A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World 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” (100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (01).
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."
On June 10, we kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We pitted Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we asked you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket. Now Rounds 1, 2, 3 (Sweet 16) and 4 (Elite Eight) have come and gone, leaving us with a mere four guitar solos!
WELCOME TO THE FINAL FOUR, where last the four still-standing solos:
• "Stairway to Heaven" (Jimmy Page)
• "Eruption" (Eddie Van Halen)
• "Comfortably Numb" (David Gilmour)
• "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (Jimi Hendrix)
... will go head to head before your eyes! As always, you can vote once per matchup, and the voting ends as soon as the next matchup is posted.
As we've been saying since June 10, genre might clash against genre in these last few polls. But get real, people! They're all guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists. When choosing, it might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative for its time? Which is more iconic or important? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Winner: "Eruption" (58.71 percent)
Loser: "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (41.29 percent)
Today's Sweetwater Final Four Matchup (2 of 2)
"Stairway to Heaven" Vs. "Comfortably Numb"
Welcome to our FINAL Final Four matchup! We already know that Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" has made it to the championship match. But which guitar solo will face it? Will it be Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" or Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb"? Only you can decide!
HOW THEY GOT HERE
• "Stairway to Heaven" defeated Prince's "Little Red Corvette" (64) in Round 1, Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun" (32) in Round 2, Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" (16) in the Sweet 16 and the Eagles' "Hotel California" (08) in the Elite Eight.
• "Mr. Crowley" defeated Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" (37) in Round 1, Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" (05) in Round 2, Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You" (53) in the Sweet 16 and Ozzy Osbourne's "Mr. Crowley" (28) in the Elite Eight.
Vote now! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
01. “Stairway to Heaven”
Soloist: Jimmy Page
Album: Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic, 1971)
If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then “Stairway” is his Close Encounters. Built around a solid, uplifting theme—man’s quest for salvation—the epic slowly gains momentum and rushes headlong to a shattering conclusion. The grand finale in this case is the song’s thrill-a-second guitar solo.
Page remembers: “I’d been fooling around with the acoustic guitar and came up with several different sections which flowed together nicely. I soon realized that it could be the perfect vehicle for something I’d been wanting to do for a while: to compose something that would start quietly, have the drums come in the middle, and then build to a huge crescendo. I also knew that I wanted the piece to speed up, which is something musicians aren’t supposed to do.
“So I had all the structure of it, and ran it by [bassist] John Paul Jones so he could get the idea of it—[drummer] John Bonham and [singer] Robert Plant had gone out for the night—and then on the following day we got into it with Bonham. You have to realize that, at first, there was a hell of a lot for everyone to remember on this one. But as we were sort of routining it, Robert started writing the lyrics, and much to his surprise, he wrote a huge percentage of it right there and then.”
Plant recalls the experience: “I was sitting next to Page in front of a fire at our studio in Headley Grange. He had written this chord sequence and was playing it for me. I was holding a pencil and paper, when, suddenly, my hand was writing out the words: ‘There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.’ I just sat there and looked at the words and almost leaped out of my seat. Looking back, I suppose I sat down at the right moment.”
While the spontaneous nature of Plant’s anthemic lyrics came as a pleasant surprise, the best was yet to come. The beautifully constructed guitar solo that Guitar World readers rated the “best ever” was, believe it or not, improvised.
“I winged it,” says Page with a touch of pride. “I had prepared the overall structure of the guitar parts, but not the actual notes. When it came time to record the solo I warmed up and recorded three of them. They were all quite different from each other. All three are still on the master tape, but the one we used was the best solo, I can tell you that.
“I thought ‘Stairway’ crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there, and showed the band at its best. Every musician wants to do something that will hold up for a long time, and I guess we did that with ‘Stairway.’ ”
04. “Comfortably Numb”
Soloist: David Gilmour
Album: Pink Floyd—The Wall (Columbia, 1979)
How do you reason with two guys who once went to court over the artistic ownership of a big rubber pig? That was Bob Ezrin’s mission when he agreed to co-produce Pink Floyd’s The Wall with guitarist David Gilmour and bassist/vocalist Roger Waters. The legendary tensions between the two feuding Floyds came to a head during sessions for The Wall in 1979—which was why Ezrin was called in.
“My job was to mediate between two dominant personalities,” recalls Ezrin. However, the producer turned out to be no mere referee, but contributed plenty ideas of his own. “I fought for the introduction of the orchestra on that record,” says Ezrin. “This became a big issue on ‘Comfortably Numb,’ which Dave saw as a more bare-bones track. Roger sided with me. So the song became a true collaboration—it’s David’s music, Roger’s lyric and my orchestral chart.”
Gilmour’s classic guitar solo was cut using a combination of the guitarist’s Hiwatt amps and Yamaha rotating speaker cabinets, Ezrin recalls. But with Gilmour, he adds, equipment is secondary to touch: “You can give him a ukulele and he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius.”
Which doesn’t mean Gilmour didn’t fiddle around in the studio when he laid down the song’s unforgettable lead guitar part. “I banged out five or six solos,” says Gilmour. “From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and make a chart, noting which bits are good. Then, by following the chart, I create one great composite solo by whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase until everything flows together. That’s the way we did it on ‘Comfortably Numb.’ ”
[[ When you're done voting, start learning most of the guitar solos in this poll — and and a whole lot more! Check out a new TAB book from Guitar World and Hal Leonard: 'The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: A Treasure Trove of Guitar Leads Transcribed Note-for-Note, Plus Song Notes for More Than 40 of the Best Solos.' It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $29.99. NOTE: Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" guitar solo (solo number 39 on our list) is NOT included in this book. ]]