Poll Results: Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" Tops Readers' List of the 50 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time

by Guitar World Staff
Posted Sep 19, 2013 at 8:15am

Who says lightning doesn't strike twice?

For the second year in a row, Eddie Van Halen has topped a major summer-long poll at GuitarWorld.com.

In 2012, readers crowned him the Greatest Guitarist of All Time. This year, one of his many six-string masterpieces, "Eruption," a wildly innovative instrumental track from Van Halen's self-titled 1978 album, was voted the Greatest Guitar Solo of All Time.

The final matchup — aka the Ultimate Championship — took place Monday and Tuesday on GuitarWorld.com.

"Eruption," the No. 2 seed in our tournament-style poll (more on that below) faced Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," the No. 4 seed. And although David Gilmour's breathtaking 1979 solo from one of The Wall's standout tracks took an early — and seemingly convincing — lead, "Eruption" had pulled ahead by early Tuesday, and there was no looking back.

In the end, "Eruption" had snagged 57.06 percent of the readers' votes.

And "Comfortably Numb" was anything but a pushover. It had already knocked off a series of top contenders, including the No. 1 seeded guitar solo, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," which features the fretwork of one Jimmy Page.

It's difficult to imagine a more appropriately titled piece of music than “Eruption.” When it was originally released, it hit the rock guitar community like an H bomb. Two-handed tapping, gonzo whammy bar dips, artificial harmonics — with Van Halen’s masterly application of these and other techniques, “Eruption” made every other six-stringer look like a third-stringer.

Which is not to imply that the losing guitar solos — many of which you can check out below — and their authors are mere third-stringers. They all fought long and hard during our 64-solo, tournament-style poll, which we launched June 10.

The poll's 64 solos were the top 64 solos from Guitar World's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time. The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, reference sites and media outlets around the globe, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (100) and builds to an epic finish with Page's "Stairway to Heaven" (01).

Head HERE to see every matchup — from June 10 to September 17.

Below, we invite to check out your top 50 guitar solos.

Rankings: Readers' Top 50

How did we determine a Top 50 ranking for a tournament-style poll?

Simple. We ranked the guitarists by round — first the two guitar solos from the finals, then the remaining two from the Final Four, and so on — and then within their respective rounds by their overall vote count. The “Bohemian Rhapsody” guitar solo, for instance, is No. 9 because it received the most votes of any solo that didn't make it to the Elite Eight.

Note that we've also included each song's original ranking from Guitar World's original list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.

Guitar World Readers Poll Results: Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time Bracket 2013 by GuitarWorldNYC




50. "Europa"
Soloist: Carlos Santana
Album: Santana—Amigos (Columbia, 1976)
Original Ranking: 49

“I started writing this song in 1966 or ’67, but didn’t finish it until ’75 when we were on tour with Earth, Wind and Fire, in Manchester, England,” says Carlos Santana. “We were backstage while they were onstage playing. And we were just warming up, tuning up. I started playing it and [keyboardist] Tom Coster and I completed it right there on the spot. It immediately became a crowd favorite; it is one of those songs that, whether it’s played in Japan or in Jerusalem or in South America, it just fits right in with everything.”




49. "Master of Puppets"
Soloist: Kirk Hammett
Album: Metallica—Master of Puppets (Elektra, 1986)
Original Ranking: 61




48. "War Pigs”
Soloist: Tony Iommi
Album: Black Sabbath—Paranoid (Warner Bros., 1970)
Original Ranking: 56


47. "The Thrill Is Gone”
Soloist: B.B. King
Album: Completely Well (MCA, 1969)
Original Ranking: 33

“I carried this song around in my head for seven or eight years,” B.B. King recalls about “The Thrill Is Gone,” which had been an r&b hit for its author, pianist Roy Hawkins, in 1950. “It was a different kind of blues ballad. I’d been arranging it in my head and had even tried a couple of different versions that didn’t work.

"But when I walked in to record on this night at the Hit Factory in New York, all the ideas came together. I changed the tune around to fit my style, and [producer] Bill Szymczyk set up the sound nice and mellow.

"We got through around 3 A.M. I was thrilled, but Bill wasn’t, so I just went home. Two hours later, Bill called and woke me up and said, ‘I think “The Thrill Is Gone” is a smash hit, and it would be even more of a hit if I added on strings. What do you think?’ I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”




46. "Sharp Dressed Man"
Soloist: Billy Gibbons
Album: ZZ Top—Eliminator (Warner Bros., 1983)
Original Ranking: 43

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.”

[[ Start learning most of the guitar solos featured in this Top 50 story! 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. ]]


45. “Aqualung”
Soloist: Martin Barre
Album: Jethro Tull—Aqualung (Chrysalis, 1971)
Original Ranking: 25

Aqualung was a difficult and very tense album to record, but at the end of the day it was important,” says Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre. “Ian wrote the riff and verses to the song ‘Aqualung,’ but he felt it needed a new section for the guitar break. I said, ‘Why don’t we just play the verse chords in half-time for the first part of the solo, then pick it back up for the rest of the solo?’ It was a simple solution that really worked.”

“While I was playing the solo, which was really going well, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and started waving. I thought, ‘Should I wave back and mess up the solo or should I just grin and carry on?’ Being a professional to the end, I just grinned.”




