The 10 best guitar solos of all time, as chosen by Amplifier's Sel Balamir

a press shot of amplifier

Ah, the ubiquitous guitar solo. You’ve probably learnt to ignore them by now. Understandable.

The heyday of the guitar solo was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when young men had limited ways of impressing young ladies, especially if they weren’t good at sport. This is why guitar solos are almost entirely dominated by young men playing incredibly fast in order to demonstrate their sexual prowess and release all the pent up frustration of not getting any.

Anyway, here’s my run down of ten guitar solos that are from another planet – or not even played on a guitar. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Van Halen not included.

Frank Zappa – City Of Tiny Lights

As far as I am concerned, Frank Zappa is the greatest guitarist ever. He can milk more out of three notes than anyone else can with an entire fretboard.

City Of Tiny Lights epitomises his ability to just turn off his brain and let his fingers do the talking while wondering around the stage in stack heels and denim flares, while smoking a cigarette and high-fiving and getting off with audience members at the same time. Terry Bozio in black pants behind the drumkit is just an added bonus. Magic.

Jan Hammer – The First Day

Is there anything more thrilling than the phrase Rock-Jazz Fusion? Not when it’s done by Miami Vice main-man Jan Hammer. Seriously: Jan Hammer was the greatest non-guitar playing guitarist of all time, apart from that little Chinese woman I saw playing a violin through a wah-wah pedal in a remote tent at Glastonbury one year. All the instruments on this album, yes, Jan plays them all, because he’s that kind of talented dude.

DJ QBert – Blue Flowers

Not all killer guitar solos are actually played on guitar – In Blue Flowers, Qbert takes part of a guitar solo and transports it to another dimension. Man, he rocks those turntables. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of scratching.

Tim Smith – Cardiacs Breakfast Line

This is my favourite guitar solo ever – actually it’s not really a solo, but a cleverly-constructed piece of melody that uses all the wrong notes in the correct order, as delivered by the brain and fingers of a genius.

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

You’re probably wondering why this song is listed here, as this solo is basically, well, shit, isn’t it? Well, you’re right in one sense – but what is revolutionary about this guitar solo is you can literally hear ”Guitar solos are so lame that I cannot even be bothered to come up with one.” In fact, Kurt Cobain invented the slacker guitar solo with this song. You didn’t need to be able to play the guitar like an athlete in order to justify doing one. The guitar solo is more about attitude than about technical skill. Just get stoned, turn on as much fuzz as possible and let chance and electricity do the rest. Game-changer. It killed off guitar soloists in an instant, as demonstrated admirably by this live version.

The Karate Kid Vs The Devil in 1986 film Crossroads

Obviously there’s no way that the Devil is going to be able to beat the Karate Kid in this number one showdown between the forces of evil and clean-cut America. It may as well have been Saruman vs My Little Pony.

Famously, Ralph Machismo – or whatever his actual name is – is dubbed by smooth and stylish Ry Cooder, while the Devil is played by Steve Vai, and I’d like to point out that the Karate Kid nails the Devil when it comes down to him knowing his classical chops. If you can’t play a Bach Fugue incredibly fast and pointlessly on the electric guitar, you are officially rubbish. As if the Devil is going to be bothered with stuffy Western classical music. He has, after all, got the best grooves. Speaking of which, you should now go and buy the new Amplifier album Tripping With Dr Faustus. The vinyl version also contains the best groves. Cloven grooves, in fact… I thank you.

Steve Vai (with Public Image Limited) – Ease

How Steve Vai ended up going from being the Devil’s guitar player to playing on a record with a Sex Pistol says a lot about his rock and roll credentials – only topped by looking like he’s from Venus.

In Ease, you almost get the sense that Johnny has packed up at the end of the album and left the stage for our pilot to take us to the other side of the galaxy – which he does without hesitation. ‘Susan and Norman were so normal.’ Enjoy your flight…

Billy Corgan – Drown

This is four minutes of pure, unadulterated, magical feedback, taking Jimi Hendrix’s 1983 to another realm. Beautiful and ethereal – electricity is transcendental.

Nigel Tufnel – His solos are his trademark

Guitar solos are as much about what is going on on the face of the Shaman, as Nigel accurately demonstrates.

John McLaughlin (with The Mahavishnu Orchestra) – On The Way Home To Earth

On this track from 1975s Visions From The Emerald Beyond, Johnny Mac soundtracks the far future where humankind plough the intergalactic highways of the universe on giant SG guitars. The greatest off the hook guitar solo of all time.

Amplifier’s new album, Trippin’ With Dr Faustus, is available now via Rockosmos Records

Amplifier - Trippin’ With Dr Faustus album review