Guitar solos are some of the coolest features of music. Whether short or long, these musical passages convey an extreme amount of emotion. You also get a glimpse into the character of the person playing the solo.
Let’s be real, many of us have been inspired to pick up the guitar because of a guitar solo. Here are some of the best songs with guitar solos that you can find. You might not agree with this list, but musical taste is subjective to each person. Perhaps you’ll hear something new!
“Time” by Pink Floyd
Solo starts at: 3:14
Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour is one of the kings of emotion-filled melodic solos. His additions to the Pink Floyd catalog often drive the final nail into the coffin of excellence.
Take, for instance, his solo in the song Time. Anyone who is fairly familiar with Pink Floyd can likely sing this solo by heart, even if they aren’t guitarists. That alone should tell you the effectiveness of this solo.
This solo has all of the traditional Gilmour hallmarks. Long, sustained notes and gnarly bends are par for the course here. He effectively peaks the solo twice before bringing it down to a level appropriate for another verse.
Budding guitarists should take note of Gilmour’s exposition here. He has a certain way of guiding the listener’s ear that is often mimicked, but never quite the same.
“25 Or 6 To 4” by Chicago
Solo starts at: 1:55
Chicago’s 25 Or 6 To 4 is one of the most famous tracks in the entire Chicago catalog. And, let’s face it, who doesn’t love the infectious descending musical line augmented with horns? This jam is extremely potent and sure to give you the energy of a pot of coffee.
The real star of this song has to be guitarist Terry Kath’s smoking guitar solo. He starts out with an ascending melodic phrase that mimics the song’s melody. An important thing to note is that the introduction to his solo is fairly simple.
It isn’t until he’s established himself in the solo that Terry Kath starts to dial up the heat. When the wah pedal kicks on, you know it’s about to go down.
Despite all of the shredding going on, Terry Kath maintains very vocal and melodic phrasing. This makes his solo that much more powerful and is something every guitarist should pay attention to.
Many modern guitarists seem to be unfamiliar with Terry Kath. His life serves as an example to never gamble with more than you can afford to lose. He accidentally shot himself after playing a game of Russian roulette.
“Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” by Led Zeppelin
Solo starts at: 0:00, 3:36
Led Zeppelin is a band whose catalog is chock full of epic guitar solos. Many of these are hailed by some guitarists as some of the greatest of all time.
Their track Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You showcases some of Jimmy Page’s dynamism as a guitarist. The song opens up with some very emotionally-driven passages that you can tell are played with a light touch.
In the middle of the song, Page really cranks up the heat, coming out of the gates hot and heavy. This approach doesn’t always work for everyone, but it definitely blasts the door off the hinges in this song.
One thing to note here is that, while the solo does have its fast passages, there are still melodic elements. Page uses this especially to maintain the energy of the solo without having to be super flashy the whole time.
“Skin It Back” by Little Feat
Solo starts at: 1:53
Little Feat is one of those bands that likely isn’t on your radar. However, if you know of them, you know how excellent this band is. This band is essentially a very funky group with plenty of chicken-grease-soaked Southern rock stylings.
Skin It Back is one of their most popular songs, having been covered by countless groups over the years. Who can deny this uptempo, funky groove with an infectious melody?
The studio recording of Skin It Back has a very smooth guitar solo. It’s got that slide-on-a-Telecaster twang, but it comes across like velvet.
Be sure to check out some live performances of Little Feat if you like this song. The band really stretches out their songs when playing live.
“Almost Ready” by Dinosaur Jr.
Solo starts at: 0:00, 2:00
If you’ve ever wondered who J Mascis is, and why he has his own signature Squier Jazzmaster, here’s your introduction. Within the indie rock community, J Mascis is sort of considered a guitar god.
Just take a listen to this track, Almost Ready. The song is full of fast solos that blaze up and down the neck of the guitar.
You’ll find that most of the Dinosaur Jr. catalog contains quite a bit of crazy guitar solos. It’s almost baffling trying to figure out exactly what he is doing half of the time.
