So you’ve been playing guitar for a little bit now. You’ve got some chords, a few scales, and the basics of technique down. You’re ready to start tackling some solos!
But it can be hard to know which solos are worth learning, and what’s going to be accessible for someone new to lead guitar, yet still be challenging enough to make you progress and develop.
That is why we’ve put together a list of 30 monster guitar solos across a range of genres, utilizing a range of techniques. So whether you’re just dipping your toe into lead guitar or are a seasoned vet looking to brush up on things, there’ll be something here for you.
We’ve also included both video lessons and tablature to help you along the way!
- Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton
- Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
- Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
- Come Together by The Beatles
- High and Dry by Radiohead
- Holiday by Green Day
- Sweet Child o Mine by Guns N Roses
- We Will Rock You by Queen
- Ain’t Talking About Love by Van Halen
- Can’t Stop by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
- Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen
- Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley
- Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry
- Let It Be by The Beatles
- Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
- We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister
- About a Girl by Nirvana
- American Idiot by Green Day
- Angels by Robbie Williams
- Animal by Def Leppard
- Apache by The Shadows
- Bad Penny by Rory Gallagher
- Black Magic Woman by Santana
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
- Come As You Are by Nirvana
- Easy by Faith No More
- Highway to Hell by AC/DC
- Live Forever by Oasis
- Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton
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Starting things off nice and simple with this classic ballad from legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. It was written while Eric was waiting for his (at the time) girlfriend Pattie Boyd to get ready, as they were attending Paul and Linda McCartney’s party that night. It’s been described as one of Eric’s ‘prettiest and mellowest’ tunes, which is precisely why it’s so ideal for beginners.
The song is at a nice and slow 92bpm, giving you time to think about the notes you’re playing. While there’s not exactly tons going on, it is important to pay attention to the ‘phrasing’ of the solo, which basically means anything like bends or slides, things that guitarists do to make notes sound more interesting than simply ‘playing the note’.
Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
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A fairly laid-back alternative rock song that is considered a quintessential ‘must learn’ for not just Chili Peppers fans, but anyone who’s interested in some really cool riffs and a great guitar solo. Despite the song’s tremendous success, the band has noted the music was quite difficult to put together as the lyrics had been written first, but they couldn’t decide how the music should support it.
This is another fairly slow solo where you get a lot of time to think about the notes you’re hitting, try to make sure things like the pitch of your bends are matching that of the original song. You also don’t need too much gain here, but if you can grit things up just a tiny bit it’s really going to make those notes pop.
Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
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The whole shtick of The White Stripes is that they have a raw, uncomplicated, and stripped-down sound. Akin to bands like Nirvana, they really embodied the ‘garage rock style’. This song became their biggest single, winning a Grammy award for the best rock song and, despite being relatively simple to play, the riff is considered an iconic classic.
Although the focus is primarily on guitar solos here, it’s worth mentioning that the main riff of this song uses a pitch shifter effect to essentially allow the guitar to play in the same register as the bass. When it comes to the solo, the first thing to note is that it’s played using a slide. Don’t worry too much about being pitch-perfect, their style makes the ‘rough around the edges’ sound really work, just focus on making sure there’s some life and energy coming through your playing.
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
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While we might commonly associate the ‘guitar solo’ with a big electric guitar doing screeching bends with a ton of distortion, Wish You Were Here by Prog Rock band Pink Floyd showcases just how good a tastefully written, more laid back guitar solo can be. Taken from their album 1975 album of the same name, which was also recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London.
Unlike most guitar solos which usually come after the second chorus of the song, this track in typical prog fashion actually opens with it. Played on acoustic guitar, there are a lot of cool little bluesy inflections with the slides and half step bends. Your fingers might feel a little sore bending on an acoustic guitar but don’t worry about it too much just now, your fingertips will soon callous over.
Come Together by The Beatles
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Speaking of Abbey Road, ‘Come Together’ is the opening track from the Beatles album also named Abbey Road after the famous recording studio. This is an ‘anti-war’ track written during a period when John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono held protests by performing a ‘bed in’. This expression ‘come together – join the party!’ became the slogan for the protests campaign, and as such, they helped promote the campaign’s message by recording this song.
