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Columns > Dan Greenhaus

Published: 2007/08/22
by Dan Greenhaus

Top 5 Guitar Solos of All Time

Guitar World, recently spearheaded an effort to put together a list of the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time, a list which is stored at
Reading through the list, one cant help buy wonder how in the world anyone realistically thinks they can list the top 100 solos of all time? Truthfully, like any top list, once you get passed the highest, say five or six, then the rest of the list becomes totally arbitrary, fluctuating depending on the authors or contributors individual tastes. To make an intellectually honest list, even about something as non-intellectual as guitar solos, one cannot honestly go past the top ten at the most.
Subsequently, I said to myself that This is the worst top ten list Ive ever seen. I mean, I love Jimi, but All Along the Watchtower? Thats not even HIS best solo, let alone the fifth best solo of all time. Freebird? Unadulterated wankery!! Eruption? Self indulgence of the highest order! This list is a mockery, a travesty and an abomination! Granted, this list was voted on by GW readers, and thus it is skewed towards the preferences of said readers (as evidenced by Kurt Cobains solo in Smells Like Teen Spirit, a solo that should remain miles away from any top anything list), but one should still expect some level of seriousness to seep in.
Naturally, the only proper course of action is to offer my own list of the top guitar solos of all time. (please see my take on the top ten rock guitar players of all time). This list is not definitive and will surely fluctuate depending on the day of the week, and what Im listening to at any given time. And even as this list is submitted, I am rethinking its validity. However, a case can be made, and is made, that these are the top five solos of all time. If you feel differently, well take solace; so do I.
1) Comfortably Numb David Gilmour; Gilmour is/was notorious for using dozens of takes of improvised guitar solos in order to finally arrive at the finished product. He would record himself over and over, and use the best parts of the best solos in order to piece together one coherent take. This laborious process yielded some of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded, including Comfortably Numbs two perfect solos. The former, in its brilliant simplicity, merely outlines the underlying chord progression, putting Gilmours tasteful and restrained style on full display. But it is the second solo, over the descending B-minor progression that goes down as the greatest of all time. One moment restrained and beautiful, one moment fiery, the solo is not so much a guitar solo as a piece of music in itself. After hundreds of spins, it remains a beauty to listen to and despite Gilmour performing the song live at every concert hes every played, he still pours as much emotion into each note as he did on the original take.
2) Stairway to Heaven Jimmy Page; Often regarded as the greatest guitar solo of all time, it certainly is one of the best, but I often stop short of calling it the very best of all time. Irrespective of ones (mine) personal feelings concerning the solo, there is no denying that it is a fantastic piece of music, featuring some of Pages most tasteful guitar work. In a somewhat ironic twist, the man who is universally associated with Gibson guitars played his most famous guitar solo on a Fender. But the use of the Fender certainly helped form the solo, and played a large part in the tasteful playing that emerged. It wouldve been very easy for Page to just let loose on the recorded version, as he did in the live setting, but he did not, and the solo is one of the best ever as a result.
3) War Joe Satriani; This is a song, and a musician, that is almost never included in these types of discussions, despite the fact that he is one of the greatest guitar players to ever walk the earth. Simply put, he gets overlooked. And while there are any number of guitar solos that could/would make similar lists, I have always found War from The Extremist to be head and shoulders above anything else he has done. In 1992, Satch released the album that would begin his transformation from 80s shredder to genuine, forward thinking innovator, and while Summer Song got the most play, War remains the centerpiece of the album. The solo, which begins about two minutes into the song, showcases both Satchs mastery of relatively introductory minor, pentatonic scales, as well as his absolutely stunning mastery of the whammy bar, something that must be seen live to be believed. This album really was the jumping off point in terms of his ability to craft top notch songs, while filling them with solos that featured blistering lead work that never seemed anything less than tasteful. War remains a perfect example of such mastery.
4) Little Wing Stevie Ray Vaughn; The first question people are going to ask is how in the world can I include SRVs Little Wing and not Jimis original version (Jimis version is #18 on the Guitar World list). The answer is in the music itself, and anyone who has heard both versions knows SRVs is light years beyond the guitar solo featured in Jimis Little Wing. Now, to be clear, Jimis solo is brief and was never intended to be the opus that SRV made it in to, and so its not really a fair comparison. But that speaks volumes about what Stevie did with the song. Ignoring the phenomenal guitar work displayed during the songs verses, when Stevie turns up the distortion and rips the heavier parts of the song, there have been very few recorded examples of such ferocity on display. Stevie is known the world over for the sheer force of his playing, but he has never forgotten to remain true to the song and always played what was needed. The feel in the solo is unmatched by virtually anything else recorded, and it remains a document of the capabilities of one of the most inspiring, and inspired, musicians to have ever lived.
5) November Rain Slash; I may get knocked for including this one in such a prominent position, however my own definition of what makes a great guitar solo (feel, structure, adherence to the songs progression) warrants the inclusion of Slashs work on November Rain. Slashs lead work has never been as heartfelt as his playing on this song, and his seamless transition from slow, melodic lead lines to faster, heavier tones is a case study in how to play lead guitar, and he does so without losing any sense of the underlying melody. Slashs playing has often been erratic, but there can be no doubt that November Rain features one of the best guitar solos of all time.

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