One quick note, if you ever see them live, be sure to wear earplugs. Their volume is so loud that it pushes beyond the decibel level of a jackhammer.
“Cowgirl In The Sand” by Neil Young
Solo starts at: 0:42
Neil Young has quite a few jammers in his catalog that are open for extended guitar solos. One of his most famous is Cowgirl In The Sand.
This song has been covered by countless musicians including Built To Spill and Elvis Costello. Due to the nature of its composition, it makes for a great platform to jam with some friends. Consider adding this one to your own setlist and have some fun.
The solos in Cowgirl In The Sand carry many of Neil’s trademarks. You’ll hear his traditional raw delivery, as well as some staple melodic phrases that are signature to the song. Do pay attention to how he uses rhythmic dictation to build himself a platform.
“Broken Chairs” by Built To Spill
Solo starts at: 4:40
Built To Spill is one of the greatest indie rock groups of the 1990s-2000s, built around songwriter Doug Martsch. Many of their songs feature orchestral arrangements of many guitar parts working together to create a larger picture.
Their track Broken Chairs, from the album, Keep It Like A Secret, is a great example of this. You’ll hear sprawling guitar solos augmented by other solos. Yet, each solo works together in a congruent fashion.
Broken Chairs has some downright gnarly guitar solos that really rip the face off of the listener. The entire track has a feeling of straight-up rock with some attitude, and the solos really help convey that.
“Baby C’Mon” by Stephen Malkmus
Solo starts at: 2:03
Stephen Malkmus is best known for his role in the 1990s indie rock band Pavement. However, his solo career is very eye-opening, especially if you aren’t expecting some excellent guitar work.
The song Baby C’Mon is a very straightforward rock song that illustrates Malkmus’s pop insights. It also has a killer guitar solo that brings the song into a climax before crashing into a resolution.
This solo starts out with climbing unison bends that just give you a nice little punch in the face. It’s a great example of how effective a simple technique can really be when used in the right context.
“Dazed And Confused” by Led Zeppelin
Solo starts at: 2:05
Led Zeppelin’s track Dazed And Confused is very interesting. It might not be the first choice for someone’s favorite guitar solo. However, it does push the boundary for what is possible in a solo.
Let’s take a look at Jimmy Page’s approach for this solo. He literally uses a violin bow on his guitar to create some very ethereal sounds. There really is no possible way to achieve the sounds he did without a violin bow.
This alone goes to show just how much a bit of experimentation can really pay off. It became a hallmark of this song.
But that’s not all there is to this song by any means. The band goes into a sort of call and response with Jimmy Page, bringing the song’s energy way up. This portion of the solo features Page’s signature fast pentatonic phrasing.
If you take one thing away from this song, let it be the experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try something a bit off the wall. You might actually find something really cool that you can build a hit song around.
“Scuttle Buttin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
Solo starts at: 0:34
Stevie Ray Vaughan single-handedly helped bring the blues back into the mainstream spotlight. His extreme talent and cleanly picked guitar lines remain to this day some of the best of all time.
A fine example of SRV’s playing can be heard on his track Scuttle Buttin’. This instrumental track is full of extremely complex playing within a 12-bar blues format.
The most impressive part of SRV’s playing here is how clean and pristine his playing is. You can hear every note he plays, despite being fast and complex. Not many guitarists can achieve this.
This won’t be the only inclusion of SRV’s work in this list. However, it is a song that is full of killer solos that remains unrivaled by modern guitarists.
“Shakedown Street” by The Grateful Dead
Solo starts at: 7:06
Jerry Garcia is one of those guitarists that is held in high regard amongst other guitarists. However, those who don’t listen to The Grateful Dead may not always be able to understand why that is.
To understand this, you first need to understand the format of a traditional Dead concert. The band plays songs but improvises heavily as a group. The result is a song that is never played the same way twice.
Garcia’s genius isn’t readily apparent in many of the band’s studio releases. Rather, people have to sift through over 30 years of live shows to discover the gems of the guitarist’s career.
