The 100 greatest guitar solos in rock

30) Kirk Hammet - The Unforgiven

From: Metallica – Metallica, 1991

KIRK HAMMETT: “I enjoy playing the solo on The Unforgiven because it’s such a dynamic solo. And a lot of times, live I’ll change around my guitar solo, because, you know, I end up not liking what I recorded or I get bored with what was recorded, or I just want to just play something completely different. But with The Unforgiven, over the years as a guitar solo it has changed very little. It’s probably one of the only guitar solos that I play just like the album.”

29) 'Fast' Eddie Clarke - Ace Of Spades

From: Motörhead – Ace Of Spades, 1980

‘FAST’ EDDIE CLARKE: “We recorded the Ace Of Spades album at Jackson’s Studios in Rickmansworth, owned by producer Vic Maile. The title track of the album, like the rest, had been demoed beforehand, but we changed it around with Vic. I love the solo because it’s one that builds; the idea was to start low and bring it to the boil.

“As everyone knows, Motörhead liked to have a jolly good time [laughs], so as soon as you knew you had something down, that was it, you move on. I knew right away that it was a good solo, but it was hard to get right.

“Back then I never had confidence in anything. You’ve got to remember self-belief was pretty low on the ground at that time, having been declined by so many labels and told we were rubbish and couldn’t play. Once we were in the saddle, though, everything was okay.

“The key to it all was Vic. He was a fragile little man with diabetes, so you couldn’t get arsey with him because he was so delicate. But he was a really shrewd guy. His ideas – like using the spring thing in Ace Of Spades that sounds like a rattlesnake tail, or having us all hitting blocks of wood – were always really good.

“I’d have played the solo on Ace Of Spades on my Fender Strat, though I did use a Les Paul a lot on that album. It’s our most popular track, and it is a great tune – Motörhead never did anything like it again – but Ace Of Spades isn’t the favourite of my own solos. That would be Stone Dead Forever [on Bomber]. That’s one hell of a solo; Lem and I are really cooking on that song. Lawman [also on Bomber] is probably my most underrated solo.

“After I left Motörhead [in 1982] I was never completely happy with the way the band played my solo in Ace Of Spades. Phil Campbell’s playing was a bit on the lazy side. No disrespect to him, he can play guitar a bit, but I like to be on the edge of my seat, whereas he always seemed to stroll around in his slippers. In fairness to him, those weren’t his songs, and he was in a band with Lemmy… Maybe those things contributed to that.

“It wasn’t till the 1990s that I really appreciated being in Motörhead. Now when I listen to songs like Ace Of Spades I think: ‘Fuck me, we were good.’”

28) Elliott Randall - Reelin’ In The Years

From: Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill, 1973

One spur-of-the-moment phone call was it all took have American session ace Elliott Randall play what became Jimmy Page’s favourite guitar solo ever on one of Steely Dan greatest songs.

Steely Dan were initially sold as a band, but were always really a vehicle for songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They recorded their debut album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, at Santa Monica’s Village Recorders in summer ’72. They had two fine guitarists already (Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter), but neither could nail the solo on the grooving jazz pop song Reelin’ In The Years. So they called Randall.

Baxter played harmony and let Randall play lead and tackle the solo. “My entire lead – intro/answers/solo/end solo – was one continuous take,” Randall explained. No tricks, no gimmicks; just his trusty Stratocaster plugged into a big old Ampeg SVT amp (designed for bass players, not guitarists), apparently the best Village Recorders had to offer that day.

Randall claimed he played the solo the way a jazz saxophonist would have: mirroring Donald Fagen’s vocal and copying the song’s melody. It worked. Not a note is wasted; not a drop spilled, in and out in 27 seconds. Incredibly, Randall maintains that his first run-through was even better than the one on the record, “but the assistant engineer forgot to press the button”. But, really, how can you improve on perfection?

27) Ritchie Blackmore - Since You Been Gone

From: Rainbow – Down To Earth, 1979

During the opening measures of Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone, you might have concluded that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was coasting. The track is a solid-gold cover of its writer Russ Ballard’s original, but former Deep Purple man Blackmore was a low-key presence, strumming open chords, spiralling through pretty-but-untaxing arpeggios and clanking the kind of power-chord chorus that any number of hamfisted pub hacks could handle.

