Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Some guitar solos have literally broken world records. David DiDonato, from Austin, Texas (USA) broke the Guinness World Record for the longest guitar solo after a 24 hour and 55-minute long solo. John Taylor played « Flight of the Bumblebee » by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at 620 beats per minute (bpm) in Hong Kong.
Not all musicians have performed such feats. However, there has been a never-ending debate surrounding which one played the best solo. Here is our take on the 6 best rock guitar solos of all time.
Guns N’ Roses - ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’
Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash was able to make the top of this list with a mind-blowing guitar solo. Armed with his wah-wah pedal, he has been securing a spot for Sweet Child O’Mine on the best guitar solos lists for decades. In 2015, the solo was in third place on Guitar World’s compilation of greatest wah solos of all time. It is also ranked thirty-seventh in Guitar World’s 100 greatest solos of all time in 2013.
The song lasts for 5 minutes and 55 seconds - it was originally released as a single. The Guns N’ Roses record label at the time Geffen Records released a shortened version of 3:42 when they realized the song wasn’t only a rock song: it had pop appeal to it. Ironically, Slash always considered the song to be the band’s worst song ever. We wonder if he momentarily reconsidered when the song hit number 1 on September 10th, 1988 in America. It actually stayed at the top for two weeks. Two months later, and they would be pictured on the cover of Rolling Stone for the November issue.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Stairway To Heaven’
Stairway to Heaven is arguably one of the most famous rock songs of all time. Despite lasting 8 minutes and 3 seconds, it remains one of the most played songs in the history of American radio. Guitarist Jimmy Page wrote the solo in Stairway to Heaven on his dusty Fender Telecaster. Rolling Stone spoke to Page about the solo, asking him if he had fully composed it before recording. He replied that « It wasn't structured at all [laughs]. I had a start. I knew where and how I was going to begin. And I just did it. There was an amplifier [in the studio] that I was trying out. It sounded good, so I thought, "OK, take a deep breath, and play." I did three takes and chose one of them. They were all different. The solo sounds constructed - and it is, sort of, but purely of the moment. For me, a solo is something where you just fly, but within the context of the song. »
Jimi Hendrix – ‘All Along The Watchtower’
When most people think of an amazing guitar solo, it’s often Hendrix’s name that comes to mind. Pretty much all of his songs contain mind-blowing solos. In 2020, Rik Emmett from the band Triumph ranked it the number 1 guitar performance of all time, calling it, "Still the greatest guitar recording that ever made the Top 40. A legendary guitarist making a defining statement. Plus, the epic transfigured Biblical setting of a Bob Dylan song? As good as it gets."
Rage Against The Machine – ‘Killing In The Name’
‘Killing In The Name’ wasRage Against The Machine's first-ever single. The song went to number 25 in the UK in 1993. Rolling Stone Magazine named this #24 on their list of the Greatest Guitar Songs. Guitarist Tom Morello played an original and innovative solo with the help of much trilling and a whammy pedal, that would stay in the minds of rock enthusiasts for decades to come.
Oasis – ‘Live Forever’
The melody from Oasis’s ‘Live Forever’ is inspired by The Rolling Stones' ‘Shine A Light’ from the album Exile on Main St. The song was always the band’s favorite - Noel Gallagher told Q magazine in 2011: "With every song that I write, I compare it to The Beatles. I've got semi-close once or twice, with 'Live Forever,' for example... the solo on that is one of the greatest things in rock music." Their album co-producer Owen Morris, however, wasn’t as fond of the solo: "When Noel's solo on Live Forever goes high on the second half, all I could think of was Slash in leather keks with a wind machine on the Grand Canyon. So I muted it and thought I was making it cooler. I had a message from Noel not to cut it in half on the final mix." Of course, Oasis fans tend to disagree. Many think Live Forever is the greatest rock song ever thanks to its’ purely captivating solo, played by Noel Gallagher.
Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana was arguably the first-ever alternative rock song to become a huge hit. Proof of its huge success could be that sales of Teen Spirit deodorant shot up in the US when the song became a hit, even though the deodorant is never specifically mentioned in the lyrics. Cobain was unaware of this when he wrote the song, but Teen Spirit was a deodorant brand for teenage girls. The song’s solo is genius because it’s simple and catchy. It is in fact a staple among guitar player beginners - a frequent find in music lessons.
The list of the best rock guitar solos of all time could go on, and on, and on… There are so many fascinating and prodigious solos to choose from. It also depends on your personal taste: do you prefer epic solos, technical prowesses, improvisation, or simplicity? There will always be great debate around which guitar solo is truly the greatest of all time. If your dream is to see your name on the list, contact us here at Greater Toronto Music School for music lessons online or in Toronto. You will be a well rounded musician playing awesome solos in no time!