44. "Cocaine"
Soloist: Eric Clapton
Album: Slowhand (Polydor, 1977)
Original Ranking: 58




43. "The Star-Spangled Banner"
Soloist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: The Ultimate Experience (MCA, 1993)
Original Ranking: 52

Jimi Hendrix's legendary performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" still draws "love it or hate it" reactions so many decades later. For its time, it was certainly one of the most controversial renditions of the national anthem.

Hendrix did, after all, make his Strat sound a whole lot like airplanes, bombs and screams. Remember, there was a controversial war going on in August 1969. As always, Hendrix made his guitar sound like something no one had ever heard before, and his performance on the recording still confounds players.


42. "Shock Me”
Soloist: Ace Frehley
Album: Kiss—Alive II (Mercury, 1977)
Original Ranking: 50

“I basically did the same solo every night on that tour, with minor alterations, so I had it kind of planned out when I did it the night we recorded it live for Alive II,” says Ace Frehley.

“But if you listen carefully to the ‘Shock Me’ solo you can hear me make a mistake about two thirds of the way through. Instead of tapping a B at the 19th fret of the high E string, I accidentally hit the A# note at the 18th fret—that’s definitely a wrong note for the scale I’m using. We could have fixed it in the mix, but I said to Eddie [Kramer, Alive II producer], ‘Screw it! Leave it in. The run sounds cool, so who cares—it’s rock and roll!’ ”




41. "Sweet Child O' Mine”
Soloist: Slash
Album: Guns N’ Roses—Appetite for Destruction (Geffen, 1987)
Original Ranking: 37

“When ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was written, it was a joke as far as I was concerned,” says Slash. “I was just f---in’ around when I came up with that riff. To me it was a nightmare because, for some strange reason, everyone picked up on it and, the next thing you knew, it had turned into a song. I hated it forever!

"The guitar solo itself is a one-take, spontaneous kind of thing. Having played the song at rehearsals enough times, when it came to recording it I knew exactly where the melody was and it came real easy.”




40. "Money"
Soloist: David Gilmour
Album: Pink Floyd—The Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol, 1973)
Original Ranking: 62




39. "Black Star"
Soloist: Yngwie Malmsteen
Album: Rising Force (Polydor, 1984)
Original Ranking: 36

“I’ve been playing that song, or variations of it, since I was a teenager in Sweden,” Yngwie Malmsteen told his fan club.

“I used to play really long, uninterrupted improvisations when I played local shows in Stockholm back then, and it developed from that. I didn’t sit down and actually write out the notes for it; when I’m feeling inspired, the music just flows out of me. It’s in my head and my ears and flows out of my fingers.”


38. “Crossroads”
Soloist: Eric Clapton
Album: Cream—Wheels of Fire (Polydor, 1968)
Original Ranking: 10

For more than three decades, Eric Clapton has been bemused by his fans’ adulation of his solo on Cream’s radical reworking of bluesman Robert Johnson’s signature tune, “Crossroads.”

“It’s so funny, this,” Clapton says. “I’ve always had that held up as like, ‘This is one of the great landmarks of guitar playing.’ But most of that solo is on the wrong beat. Instead of playing on the two and the four, I’m playing on the one and the three and thinking, That’s the off beat. No wonder people think it’s so good—because it’s f---ing wrong.” [laughs]

And what they played is what you hear; contrary to a persistent, widely held rumor, the solo on “Crossroads” was not edited down. "It’s not edited and I’ve got an audience tape from the same show which verifies that,” says Bill Levenson, who produced the Cream box set, Those Were the Days (Polydor). “That was a typical performance of the song. I’ve listened to a lot of tapes and all of the ‘Crossroads’ that I’ve heard come in at four minutes and change. They never seemed to expand it beyond that.”




37. “Pride and Joy”
Soloist: Stevie Ray Vaughan
Album: Texas Flood (Epic, 1983)
Original Ranking: 27

“Pride and Joy” was recorded during the same 48-hour period as “Texas Flood”; both had been Vaughan live standbys for many years. “Stevie wrote ‘Pride and Joy’ for this new girlfriend he had when he was inspired by their relationship,” says drummer Chris Layton. “Then they had a fight and he turned around and wrote ‘I’m Cryin’,’ which is really the same song, just the flip side, lyrically.”

When “Pride and Joy” was released as Texas Flood’s first single, it quickly put the then unknown Texas guitar slinger on the national blues-rock map. More cosmically, it also signaled that from-the-gut guitar music was not dead as a commercial and artistic force, no matter how many hits Culture Club and Flock of Seagulls had on Solid Gold.

“When I heard that on the radio, I just said, ‘Hallelujah,’ ” recalls Dickey Betts, whose Allman Brothers Band were prominent casualties of the age’s anti-guitar disease. “He was just so good and strong and he would not be denied. He single handedly brought guitar and blues-oriented music back to the marketplace.”


36. “Layla”
Soloist: Eric Clapton, Duane Allman
Album: Derek and the Dominos—Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor, 1970)
Original Ranking: 14

Seven minutes of pure, quivering passion, “Layla” was Eric Clapton’s magnificent scream of unrequited love for Patti Boyd, wife of his best friend—George Harrison.

"He grabbed one of my chicks,” said Clapton of Harrison, “and so I thought I’d get even with him one day, on a petty level, and it grew from that. She was trying to attract his attention and so she used me, and I fell madly in love with her. [Just] listen to the words of ‘Layla’: ‘I tried to give you consolation/When your old man had let you down/Like a fool, I fell in love with you/You turned my whole world upside down.”