At the two-minute mark, though, everything changes, when the bridge also heralds a neck-tingler of a guitar break, Blackmore echoing Graham Bonnet’s ascending vocal melody. Gorgeous stuff. But it’s the second solo that delivers the real drop-to-your-knees moment. The song stops, apparently spent, with Bonnet’s refrain (‘Ever since… you been gone’) left hanging in the air. And then, out of nowhere, Blackmore re-enters the picture with a fistful of perfectly weighted bends, followed by a supple, gloriously phrased kiss-off that continues to swoon and stretch under the outro vocals. It’s the work of a true master. No wonder Brian May recently picked it as a favourite: “Technically incredible, unpredictable in every possible way.”

26) Pete Townsend - Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere

From: The Who – single, 1965

When The Who’s record company first heard Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, they sent the tape back with a note suggesting they’d been sent a faulty copy. The reason was Pete Townshend’s deranged guitar solo; or as it’s now more commonly known, its ‘noise break’.

The ‘noise break’, which was meant to capture a flavour of the band’s incendiary live performances, would come to define Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, The Who’s second single. Townshend came up with the solo under the influence of Charlie Parker, and desperately wanted it to have some of the freestyling jazz saxophonist’s wild abandon.

Recorded in April 1965 at London’s IBC Studios Anyway followed the same tough pop template as The Who’s first single, I Can’t Explain. Around 65 seconds in, though, Townshend turned everything upside down. Beginning with a clanging power chord, he launches into something approximating a solo: creating the Morse code signal for S.O.S. by repeatedly flicking the selector switch on his Rickenbacker guitar, then dragging his plectrum along the fretboard to create further distortion.

With Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere The Who caught the essence of their live show and Pete Townshend redefined the concept of the guitar solo.

Pete Townshend in 1966

Pete Townshend in 1966 (Image credit: Getty Images)

25) Joe Perry - Walk This Way

From: Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic, 1975

Joe Perry may have come up with Walk This Way’s addictive riff as a funkier, loose-limbed take on Aerosmith’s Stonesy, sleazy glam-rock sound but, like many great rock’n’roll moments, its solo was partly fuelled by a row. Or maybe we should be diplomatic and call it ‘healthy creative rivalry’. Tyler and Perry would often argue about whose parts should be recorded first in the studio, as they both liked to improvise based on the other’s melodies. Perry won the day on this occasion and you can hear it on the three guitar solo breaks (two short, one long) on the version ofWalk This Way on Toys In The Attic.

The second solo break in particular echoes Tyler’s rat-a-tat, proto-rap vocal delivery, with a fret-hopping excursion that sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd getting on the good foot. Then Perry really lets rip to play out the song as it wails and howls impatiently before taking flight, dive-bombing, looping and soaring either side of more funky, percussive twiddles of delight.

The track’s heavy groove (initially inspired by the New Orleans grooves of The Meters) and Tyler’s percussive way with a mic lent it perfectly to the hip-hop makeover Run DMC gave it a decade later. And when they brought Aerosmith in to collaborate on the cover, Perry added a couple more equally incendiary guitar solos. No doubt they argued about who should lay down their part first on that occasion too.

24) Mick Ronson - Moonage Daydream

From: David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, 1972

Bowie laid out his conceptual vision for Ziggy Stardust most explicitly on Moonage Daydream, its opening lines – ‘I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you/I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock’n’rolling bitch for you’ – accompanied by Mick Ronson’s rasping power chords. The song’s contours take on unusual forms, including sax and penny whistle breaks. But it’s Ronson’s erudite solo on his Gibson Les Paul, a master stroke of controlled sustain, that snatches your breath away. He ratchets up the tension at the high end of the scale, finally releasing all that channelled energy in one pealing shriek before climaxing with a bank of phased effects perfectly suited to Ziggy’s spacey pretensions. As the solo begins to fade into the sky, Ronson’s string arrangement brings an added sense of otherworldliness.