Guitar wise it’s a really good one for beginners, you’ll be spending some time playing a slew of great, blues-tinged licks in your minor pentatonic shapes. So a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with them if you haven’t done so yet. Like many classic Beatles songs on guitar, it’s really not challenging to play so you can just have fun with it!
High and Dry by Radiohead
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Radiohead always does a great job of delivering that kind of somber/melancholy-tinged style of alternative rock. Combining emotive vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and electronic synth influence. This was originally recorded as a demo for their 1993 album ‘Pable Honey’ but was later remastered for the 1995 album ‘The Bends’ where it saw a larger amount of commercial success.
The guitar solo here is exceptionally simple to play, but uses a very interesting technique you may not have yet encountered. Firstly, it follows the melody of the song and is backed up by the vocals giving it a unique tonality. But technique-wise as it plays the notes of the melody, it’s also letting the string above it ring out at all times creating a unique interaction between the note you’re holding and the ‘drone’ of that open note.
Holiday by Green Day
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So while we might associate ‘American Idiot’ with being the quintessential protest song, Holiday (also from the American Idiot album) was written to purposely be ‘stronger and harsher’ than American Idiot. Which is demonstrated through the lyrics that are directed toward American Conservatives. Singer Billie Joe felt they tried to alienate specific groups of people in order to garner votes from another group.
Political messages aside, what underlines the song is a catchy and commercial pop-punk tune with an equally catchy guitar solo to accompany it. There’s nothing crazy going on here technique-wise so it’s a good opportunity to just crank up the gain and have fun. Just make sure you’re hitting the notes with confidence and authority!
Sweet Child o Mine by Guns N Roses
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Slash didn’t reach legendary status by ripping out lightning-fast alternate-picked shred guitar solos. Instead, his focus is much more on phrasing, feel and a stellar rock guitar tone. This song in particular showcases his playing exceptionally well, and being one of their most well-known (and number 1 chart-topping) songs it’s a great one to learn as everyone else will immediately recognize what tune you’re playing.
Now while the opening lead section of the song isn’t technically a solo, that’s also worth learning too as it’s so iconic. But when it comes to the solo put as much focus as you can on your bends and vibrato as that’s where a lot of the life and punch of the solo comes from.
We Will Rock You by Queen
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Next up is a catchy and iconic song from the legendary British rock group Queen. Well known for insanely powerful and well-written vocal sections from singer Freddy Mercury. Equally as important is the pioneering guitar work from Brian May, who would use a particular guitar he built with his dad known as the ‘red special’ that he has used throughout the entirety of his career.
So the guitar solo for this song takes up the whole final 30 seconds of the track and makes great use of both the whammy bar, as well as using this interesting technique where as the melody is being picked, other notes are left to ring out so they create this interesting interaction between each other. Sounds harder than it really is to play, so dive right in and you’ll master it in no time!
Ain’t Talking About Love by Van Halen
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Despite being one of the group’s biggest songs, after Eddie Van Halen had originally written it he didn’t consider it good enough to present to his bandmates. And in fact, it was written more to parody the style of the generic pop-punk song just using two chords. But of course, it went on to be one of their most known singles, particularly for the iconic opening riff which is a must-learn for every new guitarist.
While we might associate Van Halen with speedy guitar solos and tapping, this is one of his easier ones to play and is completely accessible to even a beginner. It involves picking the same note multiple times on a single string in quick succession (we call this alternate picking). Don’t worry if your guitar tone doesn’t sound exactly like the album either, they doubled the guitar solo up with a sitar which is how it gets that unique tonality.
Can’t Stop by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
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A classic Chilli Peppers song with an instantly recognizable and catchy main guitar riff. Even though the song itself is well known, the accompanying music video also made a big impact for its striking use of contemporary visuals and light-hearted tone, inspired by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm and his ‘one minute sculptures’. And despite only peaking at number 57 on the billboard hot 100, it has nevertheless become a fan favorite and is considered a staple of their live setlist.
As much as we also recommend that incredible main guitar riff that’s essentially the driving force of the song, we are here to focus on solos. This one is all about bending, they’re big, they’re huge, they’re angry. Don’t be delicate when playing this solo, just let rip and try your best to stay in tune!
Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen
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It’s hard to not feel good and get motivated after such a catchy and high-energy track. This is another classic written by frontman Freddie Mercury and was released as a single in 1979 despite also being released as part of the 1978 album ‘Jazz’. And has subsequently been released a bunch of times on various greatest hits albums. It also has a ton of Freddie’s signature vocal stacks and counter melodies.
Although the song was written by Freddie, Brian May still had the opportunity to put his stamp on it with a ripping guitar solo that focuses on really precise note choice and stellar vibrato. The two subtleties here to look out for are that he plays some notes staccato, which means they are muted very quickly after they are picked, and he also does a technique called a ‘rake’ which is where you scrape the pick down the strings before playing the note to create this kind of aggressive ‘chuck’ sound before the note rings.
Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley
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Taking things back a little further now with this song from blues/rock singer and guitarist Elvis Presley. This track is an A-side single release (before the days of the compact disk where singles would be dedicated released). The song details the story of a man suffering from loneliness who jumped from a hotel window which Elvis was inspired to write about after reading the story in a newspaper.
By today’s standards, this solo might seem somewhat simplistic, but it does a really good job of informing you of the tried and true classic tricks guitarists would use. Another important aspect of this solo is the very quick ‘slapback’ style delay, although it’s not used too often in modern productions a slapback delay is still present on most fx units, so if you have one, you probably have access to a slapback delay already.
Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry
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Not to be confused with the version we saw Marty McFly play in the incredible movie Back to the Future (although that is, in some part, responsible for its current-day popularity). But we are talking about the original, 1959 classic written and recorded by Chuck Berry. The song details the story of a slightly under-educated ‘country boy’ who is a good guitarist and has hopes of making it big.
Another old-school solo that utilizes a good amount of blues-infused licks over a slightly gritted-up clean tone. The main thing to notice here are bends, particularly half-step bends which can need a little time and attention to ensure you’re bending them on pitch. But stick with it, it’s not as hard as it seems!
Let It Be by The Beatles
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A fantastic balladesque song that came during a very tumultuous time during the Beatle’s career, when tensions within the band were high, and there was much uncertainty about their future. Of course, as we know now they did end up breaking up, in fact, they broke up so close to the recording of this song it wasn’t released until a month after they had made the breakup official.
This is an exceptionally simple solo to play, it really seems to put a bigger effort into just vibing within the somber tone of the song. You’ll be playing fairly rudimentary blues-style minor pentatonic licks with that signature AC30 kind of drive on the guitars that really make them chop through the mix and have a tremendous amount of presence within the song.
Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
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While back in the day we would associate Metallica with the fastest and most aggressive kind of thrash metal around, with speedy guitar work on songs such as Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets. But over time, they mellowed out a bit and began to create some slower and quite frankly, easier-to-play songs. Nothing Else Matters is a perfect example of that, being easy to play while still retaining a lot of that signature Metallica attitude.
You can really crank your gain for this one, it’s primarily played just using single note melodies but also utilizes a little bit of those minor pentatonic double stops that you might associate with blues guitar, but it’s also very commonly seen in metal.
We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister
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A great tongue-in-cheek song by 80’s Glam Metal titans Twisted Sister. Originally it was released as a B-side promotional single, but due to its success it was also released as part of their 1984 album ‘Stay Hungry’. A large factor in the song’s commercial success was due to the accompanying music video which pays homage to classic slapstick comedy.
Guitar wise this would be considered some quintessential 80’s glam/arena rock playing. Dripping with guitar harmonies, lots of whammy bar work (ideally you’ll have one of those for this song) and as much gain and distortion as your amp will put out. Because it relies on the ‘twin’ guitar sound so much it’s a great tune to learn with a friend.
About a Girl by Nirvana
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While we don’t usually associate Nirvana with ripping guitar solos and fast shred licks, what they do excel at is attitude and feel. This was was written specifically for MTV’s ‘unplugged’ television spot, which was a huge event where MTV gathered up many notable bands to perform ‘acoustic’ renditions of their most popular songs.
