The 40 Most Important Guitar Solos in Rock

26. Eddie Van Halen “Eruption” (1978)

What can you say about this cadenza from hell? Cut in 1978, this has to be the most influential piece of guitar playing in the last 40 years. EVH took a Strat with a humbucker, an MXR Phase 90, and a plexi Marshall, and then played some supercharged Clapton licks that boggled just about every 6-stringer’s mind in the world. 

It was Van Halen’s two-handed tapping that truly grabbed everyone’s attention, however, and made this the most recognizable solo of the next two decades. “Eruption” made an impact on millions of rock dudes and seemingly every kid who set foot inside a Guitar Center.

27. Allan Holdsworth “In the Dead of Night” (1978)

As Bill Bruford put it, this solo was, “94 seconds of liquid passion married to a blinding technical facility that was to go down in the annals of rock guitar history. All the hallmarks of his brilliant playing were there in this solo: poise, pace, melody, the Slonimsky interval jumps, the whammy bar, and all over a killer groove.”

28. Mark Knopfler “Sultans of Swing” (1978) 

When Mark Knopfler released this fingerpicked two-pickup masterpiece, he showed guitarists that you don’t need distortion or a plectrum to rock. 

With a Strat on the bridge and middle pickups, a Fender Twin Reverb and a Roland JC-120, Knopfler played two deft, bouncy solos that referenced Chet Atkins with snappy popped notes, crying bends, and clever arpeggios. 

Along the way he influenced just about every clean tone for the next 20 years. When people talk about an “out of phase” Strat tone, they’re talking about this tune.

29. Michael Schenker “Rock Bottom” (1979)

The 1970s was a great time for live records, with classics from Frampton, Lizzy, and Ted Nugent, but one of the sweetest solos to grace a double LP came from UFO’s Michael Schenker. 

The extended break on this tune has everything great about Schenker: melody, dynamics, tone for days, and burning. This lead would fascinate rockers all over the world, including George Lynch, Vinnie Moore, Akira Takahashi, and Kirk Hammett.

30. David Gilmour “Comfortably Numb” (1979)

Few solos can match the vibe of Gilmour’s work on this iconic piece. Playing a ‘79 black Stratocaster with a ‘62 neck and DiMarzios through Hiwatts and Yamaha RA-200 rotating speaker cabinets, Gilmour transformed what are essentially blues licks into a signature statement that affected the molecules in myriad musical minds. This is arguably his crowning achievement as a soloist.

31. Angus Young “You Shook Me All Night Long” (1980)

It serves to reason that a song that is all about getting it on should have a solo that is sexy, right? Damn straight. Young’s turn on this global hit finds him harnessing his kinetic blues tendencies into a steamy, attitude-laden solo that is actually kind of funky. 

His tasteful major pentatonic flavorings as well as his gorgeous tone—thanks to a wound up old Marshall and a Gibson SG—are the icing on the cake of his impeccable groove, intonation, and phrasing.

32. Randy Rhoads “Crazy Train” (1980)

After Van Halen, it wasn’t easy for an L.A. rocker to make a mark, but Randall Rhoads did so in a big way on his debut with Ozzy. Rhoads took what he had gleaned from Mick Ronson, Gary Moore, and Bach, and synthesized it into this metal tour de force. He wasn’t the first guy to blend classical music and rock, but he was absolutely the gateway drug for players like Zakk Wylde and Tom Morello.

33. Stevie Ray Vaughan “Pride and Joy” (1983)

The second cut on SRV’s debut album, Texas Flood, “Pride and Joy” blasted onto the airwaves courtesy of a great melody, catchy lyrics, and a gamechanging solo in which Vaughan threw down a barrage of killer licks with a gargantuan tone from his Fender/ Dumble rig. 

SRV’s deft songwriting and his Albert King/Hendrix-influenced style succeeded in making what was fundamentally a classic “tay-hass” shuffle into a huge AOR hit that every classic rocker is expected to cover in perpetuity. 

Bottom line is, after SRV came along, anyone who thought they could play blues with fire and passion got a schoolin’ the size of Texas.

34. Yngwie Malmsteen “Black Star” (1984)

Mike Varney’s rep as a finder of great guitarists was already solid when he wrote about a kid from Sweden with a funny name in 1983. Many players’ first exposure to Malmsteen was on this shred fest. 

With his blinding speed, dazzling classical arpeggios, gorgeous Strat-into-Marshall tone, and larger than life vibrato, he didn’t raise the bar for rock technique—he obliterated it. Yngwie changed the game forever with this one, just ask Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, or any rocker who has swept an arpeggio since then.

35. George Lynch “The Hunter” (1985)

Dokken's George Lynch has inspired countless rock and metal players for nearly 30 years with his perfect blend of structured melodicism and off-the-rails fury—all in the space of a 16-bar solo. 

This solo is a perfect example, as he eases into it with memorable, understated melodic motifs that are helped along with some thick-ass tone and sick vibrato. 

Halfway through, however, Lynch begins to turn up the jets. Alternate picking, sweep picking, and legato playing become one within a single winding phrase, giving him a sound and style that are difficult to ape. 

However, Lynch did show the way for shred-obsessed guitarists on how to structure a meaningful statement in the middle of a tune and leave an everlasting mark. In fact, his solos are the only thing that don’t sound dated about Dokken.

36. Kirk Hammett “Master of Puppets” (1986)

Kirk Hammett’s influences include his teacher Joe Satriani, Michael Schenker, and Thin Lizzy. And nowhere are those influences more prominent than on this tune. 

Hammett’s whammy bar work and speed picking would inspire countless kids to notch their mids, cram their theory, and play blazing solos over chugging grooves.

37. Joe Satriani “Always with Me, Always with You” (1987)

Satriani is obviously known as a master technician, but it’s his melodic side that has left the biggest imprint on guitardom. This sweet ballad showcases Satch’s singing tone, skillful ornamentation, and ability to blend the tasty with the jaw dropping. The reach of this solo is apparent in hundreds of instrumental guitar records, country ballads, movie soundtracks, and car commercials.

38. Kurt Cobain “Come As You Are” (1991)

Although he took about as many solos and Johnny Ramone, the late Nirvana guitar anti-hero played a memorable one in this song from 1991. 

Presumably using a Boss DS-1 for dirt and an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone chorus for the warbly modulation, Cobain simply quoted the vocal melody in a snotty, vibey way, and the kids went crazy. 

Suddenly, young players—many with a sanctimonious disdain for ‘80s-style wanking— were taking a break from strumming through songs and trying their hands at playing single-note lines.

39. Zakk Wylde “No More Tears” (1991)

Logic dictates that Zakk Wylde was doomed to failure when he got the gig with Ozzy. A blond kid with a Les Paul? Really? But then people got a taste of his huge tone, squealing harmonics, and rapid-fire pentatonics and a new star was born. 

On this tune Zakk channeled Rhoads, Billy Gibbons, and Frank Marino into a solo that was emblematic of the new generation of metalheads.

40. Dimebag Darrell “The Great Southern Trendkill” (1996)

The post-Van Halen, post-Randy Rhoads world was in dire need of a champion when Darrell Abbott came on the scene. He took the styles of those guys, mixed in some Ace Frehley, some Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a heapin’ helpin’ of moonshine and created the ass-kicking solo here. Dime made it cool to love Holdsworth, EVH, and Billy Gibbons all in the same song.

Guitar Player Staff

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