Clapton poured all of himself into the intense, majestic “Layla,” which he named after the classical Persian love poem, “The Story of Layla and the Majnun.” The song began as a ballad, but quickly became a rocker, with Duane Allman reportedly coming up with the opening riff which would alter the tune. With Allman’s majestic slide guitar prodding him on, Clapton unleashed some of his most focused, emotive playing.

“The song and the whole album is definitely equal parts Eric and Duane,” says producer Tom Dowd, who introduced the two guitar titans, then sat back and watched them soar together. “There had to be some sort of telepathy going on because I’ve never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level. One of them would play something, and the other reacted instantaneously. Never once did either of them have to say, ‘Could you play that again, please?’ It was like two hands in a glove. And they got tremendously off on playing with each other.”

Nowhere was the interplay between Clapton and Allman more sublime than on “Layla,” which, says Dowd, features six tracks of overlapping guitar: “There’s an Eric rhythm part; three tracks of Eric playing harmony with himself on the main riff; one of Duane playing that beautiful bottleneck; and one of Duane and Eric locked up, playing countermelodies.”

The tension of the main song finds release in a surging, majestic coda, which was recorded three weeks after the first part and masterfully spliced together by Dowd. The section begins with drummer Jim Gordon’s piano part, echoed at various times by Clapton on the acoustic. Allman takes over with a celestial slide solo, beneath which Clapton plays a subtle countermelody. As the song fades out after a blissful climax, Allman has the last word, playing his signature “bird call” lick.


35. “Fade to Black”
Soloist: Kirk Hammett
Album: Metallica—Ride the Lightning (Elektra, 1984)
Original Ranking: 24

“I was still using my black Flying V on Ride the Lightning, but ‘Fade to Black’ sounds different—it has a warmer sound—because I used the neck pickup and played through a wah-wah pedal all the way in the ‘up’ position,” says Kirk Hammett.

“We wanted to double the first two solos and I did the first one no problem. But I had a much harder time doubling the second solo because it was slow and had a lot of space in it. Later, I realized that I actually harmonized it in a weird way—in minor thirds, major thirds and fifths. After cutting those two, I really wasn’t sure what to play for the extended solo at the end. I was really bummed out because we had been in Denmark for five or six months, and I was very homesick; we were also having problems with our management.

"Because of that, and since it was a somber song anyway, I thought of very depressing things while I did the solo—and it really helped. We didn’t double-track that solo, although I did play some arpeggios over the G-A-B progression. After that, I went back and did the clean guitar parts behind the verse, and James [Hetfield] played an arpeggiated figure while I arpeggiated three-note chords. The result was what I always have considered a very Dire Straits-type sound.”




34. “Cemetery Gates”
Soloist: Dimebag Darrell
Album: Pantera—Cowboys from Hell (Elektra, 1990)
Original Ranking: 35

“I got home with a pretty good buzz on, picked up my ax, turned on the four-track, cranked it loud as hell with the loose buzz theory that anything and everything goes, and just played it,” Dimebag recalled.

“I played three solos back-to-back, didn’t bother listening to ’em and crashed out not so happy. The next morning I woke up thinking I had a lot of work to do…I almost started from scratch but then decided to slow down and listen. So I fired up my four-track, put my ears on and bam! Lo and behold, there it was! The first lead I played the night before was it for sure. Hey man, the second and third weren’t bad, but the first had that first-take magic! I didn’t touch it.”


33. "Hot for Teacher”
Soloist: Eddie Van Halen
Album: Van Halen—1984 (Warner Bros., 1984)
Original Ranking: 46

“I winged that one,” says Eddie Van Halen. “If you listen to it, the timing changes in the middle of nowhere. We were in a room playing together and I kind of winked at the guys and said, ‘Okay, we’re changing now!’ Because I don’t count, I just follow my feelings. I tend to do a lot of things in threes and fives, instead of fours.

“My weird sense of time just drives my brother Alex nuts because he’s a drummer, so he has to count. But generally he’ll say, ‘Well, Ed, you did it in five again. If that’s the way you want it…’ But that’s not the way I want it, that’s just what feels right to me.”




32. "Satch Boogie”
Soloist: Joe Satriani
Album: Surfing with the Alien (Epic, 1987)
Original Ranking: 55




31. “Stranglehold”
Soloist: Ted Nugent
Album: Ted Nugent (Epic, 1975)
Original Ranking: 31

“ ‘Stranglehold’ is a masterpiece of jamology,” proclaims Ted Nugent. “We were in the Sound Pit in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was showing my rhythm section of Cliff Davies [drums] and Rob DeLaGrange [bass] the right groove for the song. I was playing my all-stock 1964 blonde Byrdland through four Fender Twin Reverbs and four Dual Showman bottoms on my rhythm settings—we were going to leave a hole there so that I could overdub a solo later.

"Then I started playing lead work, just kind of filling in and though I had never played those licks before in my life, they all just came to me. And because I got so inspired and because they followed me so perfectly, that demo is exactly what you hear on the record today. Take one, rhythm track is the song—it made such organic sense with the flow of music that I said, ‘I’m not gonna f--- with that! That’s it, baby.’ And that is the essence of why people love it—because it is so spontaneous and uninhibited.

