The thorny question of the greatest guitar solo of all time is always a hot topic. Probably because every solo is different. How do you compare David Gilmour’s Comfortably Numb to Randy Rhoads’ Crazy Train or Jimmy Page’s Stairway To Heaven to Mark Knopfler’s Sultans Of Swing?
It’s impossible. However, we will list some of the most difficult and awesome solos below.
Europa – Santana (solo – Carlos Santana, 1976)
Released in 1976, the album Amigos marked Santana’s return to commercial success throughout Europe. Europa’s success in the charts is especially noteworthy – not because Santana was not yet widely known, but because it is a five-minute instrumental.
At first, you may think that you have heard the track before, this feeling is due to the use of a standard jazz chord progression.
Listen to Joseph Cosma’s Autumn Leaves and you’ll find out where Carlos got his inspiration. Following Santana’s trademark licks in the first half of the track, Europa then takes us on a journey beyond the standard progression to a simple I-IV progression in a minor key against the backdrop of the fiery guitarist playing.
Something – The Beatles (solo – George Harrison, 1969)
After the White Album, George Harrison’s songwriting continued to flourish and the Abbey Road sessions culminated in one of the most stunning compositions of his career.
“Symphonic Ballad” demonstrated that Harrison had, at least momentarily, surpassed his fellow songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and Lennon himself called it the best song on Abbey Road.
A simple piece in the key of C major, with a transition to A major in the bridge. Having invited Eric Clapton to record a solo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps a year earlier, Harrison resumed his solo duties here, and his impassioned melodic playing is arguably his finest recording.
Is there a more influential guitar music pioneer than Chuck Berry? And this song about an illiterate “country boy” with a great gift for playing the guitar is the most famous of his songs.
Nerds still argue about the guitar he used on the original studio recording. We know it was either a Gibson ES-350T with a humbucking pickup or an earlier P90 TN, both of which were used during his first stint with Chess Records. The 350T was introduced in 1957, the same year that Johnny B. Goode came out, hence this assumption.
In any case, Chuck’s cheerful blues phrases became a model for all subsequent generations of rock and roll performers. To be fair, the Beatles, The Stones, AC/DC, and more would probably sound a little different if they weren’t enamored with Chuck’s rock and roll riffs.
If you’re planning on playing this Chuck solo, it starts in the 6th position (in the key of B-flat) and the repetitive phrases are broadly divided into two types: figures on the 6th fret, and here you can pin your first finger in place ; and figures played on the 8th fret. Chuck uses downstrokes of the pick in fast phrases and a looser approach elsewhere.
The idea of ”making the guitar cry” has been around since the earliest blues recordings, but few rockers have ever been able to do it quite like Gary Moore, the undisputed master of the minor ballad. This brooding track in A-minor became his calling card quite late – when he rediscovered himself as a blues musician in the early 90s.
There’s a moment in the solo where you can hear the Belfast guitarist’s great transition from front humbucker to bridge on his 1959 Les Paul Standard, which he called ‘Stripe’, and that’s where Gary starts to stray from his main theme, mostly sticking to the A pentatonic scale. -minor plus a few random extra notes from the Aeolian and harmonic minor scales.
On the recording session, Moore plugged his guitar into a Marshall JTM45 amplifier through one of the company’s then newly developed The Guv’nor distortion pedals. The solo was, and remains, one of the most raw and expressive blues tracks of all time.
Fade To Black – Metallica (solo – Kirk Hammett, 1984)
Recorded at Flemming Rasmussen’s Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen (where the band would return two years later to record the cult album Master Of Puppets) in February-March 1984, Metallica’s second album was significantly more progressive and stylistically more ambitious than the all-out thrash attack Kill ’em all.
Fade To Black features acoustic guitars, melodic solos, and an offbeat structure more like Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven.
Regarding the song’s epic ending solo, Kirk Hammett recently revealed: “I’ve been playing this song for so long that when I get to the last solo I always know how I want to start it, but then I choose for myself some area where I it’s convenient to improvise today, and I don’t know, 16, 18, 24 bars or more, but one day Lars will play a certain break, which means to me that it’s time for the arpeggio. And I play these arpeggios, but I play two strings, not three.
“When guitarists first started including arpeggios in their playing, before Yngwie Malmsteen started sweeping them, arpeggios were played on two strings rather than three or four – and that was the fashion in the 80s.
If you want to play this style, you need to know the two main scales: the natural B minor and the Phrygian B minor. They are used in the first 30 bars, which is, frankly, a lot, so it’s a damn good reason for you to learn one more scale if you only knew one so far!
To make things easier, play in the natural minor scale most of the time. And it’s only about bar 20 that you briefly land on C instead of C-sharp, which means you’ve gone Phrygian.”
Next come the two-string arpeggio forms – all 16 notes!
At 142 beats per minute, that’s pretty fast, but Kirk doesn’t pick every note, preferring to use memorized passages to make those quick phrases easier on himself. This is definitely something worth experimenting with.