The 10 Top Guitar Solos of All Time

Les Paul Guitar

The guitar has been a central instrument in music for centuries, evolving from its classical origins to become a staple of nearly every popular genres. Its versatility is unmatched, allowing for a wide range of expression that has captivated audiences worldwide.

This list is not just the fastest, most technical, or popular solos; with it we strived to be inclusive of all genres and styles, from fast, technically challenging pieces to more melodic, emotionally resonant solos, representing a broad spectrum of awe-inspiring guitar solos and instrumentals. It includes well-known mainstream tracks as well as lesser-known gems celebrated by the most devoted music aficionados.

If you're a lover of guitar solos and instrumentals, this selection of works is definitely one you need to check out. Make sure to drop us a comment to let us know which you prefer, and any you think we should have included.

10. Slash - "Sweet Child O’ Mine"

Guns N’ Roses (1988)

Guns N Roses - Axl Rose and Slash 2023
Axl Rose and Slash of Guns N Roses performing live in 2023

I promise you this isn't another one of THOSE lists, overlooking so many great guitar solos in favor of mainstream songs found on popular lists. However, we are kicking off our list of top guitar solos of all time with a classic song and solo that everyone knows and loves, "Sweet Child O’ Mine" by Guns N' Roses. While it may not compare to other technically complex solos on this list, we have to make room for the catchy and melodic beauty of solos like Slash’s iconic guitar work on "Sweet Child O’ Mine". The solo captures the spirit of the late 80s rock scene, combining raw energy with a sense of vulnerability that resonates with listeners worldwide.

Slash’s genius is blending simplicity with expressiveness, creating a piece that is technically accessible yet emotionally profound. It’s a testament to the his ability to speak through his instrument, conveying a range of emotions from longing to triumph. Slash's iconic status as one of rock's most notorious guitarists is rooted in his work on the album "Appetite for Destruction", and specifically in "Sweet Child O’ Mine." His ability to craft a solo that remains etched in the memory of listeners decades later is what makes this piece stand out among the top guitar solos of all time.

Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine (Official Music Video)

9. George Benson – "Breezin" (1976)

1920px George Benson

Following  Slash with a George Benson solo should tell you everything you need to know about this list. It's not the top 10 most well known solos, there's something on it for guitar lovers of every genre.

Segueing from rock to jazz, George Benson’s "Breezin’" delivers one of the smoothest, most melodically rich guitar solos ever played. This 1976 classic not only showcases Benson's fluid playing style but also exemplifies his ability to blend technical mastery with soulful expression. The solo in "Breezin’" is a masterclass in phrasing and dynamics, demonstrating Benson’s innovative approach to jazz guitar.

Unlike many solos that prioritize speed or complexity, Benson’s work is a testament to the beauty of melodic simplicity and emotional depth. His approach to this solo has influenced countless guitarists, proving that technical virtuosity can go hand in hand with heartfelt expression. Moreover, "Breezin’" stands out for its seamless integration of jazz with elements of pop and R&B, a fusion that was pioneering at the time. 

The legacy of "Breezin’" in the jazz world is unmatched, attributed largely to Benson’s groundbreaking solo. It encapsulates the essence of what makes a guitar solo memorable: the ability to communicate with the listener on an emotional level while demonstrating impeccable skill. 

George Benson performing Breezin' live in 1977

8. Marty Friedman - "Tornado of Souls"

Megadeth (1990)

Marty Friedman Megadeth
Marty Friedman performing live with Megadeth in 2016

It just wouldn't be right to create a list of top guitar solos of all time without including something from the plethora of thrashing metal guitar solos. Among so many of these, Marty Friedman's solo on Megadeth's "Tornado of Souls" stands out as a whirlwind of emotion and technical precision, showcasing Friedman's unparalleled ability to merge speed with melodic sensibility. Unlike many metal solos that prioritize velocity over feeling, "Tornado of Souls" stands out for its expressive depth, weaving a tapestry of technical prowess and emotional intensity.

Friedman's approach to the solo in "Tornado of Souls" demonstrates a mastery of the instrument, navigating complex scales and modes with ease while maintaining a clear melodic direction. The solo’s structure, with its fast-paced runs interspersed with slower, more poignant moments, reflects the tumultuous nature of the song's theme. It’s a masterpiece of metal guitar work, highlighting Friedman’s skill in creating a solo that is as memorable for its melody as it is for its technicality.

The impact of "Tornado of Souls" on the metal genre cannot be overstated. Friedman’s work has inspired countless guitarists to explore the possibilities of the instrument within the metal context, proving that speed and technical skill can coexist with melody and emotion, to create a top guitar solo of all time.

