Greatest Guitar Riffs: Another Top Ten (2023)

10 great riffs from each era

Greatest Guitar Riffs: Another Top Ten (1)

In this world there are plenty of Top Ten lists for the greatest guitar songs , scales , solos , and of course riffs. There are no gold standards and music is always subjective. In this article we will attempt a Top Ten riffs list, at least with some exceptions! First off our list is no particular order, we pick a couple great riffs from each era and we focus on repeated riffs.

(Video) Top 20 Greatest Guitar Riffs of All Time

For example, Chuck Berry’s famous riff on Johnny B Goode is amazing, historical, and well deserving of the title of greatness. However, that is more of an intro riff, we are picking mostly simple riffs that play throughout most of the verse or chorus, if not the whole song. Which is also why I haven’t included Jimi Hendrix below, his riffs are fantastic but embellished as you would expect from one of the greatest guitar players ever.

Is our list perfect? No, there are a ton of great riffs and classics left out. We have simply tried our best to give guitar students 10 phenomenal riffs that are fun to play and even educational . In fact, the word ostinato describes what we are looking for in each song. Ostinato is a musical term for a repeated phrase in the same voice and pitch throughout a composition. But it sounds so much cooler to just say riff!

Rumble by Link Wray and His Ray Men

This 1958 instrumental was an early example of distortion, feedback, and power chords all making a simple repeated riff that made history. The word rumble was a slang term for gang fights back then so this song had the displeasure of being banned on the radio. This is an easy riff to learn with very simple tablature, the key is to get the right distortion that gives the song that raw power. This song has some serious endurance often popping up in commercials and famous movies like Pulp Fiction .

(Video) Top 10 Guitar Riffs of All Time

Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochrane

Eddie Cochrane was not around very long, but he made a big impression on the world of rock especially for young British musicians like George Harrison. Many young guitar players at the time found his simple riff in Summertime Blues to be an easy song to learn. The well known riff is only a matter of switching from E to A and B to E , some folks like to use a B7 (either way use the B bar chord). As you practice this on the guitar it is easy to imagine all the famous 60’s guitarists that once played the same riff !

Crossroads by Cream

This song has the wonderful history of originally being written by the legendary Robert Johnson as Cross Road Blues . It is often assumed that this song is about selling one’s soul to the devil in exchange for astounding guitar skills, yet this is never even mentioned at all in the lyrics. Eric Clapton took the song and infused it into driving rock with a repetitive riff. Playing Clapton’s version is not as easy as the last two riffs, but with a little practice it will soon fall into place. It is the rest of the song beyond the riff that is more difficult.

In A Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly

Here is another example of a very simple repeated riff that makes a memorable song. This song released in 1968 is regarded as one of the firsts in the heavy metal genre . It is known for being very long and this guitar riff fills out the extended jam. Easy to play and always fun to sing!

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Rebel Rebel by David Bowie

It was a sad day when Bowie died, the world lost a songwriter that was a genius. In 1974 he released Rebel Rebel and to this day it is his most covered song. Bowie himself played the lead riff in this song in all his glam rock style and glory. This song has a habit of getting stuck in your head, the riff just doesn’t want to leave!

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking by The Rolling Stones

Now many lists of great riffs will include “ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction ” by The Rolling Stones, which is understandable because it is a fantastic guitar riff. However, I would make the claim that Can’t You Hear Me Knocking is just as great! When that song starts off it just screams Rock N Roll and the riff remains a powerful bluesy sound throughout the whole piece. Notice that this song has a different guitar tuning , instead of standard tuning we are in open G (DGDGBD) . This is a great tuning to have in your guitar repertoire!

Highway to Hell by AC/DC

Again many lists may choose Back in Black as a greater riff than Highway to Hell, but where folks like to zig, we like to zag! In all fairness both songs are killer guitar riffs. This was the last album of the lead singer Bon Scott, after he died Brian Johnson took over (the song Back in Black being dedicated to Bon Scott). The song is rather easy to learn and is a staple riff when trying out a new guitar.

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Money for Nothing by Dire Straits

When picking the best riffs of the 80s it is hard not to always go directly to heavy metal. That entire decade is filled with an array of awesome and hard rocking guitar licks, but here we decided to pick a historical riff. Money for Nothing will always be associated with MTV and how much the music video changed the entire industry. This song is not too difficult to learn, the key is finding the right pedals and slight delay to get the sound just right. Interestingly, Mark Knopfler wrote the lyrics after overhearing an exchange by workers in an appliance store.

