Top 10 Classic Rock Guitar Solos

Electric guitar

We know our audience is partial to songs performed by folks wearing hats and cowboy boots, but admit it: a lot of you out there can play some pretty mean air guitar! You know who you are, and we bet you’ve played along to many of these classic rock favorites. So turn the air amp up to 11 and jam along!

10. Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits)

Lead singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler achieved instant respect both for his signature electric guitar tone (a clean-but-compressed, treble-y timbre that one critic said “sounded like no other guitar on radio”) and virtuoso fingerpicking fretwork on this song, the first big hit for Dire Straits.

9. The End (The Beatles)

Bowing out to the world as a group, Paul, George, and John (following a drum solo from Ringo) trade guitar licks as they cycle, three times three, through a rotating series of 2-bar solos that simultaneously encapsulate each of their individual personalities while forming a seamless whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

8. Beat It (Michael Jackson, featuring Eddie Van Halen)

Reigning guitar god Eddie Van Halen was brought in as a hired gun and delivered a knock-out solo (as expected) that fit the song perfectly and helped rocket Michael Jackson into superstardom (not that he needed much assistance).

7. Lay Down Sally (Eric Clapton)

After making a name for himself as a member of Cream, a fixture of the high-volume, power chord-driven, pre-heavy metal psychedelia of the late 60s, Eric Clapton’s solo career in the 70s took a decidedly different tack, as exemplified by this laid back, clean-toned, classily understated, and impeccably phrased solo.

6. One Way Out (The Allman Brothers Band)

Masters of the blues-rock genre and renowned for their extended improvisational skills as live performers, the Allman Brothers Band boasted two of rock’s greatest guitarists in Dickie Betts and Duane Allman, who constantly pushed and prodded each other (before the latter’s untimely death) to new creative heights as they took turns in the solo spotlight and played off of one another, whether on stage (as in this number) or in the studio.

5. Hotel California (Eagles)

Early Eagles records provide ample proof of lead guitarist Don Felder’s virtuosity (“One of These Nights” comes to mind), but when the equally capable Joe Walsh joined the group a synergy reminiscent of the Betts-Allman partnership noted above quickly evidenced itself, as exemplified by the extended outro double solo from the group’s signature hit “Hotel California.” (Felder also gets bonus points for making what is arguably the most legitimate and effective use of a Gibson double neck – often trotted out more for show than anything else – in live performances of this song.)

4. Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple)

The main thematic riff from this early heavy metal classic is one of the most recognizable and probably one of the first things picked up by anyone who has even attempted to learn to play electric guitar. But Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar solo is a masterpiece of bluesy phrasing that seems to have a story all its own to tell.

3. Red House (Jimi Hendrix)

Jimi Hendrix was a one-of-a-kind prodigy whose groundbreaking and envelope-pushing mastery of the electric guitar was the stuff of legend. It’s very hard to pick one song that would do his legacy justice, but this tour de force blues number, packed with smoking hot and richly phrased solo work, is perhaps as good as any.

2. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)

Jimmy Page’s guitar work on this signature Led Zeppelin song is something like an encyclopedic commentary on the evolution of rock and roll itself, spanning the entire spectrum from acoustic folk to blues-infused heavy metal, and the solo is, of course, simply iconic.

1. Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)

Guitarist David Gilmour graces this Pink Floyd classic with two solos, the first soaring and rhapsodic, the latter full of edgy, angst-ridden aggressiveness, and both featuring an all-surpassing display of his distinctive mixture of melodic lyricism and tonal luxuriation.

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