You are currently viewing 10 Best Guitar Solos of All Time & Guitars Used to Play Them

Last Updated on January 19, 2024 by Justin Thomas

Displays Tyler Connaghan - guitar player and writer

Author: Tyler Connaghan

Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.

Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting

Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music Industry

displays Edward Bond and Gibson Guitar

Editor: Edward Bond

Edward has been playing the guitar since 2002. So Edward has over 20 years of experience as a guitarist, has authored 15 guitar books, has written for renowned music blogs, and spent a decade teaching music. He began merging his passion for writing and music in 2020 and has written for big guitar websites such as Guitar Head Publishing and KillerGuitarRigs.com.

Originally from Seattle, Edward moved to Norway in 2021 for a master’s in music. He’s studied at the Jazz Institute Berlin and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and currently resides in Trondheim. His education includes a European Jazz Master’s, a diploma in Film and Game Scoring from Sofia, and a Bachelor’s in Jazz from University of Oregon.

Edward has played in numerous bands and currently, Edward works on his own project Starship Infinity


Depending on who you ask, the list of the best guitar solos of all time will vary. 

It’s challenging to compare Jimmy Page’s iconic solo on “Stairway to Heaven” with Eric Johnson’s jaw-dropping, clear-toned musings on “Cliffs of Dover.” However, despite its seeming impossibility, I took a shot and curated a list of some of what I believe are the greatest guitar solos to ever grace the ears of rock and roll fans.

Let’s dive in.


How Did We Choose These Guitar Solos

Putting a list like this together was no easy feat, and I guarantee I’ll have some angry keyboard warriors in the comments telling me how much of a fool I was to leave out _____’s INSANE solo on ______. 

Therefore, I’ll tell you exactly what I was looking for to give you a better idea of my thought process. 

  • Legacy: I wanted to find iconic and inspiring solos that left legacies for others to follow.
  • Technicality: Next, I looked at technical proficiency, including speed, accuracy, and complexity. 
  • Originality: A great guitarist is one that you can recognize just by hearing, which is why I looked for solos that bring something unique and original to the table.
  • Emotional Impact: While this is certainly subjective, I gave solos more consideration that have impacted me emotionally as a guitarist. 
  • Personal Preference: Of course, I couldn’t lie and tell you that my taste wasn’t involved in the process, so welcome to a small slice of the music I like!

10 Best Guitar Solos of All Time

“Hotel California” – The Eagles

Hotel California (2013 Remaster)
image shows don felder and joe walsh of the eagles playing hotel california
Don Felder and Joe Walsh playing Hotel California

When the opening acoustic guitar line chimes in, no matter where you are, you can feel a palpable sense of excitement in the room. However, though the lead song from the Eagles’ fifth album showcases what many consider to be top-tier songwriting and arrangement, it’s the iconic dual-harmony solo guitar near the finale of the track that makes it one of the most iconic pieces of classic rock the world has ever known. 

At 4:20, legendary guitarists Joe Walsh and Don Felder move back and forth, trading off their solo expertise, before erupting into a bout of total harmonic splendor. 

And while the solo might sound complex, the theory of it all is quite simple. Each harmonized line is an arranged arpeggio of the accompaniment chords underneath, with one guitarist harmonizing the chord’s root, third, or fifth. 

The solo is so akin to the track’s theme that you can almost smell those warm colitas and feel the cool wind in your hair. Plus, any solo you can sing along to is a winner in my book.

“Eruption” – Van Halen

Van Halen Eruption Guitar Solo
  • Guitarist – Eddie Van Halen.
  • Guitar Used  – Frankenstrat.
  • Genre – Hard rock.
displays Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen (yeah, I’m sad too)

Eddie Van Halen is arguably the greatest rock guitarist ever, and “Eruption” truly showcases his virtuosity. The solo is a dictionary of hard rock guitar techniques, from whammy-bar dive bombs to pinched harmonics to two-handed tapping. 

Though I didn’t grow up in the 80s, the guy who runs the studio I work for, now a professional music producer and guitarist, grew up then. He says the first time he heard this song on the radio, he thought it was an alien playing, as no one had ever played like that before. 