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

This is another riff that sparked a whole new era of music. Grunge had been around for awhile when this song was released 1991, but with huge success alternative and grunge rock became more mainstream. At first the fellow members of Nirvana didn’t think much of this riff, but after playing it over an over for a half hour they realized they were onto something. The riff is simply four power chords played through heavy distortion (don’t forget to tune your guitar a half step down ), as usual not complicated but powerful. It also sounds great on an acoustic guitar!

Seven Nation Army by White Stripes

The biggest hit of the White Stripes, released in 2003 it has become a song known the world over. It won a Grammy award and proves that even after all these years very simple and catchy riffs are still possible as a guitar player. You would think after nearly 90 years of great musicians playing the electric guitar that all the simple melodies and licks are taken, but of course not. While many people think this was played on a bass it is actually played on guitar using a pedal to lower the octave .

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Greatest Guitar Riffs: conclusions and further resources

Hopefully, this list has inspired you to take a deeper look at songs with catchy and clever guitar riffs. We left out so many , including lots of riffs more suited for the acoustic guitar! In the comments below tell us what you think are some great riff driven songs!

  • How to build great guitar riffs over the open minor pentatonic scale
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FAQs

What is the hardest guitar riff to play? ›

Top 5 Most Difficult Guitar Songs
  • Joe Satriani – The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing.
  • John Petrucci – Damage Control.
  • Steve Vai – Juice.
  • Eddie Van Halen – Eruption.
  • Animals as Leaders – CAFO.
15 Jan 2020

Who is the king of guitar riffs? ›

Jimi Hendrix taught himself to play the electric guitar and, because he was left-handed, he would play the guitar upside down with the strings in reverse order. One of the most influential musicians in history, he was best known for edgy guitar riffs.

What is the Forbidden riff songs? ›

As it stands, these are some of the most iconic songs considered to be forbidden guitar riffs in guitar stores:
  • Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin.
  • Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple.
  • Iron Man – Black Sabbath.
  • Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes.
  • Freebird – Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana.
  • Wonderwall – Oasis.
9 Sept 2022

What is the greatest guitar solo of all time? ›

  1. Pink Floyd | “Comfortably Numb” GUITARIST: David Gilmour (1979)
  2. Van Halen | “Eruption” ...
  3. Led Zeppelin | “Stairway To Heaven” ...
  4. Queen | “Bohemian Rhapsody” ...
  5. Eagles | “Hotel California” ...
  6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience | “All Along The Watchtower” ...
  7. Dire Straits | “Sultans Of Swing” ...
  8. Lynyrd Skynyrd | “Free Bird” ...
25 Dec 2021

What is the Forbidden guitar riff? ›

Much like “He-who-must-not-be-named,” from Harry Potter, the opening riff of Stairway to Heaven is considered forbidden among people who are so against the song that they cannot even bear to hear it played. The reason for this popular nickname could come from a number of sources, which we will explore below.

What is the most impressive song to play on guitar? ›

Best Acoustic Guitar Songs
  • Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd.
  • Fire and Rain – James Taylor.
  • Hotel California – Eagles.
  • Blackbird – The Beatles.
  • American Pie – Don McLean.
  • Wonderwall – Oasis.
  • More Than Words – Extreme.
  • Dust in the Wind – Kansas.
19 Feb 2020

What is the most famous guitar intro? ›

100 Greatest Guitar Intros
  • Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love.
  • Alive.
  • All Day And All Of The Night.
  • All Right Now.
  • American Woman.
  • Aqualung.
  • Are You Gonna Go My Way.
  • Bad To The Bone.

Who is the top 5 guitarist of all time? ›

The best guitarists in history:
  • Jimmy Hendrix.
  • Eric Clapton.
  • Jeff Beck.
  • Chuck Berry.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan.
  • Joe Satriani.
  • Steve Vai.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen.

What is the hardest acoustic guitar riff? ›

Without any further ado, let's dive into the list of some of the hardest songs ever written for the steel string acoustic guitar.
...
Flatpicking Songs
  • Cherokee Shuffle. ...
  • Drive – Incubus. ...
  • Wheeling – David Grier. ...
  • Red Wing. ...
  • Decision at Glady Fork – Bryan Sutton. ...
  • Crystal Ann – Annihilator.
2 Apr 2021

Why is Stairway to Heaven banned in guitar stores? ›

So, why is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores? In short, this is an ongoing joke that was originally seen in the movie Wayne's World in 1992. It is meant to poke fun at Stairway to Heaven because it is one of the most overplayed songs in guitar stores when people are testing out new guitars.