Megadeth performing "Tornado of Souls" live in London in 1992

7. Don Felder, Joe Walsh - "Hotel California"

Eagles (1977)

Joe Walsh 4 1975
Walsh playing slide guitar on a Gibson Les Paul Special in 1975

What's better than 1 top guitar solos of all time? Dual guitars in one top solo of all time! And that's exactly what Don Felder and Joe Walsh did to create this classic guitar solo on The Eagles' "Hotel California". The seamless interplay between Felder and Walsh captures the essence of the song's mysterious narrative, and has etched this solo into the annals of rock history.

Felder's meticulous composition combined with Walsh's improvisational genius, created a solo that transcends technical skill, inviting listeners into the haunting atmosphere of the "Hotel California." It's a prime example of how a guitar solo can encapsulate the theme of a song, offering a musical journey that's as engaging today as it was in 1977.

Eagles Live Official Video of "Hotel California" in 1977

6. Paco de Lucía - "Mediterranean Sundance" (1977)

Paco de Lucía performing with Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin
Paco de Lucía performing with Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin in Barcelona, Spain in 1980

Transitioning away from mainstream music into guitar soloists opens up a cornucopia of amazing guitar instrumentals. But Paco de Lucía’s flamenco guitar contribution on "Mediterranean Sundance" steals the show. This track is a dazzling display of virtuosity, characterized by Lucía’s rapid-fire picados and deep, soulful rasgueados. Featured on the album "Elegant Gypsy" by Al Di Meola (another amazing solo guitarist you'll find on this list) in 1977, the song is incredibly catchy to listen to over and over again.

If you're unfamiliar with Lucía or Di Meola, I implore you to listen to the the video of it below. Experience how Lucía and Di Meola masterfully interchange riffs, with Di Meola often falling back on rhythm to showcase Lucía's soloing with technical brilliance and emotional depth. Lucía infuses each note with feeling, bridging the gap between traditional flamenco and contemporary musical expressions. His performance is a masterclass in dynamics, showcasing his ability to shift from whisper-soft passages to explosive bursts of sound, all while maintaining a fluid, cohesive narrative.

Paco de Lucía’s work on this track has inspired generations of guitarists across genres, offering a glimpse into the soul of flamenco. The song is celebrated not just for its technical excellence but for its ability to touch the heart of the listener, making it a quintessential example of the top guitar solos of all time.

Paco de Lucía performing "Mediterranean Sundance" with Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin

5. Jimmy Page - "Stairway To Heaven"

Led Zeppelin (1971)

1920px Led Zeppelin acoustic 1973

Jimmy Page's guitar solo in "Stairway to Heaven" is often hailed as the quintessence of rock guitar solos, firmly placing it among the top guitar solos of all time. Page’s work on this Led Zeppelin anthem is a masterful blend of technique, emotion, and musicality, encapsulating the essence of the rock genre. The solo serves as the climactic point of the song, delivering a powerful emotional punch that elevates the entire composition.

Page's choice of notes, his dynamic control, and the emotional weight behind each bend and run make this solo a memorable musical journey. He weaves together a tapestry of sounds that reflects the song's mystical themes, transporting listeners to another realm. This solo is not just a display of Page's technical skills but a showcase of his ability to compose a solo that complements and enhances the song's narrative.

"Stairway to Heaven" and its iconic solo have influenced countless musicians and remain a touchstone for guitarists learning their craft. Page's solo is a testament to his visionary approach to music-making, demonstrating that a guitar solo can be both a high point of technical skill and a deeply moving musical experience.

Led Zeppelin performing Stairway To Heaven live in 1975

4. Eric Johnson - “Cliffs Of Dover” (1990)

Eric johnson electromagnets
Eric Johnson performing live with The Electromagnets in 1976

Eric Johnson's "Cliffs of Dover" is the icing on the cake of instrumental rock music, showcasing solo work with speed and precision, wrapped in one of the most melodically clever instrumentals ever composed. Unlike most solos that lean heavily on either technicality or melody, "Cliffs of Dover" stands out for mastering both, making it a standout instrumental rock piece.

The solo’s beauty lies in its unforgettable melodic phrases that speak directly to the listener, proving that technical brilliance and emotional depth can coexist beautifully. His tone, with its crystal-clear quality and warm overtones, adds another layer of sophistication to the solo, highlighting his meticulous approach to sound.

"Cliffs of Dover's" enduring popularity among guitarists and music fans alike is a testament to its timeless appeal and Johnson’s genius as a composer and player. This track is not only the pinnacle of Johnson's work, but of all instrumental guitar music, making it rightfully regarded as one of the top guitar solos of all time.

Eric Johnson performing Cliffs Of Dover live in 1988

3. Eddie Van Halen - "Eruption"

Van Halen (1978)

Eddie Van Halen 2007 11 10
Eddie Van Halen performing live in 2007

You'll be hard pressed to find a list of top guitar solos that don't include Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption", a piece that redefined what was possible on the electric guitar. This solo is a thrilling display of Van Halen’s innovative techniques, including tapping, dive bombs, and harmonics, all of which contribute to its jaw-dropping impact. "Eruption" showcases not just Van Halen's technical prowess but his ability to compose a solo that is both wildly inventive and musically compelling.

