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15 Great Rock Guitar Solos - Student Blog

great rock guitar solos

Obviously, there are more than 15 great guitar solos in rock music history. 

So the only way I can do this with any semblance of fairness is to base my picks not only listening to the technical qualities of the guitar solo, but factor in the historical importance of the performer who played the guitar solo. As in, did they influence more people to want to play guitar?

1.  “Rock around the clock” : Bill Haley and His Comets, Rock Around The Clock (1954)

"Rock around the Clock" was one of the first pure shred guitar solos. There is a fascinating backstory about this song and the tragically short life of the brilliant guitarist, Danny Cederone, who put down a very technically precise and exciting guitar solo that complements this “birth of Rock and Roll” song. The tragedy is that Danny died just ten days after recording the solo, a guitar solo masterpiece that he was paid a whopping $21. 

2. “No Particular Place to go” : Chuck Berry, Chess Records single (1964)

Again, when it comes to some guitarists, you can make a case for hundreds of other guitar solos that demonstrate their mastery of the guitar.  Chuck Berry has literally hundreds of other songs where he plays something that is so distinctly him, you can’t help but admire his originality.  I love “No Particular Place to Go” because it is a such fun song, and also teaches the power of playing “double stops”, (two note chords.) Not to mention, such a great chord in the very beginning of the song! 

Other classic Chuck Berry songs to study and learn from are:  “Johnny B. Goode”, “Maybelline” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”.

 3. “And I love her”:  The Beatles/George Harrison, Hard Day's Night (1964)

Early Beatles provide the blueprints for all popular song construction. The Beatles wrote with haunting chords, beautiful hooks and melodies which led to perfect song arrangement. Stylistically, vocal melodies were the blueprint for so many guitar solos in the early 1960s era. Note that the song modulates up one half step to feature the guitar solo, and stays in that key until the end of the song. While the solo is primarily the vocal melody, there is a bossa nova feel to the groove of the song, so guitarist George Harrison is intentionally playing a little bit behind the beat to accentuate that feel.

Other great Beatles guitar solos to learn are “While my Guitar gently weeps”, “Something”. George was a very underrated guitar player as well. Check out “Marwa Blues” off of the George Harrison “Brainwashed” album. It features masterful slide guitar playing and a beautiful guitar arrangement around a poignant melody.

4. “Layla”: Derick and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Eric Clapton/Duane Allman (1971)

Eric Clapton should be required listening for rock guitarists. From his early work with Derick and the Dominos and Cream, where he can be referred to as one of the early guitar gods, to his modern incarnation as an elder Blues Statesman, Eric Clapton always plays what the song of the moment needs. I have always found him to be a great starting point for what to play on my own songs. However, as a guitarist, he also always feels so restrained to me, almost like he knows he could play more but he intentionally holds back. That kind of maturity and restraint really allows a song to “breathe” and makes his songs define “classic rock.” Throughout the years, Eric Clapton has always featured up and coming musicians in his band and concerts, including ArtistWorks bass guitar instructor Nathan East

Picking “Layla” also lets me include Duane Allman in my list, an incredible slide guitar player who has dozens of amazing guitar solos to his credit. Every solo on the Allman Brothers “Live at the Fillmore East” is required listening for any aspiring guitarist. You can read more about Layla here

5. “May this be Love”: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (1967)

So take everything I just said about restraint and throw it out the window. Jimi experimented in the studio with his sound, he experimented with his guitar solos improvising around his vocal melodies, and other times his guitar playing sounded like it came from another planet. In everything Jimi played, it was a crazy experiment where he was the mad scientist, charting out where the future of music was headed. Jimi has many other masterpieces, such as “Little Wing”, “Castles Made of Sand”, and a cover of the Bob Dylan tune “watchtower” is epic.

A small favorite note about the solo in “May this be Love” t:he whole solo is played on the 2nd string, the “B” string. It's very loose and with a lot of sliding around, and very little picking. It is played mostly legato, with hammer-ons and pull-offs for the phrasing.

6. “Diamond Dust”: Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow (1975)

If you blend Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix together, you get another guitar God known to us mortals as Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck created the genre of Guitar Driven Fusion Jazz instrumental guitar music. On this track, if you analyze it harmonically, “Diamond Dust” is a beautifully complex multiple key changing chord progression. If you analyze what Jeff Beck played in "Diamond Dust," you will come to realize that it is really the best thing that could be played.