"The only thing we went back and overdubbed was Derek St. Holmes’ vocals and my two tracks of harmonized feedback, which come in and out of the entire song. All the engineers and everyone kept saying, ‘You can’t do that, Ted.’ And I said, ‘Shut the f--- up!’ Because I had the vision; I saw what the song could be, and I realized it.”


30. "Reelin' in the Years"
Soloist: Elliott Randall
Album: Steely Dan—Can’t Buy a Thrill (MCA, 1972)
Original Ranking: 40

While recording Steely Dan’s 1972 debut, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen knew they had a great track for “Reelin’ in the Years”—if they could only come up with the appropriate guitar solo to jumpstart the tune. So they put in a call to Elliott Randall, with whom they had worked in the backing band for Jay and the Americans, and who’d had played on many of the duo’s early, pre-Steely Dan demos.

“They were having trouble finding the right ‘flavor’ solo for ‘Reelin,’ and asked me to give it a go,” recalls Randall. “Most of the song was already complete, so I had the good fortune of having a very clear picture of what the solo was laying on top of. They played it for me without much dialogue about what I should play.

"It just wasn’t necessary because we did it in one take and nothing was written. Jeff Baxter played the harmony parts, but my entire lead—intro/answers/solo/end solo—was one continuous take played through a very simple setup: my old Strat, the same one I’ve been using since 1965, plugged directly into an Ampeg SVT amp, and miked with a single AKG 414. The whole solo just came to me, and I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to play it.”


29. “All Along the Watchtower”
Soloist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Electric Ladyland (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1968)
Original Ranking: 05

Joining the Experience for the initial “Watchtower” session was Traffic guitarist Dave Mason, who, it was decided, would contribute a 12-string acoustic part. “Dave hung out a lot with Jimi and was a regular in the studio,” says engineer Eddie Kramer. “Jimi was aware of his ability and felt that he could cover the part adequately.”

Jimi, says Kramer, had a firm understanding of just how the song was to be arranged and performed, but the session proved to be anything but smooth. Mason, whose job it was to double Jimi’s six-string acoustic rhythm part, struggled mightily, causing Jimi to reprimand him several times.

Hendrix and Noel Redding also clashed, and the bassist, angered by what he saw as Jimi’s obsessive quest for perfection, bolted from the studio midway through the session. Mason took over the bass in Redding’s absence, but Hendrix ultimately overdubbed the part himself, using a small, custom bass guitar that Bill Wyman had given to Andy Johns.

After the basic rhythm tracks were finally completed to Jimi’s satisfaction, he turned his attention to the song’s four distinct solo sections, each of which were recorded separately. “Once Jimi started working on his solos, the session moved very quickly,” says Kramer. “The thing that occurs to me was how completely prepared he was. One thing that people don’t realize is that Jimi always did his homework. He and producer Chas Chandler always got together to work out ideas well before he walked into the studio. Jimi knew exactly what he wanted to play

“He used a different tone setting for each part. I recall him using a cigarette lighter to play the slide section, and that the delay effect on each of the sections was applied later. I used an EMT plate reverb—that was the only thing available to us at the time.”


28. “Texas Flood”
Soloist: Stevie Ray Vaughan
Album: Texas Flood (Epic, 1983)
Original Ranking: 13

When Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble walked into Los Angeles’ Down Town Studio in November 1982 to take advantage of 72 free hours of time offered by studio owner Jackson Browne, they had no idea they were about to start recording their debut album. “We were just making tape,” recalls drummer Chris Layton. “We hoped that maybe we were making a demo that would actually be listened to by a real record company.”

The first 24 hours were spent getting settled in L.A., and in the second and third days the band cut 10 songs—which became Texas Flood, in its entirety. “It really was just a big warehouse with concrete floors and some rugs thrown down,” says bassist Tommy Shannon. “We just found a little corner, set up in a circle looking at and listening to each other and played like a live band.” The trio recorded two songs the second day and eight the third—including “Texas Flood,” a slow blues, written and recorded by the late Larry Davis in 1958, which had been a live staple of Vaughan’s for years. It was the final tune recorded, cut in one take just before the free time ran out.

“That song and the whole first album captures the pure essence of what Stevie was all about,” says Layton. “Countless people would tell Stevie how much they loved his guitar tone on Texas Flood. There was literally nothing between the guitar and the amp. It was just his number-one Strat plugged into a Dumble amp called Mother Dumble, which was owned by Jackson Browne and was just sitting in the studio.

"The real tone came from Stevie, and that whole recording was just so pure; the whole experience couldn’t have been more innocent or naive. We were just playing. If we’d had known what was going to happen with it all, we might have screwed up. The magic was there and it came through on the tape. You can get most of what the band was ever about right there on that song and that album.”


27. "Cortez the Killer"
Soloist: Neil Young
Album: Zuma (Reprise, 1975)
Original Ranking: 39

“Cortez the Killer” hails from Zuma, one of Neil Young’s most overlooked albums, often lost in the shuffle of its predecessor, the much-praised Tonight’s the Night, which came out just five months prior. But there’s really a very simple explanation for the song’s high rating. Just take it from Young himself, who once proclaimed that, “ ‘Cortez’ is some of my best guitar playing ever!”