The solo’s significance extends beyond its technical achievements; it served as a catalyst for a new era of guitar playing. Van Halen's approach influenced a generation of guitarists, pushing the boundaries of the instrument's capabilities. "Eruption" is not merely a showcase of speed and technique but a demonstration of how these elements can be harnessed to create a piece that is exhilarating, innovative, and emotionally resonant.

Eddie Van Halen’s work on "Eruption" has immortalized him as a guitar hero and innovator. This solo remains a benchmark for technical excellence and musical innovation in rock guitar, inspiring both awe and a sense of aspiration among guitarists. It stands as a monumental achievement in guitar music, solidifying its status among the top guitar solos of all time.

Eddie Van Halen performing Eruption live

2. Al Di Meola - "Race with The Devil on Spanish Highway" (1977)

Return to Forever 1974
Al Di Meola performing live with Return to Forever in 1977

Al Di Meola, having never played with any notable mainstream band, is not a household name. And yet he has carved a niche so deep within the guitar virtuoso community that many of his instrumental songs from the 1970s alone could populate an entire list of top guitar solos. With its exhilarating mix of heavy rock riffs and captivating solo work, “Race with Devil on Spanish Highway” distinguishes itself in Di Meola's repertoire.

The track blends speed with a nuanced understanding of melody and rhythm, only found in exceptional players and composers like Di Meola. The piece is fast... VERY FAST, but purposefully so, embodying the song's intrinsic demand for speed to match its intensity and drive. It standsout by marrying technical skill with emotional expression, creating a piece that is as moving as it is impressive.

If you enjoy this songs rapid-fire execution, paired with catchy riffs and a rhythmic precision, you'll love all of Di Meola’s rock fusion work throughout the 1970s. It's a brilliant example of what makes a guitar solo memorable: a combination of exceptional skill, passionate execution, and a deep understanding of musicality.

Studio Recording of Al Di Meola's "Race With The Devil On a Spanish Highway"

1. Larry Carlton - "Kid Charlemagne"

Steely Dan (1976)

Larry Carlton plays guitar 1987
Larry Carlton performing live at Cornell University in 1987

I may be going out on a limb putting Larry Carlton's work on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" as the top guitar solo of all time. However, in my experience music lovers that are familiar with this song, definitely get it. To be the top guitar solo, you need to check all the boxes: technical prowess that isn't overbearing, melodically beautiful, memorable and catchy, a backing track with well-choreographed dynamics and chord progressions, and preferably in a well-known song. I can't think of any solo that meets this criteria better than Larry Carlton's work on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne".

This solo is a landmark in the landscape of guitar work, taking our spot as the top guitar solos of all time. This distinction is even more remarkable considering Steely Dan's history with exceptional guitarists, including their own Walter Becker. Carlton's ability to stand out in such illustrious company speaks volumes about his unmatched skill and the solo's profound impact.

The beauty of Carlton's solo in "Kid Charlemagne" lies in its perfect balance of melodic grace and technical sophistication. While there are countless faster and more intricate solos, few can match the timeless allure and emotional depth of Carlton's creation. It's a testament to his ability to weave complex musical ideas into a tapestry that feels both innovative and intimately familiar.

What sets this solo apart is its capacity to captivate listeners across generations. It's not merely the technical chops—though they are impeccably executed—but the soulful narrative Carlton constructs through his six strings. This solo transcends mere notes on a fretboard, becoming a piece of musical storytelling that resonates with a sense of nostalgia and awe.

In "Kid Charlemagne," Larry Carlton achieved something extraordinary: a solo that garners universal admiration for its elegance, emotion, and expressiveness. Amidst a catalogue of work from many amazing guitarists who have collaborated with Steely Dan, Carlton’s contribution stands as a pinnacle achievement, embodying the essence of what makes a guitar solo truly memorable. It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and memorable guitar solos ever written, earning its rightful place at the top of the list of the top guitar solos of all time.

Larry Carlton's solo on the studio recording of Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne"

6-string virtuosos of soul-stirring melodies

From the technically-fast guitar gurus to the soul-stirring emotional ballads, every guitar solo you love is a unique voice you love. Whether you're drawn to the technical prowess displayed in metal and rock or the emotional depth found in jazz and classical pieces, guitar music offers something for everyone. They are the heartfelt expressions of human experience, crafted by masters of guitar as an artform. As we celebrate these incredible solos and their accomplished guitarists, we're reminded of the guitar's enduring power to inspire, captivate, and move us in ways only music can.

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While I'm not sure Al Di Meola's pieces are considered solos I applaud you for going out on a limb and putting him above mainstream names like Eddie Van Halen. Eddie's great, but Di Meola and Carlton are in another league, and the average music fan would never know it.

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