Everyone’s list of the “best guitar songs” will be different, but there are certain moments in history when we all seemed to fall in love with the same music together. These songs have stood the test of time, and become enshrined as the classics of guitar repertoire.
Although the following list is by no means comprehensive, it is a representative sample of some of the best guitar songs of all time – including everything from classical to rock.
The 50 Best Guitar Songs of All Time
Before we dive into which songs made the list and why, check out this clickable infographic for a preview of 25 top guitar songs.
Best Acoustic Guitar Songs
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
This popular song was destined to some form of greatness because of Pink Floyd’s established reputation. The fact that the main acoustic guitar riff is so playable has also helped this song become a staple for many beginning guitarists.
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
This song was one of the singles off James Taylor’s second album that made him particularly famous in the 70s. To this day, he still frequently plays “Fire and Rain” in concert. It’s known to both older and younger audiences who are familiar with his music.
Hotel California – Eagles
A reflection on the excesses of the Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle, this song features both acoustic and electric guitar work that stands out and complements each other.
Blackbird – Paul McCartney
An ode to struggling Black women in Detroit, the unassuming charm of this song makes it a favorite for beginning guitarists. The unusual left hand intervals make it challenging but not unattainable.
American Pie – Don McLean
An enchanting (and sometimes cryptic) ode to Rock ‘n Roll history, this song is still popular as a tune for beginners to learn their basic guitar chords on.
Wonderwall – Oasis
Released on their second album, “Wonderwall” has become Oasis’ biggest hit. It’s the most streamed song released before 2000, and it’s the archetypal example of 90s pop chord playing.
More Than Words – Extreme
Ironically the most popular song of a much heavier band, this song was released in 1991 and has since forced its writers to embrace their softer side. Known for their heavy, funk-metal style, Extreme reached a much wider audience with this vulnerable ballad.
Dust in the Wind – Kansas
Another crowd pleaser on this list of best guitar songs, “Dust in the Wind” particularly hit a nerve during the spiritual seeking of the hippy era. The intro has charmed fingerpicking beginners since the song’s release.
Redemption Song – Bob Marley
Taking inspiration from Marcus Garvey, Bob stripped away all the rich instrumentation of his reggae roots and reduced this song to simply the acoustic guitar and singing. The song has remained popular both as a protest song and a staple among beginning guitarists.
Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel
This song begins with a simple but haunting guitar hook that is immediately recognizable to fans of the folk-pop duo. Paul Simon’s fingerpicking technique remains a great teacher for beginners of the craft.
Best Rock Guitar Songs
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
The song every guitar teacher gets tired of teaching, but still listens to in secret and quiet admiration of its epicness.
Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns ‘n Roses
Another perfect example of a heavy band whose most famous song is a vulnerable love song. This one somehow manages to maintain its epic rock quality amidst all the intimate lyrics.
Voodoo Child – Jimi Hendrix
This is one of several songs Jimi did that changed rock history. The raw power that he holds together with his indescribable talent made this a piece that captured the imagination of rock guitarists for generations.
I Love Rock ‘n Roll – Joan Jett
A perfect integration of power chords and simple blues licks make this an ideal introduction to rock guitar. It’s also great for getting people to sing with you in a bar!
Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
Another song that is often used to introduce rock guitar to beginners, this song has a soulful punch that continues to draw Clapton fans back to his early days.
Back in Black – AC/DC
Of the tremendous library of ridiculously catchy riffs in the AC/DC canon, this one stands out near the top.
Seven Nation Army – Jack White
Many millenials who didn’t grow up with the early rock records find this song to be the gateway to the rest of the rock experience. Easy to play, easy to love!
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
This is another song that is famous partially because of its poignant lyrics that spoke to the rebellion of a generation. It’s also a perfect song to learn power chords on.
Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
This song gets a bad rap because so many guitarists know the first hook but not the rest of the song. The rest of the song is certainly worth a listen, though!
Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
This song has both one of the easiest power chord riffs and one of the hardest guitar solos. It’s a song that fans love to sing and guitarists love to play!
Best Folk Guitar Songs
Sweet Home Chicago – Robert Johnson
This unassuming folk blues song comes to us only from field recordings, but it was incredibly influential on many British rock stars. Johnson’s raw guitar style and troubled lyrics heavily influenced the Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and others.
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
This unapologetic protest song summarized the rebellion of the hippy generation and became a folk standard that is still sung and played to this day.
If I had a Hammer – Peter Paul and Mary
Sung by many folk artists, this metaphorical song served as a rallying cry for social change and remains a campfire favorite.
Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Bob Dylan
One of Bob Dylan’s more personal songs, the intricate fingerpicking in this tune lends a unique quality to lyrics about love gone wrong. Have a listen and you’ll quickly find out why this made our list of best guitar songs.
Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie
Many audiences wonder if Arlo made up the verses on the spot. In any case, the 16 bar guitar loop is the jumping-off point for a lengthy political rant that anyone with a sense of humor can enjoy.