Why can't you play Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store? ›

“Stairway To Heaven” may be banned in guitar stores, but it's not against the law to play it. That said, it is seen as a forbidden riff by many, and not often well received. Perhaps, out of courtesy and respect for the staff and other customers, you'll refrain from excessive self-indulgence.

What song can you not play in a guitar store? ›

What Songs Are Banned In Guitar Stores?
  • Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin. ...
  • Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple. ...
  • Sweet Child O' Mine – Guns 'N Roses. ...
  • The House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals. ...
  • Enter Sandman – Metallica. ...
  • Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd. ...
  • Back In Black – AC/DC. ...
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana.
15 Mar 2022

What is the hardest chord to play? ›

The six-string F chord is one of the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. When many people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed), it's with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary. Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords.

What is the most emotional chord? ›

9 Sad Chords Progressions That'll Stir Listener's Emotions
  • I – V – vi – IV.
  • I – vi – IV – V.
  • IV – V – vi – I.
  • IV – V – iii – IV.
  • I/3 – VIsus2 – V – vi.
  • i – VI – III – VII.
  • i – i/7 – IV/b4 – VI.
  • i – VII – IV – IV.

What is the hardest chord to learn on guitar? ›

What is the hardest guitar chord to fret? Beginners often report difficulty with a full, six-string, F chord at the first fret. Often, this is the first Barre chord attempted (It's essential in the key of C, a common starting point).

Who is World No 1 guitarist? ›

Top 10 Best Guitarists of All Time
RankGuitaristTop Strength
1Guthrie GovanAll-Around Technical Virtuoso
2Pat MethenyJazz Voicing & Picking
3Tommy EmmanuelOne-Man Band
4Steve VaiTechnical & Harmonic Prowess
6 more rows
6 Jun 2022

Who does Eric Clapton think is the best guitarist? ›

However, the greatest, according to Eric Clapton, the bonafide guitar god, is Albert Lee. The guitarist has worked with some big names, including Emmylou Harris and The Everly Brothers. Considering Clapton's appraisal, we all should be listening to Lee: “He's the greatest guitarist in the world. The ultimate virtuoso.

What is the most emotional guitar solo? ›

Top 10 Guitar Solos with the Most Feeling
  1. 1 Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd. ...
  2. 2 November Rain - Guns N' Roses. ...
  3. 3 Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin. ...
  4. 4 Hotel California - The Eagles.
  5. 5 Stranger In This Town - Richie Sambora.
  6. 6 One - Metallica. ...
  7. 7 Time - Pink Floyd. ...
  8. 8 Story of the Blues - Gary Moore.

Why is Stairway to Heaven controversial? ›

A big controversy with Stairway to Heaven comes from a copyright infringement lawsuit. Led Zeppelin was accused of plagiarizing the 1968 song Taurus by the band Spirit in a lawsuit issued by the band's bassist back in 2014.

Is there a difference between a riff and a lick? ›

Essentially a riff is a full musical phrase with a structure and repetition to ensure the ear catches and understands its wholeness. That is why it is an entity of its own. On the other hand, a lick is an incomplete musical idea that, if put together with other licks, can amount to a riff.

Is Stairway to Heaven the greatest song of all time? ›

"Stairway to Heaven" is often rated among the greatest rock songs of all time. According to music journalist Stephen Davis, although the song was released in 1971, it took until 1973 before the song's popularity ascended to truly "anthemic" status.

What is the most famous chord? ›

C - G - Am - F (I - V -vi - IV) This just might be the most popular chord progression in Western popular music. There is an actual mathematical explanation as to why it's such a pleasant progression. The quick summary is that these four chords are opposites of each other.

What is the most beautiful chord in music? ›

The Heaven Chord (The Most Beautiful Chord of All Time)

What is the most famous guitar piece? ›

15 All-time Greatest Hits of Classical Guitar Songs
  • El Testamen De Amelia by Llobet.
  • Canarios by Sanz.
  • El Colibri by Sagreras.
  • La Catedral by Barrios.
  • Asturias by I.Albeniz.
  • Romance by Anonymous.
  • Cavatina by Stanley Myers.
  • Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tarrega.

Is guitar the hardest to learn? ›

Guitar is hard to learn in the beginning, but gets easier the longer you stick with it. The more you practice, the easier guitar will feel to play. This is why most people who quit guitar do so in the very beginning. Learning guitar feels hard at first.

How do you memorize a riff? ›

Break the riff to 3 or 4 note segments (or whatever works for the part). Working memory is only capable of handling a limited number of "items". Similarly breaking a sequence of numbers (like a phone number) into smaller segments helps memorizing it.