Shakedown Street is one of the most popular, and most covered songs, from the band’s catalog. It has an iconic descending guitar lick throughout the track, often washed out in an auto-wah effect.
Take a listen to the solo from this version of Shakedown Street. Jerry Garcia seamlessly weaves his way through the sonic texture presented by the band. In many ways, he blends melodic passages while replicating the rhythmic dynamic of the band as a whole.
Anyone who has aspirations to play improvised guitar leads on stage needs to study Jerry Garcia’s playing. He is a master at leading a group through the unknown.
“Spooky” by Atlanta Rhythm Section
Solo starts at: 1:29
The Classics IV song Spooky got a massive facelift with the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s cover. While the original had a killer saxophone solo, this version established the song as a potent jam vehicle.
You’ll hear some excellent shredding with this song. There are a few solos throughout the song, with different instrumentalists trading solos.
Pay attention to how melodic phrases are used throughout each solo. Many of these are vocal melodies from the verses, but provide a launchpad for ornamentation.
The key takeaway with this track is understanding the golden zone of using the song’s melody with intricate embellishment. You can apply this to almost any song with a high degree of effectiveness.
“Green Onions” by Booker T. & The M.G.’s
Solo starts at: 1:16
If there is to be a song that is the epitome of “cool,” it would have to be Green Onions. This track is a true classic and there aren’t too many people who aren’t familiar with it.
The real star of this track is by far Booker T.’s organ lines. However, it does have an excellent short guitar solo that breaks up the song from being monotonous.
Booker T.’s organ solos tend to be based around that one iconic melody. If the entire song was that, it would likely get boring real fast. The addition of this solo helps to breathe a little bit of fresh air into the mix.
Green Onions is a great track to learn and play with a group. Be sure to learn those organ melodies on your guitar for some extra credit.
“Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic
Solo starts at: 1:47
Traffic tends to be unknown except for the music lovers who scour the 1970s for hidden gems. This powerhouse of a band, featuring Steve Winwood, has many excellent tracks, featuring long jams and guitar solos.
Their most famous and well-known track is by far Dear Mr. Fantasy. Musically, this song is full of great guitar parts. The rhythm guitar has an awesome rolling texture while the lead is straight rockin’.
Be sure to listen to the exposition of the solo in this song. It makes an introduction with tasteful, resonant bends while establishing a melody.
The solo itself features long sustained notes to climb the melody up a hill, with fast notes coming back down. This is an effective exposition that you can use in your solos.
A guitar solo is also played after the verse following the first solo. This one is more designed to keep the energy sustained before bringing the song to its close.
“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan
Solo starts at: 2:16
Steely Dan is one of those bands with a massive reputation for having a high degree of musical knowledge. Just listen to their songs and you’ll notice how complex the composition is, even if it does sound simple.
One of the most revered Steely Dan songs amongst guitarists is Kid Charlemagne. The song has a very interesting solo that has stumped guitarists for years.
Technique-wise, there isn’t anything too complex here. However, it is the note choices that steal the show here.
The solo from Kid Charlemagne has a perfect blend of inside-outside playing. The melodic line frequently drifts outside of the box into jazzy territory. This gives the song a very 3D feel as if you can almost see the song moving outside of the lines.
“Nitpickin’” by Danny Gatton
Solo starts at: 0:00
If you aren’t familiar with country guitarists, you might not have known about Danny Gatton. He was a literal country guitar virtuoso, with a playing style that will drop your jaw to the floor.
Just take a listen to his track Nitpickin’. It contains extremely fast passages that are nearly superhuman. This song really showcases why Danny Gatton is one of a kind.
Nitpickin’ has a few different musical sections. The song starts out of the gate with guns a-blazin'. It quiets into a bit of a sensual mood before the buckin’ bronco comes crashing out of the gate again.
And just when you think it’s over, Gatton starts playing with overtones and some very roadhouse-feel guitar playing. If you’re not completely enthralled by this song, there might be something wrong with you.