One thing to note about the guitar in this track is that it’s an acoustic-electric guitar, so while it’s technically played on an acoustic is it amplified and has just the tiniest bit of breakup (presumably because it’s pretty cranked). I’d say this works just as well on a regular electric guitar, flick to your bridge pickup and just use a nice glassy clean sound and it’ll sound great over this track!
American Idiot by Green Day
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While not quite the scathing critique on American politics as ‘Holiday Was’, American Idiot is nevertheless equally as politically charged. Focussing on events like 9/11, the war on Iraq, and George Bush’s conduct, but also touches on themes such as the general media and overall social instability and dissolution within the American populace. Despite its critique of America, most people agreed with the sentiment and the song achieved massive commercial success (thanks in no small part to its incredibly catchy chorus).
Solo wise this is super simple, all it does is outline the main vocal chorus melody which is probably stuck in your head already at this point, followed by some quick ‘tremolo’ picking. Don’t worry if the tremolo picking is a little bit rocky, this is a punk band and by design, a little roughness around the edge only serves to enhance things!
Angels by Robbie Williams
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Heartthrob to all teenage girls in England during the 90’s. After leaving the group ‘Take That’, Robbie pursued a very successful solo career. In large part due to this single which hugely assisted in the sales of his first solo album ‘Life thru a Lens’ released in 1997. It’s hit best-selling single and has since been covered by a large number of prolific artists including Jessica Simpson and Beverly Knight.
This is primarily a ballad song that’s driven by acoustic guitar, piano and some orchestration. The only time we really hear the electric take the forefront is during the solo. It’s nice and simple to play in terms of speed and note choice, but the unique thing here is that you’ll need a slide to play it exactly like the original.
Animal by Def Leppard
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Another 80’s arena rock banger from English band Def Leppard. If you ever want to learn something that truly captures the feel of what we loved about 80’s rock, this is the one to go to! Released as the first promotional single from their 1987 album ‘Hysteria’, it would become their first top 10 hit in the UK, and also reached the number 5 spot on the US Mainstream Rock chart.
While it’s not too busy in terms of the notes that are being played, a few really important things to note here are that it’s using a good amount of chorus on the lead guitar tone. This was a signature move of that time and helps to widen a mono lead guitar sound across the stereo field a bit. The other thing to look out for are the pinch harmonics which essentially come across as notes that just picked super hard.
Apache by The Shadows
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Although we don’t remember The Shadows that much these days, back in the 50s-60’s (pre-Beatles era) they were an absolute force on the English popular music scene. This is quite impressive as they were an instrumental group, these days we will seldom see that level of success from an instrumental band.
This song has a very old-school kind of slapback delay used during the solo, as there is also some sparing use of tremolo picking ensuring the ‘time’ setting on the slapback delay works with the song’s bpm of 130. If your delay pedal/unit doesn’t have a BPM control, and instead just sets its time in MS you can use a delay timing of 115milleseconds which equates to16th notes at 130 bpm.
Bad Penny by Rory Gallagher
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One of Rory’s later songs taken from this 10th full-length release called ‘Top Priority. The album details the pressure he felt when it came to the financial/business side of making music. His previous album sold quite well, and as such the record label was keen for him to make another and told him they’d make it a ‘top priority’ of theirs to promote it, which is where the name of the album came from.
This is more of a tried and true ‘screamin’ guitar solo’, where using nice and aggressive bends, huge rock n roll vibrato along with a healthy amount of distortion to really make everything open up is essential. It’s a great chance to focus more in on the tone that the exact notes you’re hitting more, a very important aspect of guitar soloing.
Black Magic Woman by Santana
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Carlos Santana is very well known for not only his exquisite phrasing and lead guitar work, in which he will place a huge emphasis on note choice above speed, but he also does a great job of working his signature Latin influence into his solos. This song in particular was originally written by Fleetwood Mac, but Santana’s version, recorded in 1970 for his album ‘Abraxas’ became one of his biggest hits and a staple of his live setlist.
