A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World magazine compiled what we feel is the ultimate guide to the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, websites and publications around the world, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (Number 100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (Number 1).
To quote our "Stairway to Heaven" story that ran with the list, "If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then 'Stairway' is his Close Encounters."
We've kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We're pitting Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we will ask you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket.
You can vote only once per matchup. The voting for each matchup ends as soon as the next matchup is posted (Basically, that's one poll per day during the first round of elimination, including weekends and holidays).
In some cases, genre will clash against genre; a thrash solo might compete against a Southern rock solo, for instance. But let's get real: They're all guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists, most of them in some subset of the umbrella genre of rock. When choosing, it might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative? Which is more iconic? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Winner: "Reelin' in the Years" (57.05 percent)
Loser: "Aqualung" (42.95 percent)
Today, two great guitarists make their first appearance in this summer's Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time readers poll. We have Mark Knopfler's classic Strat solo on Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" (22) going up against Billy Gibbons' fretwork on "Sharp Dressed Man" (43), one of ZZ Top's massive early '80s hits. Get busy! You'll find the poll at the bottom of the story.
Round 1, Day 17: "Sultans of Swing" Vs. "Sharp Dressed Man"
22. “Sultans of Swing”
Soloist: Mark Knopfler
Album: Dire Straits—Dire Straits (Warner Bros., 1978)
“ ‘Sultans of Swing’ was originally written on a National Steel guitar in an open tuning, though I never performed it that way,” recalls Mark Knopfler. “I thought it was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat—which remained my main guitar for many years and was basically the only thing I played on the first album—and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.
"It’s really a good example of how the music you make is shaped by what you play it on, and is a lesson for young players. If you feel that you’re not getting enough out of a song, change the instrument—go from an acoustic to an electric or vice versa, or try an open tuning. Do something to shake it up. As for the actual solo, it was just more or less what I played every night. It’s just a Fender Twin and the Strat, with its three-way selector switch jammed into a middle position. That gives the song its sound, and I think there were quite a few five-way switches installed as a result of that song.”
43. "Sharp Dressed Man"
Soloist: Billy Gibbons
Album: ZZ Top—Eliminator (Warner Bros., 1983)
In 1983, a smart gambling man would have bet the house on ZZ Top’s imminent doom. After all, it wasn’t the best of times for good and greasy Texas blues and boogie music. Then the Little Old Band from Texas surprised everyone with Eliminator, a brilliant merger of roadhouse blues and synthesizer swells and looped beats. The album quickly became their biggest hit ever, spurred in large part by the irresistible “Sharp Dressed Man.”
“That song and the whole album really embrace the simplicity of blues and techno music with the complex challenge of how to blend them together,” says guitarist Billy Gibbons. “If you zero in on the middle solo, you will find a slide guitar part played in open E tuning on a Fender Esquire and a sudden shift halfway through the solo to standard Spanish electric tuning played on my good ol’ Les Paul, Pearly Gates. Both were played through a Marshall plexi 100-watt head with two angled cabinets with Celestion 25-watt greenbacks. It was a compound track, two parts blended to one.
“To this day, the song certainly stands among one of the band’s favorites and we’re particularly delighted to share spotlight on a solo that enjoys such favoritism. There are, of course, the more intricate and demanding solos, but we will gladly finger through the solo of ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ at any requested moment! The track just has a really raucous delivery, which is a good ignition point onstage, sitting on the tailgate out in the middle of nowhere, sipping a cold one, or wherever you may be. It just does something to you.”