The 100 greatest guitar solos in rock

50) Danny Cedrone - Rock Around The Clock

From: Bill Haley And His Comets – Rock Around The Clock, 1955

In the mid-50s, rock’n’roll was so new that a fat middle-aged country singer with a kiss curl was enough to drive the kids into a frenzy. Yeah, Bill Haley was an unlikely teen idol, and it wouldn’t be too long until he was swept aside by the mania surrounding a kid called Elvis Presley. In the meantime, what Haley did have going for him was a great band and a bloody good record called Rock Around The Clock. That song hit No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and not least because of its blistering guitar solo played by session ace Danny Cedrone.

These days we associate the word ‘shred’ with stick-thin 80s hair farmers with pointy guitars and a root vegetable shoved down the front of their spandex. Well, Danny Cedrone’s incredible solo – played on a 1946 Gibson ES-300 with a single P-90 pickup, through an 18-watt Gibson BR-1 amplifier, was shredding 50s-style.

The solo is a jazz-flavoured affair played at increasingly breakneck speed, with a final rundown that still slackens jaws today. The track was recorded on April 12, 1954, and Cedrone actually lifted the solo from a 1952 recording session he’d played with Haley for a song called Rock The Joint. His virtuosity changed the world, Sadly, less than a month after cutting Rock Around The Clock Cedrone died after falling down some stairs.

49) Steve Lynch - Turn Up The Radio

From: Autograph – Sign In Please, 1984

The mind boggles as to how Pasadena glam-rockers Autograph didn’t expect a lot from Turn Up The Radio (arguably the only really good song they ever wrote). Their record label RCA didn’t even want it on the band’s debut album. Had anyone at RCA actually heard the song? And had they heard Steve Lynch’s solo? An exhilarating feat of loveable melody and technical what-the-fuckery – teamed with beefy drive and a sporting helping of synths – it was the cherry on a gloriously feelgood cake. Guitar Player magazine named it their solo of the year, and it’s not hard to see why.

Steve Lynch was a founding instructor at LA’s revered Guitar Institute of Technology and known as ‘the two-handed guitarist’. The solo in Turn Up The Radio is the perfect demonstration of this. Following a dextrous opening progression, it crescendoes with a line of multi-fingered tapping which Lynch makes sound thrillingly easy (anyone who’s tried it will know it isn’t). The solo climbs down with a smooth series of bends before finishing off with a last flurry of hammering. When Autograph supported Van Halen, allegedly Eddie told Steve he couldn’t use his two-handed technique as it was ‘his thing’.

In the fullness of time Lynch has been somewhat overlooked (he retained his notoriety largely as a teacher) – probably because Autograph just never had enough good tunes – but his effortless-sounding lead flair here is irresistible.

48) Berton Averre - My Sharona

From: The Knack – Meet The Knack, 1979

When I played this song with my band at a high-school talent show, I substituted the name Alyssa for Sharona. My elusive object of desire inspired the same kind of revving and reaching that Doug Fieger sang about. Since I couldn’t sing, I did what guitarist Berton Averre did: I steered the song into his dream sequence, a minute-and-a-half movie full of winking, fast-motion Benny Hill-style lust.

Averre starts his foreplay melodically, stating a simple, hooky theme. As things heat up he begins peeling off speedy licks, rising up the neck of his sunburst Les Paul, pushing the intensity into the red. At 3:38, when he locks on to the high C, shaking the vibrato over six seconds, you think he’s reached the climax. But there’s more; this is too good to stop. There are more bends that sound like ‘oooh’s and ‘aaah’s behind closed doors, then it finally winds down into an afterglow that says: “Whoa, best fantasy ever.”

Because My Sharona has a ‘one-hit wonder’ tag, Averre’s break is often overlooked in the annals of rock solos. It really shouldn’t be.

Back in high school, I played his solo without any major flubs. Afterwards I saw my Alyssa leaving with a brawny dude from the varsity football team. An important lesson for guitarists: smokin’ leads don’t always get the girl.

47) Joe Satriani - Cryin’

From: Joe Satriani – The Extremist, 1992

JOE SATRIANI: “At the time, you think the ones you’re labouring over are your best work, but years go by and you realise that those one-take solos stand out. Like Cryin’.

“I was in control room, the Bissonette Brothers (Gregg and Matt) were in the live room recording the drums and bass, and [engineer] Andy Johns suggested I play the melody as a guide for them. So I plugged into a Zoom, this palm-size headphone amp. And after the take, Andy looks at me with tears in his eyes and says: ‘That’s it! You just played the take!’ It’s an emotional song, and I just got into a zone.

“You don’t crank these things out with regularity, they just happen, and if you’re lucky the tape is rolling. I’m always surprised when people pick their favourite of mine. Recently it was the solo for If I Could Fly [Is There Love In Space, 2004]. I just wanted it to be the most uplifting, fun sound possible. I never thought it would resonate with people the way it has.”