In the sleeve notes for 2002’s reissue of his Ziggy album, Bowie explained that he would “literally draw out on paper, with a crayon or felt-tip pen, the shape of a solo. The one in Moonage Daydream started as a flat line that became a fat megaphone-type shape, and ended as sprays of disassociated and broken lines. I’d read somewhere that Frank Zappa used a series of drawn symbols to explain to his musicians how he wanted the shape of a composition to sound. Mick could take something like that and actually bloody play it, bring it to life.”

23) George Harrison - Something

From: The Beatles – Abbey Road, 1969

For all his achievements as the ‘quiet Beatle’, George Harrison produced some of his very best work for them very near the end. By the time The Beatles recorded their final album, the 1969-released Abbey Road, he had come into his own as a songwriter, contributing two of the band’s most enduring, often-covered songs: Here Comes The Sun and the surefire contender for the finest ballad ever committed to tape, Something.

Harrison would later deny that he wrote Something for his then-wife, Pattie Boyd, but whatever his muse, he was visited by genius here. His warm, romantic, instinctual instrumental passage sings like another vocal over the elegant verse chords, letting their inherent descending notes breathe, outlining their harmonic nuances in parts, playfully adorning them with chromatic lines in others, then smoothly transitioning back into the song’s five-note signature refrain at the end. His friend Eric Clapton’s influence is here in the bluesier bends, but the lyricism is all Harrison.

He once recalled that he’d ‘smoked something’ during the sessions, and how, returning to the tapes fresh from a holiday, he was pleasantly surprised. “I did hit some right notes, and it did have a certain spontaneity to it.” For their sheer expressivity, musical logic and graceful simplicity, these notes are as right as any in the Fab Four canon.

22) Mick Taylor - Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

From: Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers, 1971

Brian Jones had the Byronic romance, Ronnie Wood got the lucrative stadium years, but of all of Keith Richards’s sidekicks in the Stones it was Mick Taylor who had the guitar goods. Taylor’s former bandleader John Mayall tipped off Jagger about him after Jones’s death, and during Taylor’s time with the Stones they released their holy trinity of albums: 1969’s Let It Bleed, 1972’s Exile On Main St and, sandwiched between them, 1971’s Sticky Fingers.

Powered by a quintessential Richards riff, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking is an unusual song for them: it’s long – seven-plus minutes – with two thirds of it an instrumental jam. Rocky Dijon’s congas set its Latin feel, Bobby Keys’s sax takes the reins, and then it’s Taylor’s turn.

His warm, thick, reverb-drenched playing on his Gibson ES-345 starts tentatively, then he builds up a sustained sequence of expressive blues, be-bop and chromatic lines, wringing new life from rock’s hoariest musical scale. Eventually the single notes evolve into clangourous, whole-handed triple-stop chords that would have shaken the walls of Olympic Studios, with the band rising behind him for the final straight – a juicy riff that Santana would have forged a whole song from. The sound of inspiration itself, Taylor’s on-the-hoof take is a master class in tone, in using space, in creating all from nothing.

21) Stevie Ray Vaughan - Pride And Joy

From: Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble – Texas Flood, 1983

To many of us squished up against the stage-front barriers at 1983’s Reading Festival, Texan bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble were something of an anathema; his performance had, after all, been preceded by sets from, among others, Suzi Quatro, Heavy Pettin’ and Anvil. However, such was the power of the spell he cast that we were totally enamoured, bewitched by his music and his dazzling solos – especially the one in Pride And Joy.

For those still unfamiliar with SRV (who died on August 27, 1990), the studio version on his seminal Texas Flood album is the ideal starting point. The ringing, strident guitar tone and shuffle beat are irresistible, and his take on traditional blues phrasing borders on genius.

It’s probable that for this recording he used his ‘Number One’ Fender Stratocaster, a guitar put together from a combination of parts, set with heavy strings and a high action – and, like Eddie Van Halen, tuned down a half-step – to help him obtain his unmistakeable sound.

His influence on subsequent generations of bluesily-minded guitarists has been enormous. “I’ve said that playing the blues is like having to be black twice,” the great BB King once said. “Stevie missed on both counts, but I never noticed.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan onstage at Chicago Blues Fest, 1985

Stevie Ray Vaughan onstage at Chicago Blues Fest, 1985 (Image credit: Getty Images)
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