Remarkably, the song’s structure was largely shaped by an accident—a power failure which occurred in the midst of recording a perfect, transcendent take of the song. Rather than recut the tune, Young just plowed forward and later he and producer David Briggs went back and did some creative editing, which required the lopping off of several verses. “They missed a whole verse, a whole section!” Young says. “You can hear the splice on the recording where we stop and start again. It’s a messy edit…incredible! It was a total accident. But that’s how I see my best art, as one magical accident after another. That’s what is so incredible.”

“Cortez the Killer,” about the Spanish explorer who conquered Mexico with bloody success, is also a prime example of Young’s physical style of lead playing.

“I am a naturally very destructive person,” he says. “And that really comes out in my guitar playing. Man, if you think of guitar playing in terms of boxing…well, let’s just say I’m not the kind of guitarist you’d want to play against. I’m just scarred by life. Nothing in particular. No more scarred than anyone else. Only other people often don’t let themselves know how damaged they are, like I do, and deal with it.”


26. “Machine Gun”
Soloist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: Band of Gypsys—Band of Gypsys (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1970)
Original Ranking: 32

Contrary to popular belief, Hendrix was not in any kind of artistic decline during the last year of his life. In fact, it was quite the opposite. This apocalyptic performance of “Machine Gun,” featuring Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, demonstrates that Jimi was still growing in leaps and bounds near the end. But while Band of Gypsys captures some of the guitarist’s greatest improvisations to date, he was still dissatisfied with its outcome.

“I distinctly remember that Jimi wasn’t particularly thrilled with Band of Gypsys,” says engineer Eddie Kramer, who recorded the album and co-mixed and edited it with Hendrix.

“He felt that Buddy Miles was trying to steal his thunder throughout the performance with his excessive scat singing. I can still see Jimi with his head buried in his arms, laying on the mixing console during playback, saying, ‘Buddy, would you please just shut up!?’ So, I would chop out huge passages of Buddy singing. And then I’d chop some more.”




25. “For the Love of God”
Soloist: Steve Vai
Album: Passion and Warfare (Epic, 1990)
Original Ranking: 29

“The song is about how far people will go for the love of their god,” says Steve Vai. “When you discipline yourself to quit smoking, to run faster or to play better, you have to reach deep down into a part of you. That is a profoundly spiritual event. That’s when you come into contact with that little piece of God within you. That’s what I was trying to achieve with ‘For the Love of God’—I was trying to find that spot.”


24. “Sultans of Swing”
Soloist: Mark Knopfler
Album: Dire Straits—Dire Straits (Warner Bros., 1978)
Original Ranking: 22

“ ‘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.”




23. “Surfing with the Alien”
Soloist: Joe Satriani
Album: Surfing with the Alien (Epic, 1987)
Original Ranking: 30

“We didn’t know where that song was going until one afternoon when we went to record the melody and I plugged a wah-wah pedal and a Tubedriver into my 100-watt Marshall,” Joe Satriani says.

“Then, just on a whim, I said, ‘Let’s try this harmonizer.’ It was one of those Eventide 949s. The sound that came out of the speakers blew us away so much that we recorded the melody and the solo in about a half-hour and sat back and went, ‘Whoa! This is a song, man!’"

[[ Start learning most of the guitar solos featured in this Top 50 story! 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. ]]


22. “Highway Star”
Soloist: Ritchie Blackmore
Album: Deep Purple—Machine Head (Warner Bros., 1972)
Original Ranking: 15

“I wrote that out note for note about a week before we recorded it,” says Ritchie Blackmore. “And that is one of the only times I have ever done that. I wanted it to sound like someone driving in a fast car, for it to be one of those songs you would listen to while speeding.

"And I wanted a very definite Bach sound, which is why I wrote it out—and why I played those very rigid arpeggios across that very familiar Bach progression—Dm, Gm, Cmaj, Amaj. I believe that I was the first person to do that so obviously on the guitar, and I believe that that’s why it stood out and why people have enjoyed it so much.

“[Keyboardist] Jon Lord worked his part out to mine. Initially, I was going to play my solo over the chords he had planned out. But I couldn’t get off on them, so I made up my own chords and we left the spot for him to write a melody. The keyboard solo is quite a bit more difficult than mine because of all those 16th notes. Over the years, I’ve always played that solo note for note—again, one of the few where I’ve done that—but it just got faster and faster onstage because we would drink more and more whiskey. Jon would have to play his already difficult part faster and faster and he would get very annoyed about it.”




21. “Time”
Soloist: David Gilmour
Album: Pink Floyd—The Dark Side of the Moon (Columbia, 1973)
Original Ranking: 21

“Working with Pink Floyd is an engineer’s dream, so I tried to take advantage of the situation,” says studio wizard Alan Parsons. “Dark Side of the Moon came at a crucial stage in my career, so I was highly motivated.”

Parsons’ attention to detail obviously paid off: He won a Grammy award for the best engineered album of 1973, and DSOTM went on to ride the charts for a record-breaking 14 years.

But while Parsons takes credit for many of Moon’s sonic innovations, he says the massive guitar sound on the album can be attributed to only one man: David Gilmour. “David was very much in control of his sound system,” says Parsons. “We rarely added effects to his guitar in the control room. Generally speaking, the sound on the album is pretty much what came out of his amp. As I recall, he used a Hiwatt stack, a Fuzz Face and an Italian-made delay unit called a Binson Echorec.”