While it’s pretty hard not to talk about the tapping portion of this solo, it’s equally worth noting how intelligently Eddie curated his tone and note choices. The legato sections are so crisp and clean, even though he’s playing with abandon on the edge of the universe.

Ironically enough, it is said that Eddie actually never wanted to record “Eruption,” so we have the band’s old producer, Ted Templeton, to thank for this true gift to hard rock.

“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

No Stairway!
displays Jimmy Page playing on stage
Jimmy Page with his double necked EDS-1275

As I said before, there’s nothing quite like a guitar solo that you can sing along to, and from the second Jimmy Page comes into the fold with that first overdriven bend on his 1959 Fender Tele, you realize that you’re exiting the dark, tranquil forest that is the first half of “Stairway to Heaven” and climbing the ladder up into the atmospheric grandeur that is an almost entirely different piece of music. 

It’s a genuinely magnificent solo that feels like it was carefully composed rather than aimlessly played. However, according to the band, the majority of the solo was improvised over the course of three takes, two of which still exist today. 

The solo starts off with a simple pentatonic riff, moves through a series of call-and-response licks, and ends with what I can only describe as the perfect climax (don’t tell my wife). It’s one guitar solo I wish I could hear again for the first time, as it changed my outlook on music forever.

“Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
  • Guitarist – David Gilmour.
  • Guitar Used  – 1969 Fender Strat.
  • Genre – Psychedelic rock.
image shows david gilmour playing a Fender Stratocaster
David Gilmour with a Fender Stratocaster

Pink Floyd is the greatest psych-rock band of all time, and much of the band’s success is thanks to the unforgivingly melodic playing technique. If anyone knows how to make his guitar sing, it’s Gilmour.

What’s so fantastic about his solo in “Comfortably Numb” is that it is heart-wrenching. No other guitar solo has hit me to my core quite like this one, and watching him perform it live is an otherworldly experience. 

Beyond the emotional impact, his tone is iconic. He played the solo on his legendary black Strat plugged into an EHX Ram’s Head Big Muff and ran through a HiWatt DR103. It’s fat, creamy, and buttery, all wrapped up in such sustain that one might believe he’d be able to hold a note out for an eternity. 

Like Brian May, who I’ll get into next, the main thing I love about Gilmour is that he’s able to squeeze excitement out of every note he plays, and “Comfortably Numb” is only one great example.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Guitarist – Brian May.
  • Guitar Used  – Red Special.
  • Genre – Classic rock.
Displays Brian May
Brian May

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is one of those songs that will likely never die. It’s reached a point of popularity that’s tethered it to the eternal zeitgeist, and though we certainly have the unmatched vocal and songwriting talent of frontman Freddie Mercury to thank, a lot of the praise should be directed at Queen’s guitarist, Brian May.

What’s unique about this solo is that it is relatively short and sweet in the grand scheme of this hectic, genre-bending piece of music. May can bridge the gap between the quiet verse and operatic portions with expert phrasing and feel in just nine bars.

His touch is unlike any other guitarist, and between his fast, expressive licks and articulate vibrato style, his playing is all his own. In a song that takes us around the world and back again, this solo offers the perfect melodic staircase to get us from point A to point B while preparing our necks for some Wayne’s World-style headbanging.

“All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix

All Alone The Watchtower
image shows jimi hendrix with his white strat
Jimi Hendrix with his white Strat

Though “All Along the Watchtower” was originally a Bob Dylan song, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think Jimi’s version was better. And considering how much he injected his Hendrix flair and attitude into it, it almost doesn’t feel like a cover.

The solo kicks off around 2:20 with a spicy set of wah-wah octave runs before he moves into his dreamy, off-the-cuff, minor pentatonic style that he became famous for. It’s one of the few major rock and roll solos that uses up-down, scratch strumming, showcasing how loose Hendrix could play while still sticking to the groove.

Beyond the guitar solo, the rhythm playing in this track is outstanding. The melody work in the verses is on point, and the chord work is exceptional. Considering the fact that the iconic tone is just an LP Custom shot through a Wah and a cranked AC30, it goes to show that simplicity and raw talent work wonders together.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses – Sweet Child O’ Mine
  • Guitarist – Slash.
  • Guitar Used  – Gibson Les Paul.
  • Genre – Classic Rock.
image shows slash of guns n roses playing his Gibson Les Paul
Slash of Guns n Roses

When it comes to quintessential rock and roll, it’s hard not to mention the raw power and prowess of Slash’s lead guitar work on Guns n’ Roses. 