46) James Williamson - Search And Destroy

From: Iggy And The Stooges – Raw Power, 1973

JAMES WILLIAMSON: ”Okay, so the song Search And Destroy was written – or should I say ‘fleshed out’ – from a basic machine-gun-type sound that I had made while goofing around in rehearsals while in London. The other guys in the band liked it, so I took it back to my room and worked through all the changes around it on my B25 natural acoustic.

“As we added it to rehearsals of stuff we’d like to record, I began using the riff that you refer to as the ‘explosive intro’ and ‘fearsome middle section’ – these two are basically the same pattern, and I believe I just came up with them while writing the song. The ‘incendiary outro’ was something that I worked up in the studio as we were recording it for Raw Power. This was all done at the new CBS recording studios in London at the time, and on most of those songs I would lay down the tracks and then overdub improved guitar leads as I felt them and as they occurred to me. I wouldn’t labour them too much. I would just try stuff out until the other guys liked it and then move on.

“For Raw Power I generally used a British 60s JMI Vox AC30 top boost combo amp turned all the way up with treble full out. In a few exceptions I used a Marshall for the leads, but on Search And Destroy it was the AC30. The guitar I played was my 1969 Les Paul Custom (nicknamed The Leopard Lady). Frankly, it was complete serendipity that I chose that combination. Of course, I was using the Les Paul, but I was searching for the right sound and the engineer suggested I try the AC30, so we had one brought in. The British version ran at 220 volts and so had a little different sound anyway, but it was the combination of the AC30 and the Les Paul Humbucker pickups that really rocked and got that sound. Well, that and the way I play. The way I finger the strings – the pressure and pick attack – also has a great deal to do with the overall sound.

“Anyway, of course I love that song as much today as I did back then. It really says a lot in a very short amount of time and it stays with you once you’ve heard it. That’s the definition of a good song.”

45) Albert King - Crosscut Saw

From: Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967

You’ve got to love the solo that Eric Clapton plays on Cream’s Strange Brew: the robust vibrato; those exaggerated string bends. Yeah, the man folk were calling ‘God’ back in the day played an absolute blinder. In this case however, Eric wasn’t the messiah, he was a very naughty boy, having lifted the solo wholesale from Albert King’s Crosscut Saw.

To be fair to Clapton, his smash-and-grab job on King’s licks was a tribute to a man he was in complete awe of; something he had in common with fellow King’s men Jimi Hendrix, Gary Moore, Paul Kossoff and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

This reworking of Tommy McClennan’s 1941 tune Cross Cut Saw Blues was recorded at Stax in Memphis during one of a group of sessions with house band Booker T. & The MG’s that would eventually be compiled as King’s Born Under A Bad Sign album. Released in 1967, the record was subsequently plundered for tracks by Free [The Hunter] and Gary Moore [Oh Pretty Woman], but it’s King’s unique guitar style that was most influential. Played on his right-handed Gibson Flying V ‘Lucy’, upside down, in an open tuning, his Crosscut Saw solo deserves its place on this list because it changed Clapton’s life – and that means everyone else who played guitar in the 60s was hit by the aftershock.

44) Justin Hawkins - I Believe In A Thing Called Love

From: The Darkness – Permission To Land, 2003

Trust Justin Hawkins. In an era when the ostentatious instrumental guitar break was on the ropes, The Darkness’s frontman ensured that his band’s breakthrough tune I Believe In A Thing Called Love included not one, not two but three blurred-fingers guitar solos. “Far be it from us to join in with that nonsense,” Hawkins told Classic Rock of the rock scene’s refusal to widdle circa 2003. “That song has two choruses and three guitar solos. It’s a weird combination, in my experience.”

Respect to the brief harmonised break at the one-minute mark, and to Dan Hawkins’s sturdy lead at the mid-point (“Gui-tar!”). But the solo that sends I Believe In A Thing Called Love crashing through the roof arrives in the outro: an eye-poppingly flashy piece of showboatery played by Justin Hawkins. Opening with a bend straight out of Brian May’s playbook, it gathers pace with a snaky descent through the frets, then launches into a giddy run of warp-speed pull-offs that chase all the way up the guitar neck like Morse code. Finally, as the song collapses around him like a detonated high-rise block, Justin concludes with a dog-whistle pinch harmonic – and out. It’s a suitably frenetic conclusion to the most daft-as-a-brush rock song of recent times.

“That song is arranged as you would hope a party would be arranged,” Hawkins, says, “with a climactic finale.”

43) Vito Bratta - Wait

From: White Lion – Pride, 1987

As power ballads go, White Lion’s 1987 single Wait is as satisfyingly cheesy as a mouse’s breakfast. If you were going to write an epic ballad, the late 80s was the time to do it. Everyone was at it, from Mötley Crüe with Home Sweet Home, Skid Row’s I Remember You, and of course Every Rose Has It’s Thorn by Poison. What White Lion had over their pouting competition was a genuine virtuoso guitarist called Vito Bratta.