Whats the first song everyone learns on guitar? ›

1. “I Wanna Be There” by Blessed Union of Souls. This song has just three simple and major chords: G, C, and D. These are probably the easiest chords to learn first on the guitar, and once you have them, you can already learn how to strum a song.

What are the 3 most used guitar chords? ›

G, C and D are some of the most commonly used chords in popular music and are used in literally thousands of songs (we'll list some of the most well-known later). Also, they're not too difficult to learn and they sound really good together (hence their popularity).

Who is the greatest guitarist of all time 2022? ›

Keep reading to find out what makes them the best of the best.
  • #1 – Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix shaped the guitar world. ...
  • #2 – Steve Vai. ...
  • #3 – Jimmy Page. ...
  • #4 – Eddie Van Halen. ...
  • #5 – John Petrucci. ...
  • #7 – David Gilmour. ...
  • #8 Eric Clapton. ...
  • #9 – Chuck Berry.
28 Aug 2021

Who is considered the best rock and roll guitarist? ›

Without further ado here is the list of the 5 best rock guitarists in history.
  • Jimi Hendrix. It is hard to come up with a list of just 5 best guitarists. ...
  • Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin is often referred to as the greatest rock band ever. ...
  • Eddie Van Halen. ...
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan. ...
  • Jeff Beck.
19 Mar 2021

Is Enter Sandman a forbidden riff? ›

Why Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' is the new 'forbidden riff' We've all heard of the 'forbidden riff', a label attached to the Led Zeppelin song 'Stairway to Heaven'. Since the release of the 1992 film Wayne's World, it has been met with disdain by those claiming to be true proponents of the rock world.

Why is Stairway to Heaven illegal in Hawaii? ›

However, the government has decided to remove the famous attraction because of numerous illegal trespassing and injuries at the site, leading to hefty costs. Haiku Stairs were built in the 1940s by the US Navy. The 3922 steps can be found up a mountain in Kaneohe, on the eastern side of Oahu.

What should you not do on a guitar? ›

Things You Should Never Do to Your Guitar
  1. DON'T Expose It to Extreme Temperature and Humidity Change. ...
  2. DON'T Clean With Water. ...
  3. DON'T Use Soap, Furniture Polish or Window Cleaner. ...
  4. DON'T Wipe It With Paper Towel or Tissue. ...
  5. DON'T Use Compressed Air to Dust the Guitar.

Why are there no guitar solos anymore? ›

The guitar solo has been declared dead many times. Late-70s punks actively tried to kill it, bored by 20-minute stadium rock indulgences. In the early 80s, some critics declared that the electric guitar itself was finished, replaced by the synthesizer.

What is the Forbidden riff for guitar players? ›

Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin

In fact, thanks to Wayne's World (see above!), Stairway is often referred to as THE forbidden riff. Learning Stairway to Heaven has become almost a rite of passage for new guitar players, so it's easy to understand why it gets belted out so often.

What is the rarest guitar wood? ›

Traditionally, straight grained Brazilian Rosewood was the most desirable to make guitars. These days, however, highly figured pieces are used to make exotic looking high-end guitars. Brazilian Rosewood has become extremely rare as it's considered an endangered species.

What is the best guitar brand ever? ›

Fender
  • To sum it all up, the best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson.
  • The best overall option would be the Ibanez JSM100, based on its overall quality and versatility.
  • The Fender Telecaster is our number one Fender recommendation, while from the Gibson range we would single out the ES-175.
23 Oct 2022

Is guitar losing popularity? ›

The numbers are quite shocking. Electric guitar sales have dropped by a third in the last ten years, from 1.5 million to only over 1 million. Small music retailers have been particularly hard hit by this trend, but even large music retailers have been negatively impacted by the decline in guitar sales.

Is it illegal to play Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store? ›

Is the track actually forbidden in guitar stores? No, the track is not actually banned from guitar stores. It is highly doubtful that any guitar store owner would kick customers out simply for playing the introduction to Stairway to Heaven. It is simply a running joke in the guitar community!

Why are riffs banned? ›

The forbidden riff is just a list of songs that are semi-jokingly banned in guitar shops because it is overplayed many times. Stairway to Heaven is one great example of the Forbidden Riff. It is considered the legendary rock song of all time.

Is a riff the same as a lick? ›

Essentially a riff is a full musical phrase with a structure and repetition to ensure the ear catches and understands its wholeness. That is why it is an entity of its own. On the other hand, a lick is an incomplete musical idea that, if put together with other licks, can amount to a riff.

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