The guitar solo on “Sweet Child O Mine” is unique in so many aspects. He starts the solo with a distant, canyon-like reverb tone and a series of modal, legato-style riffs before cranking it into full overdrive while taking it up the octave and working the wah pedal to the bone. 

What impresses me about Slash is that he has an enduring feel. It never feels like things get out of control or he takes too much time to compose his guitar solos. Instead, he gives us the sense that everything is improvised, even with a colorful palette of expert techniques and flavors. 

And if the solo itself isn’t iconic enough, the opening riff, which you can hear ever so poorly played at just about any Guitar Center across the United States, might be one of the most recognizable guitar parts of all time. 

“Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Guitarists – Allen Collins and Gary Rossington.
  • Guitar Used  – Gibson Explorer.
  • Genre – Southern Rock.

Go and catch a live rock show at one of your local venues, and there’s a 90% chance someone in the audience will yell, “Play Free Bird!” If that alone wasn’t enough to tell you how memorable of a mark this solo has left on music, then I don’t know what is. 

It’s near impossible to write a list of “best guitar _____” without mentioning “Free Bird,” and though some might feel the song receives more hype than it deserves, I’d say that you’re lying if the boisterous second half doesn’t make you wanna bring out your inner redneck.

The 143-bar guitar solo is somewhat like an extended jam session, offering what might be one of the most epic showcases of guitar playing stamina in recorded music. On the record, you hear Allen Collins and Gary Rossington throw riffs and licks back and forth to one another, culminating into a southern rock shred-fest that no other band has been able to match since.

“Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits

“Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
image shows mark knopfler of dire straits
Mark Knopfler

Ahhh… Mark Knopfler — one of my absolute favorite guitarists

The unique thing about Mark was that, unlike many major guitarists, he opted to play with his fingers instead of a pick, which gave him his instantly recognizable sound. Plus, he could make a Strat sing with his unique MK61 pickups; this might be one of the few iconic solos in rock history that uses a primarily clean tone.

While the harmonic content in this solo is quite simple, ranging from pentatonic to natural minor, the thing that sets this solo apart from many others is its exceptional phrasing. Even without the lyrics and the chord progression, the solo itself feels like a song within a song. Solo-ception!

Even more interesting is that the solo was completely improvised in the heat of the moment.

“Crossroads” – Cream

Crossroads – Eric Clapton
  • Guitarists – Eric Clapton.
  • Guitar Used  – Gibson ES-335.
  • Genre – Blues Rock.
image shows eric clapton of cream
Eric Clapton

Please don’t hate me for putting another cover on this list. Cream’s spin on Robert Johnson’s 1936 Delta blues hit, “Crossroads,” may have been the song that got me into playing guitar. Not only is it one of Clapton’s most legendary solos of all time, but it’s also one of his best solos to see when he plays live, as he switches it up each time. 

With Ginger Baker’s driving beat underneath him, Clapton effortlessly holds down the main riff throughout the majority of the song before exploding into a few blistering blues solos, complete with a combination of bends, triplets, and high-range wailing.

Uniquely enough, the thing that makes this solo so edgy and exciting is that Clapton says he completely lost time with the band during pieces of the song. In the end, it’s the fact that the solo is out of time, putting the accent on the off-beats, that makes it so cool.

While some might say that Cream squeezed the blues right out of this blues track, I think most people would agree that Clapton’s guitar work took it to an entirely different dimension in the best way possible.


Runner-Ups That Just Missed The List

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – The Beatles

While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
  • Guitarist – Eric Clapton
  • Guitar Used  – Gibson Les Paul
  • Genre – Classic Rock

The Beatles, as with many musicians, was the first band that introduced me to music. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is no doubt one of George Harrison’s finest songwriting moments in his career. 