We may never see another guitarist quite like Danny Gatton. They didn’t call him “The Humbler” for no reason.
“Sultans Of Swing” by Dire Straits
Solo starts at: 3:25
One of the most famous songs from the Dire Straits catalog is Sultans Of Swing. This track really exemplifies Mark Knopfler's precise fingerpicking guitar style.
Many guitarists will usually add this to their list of songs to be learned. Throughout the song, there are many instances of exquisite melodic lines. Some of these are fairly complex while others are a unique combination built from simple scale patterns.
What makes the solo from Sultans Of Swing so great is the vocal qualities that Knopfler induces in his playing. The tone of his Stratocaster literally sounds as if it is talking.
This is another song with a solo that many people can sing by heart. The outro solo is a classic example of how a song can carry a song to a high end.
“Impossible Germany” by Wilco
Solo starts at: 2:46
Nels Cline is a very underrated guitarist, and his playing on Impossible Germany is a great example of this. Many people do not know who Nels Cline is, but those who do know he is a hurricane force.
Impossible Germany features some very angular playing accentuated by Cline’s unique Jazzmaster tone. Like any good solo, this one features quite a bit of melodic context, with snippets from the song’s main melody.
Cline’s solo really builds itself a platform, seamlessly weaving lines into a sort of intangible basket. When the 2nd melodic guitar kicks in, the solo takes on new heights, allowing the song to soar.
Some people have called this solo one of the best of the 2000s. Don’t take their word for it, find out for yourself!
“Born Under A Bad Sign” by Albert King
Solo starts at: 1:28
Many blues classics have found their way into the modern repertoire of guitarists. Born Under A Bad Sign is one of these, having been covered by Cream, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and countless others.
This song has a very infectious riff based on a minor pentatonic scale running through the entire song. The riff gives a great platform for the lyrics and solos to take place.
Be sure to add this song to your song list and have your own open jam. You can really spin some nasty leads with this track.
“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After
Solo starts at: 1:37
This track by Ten Years After is a track you hear on the radio once and wonder what it’s called. You might not hear it again for years, perpetuating the cycle of the song’s mystery.
I’d Love To Change The World is full of great guitar parts. The rhythm guitar part is instantly recognizable.
There is a lead guitar that plays throughout the entire track. However, around the 1:37 mark, the heat really gets turned on.
Throughout the song, there is a great juxtaposition between intense and gentle dynamics. This is accentuated particularly in the lead guitar. It is simple where it's needed, but quite intricate when it is free to be.
“Down With Disease” by Phish
Solo starts at: 3:57
Phish is a band that has an extremely large following, yet is not considered mainstream at all. They have not had a hit song and have had very little radio play.
How are they so successful? The band has had an open-taping policy, allowing their concerts to be recorded by fans. Eventually, tapes spread around the world, attracting new fans.
The band consists of top-notch musicians who are masters at improvised music. This is where the band really shines, and you really won’t find another band operating at the same level.
Guitarist Trey Anastasio regularly proved himself to be one of the greatest guitarists on the planet in the 1990s. However, many do not really know of him because his greatest work has happened during live performances.
Down With Disease is a Phish song that regularly serves as a jam vehicle in the band’s setlists. Anastasio has exquisite phrasing that can be both melodic and intricate at the same time.
Take a listen to this Down With Disease from 1997 and hear how the entire band works together. Within the musical context, Trey plays off of every member to lead the band (and audience) into unknown territories.
“Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King
Solo starts at: 0:00, 3:12
B.B. King has a distinct style of phrasing, making him very identifiable in the sea of guitarists. He really has a sweet touch that many simply cannot replicate.
The opening of Thrill Is Gone is a perfect example of this. He manages to be very vocal and expressive, despite playing simple notation.
Many solos on this list have been extremely complex, but B.B.’s solo shows it's all about intention. Any guitarist would do right by studying the careful inflections that B.B. King uses in his solos.