Poor Vito was always being compared to Eddie Van Halen. For one thing, he finger-tapped like Eddie – a lot of players did at the time – and the two men even looked a bit similar. But, with respect to Eddie, he never pulled off anything quite as melodically breathtaking as the solo Bratta played on Wait. Bratta’s finger-tapped style is surgically accurate and clean. What makes the solo particularly beautiful is his technique of hammering down a note and then seamlessly sliding it up the guitar’s fingerboard.

Guitar-wise, the solo might have been played on the twin-humbucker ESP ‘Super Strat’ Bratta throws around in the Wait promo video, or more likely the Steinberger GM headless model he also owned.

Post White Lion, Bratta withdrew from the music industry, and the man who Zakk Wylde described as one of the greatest guitarists ever has rarely surfaced since.

42) Steve Hackett - Firth Of Fifth

From: Genesis – Selling England By The Pound, 1973

STEVE HACKETT: “By Genesis’s standards, Selling England By The Pound is an album on which the guitar presence is very strong – it’s a little more player-based, as opposed to pop-song-based, as some of the albums were. So certain things fell into my lap as we worked at Island Studios in London.

“When Tony [Banks] played the melody for Firth Of Fifth to me on the piano it reminded me of [French avant-garde composer] Éric Satie. I’d just got a Coloursound fuzz box, a Schaller volume pedal, an Echoplex and a guitar that nine times out of 10 would feed back on a high F-sharp – at that time it was state-of-the-art technology. That was the set-up I used.

“The solo comes along quite late [almost five minutes in], but I hope it’s worth the wait [laughs]. It’s also a very long solo for Genesis. As I played I was trying to paint the mental picture of a high-flying bird, an idea that had been suggested much, much earlier when I was in a band called Quiet World. The elongated note in Firth Of Fifth was intended to convey sustained flight. There’s a point at which three guitars are playing the melody – that was a happy accident. We played it back and it sounded so good that we kept it.

“Having avoided Firth Of Fifth for years in solo shows, I’ve begun including it again because I know it’s a big moment for people. It requires a lot of concentration to play live, but it’s a song that almost wrote itself, and as I play it it somehow plays me. I probably play it with more force than I used to. I like to turn up the treble for the last part of the solo, and I know that the band turns up the intensity when its main theme returns.

“Without Tony’s input and the song’s original melody I couldn’t have done what I did. I played around with that idea of his, so a lot of the credit must go to Tony.”

41) Alex Lifeson - Limelight

From: Rush – Moving Pictures, 1981

ALEX LIFESON: “I’m always very spontaneous when it comes to soloing. I have a tendency to overdo things, but I’m much better off when I’m not thinking too much about it. I just close my eyes and I’m an observer, and I just let my hands go and try to stay out of the way. Sometimes that’s really hard.

“I think Limelight is one of my most unique solos. I remember that we did it late at night, and the control room was very dark and vibe-y. I loved the platform of that track, it allowed me to be really free and open with it. And I love the way that solo steps in, right on the edge of the beat. There’s no ‘coming up to speed’, it just cries right from the start. It’s screaming from the heart. It’s a very elastic solo. And it’s very emotive. There’s a real sadness and loneliness to it, and that’s a lot of what the song is about. I love that it kinda falls off, and picks up, and stumbles, and the ending comes to a rising crescendo. It’s not that difficult to play. It’s not particularly speedy or intricate, but it’s the mix of those falling notes, and the vibrato I used, both in my left hand and on the whammy bar.

Limelight was an impulsive solo, for sure. I’d say most of my solos are done in the first five takes. From my recollection, we did three takes on that particular solo. Like all guitarists, I always think the next one will be better. But then Ged [Lee, bassist] said to me: ‘Okay, you’re done.’ And that was my cue to step out of the room. Then he and Terry [Brown, producer] put a couple of different comps together. Then I came back in and Ged and Neil [Peart, drummer] both congratulated me. I think they were a bit surprised by its composition and uniqueness.

“The first half starts off on the forward pickup, then it switches to the humbucker in the back about halfway through. And you can hear that. I’m pretty sure I used my Marshall combos, and I’m almost positive that we set up the amps outside so we got a natural echo delay. I believe it was a Loft pedal that I used for that flanging effect.

“I used my Hentor Sportscaster guitar. At the time, I didn’t have a guitar that had a dependable vibrato arm on it, so I created one. I used one of my Strats originally, and rebuilt it – that was back in 1978 . So this white Hentor was just a more souped-up version. It had Bill Lawrence L500 pickups in it, and a Floyd Rose [tremolo unit] so I could bend it and do whatever I wanted without it going crazy out of tune.

“Would I change anything if I recorded it again? No, not a thing. But it does change subtly live. At the end of a tour, when I go back to the original, I’m quite surprised by how it’s subtly moved. Y’know, we’re not robots, thank goodness, so there’s a little bit of a natural change, depending on how you’re feeling and your mood.”

Alex Lifeson (left): two heads is always better than one

Alex Lifeson (left): two heads is always better than one (Image credit: Getty Images)
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