However, many don’t know that Eric Clapton overdubbed the solo on this otherwise folky, demo-like recording. Though it has all of the elements of soul and sadness that one could pull from a guitar, in terms of iconic status, it doesn’t cut it for me, which is the reason I didn’t include it on the main list.

“Parabola” – Tool

Parabola – Tool

Okay, I’ll admit that this one might be for me and me alone (maybe a few others reading this), but Lateralus was one of the first albums I ever purchased, and to this day, “Parabola” hits as hard as it did when I first listened to it. Though Adam Jones is usually shy regarding solos, this song demonstrated his creativity like no other Tool track.

“Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train

Filled to the brim with fast-picked pentatonic and legato Aeolian phrases, chromatic trills, and big bends, there’s no doubt that Rhoads’ “Crazy Train” solo deserves a spot on a best guitar solos list. 

The only reason I decided not to put it up with the others is that I’ve never been a huge Ozzy fan, and even though Rhoads is one of the greatest metal guitarists of all time, and this solo is technically proficient in every way, I can’t say that it has ever tugged at my heartstrings.

“Cliffs of Dover” – Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover
  • Guitarist – Eric Johnson.
  • Guitar Used  – Gibson ES-335.
  • Genre – Prog Rock.

Eric Johnson is a Texan force to be reckoned with. When he won a Grammy for his masterful instrumental, “Cliffs of Dover,” the year after it was released, it was clear that he had done something great. 

However, while the jaw-dropping, violin-style tones, tasteful arrangement, and exquisite technical prowess should certainly be enough to put him on the main list, I don’t think this solo rose to the same level of household influence as the others, which is why it’s a runner-up.

“Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry – Johnny B Goode
  • Guitarist – Chuck Berry.
  • Guitar Used  – Gibson ES-350T.
  • Genre – Rock n’ Roll.

I don’t know if anyone has influenced rock n’ roll like Chuck Berry. His bluesy phrasing and distorted tones would inspire generations of guitarists after him. However, even with the iconic status of his solo on “Johnny B. Goode,” I didn’t feel that legacy alone was enough to put him in the top ten spot.

Fun fact – Chuck Berry was pretty late in his age before he picked up the guitar, as according to historians, it wasn’t until he was well into his twenties.


Conclusion

There you go – my carefully curated list of the best guitar solos ever! Let me say again that writing this list was no easy task. Unfortunately, I had to leave out several iconic solos simply because there wasn’t enough room. 

However, you now have a taste of some of what I believe are the emotionally impactful and inspiring guitar solos of all time. Next time you pick up your guitar, try learning one!


FAQ

What is the hardest guitar solo ever recorded?

I would go as far as saying “Eruption” by Van Halen is one of the most challenging guitar solos ever recorded, as it takes guitarists through an array of soloing techniques and requires an insane amount of accuracy.

Who is the most technically skilled guitarist?

Guthrie Govan, the lead guitarist for Asia and The Aristocrats, is one of the most technically proficient guitarists ever. Many consider him to be one of the best guitarists of all time.

Who is considered to be the best solo guitarist most often?

Many people consider Eddie Van Halen the best solo guitarist of all time, as he pioneered a new style of shredding that people had never heard before.

Who is considered the fastest guitarist?

Though he is relatively unknown in popular music, John Taylor holds the record for the “World’s Fastest Guitarist.”

What was the first guitar solo?

Eddie Durham was said to have recorded the first ever guitar solo in ‘Hittin the Bottle,’ which was recorded on September 30, 1935.

What was the first distorted guitar solo?

One of the earliest uses of distortion in a guitar solo was from a 1947 track called Bob Wills Boogie, where guitarist Robert Junior Barnard used a revolutionary tone at the time. 

Is playing guitar solos hard?

Though many beginner and intermediate players struggle with learning guitar solos, solos come in all shapes and sizes in terms of difficulty.

Even before mastering or becoming proficient in a technique used in a complex guitar solo, you’d be surprised how relatively easy it might be to learn that solo.

Tyler Connaghan

Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster. You can connect with Tyler on LinkedIn or just email him.
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Justin Thomas

As a hardened rocker/metalhead in the early 90s I was surrounded by other metalheads. It wasn’t until we were in our 40s that we all admitted that we were listening to Brother In Arms when the others weren’t about 🙂