Obviously, this is an all-instrumental track with lead guitar being prevalently displayed throughout, so technically the whole thing is a big guitar solo. A great opportunity for beginners to learn a more ‘long form’ approach to lead guitar, particularly as it’s all fairly slow and easy to play, it ends up becoming more of a test of memory than one of technique.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
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So while we might commonly associate Green Day with more high-energy, punk-rock inspired music. They are not exactly strangers to writing more toned down ballad, in this case, things are particularly bleak and mellow sounding. Despite that, it achieved massive commercial success having sold over 5 million copies worldwide and won both the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and the MTV Award for Video of the Year.
What’s so nice about the solo in this song, is that is it absolutely considered a guitar solo, but doesn’t do it in the typical fashion with single-note passages played high up the fretboard. In this case, it takes more of a supporting role by simply outlining the main motif of the song using octave chords. It allows the guitar to get its moment in the spotlight without pulling anything away from the overall catchy and memorable characteristic of the song.
Come As You Are by Nirvana
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So Nirvana never actually expected to achieve the level of commercial success that they did, with the main single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ becoming a kind of phenomenon. The main album ‘Nevermind’ was slated to release two weeks after Smells Like Teen Spirit and they needed a second single release to back it up. Originally Kurt wanted ‘In Bloom’ as he felt Come As You Are was a little too close to a particular Killing Joke song, but after some coaxing from the label and friends they decided to release this one.
The solo for this is extremely simple to play, just using some very basic techniques such as bending and sliding which you are no doubt already quite familiar with. The main thing to focus on here is the tone, saturate your gain a little bit so those notes can ring out for a good long time and not die out too quickly, that’s the key to getting those long, drawn-out notes.
Easy by Faith No More
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This track was originally recorded by the American band the Commodores back in 1977, but was later covered in 1992 by Faith No More. Originally it was just intended to be played live, but after seeing a good amount of success they ended up recording it during the sessions for their album ‘Angel Dust’ and it was even released as the final promotional single for that album. The band purposely opted to make a fairly faithful rendition of the song and didn’t take too many liberties with its composition.
But, with that being said, it does now have an excellent and distinctly ‘Faith No More’ style guitar solo to it that uses all kinds of techniques to give it its quirky edge. This includes some funny sounding slides and some staccato playing, guitarist Jim Martin really did a good job of supporting the song while adding his own bit of flair to it.
Highway to Hell by AC/DC
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A band that shouldn’t need any introduction, but we’ll do it anyway. Hailing from Australia, AC/DC are considered the grandfathers of heavy rock and roll, and were pivotal in the development of the genre. They’re one of the biggest bands of all time with an estimated 200 million albums sold worldwide to date. With their album Back in Black in particular being the second highest-selling album of all time.
No other guitarist pioneered the rock and roll guitar solo quite like Angus Young, ignoring his signature stage moves and antics for a moment, he maintly focuses on minor/pentatonic sounding rock scales. And although they might sound a little crazy at first, they are well worth spending some time learning and these are the fundamentals of what we build a lot of modern rock guitar solos from.
Live Forever by Oasis
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Few bands have quite as many catchy and memorable songs as Oasis, with guitarist Noel Gallagher being highly respected as a prolific songwriter. He originally wrote this track before he has even joined Oasis, back when he was working for a construction company he suffered an injury, leading him to be put on a less strenuous tasks. This afforded him more time to write music. Noel has mentioned that the song was very heavily influenced by Rolling Stones’ Shine a Light, and the track takes an overall upbeat and hopeful outlook on things.
Noel wasn’t one to opt for fast or technical lead guitar playing, so this is a great opportunity to sit back and jam to a classic rock solo that’s not afraid to stay a bit more in the box and just do what works. Make sure you’ve got your first position minor pentatonic memorized before jumping in here.
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
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This was really the song that rocketed Nirvana into the big leagues, and unexpectedly so. Released as the lead single to their second album ‘Nevermind’, they ended up topping the charts worldwide and is often credited as the song that pushed the grunge genre into the mainstream market. The song has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Grammy Hall of Fame.
As we mentioned previously Kurt really isn’t about fast or technical solos, so the lead guitar part for this song actually just outlines the main vocal melody you heard in the first verse of the song. It’s another fantastic example of how you can still let the guitar take the spotlight for a bit, while still allowing it to retain the melody, motif and catchiness of the song.