“Little Wing” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
Solo starts at: 0:39
Yes, Little Wing was originally a Jimi Hendrix track. However, the spin that Stevie Ray Vaughan puts on this track lands it on this list.
SRV does a magical thing here. He retains the traditional stylings of the original, especially by keeping the intro intact.
When he deviates from the original, he makes the song his own, while still tipping his hat to Jimi. This is what makes SRV’s rendition so great.
Little Wing is another perfect example of the pure dynamism SRV had with his playing. He could be quiet and expressive or deliver sheer raw power.
No matter his style, his playing is extremely precise. It could be argued that even Jimi was never as clean as SRV presents in this song. We can be sure that Jimi likely gave his nod of approval when the song was released.
“Inca Roads” by Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention
Solo starts at: 1:57
Frank Zappa is a very interesting character for a guitar player. Not only has he been somewhat avant-garde, but he’s pushed the boundary for what is acceptable as entertainment.
Zappa was also a masterful composer. The song Inca Roads is a great example of this. It features some pretty zany and complex moments, as well as some traditional groove.
The solo from Inca Roads is downright awesome. Zappa employs a Mu-Tron auto-wah with a high degree of effectiveness, giving the solo a unique feel.
Do listen to the exposition of the solo. It does seem to come across as improvised, however, there is a linear progression. The solo only grows more complex as it goes on, but still relies heavily on melodic phrasing.
“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Solo starts at: 4:55
You probably knew that this song was going to appear on this list. What list of songs with solos would be complete without it?
Many people can (and do) sing this solo by heart. It’s left such an impression that it gets called out for request at almost every show. Of course, this may be a bit of a joke, but nobody would complain if a band did play it.
What makes the solo from Free Bird so great is how it soars above the pulsating rhythm underneath. It also has melodic components that are repeated for heightened effectiveness, making it more memorable.
On an energetic level, this solo delivers the energy without taking a second to pause. It might just be one of the most perfectly played solos for the context that it is in.
“Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers Band
Solo starts at: 6:25
If we mention Southern rock on this list, The Allman Brothers Band needs to be included. This group has had many guitar-oriented hits over the years, cementing their place in rock history forever.
Whipping Post is a great example of a song built for a guitar solo. This cut from the Live At Fillmore East album showcases the prowess of both Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
To get the most of this song, be sure to use it in an active listening session. Really pay attention to how each guitarist peaks their guitar solos and delivers the energy.
We are fortunate that recordings such as these have been made. Such great guitar playing might be lost to time otherwise.
“Blues Power” by Eric Clapton
Solo starts at: 2:00
Blues Power might be an unknown song to those who aren’t familiar with Clapton’s full catalog. This song comes from Clapton’s debut release as a solo artist.
While this song isn’t one of his best-known, it does feature Clapton’s signature soloing style. Throughout the song, he employs a call and response technique between his vocals and the guitar.
On a whole, Blues Power definitely isn’t a blues song by any means. It is a great track that could make you want to dance, though.
“Tweezer” by Phish
Solo starts at: 9:40
Perhaps it is a personal mission to spread the gospel of Trey Anastasio’s guitar playing, but Tweezer deserves recognition. Again, if you aren’t familiar with Phish, you may not have heard this before. However, some sneaky person has been playing this on TV during sports broadcasts over the last few years.
Tweezer is an excellent jam vehicle that really features the guitar in prominence. As every performance is improvised, the solos that Anastasio takes are wildly different from any others.
Take this Tweezer from 12/6/1997 for example. Many fans have called this one of the best Tweezers of all time.
Part of this has to do with the killer guitar solos throughout. Another part has to do with how well the band plays together, and the sonic tapestries they create.
This specific cut features Trey creating ambient loops with his loop pedal. This creates a backdrop that he uses to really steer the musical ship in a certain direction.
The solo really steps outside of the tonic key and allows the song to take on a completely different character. Overall, the entire jam ranges from funk to spacey ambiance, to full-on rock and roll.