Jeff has laid down his share of masterful guitar solos in non-instrumental songs such as “People Get Ready”, “Shapes of Things,” but his undeniable strength is his instrumentals. “Where were you” is one of the most incredibly beautiful melodies I have ever heard. “Good bye Pork pie Hat” is another great instrumental. Trust me on this - Jeff Beck is so good that people will still be talking about him 100 years from now. You can’t program what he does, you can only marvel at his precision and emotion.

7. “Empty Arms”: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Soul to Soul (1985)


Stevie Ray Vaughn regularly channeled into himself so many great guitarists every time he performed, he was an erudite guitar master chameleon. It is impossible not to hear the B.B. King influence in the beginning of the “Empty Arms” guitar solo. At the same time, Albert King and Buddy Guy have also flavored his phrasing resulting in just a perfect guitar solo for this classic blues track. Again, Stevie Ray Vaughn is a hard one to pin down to just one solo, he had so many incredible performances.

Not as commonly known, Stevie Ray Vaughn also plays drums on this track. There is a very different version of this track on the “The Sky is crying” posthumous release, but I like this version on Soul to Soul better. Listen to that perfectly timed half step trill in the solo, it is a real rhythm and blues master at work on this track.  

Some of the more popular songs from Stevie Ray Vaughn are “Pride and Joy”, “Rude Mood” (off his debut Texas Flood album) but another masterpiece off the Soul to Soul album is the track entitled, “Life without you”. “Life without you” still gives me chills every time I hear it.

8. “Stairway to Heaven”: Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin, IV (1971)

It’s the most classic of classic Rock songs. Mostly Pentatonic based, this guitar solo has some tricky bends, and perfect phrasing. Jimmy Page performed many other great solos – some of my other favorites are the guitar solos in “What is and What should never be”, “Custard Pie”, and “Nobody’s Fault but mine.”

Jimmy Page was a master studio guitarist whose songs layered gorgeous guitar parts, frequently doubling acoustic and 12 string acoustic guitars on many of his songs.

9. “Girl Gone Bad”: Van Halen, 1984 (1984)

In the Van Halen music catalog, there are two unmistakable truths. The first one is that Eddie’s guitar technique was so good that sometimes, his guitar solos were so good, they were actually more interesting than the song the guitar solo was contained in. The other truth is that, at least in the Van Hagar era, he stopped pushing the boundaries of his guitar playing and played more for the context of the song. (Which is why Van Hagar sold more records than Classic Van Halen) There are some songs where his techniques are all on display and make the song better. “Mean Streets”, “Tora Tora”, and 1984’s “Girl Gone Bad” are really good examples of those songs.

“Girl gone Bad” has it all – two handed Tapping, Right Hand Harmonic Tapping, tremolo picking and absolutely bombastic on fire guitar playing, that is one of the real contributions that Eddie Van Halen brought to guitar. His influence on a whole Generation of guitar players is unmistakable.

10. “Life’s Been Good”: Joe Walsh, But Seriously Folks (1978)

Joe Walsh is a great guitarist and a great songwriter. Joe recently played a guitar solo on a Foo Fighter’s song, “Outside”. Watch the episode of Foo Fighters' “Sonic Highways” where Joe takes a song that has all of these layered, super busy guitar parts and Joe fits his guitar playing perfectly into the song, and although the song is good, Joe’s guitar solo makes the song better.

That’s exactly what Joe Walsh’s song “Life’s Been Good” does too. The “Life’s Been Good” guitar solo is the perfect definition of his style and why its really an evolution of phrasing and skill that every guitarist should strive for. When you are playing a Joe Walsh guitar solo, you can sing the notes, and you instantly smile thinking of how much fun it is to play guitar. Life doesn’t get better than that. Joe knows guitar solos. Another Joe Walsh required guitar solo? The “Hotel California” solo by the Eagles. Joe, aka the “simple ordinary average guy” would have two required guitar solos of all time if this list went to 20.

11. “Good Bye to Romance”: Randy Rhoads on Ozzy Obourne's Blizzard of Oz (1980)

When Ozzy Osborne picks you to be the next guitarist in your band, you are entering into very hallowed territory. Every guitarist that has had the privilege to be in his band has helped write great songs and equally great guitar solos. Great guitarists like Brad Gillis, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wyde would tip their hat to the original California Neo-Classical guitarist Randy Rhoads. Randy defined being the guitarist in Ozzy’s band to be a one way ticket to guitar stardom by recording some of the greatest metal riffs in rock history. “Crazy Train”, “Over the Mountain”, “I don’t know”, all masterpieces of guitar.

“Goodbye to Romance” is a tour de force display of precision layered guitar track mastery. The guitar solo is soulful, bluesy in spots, yet it has a real compositional feel. While Randy was not the first to popularize the infusion of classical music and metal, (Richie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth, and Michael Schenker get those honors from me), every song Randy ever recorded has some classical influence, and is worth a good listen. I consider the Diary of a Madman album to be Randy’s masterpiece, but there are no bad Randy Rhoads songs.

