sound to die for; you can almost feel the heat from the on-the-limit valves and smell the amp’s hot vinyl casing. Fifty-nine seconds of truly breathtaking, planets-aligned voodoo, this solo sends shivers down the spine like very few others even come close to doing.

In the early 70s, Green sold that now iconic Les Paul to Gary Moore for around $300. Its current owner is Metallica’s Kirk Hammett (a Green fan), who reportedly paid around $2 million for what is one of the most coveted guitars on the planet.

52) Randy Rhoads - I Don’t Know

From: Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz, 1980

Randy Rhoads was blessed with prodigiously accomplished chops, a deep seam of theoretical comprehension and acres of flash, flair and feel. And the intakes of breath that accompanied hearing Rhoads’s guitar playing on his debut album for Ozzy are only just being exhaled today. There’s an argument that Crazy Train’s is the better solo by a whisker, but in terms of novelty and wow factor the one on I Don’t Know just pips it.

If the Blizzard Of Ozz opener that kick-started Osbourne’s solo career was a nihilistic shrug at the world, that sentiment was somewhat countered by the life-affirming energy of Rhoads’s riff. Out of the traps like a greyhound, the guitarist casually offloads some extremely brash fills – all pentatonic pull-offs and double-speed double-taps – before dropping way back in the pocket for one of the most unusually gorgeous middle-eights in heavy metal. Egged on by Ozzy (“Go, go, go!”), the solo compacts every Rhoads trope and trick into 30 seconds of master class. Incredibly fast hammer-ons, hammer-pulls and other combinations interweave with neck-bend detunes, damped staccato runs and piercing leads. According to engineer Max Norman, Rhoads was very nervous in the studio, and a stickler for precision – many solos were triple-tracked with barely a nano second difference between takes. One of his many lasting legacies, this solo is testament that Rhoads’s never sacrificed melody on the altar of cold, shred-fixated ego.

51) George Lynch - Tooth And Nail

From: Dokken – Tooth And Nail, 1984

SATCHEL (Steel Panther): “One of my first concerts was Dokken. They were opening for Judas Priest. They came on, George Lynch’s hair was fucking perfect, they opened with Tooth And Nail and it knocked my dick up around my head.

“George’s solo is so good, an amazing combination of melody and flash. When kids are learning to rip on the guitar, it’s easy for them to forget about melody. While anyone can learn to be fast on guitar – it’s like training a monkey – it’s not easy to be melodic. George had killer feel, especially back then. I loved his vibrato. He plays it with such conviction, and that’s what made him stand out.

“It’s a long solo, and in the last sixteen bars there’s a melody that really gets me off, then in the last four bars there’s a fast piece of guitar by itself which is just great. I put him right up there among the great guitar heroes. Everybody wanted to be George Lynch in 1985.”

George Lynch (right) of Dokken

George Lynch (right) of Dokken (Image credit: Getty Images)
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