For a full picture, it is recommended to listen from the start of the song. Be sure to strap up your seatbelt.
“Dogs” by Pink Floyd
Solo starts at: 5:26
We’ve already mentioned how David Gilmour’s keen melodic phrasing is in a league of its own. A standout example can be heard in the song Dogs.
The solo in this song starts out with a series of iconic Gilmour bends. He uses the entire fretboard’s range to deliver a soaring solo that helps to lift the song energetically.
Eventually, the solo becomes quite visceral. Gilmour has a phrase using pinch harmonics that is especially impactful to the listener’s ear. You can tell that quite a bit of heart went into the solo.
From an outward standpoint, this solo comes across as having a hint of anger. But when you couple it with the lyrics, it actually fits the context very well.
“All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix
Solo starts at: 1:42
It would be rude to mention Jimi but not showcase one of his songs in this list. His catalog has endless examples of great guitar solos.
His cover of All Along The Watchtower is perhaps one of the best songs with a solo. It is so good that, after hearing it, Bob Dylan basically said that the song was Jimi’s.
All Along The Watchtower has a series of solos that really show Jimi Hendrix’s genius as a guitarist. The first solo builds the energy sky-high, culminating in a near peak.
However, when you think he’s going to hit the glory note, he doesn’t. Instead, he opts to sing another verse. After the verse, he hits that glory note with everything he’s got.
This use of anticipation couldn’t be better placed. The listener’s ear wants that glory note, but having to wait makes it that much more effective.
There are few songs that employ this, but it should be a textbook play for guitar solos. Take a page from Jimi’s playbook and add it to your own.
“Minor Swing” by Django Reinhardt
Solo starts at: 0:17
Gypsy-jazz guitar phenom Django Reinhardt’s playing continues to dazzle listeners in today’s modern age. The fact that he only had 2 working fingers on his fret hand did not hold him back one bit.
Minor Swing is one of his most well-known songs, and it features some very intricate guitar work. This song is one of the best examples of Reinhardt’s playing.
The solo in Minor Swing has some very jazzy guitar elements. However, there is quite a bit of melodic phrasing happening. Each phrase comes across as a sentence in a paragraph.
Reinhardt’s solo is special because, while it is intricate, you can tell he’s having good fun. Some phrases sound animated as if they came out of a cartoon.
“Funky Monks” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Solo starts at: 2:33
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have had a few different guitarists in their lineup over the years. However, only John Frusciante has really been able to deliver the kind of energy that matches Flea’s bass prowess.
The song Funky Monks, from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, is a perfect example of this. This track is pure funk, but in the middle, some magic happens.
You’ll hear the bass and the guitar intertwine with each other. It’s almost as if a dust devil is forming into a tornado.
Frusciante has some very precise playing despite his usual visceral attack on the guitar. However, he really brings the energy later in the solo when he clicks his wah pedal on.
“Rosie” by John Mayer
Solo starts at: 2:31
Many people hate on John Mayer. Sure, he’s had quite the success as a pop star, but he really shines as a guitarist.
If you give him a chance, you’ll likely be surprised. There’s a reason why Dead & Co. have opted to have him as their lead guitarist.
For those of you who want some proof, check out the song Rosie. This song has a very Jerry Garcia-influenced guitar solo. You can tell just by the Mu-Tron auto-wah-soaked guitar tone that permeates throughout the solo.
This might not be his greatest guitar solo ever played, but it does showcase some of Mayer’s strengths. The biggest strength by far is his melodic phrasing.
He can be complex in his phrasing, but he can also be just as effective using simple phrases. This solo really showcases that, especially throughout its exposition.
Top Songs With Guitar Solos, Final Thoughts
The guitar solo will forever hold a place in the hearts of music fans. Sure, any instrument solos are cool, but few are as expressive as a guitar solo.
Regardless of the evolution of music, we will likely see the guitar solo continue to play an important role. If it does fall out of the mainstream, you can be sure that there will be disciples carrying the torch.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!