12. “In My Dreams”: George Lynch on Dokken's Under Lock and Key (1985)

Every guitarist who played guitar in the late 1980s thru to today probably has some George Lynch lick in their arsenal. I call them Lynch Licks – It is George’s distinctive wide vibrato, squealing pinch harmonics, bursts of speedy phrasing, and minor/diminished melodies, and to me all of those elements define California shred guitar from the 1980s until about 1992.  So many people emulated George’s style that sometimes it’s hard to tell all of them all apart. Also key to George’s style is his rhythm style – partial chords with a big, rich full sound.( For example, the song “It’s not love” is a chord partial based riff.) In George Lynch’s case, his guitar solos were the centerpiece not just the song, but of the band.

Some other songs to admire: “Tierra Del Fuego” (on George Lynch’s solo album called “Sacred Groove”) and “Mr. Scary” off of Dokken’s Back for the Attack CD. George Lynch has a new release called “Shadow Train” coming out next month. It is available as a preorder on Amazon.  

13. “Far Beyond the Sun”: Yngwie Malmsteen, Rising Force (1984)

If you were not sounding like George Lynch in the 80s, rock guitarists everywhere were trying to sound like the great Yngwie Malmsteen. You take one fender Stratocaster, 11 Marshall Amps and turn them up to 11. I Hope you practiced your scales otherwise Mr. Malmsteen is going to melt your face with high volume speed arpeggios, and make you feel rather quite inferior.

 “Far Beyond the Sun” is a guitar masterpiece. The whole song is a very technically impressive guitar solo. So, if the whole song is the solo, its basically as far away from songwriting as you can get, and more into musical composition. Regardless, Yngwie is amazing, and totally worth studying.

14. “The Camera Eye”: Alex Lifeson on RUSH's Moving Pictures (1981)

Thanks to early progressive rock bands like Yes and Genesis, (who had masterful guitarists as well, Steve Howe and Steve Hackett) three Canadian lads from Toronto would eventually come together and form one of the greatest rock bands ever.

I remember listening to “Permanent Waves” on vinyl as kid, and it was not music that “you” could ever play. It was music from the gods. Alex Lifeson plays the perfect complement to one of the greatest bass players and drummers ever to play their instruments, and because we are all playing air drums to Neil Peart or Singing along with Geddy Lee during every Rush song, sometimes Alex actually gets overshadowed. He gets overshadowed by some, but never by me. His style defines Rush just as much as Neil’s drums and Geddy Lee’s Bass. Sonically, he fits the song every time!

Listen to the guitar solo to “The Camera Eye”. The Guitar solo is not played until nine minutes and eighteen seconds (of an 11 minute song) but the guitar solo is still so vital to that song.  Alex’s tone on the whole “Moving Pictures” album is otherworldly. His tone is precariously balanced between feedback and a heavily chorused sound, but its such a strong complement to the song, channeling in an almost ethereal melody, sounding like a deranged electric bagpipe! Who else does that? Who else can play like that? Nobody.

15. "Tender Surrender": Steve Vai, Alien Love Secrets (1995)

So while writing this with an music history and evolutionary guitar perspective, ending with this track is deliberate. To me, “Tender Surrender” encompasses everything a guitar is capable of expressing. A beautiful melody, with a screaming distorted mayhem solo, “Tender Surrender” is a great example of the compositional approach to guitar solo playing. “Tender Surrender” has an impossibly technically challenging guitar solo, and it always makes me laugh, it has almost too much emotion. It would be as if Jim Carrey was performing his “Fire Marshall Bill” skit at the end of the solo, especially with the “nervous” wah wah, starting around 4:05. It should be noted that Steve Vai is not only one of the best guitarists ever to play the guitar, but he is also a great classical music composer, (he performs with Symphony Orchestra’s frequently.) Steve is a masterful showman and he is fun to watch perform.

Last but not at all least, Steve is dedicated every aspect of making guitar music for a living, teaching master workshops and week long guitar camps on everything from music business to how to build your own guitar. 

I had a lot of fun putting these together and I highly recommend the practice of going thru and listing your own favorite guitar solos. 

This article was written by Tom Atkins, who studies rock guitar online with Paul Gilbert at ArtistWorks. You can find out more about Tom's music at facebook.com/tomatkinsband.

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To learn how to play all of these rock guitar solos and more, be sure to check out these free sample lessons from Paul Gilbert!

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