Scarborough Fair – Simon and Garfunkel
Based on an English poem, this song is accompanied by Paul Simon’s mysterious fingerpicking and a vocal melody that many remember as a childhood lullaby.
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
This song is definitely a foot-stomper! It has had activists singing the charged lyrics since its release – at the height of the environmental movement in 1970.
Mr. Bojangles – Jerry Jeff Walker
This song was written in New Orleans when the composer was arrested and put in a cell with a street dancer. The story has been a favorite among folk artists since its premiere on a radio show in 1968.
Minor Swing – Django Reinhardt
First recorded in 1937 by the Hot House Band, this is one of Django Reinhardt’s most famous tunes. It’s also a standard introduction to gypsy jazz.
Guitar Boogie – Arthur Smith
This song was first released in 1945 and has since been played by many other thumb-picking greats, including Tommy Emmanuel.
Best Classical Guitar Songs
Asturias – Isaac Albeniz
A landmark of the classical repertoire, this piece is more reminiscent of flamenco traditions from Andalucia than the northern Spanish region of Asturias. This is probably because it was given its name by a German publisher after the composer’s death.
La Catedral – Agustin Barrios-Mangore
The masterpiece suite by a South American composer, La Catedral is a musical illustration of a grand building and a service within the building.
E Minor Bouree – J.S. Bach
This piece is a popular selection from the Lute Suite in E minor. It often tricks beginners because it sounds good at a slow speed but it’s meant to be played rather quickly.
Etude in A Minor – Dionisio Aguado
Often the first piece a classical student will ever see, this simple fingerpicking etude is a great introduction to the process and pleasure of classical guitar!
Recuerdos de la Alhambra – Francisco Tárrega
This piece is the most legendary of tremolo classical guitar pieces. Using a technique that involves rapidly plucking a single string, the difficulty of this song is matched only by its profound beauty.
D Minor Chaconne – J.S. Bach
One of the most profound pieces in the classical repertoire, this piece was originally written for violin. It has since been transcribed for pretty much any other instrument that has a virtuoso to play it, and guitar is no exception!
Mazurka Choro – Heitor Villa-Lobos
This prolific Brazilian composer had many great pieces, and this one is the first in a suite called “Suite Popolaire Bresilienne.” Give it a listen and see if you can resist the urge to learn all five movements.
Prelude from the E Major Lute Suite – J.S. Bach
One of the most famous and uplifting pieces in classical repertoire, this piece falls under the fingers almost serendipitously and fills a room of any size with the warmest musical bath you can imagine.
Study in B Minor Opus 35 no 22 – Fernando Sor
A gem of the beginner’s classical guitar repertoire, this is a piece that teachers often introduce to their students. Give it a listen and you’ll see why it’s so unforgettable!
Romanza – Anonymous
“Romanza” is another charming piece frequently learned by beginners. The gentle repetition of fingerpicking over the beautiful Spanish melody make this a favorite for both players and audiences.
Best Electric Guitar Songs
Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Mournful and rich in feeling, this guitar riff is great for getting early picking techniques going. It’s also an excellent choice when you want to play something recognizable to a lot of guitar fans.
Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits
This is a favorite of music lovers and musicians alike! It includes a rhythm riff that’s not too difficult, along with some solo passages that will give any player a run for their money.
Gravity – John Mayer
John said he was particularly proud of this song because he felt he could apply the lyrics to any situation he found himself in. The soulful guitar work captured the interest of many electric guitarists, both aspiring and established.
La Grange – ZZ Top
This band had a knack for writing hooks, and Billy Biggons had a knack for playing crazy blues solos. Both are reasons “La Grange” made it on our list of the best guitar songs of all time!
Freebird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Anyone who has played in a band has probably heard more audience members scream “Freebird” than any other song in history. Most people actually request it as a joke!
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
The fact that the lyrics of this song refer to a guitar is almost accidental among its deep reflective nature. Maybe it’s a factor in the song’s popularity with so many guitarists.
Eruption – Eddie Van Halen
“Eruption” ripped open the gates to progressive guitar playing. The song still stands as a staple for aspiring electric guitar virtuosos to master.
Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
This pioneering piece opened up the sound of early rock to wider audiences. It’s another favorite song for electric guitarists to learn.
Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan
This song can be difficult to learn at first because of its muting techniques, but it brings along the full power of the Texas Blues to anyone who masters it!
Layla – Eric Clapton
“Layla” is revered for both its powerful lyrics and its captivating virtuosic guitar hook. Clapton fans expect to hear it at every concert.
Now that you’ve seen our list of the best guitar songs of all time, what would you add? Let us know in a comment below!
These are the songs that inspired most kids to pick up an axe in the first place. If you’re interested in learning the guitar, this list will give you some easy songs to start with as well as some masterpieces to aspire to.