As with any top 10 list, ranking the best guitar soloists is not an easy feat. Guitar solos are incredibly subjective, and what pleases one fan might make someone else plug their ears. My list is based on years of listening to and loving classic rock, indie music, and pop. If there’s anyone I left out or anything you would change, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.
10. Eddie Van Halen
Known for his adrenaline rush riffs and hair band swagger, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar leads inspired a generation of artists in the 70s and 80s to pick up the guitar. The speed of his playing and use of guitar tricks like tapping and harmonics set Van Halen apart and continue to impress fans today.
Unfortunately, Prince’s catalog is not available on YouTube, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that the “Purple Rain” solo is pretty much perfect. Prince has a unique personal style of playing that sets him apart as an iconic guitar player and artist.
8. Jack White
Jack White’s playing borrows heavily from blues and rock traditions, but his consistent ability to craft catchy riffs and the boldness with which he sets his guitar work forth have landed him a place among the guitar greats. White rose to fame as frontman for the duo The White Stripes, showcasing his hot lead guitar moves with no other instruments to accompany him but the drums.
7. Carrie Brownstein
Carrie Brownstein’s angular riffs and inventive guitar style helped propel indie band Sleater-Kinney to critical acclaim throughout the 90s and early 2000s. The band featured two guitarists, no bass, and two vocalists, and over the course of their career they transitioned from riot-grrrl punk to art rock. You might also recognize Brownstein from her work on IFC’s TV series “Portlandia”.
6. Brian May
Queen guitarist Brian May combines incredible technical chops with a true feel for the music and the ability to play in different styles. His guitar solos build upon Freddie Mercury’s visionary songwriting and guide songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” from operatic drama to wild head-banging.
5. David Gilmour
Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour is known for searing, emotional solos. Instead of relying on fancy guitar tricks, Gilmour’s playing tends to embody the maxim that less is more. His legato style and smooth bends create a melodic effect, almost more like vocals than guitar, which perfectly suits Pink Floyd’s psychedelic sound.
4. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry is truly the man who started it all! His wild guitar style and rockin’ solos ushered in the era of guitar-dominated music. Berry’s style uses blues scales, bends, double stops, and a whole lot of swagger.
3. Dick Dale
Popularly known as “King of the Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale introduced the world to a new kind of guitar instrumental. His rapid-fire tremolo picking drew inspiration from Middle-Eastern music, and the heavy Fender reverb he throws over the top of his playing makes each note sound as wet as the surf. Fun fact: Dick Dale is left-handed and plays a rightie guitar upside-down and backwards.
2. Jimmy Page
Can you even go into a guitar store without hearing a classic Jimmy Page riff? Page’s solos and style have been imitated and admired for decades, and it’s easy to see why. Like many artists before and since Led Zeppelin, Page relies a lot on the minor pentatonic scale, but his speed, volume, and timing allowed him to permanently turn up the volume of rock and roll. Plus, judging by the video above, he did it all in platforms!
1. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is the ultimate guitar god. His psychedelic solos and wild performances made rock and roll history. To get his distinct sound, Hendrix mastered the blues. He also added a few new tricks to the guitar game, such as using the thumb on his fretting hand to hold down notes on the low E string and bending double stops.
Do you have a favorite guitar solo but you’re not sure where to start to play it yourself? You can learn your favorite riffs, leads, guitar tricks, and more with help from a private guitar instructor. Find a guitar teacher near you and start shredding today!