Gilmour confirms: “For most of my solos, I usually use a fuzz box, a delay and a bright eq setting. But to get that kind of singing sustain, you really need to play loud—at or near the feedback threshold.”

SORRY, PINK FLOYD'S STUDIO VERSION OF "TIME" IS NOT AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE!


20. “November Rain”
Soloist: Slash
Album: Guns N’ Roses—Use Your Illusion I (Geffen, 1991)
Original Ranking: 06

Long before the world embraced Guns N’ Roses as the quintessential Eighties rock band, the L.A.-based outfit recorded in one day a demo tape that featured many of what would become the band’s best-known songs, including “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City” and “Mr. Browstone,” all of which would wind up on the band’s 1987 breakthrough album, Appetite for Destruction.

Also on the tape was a song called “November Rain,” a sprawling, grandiose piano-driven ballad that would lie dormant for the remainder of the decade, eventually resurfacing in 1991 on the band’s two-record set, Use Your Illusion.

“I think that demo session was the first time we played ‘November Rain’ together as a band,” says Guns guitarist Slash. “We actually did it on piano and acoustic guitar. As far as the guitar solo, it was so natural from the first time I ever played it on the demo that I don’t even know if I made any changes to it when we did the electric version on Use Your Illusion. I never even went back and listened to the old tapes.

"One of the best things about a melody for a guitar solo is when it comes to you the same way every time, and that was definitely the case with ‘November Rain.’ When it came time to do the record, I just went into the studio, played the solo through a Les Paul Standard and a Marshall [2555, Jubilee head] and said, ‘I think that sounds right,’ ” he laughs. “It was as simple as that.”


19. “Cliffs of Dover”
Soloist: Eric Johnson
Album: Ah Via Musicom (Capitol, 1990)
Original Ranking: 17

“I don’t even know if I can take credit for writing ‘Cliffs of Dover,’ ” says Eric Johnson of his best-known composition. “It was just there for me one day. There are songs I have spent months writing, and I literally wrote this one in five minutes. The melody was there in one minute and the other parts came together in another four. I think a lot of the stuff just comes through us like that. It’s kind of a gift from a higher place that all of us are eligible for. We just have to listen for it and be available to receive it.”

While it is true that he wrote the song in a blessed instant, the fact is that Johnson, a notoriously slow worker, took his time polishing it up to form. “It took me a while to achieve the facility to play it right,” he says. “I was trying to work out the fingerings and how I wanted particular notes to hang over other notes.”

Even allowing for Johnson’s perfectionism, it took an extraordinarily long time for him to record a song that “came to him” in five minutes. That epiphany occurred in 1982, and within two years “Cliffs of Dover” was a popular staple of his live shows. He planned to include the song on his solo debut, Tones (Capitol, 1986), but, ironically, it didn’t make the cut. “It was ousted by the people who were doing the record with me,” Johnson explains. “I think they thought the melody was too straight or something.”

Luckily, wiser heads prevailed on Ah Via Musicom. Though he had been playing “Cliffs of Dover” live for four or five years by then, it still took Johnson multiple takes to nail the song to his satisfaction—and he was never pleased with any version. “The whole solo is actually a composite of many guitar parts,” Johnson says. “I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound—almost regal—and though I had versions that were close, none quite nailed it, so I kept playing around with different permutations of the many versions I had recorded until I got it just right.

“As a result, I actually ended up using two different-sounding guitars. Almost all of the song is a Gibson 335 through a Marshall, with an Echoplex and a tube driver. But in the middle of the solo there’s 20 or 30 seconds played on a Strat. It really does sound different if you listen closely and at first I didn’t think it could work, but I really liked this string of licks so we just decided to keep it. It basically sounds like I’m hitting a preamp box or switching amps.

“The difficulty on that song was to make the sound as clear as the melody is. It’s just a simple little repeating melody, and for the song to work it had to be very up-front and crisp. Unfortunately, the G third on the guitar has a real tendency to waver and not be a smooth, clear note. As a result, I had to finger it just right—like a classical guitarist, using only the very tips of my fingers to achieve the best efficiency of my tonality.

"That’s what took me so long: to be able to play all the fast licks with just the tips of my fingers, with just the right touch and tonality. Without a doubt, the most important thing is the song and melody, which in this case came very easily. But I like to do the best job I can of delivering it to the listener by the best possible way I can play it—and that came hard.”


18. “Floods”
Soloist: Dimebag Darrell
Album: Pantera—The Great Southern Trendkill (Elektra, 1996)
Original Ranking: 19

“That particular solo was thought-out in a more orchestrated fashion than some of the others I play where I just start ripping right off the bat,” says Dimebag Darrell. “The thing that really makes the ‘Floods’ solo come across like it does is [bassist] Rex’s playing behind it. He’s using his fingers and he plays a whole bunch of cool licks and s--- in there. He definitely adds to the vibe and feel of my lead because I’m playing off his part a lot—it was a great foundation for me to build on.”

To fatten up the sound of the catchy arpeggiated theme that fills the first eight bars of his lead, Darrell doubled the part. “I picked up the idea of doubling from Randy Rhoads. It seemed appropriate to start off in a slow, melodic fashion and then build and build and build to the climax with the big harmonic squeals at the end.

"For that last big note I think there’s four guitars going on. There’s a squeal at the second fret of the G string, a squeal at the fifth fret of the G and then I used a DigiTech Whammy Pedal on two-string squeals at the harmonics at the fourth and 12th frets of the G and B strings, I believe. That was one of those deals where I didn’t plan it out. I just sat there and f---ed with it until it sounded right.”


17. “Crazy Train”
Soloist: Randy Rhoads
Album: Ozzy Osbourne—Blizzard of Ozz (Epic, 1981)
Original Ranking: 09

Randy Rhoads employed a two-part process when recording his solos for Blizzard of Ozz. First, the classically trained young shredder would take his customized Jackson guitars to a stone room downstairs at England’s Ridge Farm Studios where he would work out each of his solos, among them “Crazy Train.”

“This was after we did the backing tracks,” says Blizzard of Ozz engineer Max Norman. “Randy had a Marshall and a couple of 4x12s, and we had him set up in this room with the cabinets facing up out into the main studio. They were miked at various points: close, at three feet and again at about 12 feet. I would make Randy a loop of the solo section and we’d just let that play into these big monitors downstairs, where he would just sit and jam away for hours and hours until he had composed his completed solo.”

With the solos arranged to his liking, Rhoads would then report upstairs to the control room to record them. “We’d plug the guitar directly into the console,” recalls Norman. “We’d preamp it in the console and send it down to the amp from there. That way we could control the amount of gain that hit the amp, which is always a problem when running a remote amplifier and trying to get a good enough signal to it."


16. “Heartbreaker”
Soloist: Jimmy Page
Album: Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic, 1969)
Original Ranking: 16

Performing a convincing solo in a group context is difficult for any musician, but it takes a real man to stand unaccompanied and deliver. On “Heartbreaker,” Jimmy Page did just that. For an electrifying 45 seconds, Page let loose sans rhythm section and, needless to say, the guitar world has never been quite the same.

“I just fancied doing it,” laughs Page. “I was always trying to do something different, or something no one else had thought of. But the interesting thing about that solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished “Heartbreaker”—it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded in a different studio and was sort of slotted in the middle. If you notice, the whole sound of the guitar is different.

“The solo itself was made up on the spot. I think that was one of the first things I ever played through a Marshall. I was always having trouble with amps, and Marshalls were state-of-the-art reliability. By that time I was using a Les Paul, anyway, and that was just a classic setup.”

“We definitely recorded the solo section separately,” confirms engineer Eddie Kramer. “Jimmy walked in and set up and the whole session was over in about 20 minutes. He did two or three takes and we picked the best one, which was edited in later. However, to this day, I have a hard time listening to it, because I think we did a s---ty edit—the difference in noise levels is pretty outrageous. But I don’t think Jimmy cared, he was more interested in capturing an idea, and on that level, he succeeded.”


15. "Whole Lotta Love”
Soloist: Jimmy Page
Album: Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic, 1969)
Original Ranking: 38

“I used distant miking to get that rhythm guitar tone,” says Jimmy Page. “Miking used to be a science, and I’d heard that distance makes depth, which in turn gives you a fatter guitar sound. The amp was turned up very high. It was distorting, just controlled to the point where it had some balls to it. I also used a depressed wah-wah pedal on the solo, as I did on ‘Communication Breakdown.’

"It gets you a really raucous sound. The descending riff that answers the line ‘whole lotta love’ was created using slide and backward echo. Backward echo has been used a lot now, but I think I was the first to use it.”




14. “Little Wing”
Soloist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Axis: Bold as Love (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1968)
Original Ranking: 18

Covered by artists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Sting, “Little Wing” is one of Jimi Hendrix’s most beautiful and enduring compositions. It’s easy to see why. The original is seductively warm, poignant and light as a feather. Engineer Eddie Kramer explains how Jimi achieved the song’s ethereal glow in the studio.

“One of my favorite touches on that track is the glockenspiel part, which was played by Jimi,” says Kramer. “Part of the beauty of recording at Olympic Studios in London was using instruments that had been left from previous sessions. The glockenspiel was just laying around, so Jimi used it.”

Hendrix’s rich and watery guitar solo was, says Kramer, in part the product of a secret weapon. “One of the engineers had built this miniature Leslie,” continues Kramer. “It was like it was built out of an Erector set and had a small eight-inch speaker that rotated. Believe it or not, the guitar solo was fed through this tiny thing, and that’s the lovely effect you hear on the lead.”


13. “One”
Soloist: Kirk Hammett
Album: Metallica—…And Justice for All (Elektra, 1988)
Original Ranking: 07

“I had a very clear idea of where I wanted to go with my guitar playing on …And Justice for All,” recalls Kirk Hammett. “Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for me to fully execute my ideas.

“We worked on basic tracks for six or seven months, and then I only had eight or nine days to record all my leads because we were heading out on the Monsters of Rock tour [with Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken and Kingdom Come]. To get that done, I had to do incredibly long, grueling days—like 20 hours at a pop—and it took so much out of me. As soon as I finished one solo, I had to do the next one. There was no time to breathe, as the whole vibe was to do it the best you could and keep moving. It was a pretty frustrating experience, to be honest.”

Despite these frustrations, Hammett was immediately pleased with most of his work on “One,” which featured three very different solos. “The first solo and the last solo were completely worked out in advance because I had been playing them for months,” recalls Hammett. “So in those cases it was just a matter of fitting in tone-wise. I elected to use a clean sound in the intro solo, which was the first time we used that kind of sound. I dialed it up on an ADA preamp and, once we found the right sound, it just flowed.

"For the final solo, I used my conventional lead sound of the time. That one flowed quickly, too—once I worked out the intro right-hand tapping technique, a process I really enjoyed. I wanted a high energy intro that would be different from anything I had done in the past. So I got those two solos done quickly and was pleased with them. But the middle one just wasn’t happening.”

Ultimately, Hammett was so displeased with the results of his second solo that he returned to the studio in the midst of the Monsters of Rock tour—spending a day at New York’s Hit Factory with producer Ed Stasium. “I redid the entire second half of the second solo and worked to make it all fit in,” Hammett recalls. “It was better, although I was never totally satisfied with it. I guess I did a good enough job.”

Apparently so. The song would soon become Metallica’s first legitimate radio and MTV hit, its solos firmly established as Hammett signature licks.




12. "No More Tears"
Soloist: Zakk Wylde
Album: Ozzy Osbourne—No More Tears (Epic, 1991)
Original Ranking: 51




11. "Since I've Been Loving You”
Soloist: Jimmy Page
Album: Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin III (Atlantic, 1970)
Original Ranking: 53


10. "Brighton Rock”
Soloist: Brian May
Album: Queen—Sheer Heart Attack (Elektra, 1974)
Original Ranking: 41

Universally venerated for his lavish guitar orchestrations and tasteful British restraint, Brian May kicked over the traces on this high energy rocker that leads off Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack. One of May’s most blues-based excursions ever, the song’s extended solo section grew out of the guitarist’s experiments with an Echoplex tape delay unit. His original goal was to reproduce his multi-part guitar harmonies live onstage with Queen, back in the days before harmonizers were invented.

“I started messing around with the Echoplex, the delay that was available at the time,” May recalls. “I turned up the regeneration until it was giving me multiple repeats. I discovered you could do a lot with this—you could set up rhythms and play against them, or you could play a line and then play a harmony to it.

"But I decided that the delay [times] I wanted weren’t available on the Echoplex. So I modified it and made a new rail, which meant I could slide the head along and make the delay any length I wanted, because the physical distance between the two heads is what gave you the delay. Eventually, I had two home-adapted Echoplexes. And I discovered that if you put each echo through its own amp, you wouldn’t have any nasty interference between the two signals. Each amp would be like a full-blown, sustaining, overdriven guitar which didn’t have anything to do with the other one.

“So, ‘Brighton Rock’ was the first time that got onto a record. I’d already been trying it live onstage in the middle of ‘Son and Daughter’ [from Queen’s self-titled ’73 debut album], when Queen first toured with Mott the Hoople. It was rather crude at first. But I certainly had a lot of fun with it.”


09. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Soloist: Brian May
Album: Queen—A Night at the Opera (Hollywood, 1975)
Original Ranking: 20

“Freddie [Mercury] had the whole piece pretty well mapped out, as I remember, but he didn’t have a guitar solo planned. So I guess I steamed in and said, ‘This is the point where you need your solo, and these are the chords I’d like to use.’

The chord progression for the solo is based on the verse, but with a slight foray into some different chords at the end, to make a transition into the next part of the song. I’d heard the track so many times while we were working on it that I knew in my head what I wanted to play for a solo. I wanted the guitar melody to be something extra, not just an echo of the vocal melody. I had a little tune in my head to play. It didn’t take very long to record.

“The next section of the song, the heavy bit, was really part of Freddie’s plan. I didn’t change what he had very much. Those guitar riffs that everybody bangs their heads to are really more Freddie’s than mine. And at the end of that section, I sort of took over. I wanted to do some guitar orchestrations—little violin lines—coming out of that. And it blended in very well with what Freddie was doing with the outro.

“We were stretching the limits of technology in those days. Since ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was entirely done on 16-track, we had to do a lot of bouncing as we went along; the tape got very thin. This ‘legendary’ story, which people think we made up, is true: we held the tape up to the light one day—we’d been wondering where all the top end was going—and what we discovered was virtually a transparent piece of tape. All the oxide had been rubbed off. It was time to hurriedly make a copy and get on with it.”


08. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Soloist: Eric Clapton
Album: The Beatles—The Beatles (Apple, 1968)
Original Ranking: 42

“When we actually started recording this, it was just me playing the acoustic guitar and singing it, and nobody was interested,” recalls the song’s author, George Harrison. “Well, Ringo probably was, but John and Paul weren’t. When I went home that night, I was really disappointed because I thought, Well, this is really quite a good song; it’s not as if it’s crap!

"And the next day I happened to drive back into London with Eric [Clapton], and I suddenly said, ‘Why don’t you come play on this track?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that; the others wouldn’t like it…’ But I finally said, ‘Well, damn, it’s my song, and I’d like you to come down.’ So he did, and everybody was good as gold because he was there.

"I sang it with the acoustic guitar with Paul on piano, and Eric and Ringo. Later, Paul overdubbed bass. Then we listened back to it and Eric said, ‘Ah, there’s a problem, though; it’s not Beatlesy enough.’ So we put the song through the ADT [automatic double tracker] to wobble it a bit.”

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