What makes for a great guitar solo? Is it mind-melting precision or bone-chilling soul? Is it the way it can leave you slack-jawed, wondering, “How did he do that?” Or is it something that you can sing from memory, a melodic passage that weaves itself into the DNA of the song? Or are the greatest solos ever played the ones that somehow manage to do all of the above?
Gibson.com is on a mission to find out, so we polled a panel of rock and roll experts (Gibson editorial staff and writers, some of our favorite musicians and, most importantly, our fans), asking for everyone to name the greatest guitar solos in music history. After revealing the Top #50-41 and #40-31, we delve further into the Top 50 today. Check back each day this week as we unveil 10 more, with the Top 10 Guitar Solos of All Time to be revealed on Friday morning.
30. “Crossroads,” Cream (Eric Clapton)
Wheels of Fire, indeed. With Cream, Eric Clapton recorded this blazing rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” completely live while performing at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. The song is a rampaging rock classic, and E.C.’s minute-long solo might be the best live guitar solo ever released. Clapton’s dexterity, tone and taste are astounding, and you never know what’s around the next turn. It goes way beyond mere “white boy blues.” – Bryan Wawzenek
29. “Machine Gun,” Jimi Hendrix
From the live Band of Gypsys album, this 12-minute cut may just be the finest Hendrix performance ever recorded. With heavy use of wah-wah and a Univibe pedal, Hendrix not only expresses the horrors of the Vietnam War musically, but supplies blood-curdling sound effects – practically a new kind of aural assault untried by guitarists at the time. – Andrew Vaughan
28. “Jessica,” Allman Brothers Band (Dickey Betts)
One of the great and uplifting solos of the ’70s, this is a Southern rock tour de force by Dickey Betts. It’s a great moment for him to shine, as he was usually overshadowed by the great Duane Allman within this all-time great band. Wonderful continuity, taste and fluidity make this really one of the best of a great era for the guitar! – Arlen Roth
27. “Heartbreaker,” Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
Ever had a moment or two when you wondered if James Page really deserved his God-like status amongst rock guitarists? Pop on Zeppelin’s second album and cue up this song. “Heartbreaker” shows Page at his inspirational best – sucking every tone possible out of his Les Paul, switching between majors and minors, and giving a master class in rapid-fire hammer-ons and less-is-more power chords. The master in action. – Andrew Vaughan
26. “Purple Rain,” Prince and the Revolution (Prince)
Prince brought a little rock and roll fire to his mammoth power ballad with this searing solo. Although he’s more than capable, Prince doesn’t go crazy here, opting for soulful restraint over speed-demon freakouts (well, mostly). The result is spine-tingling anguish, which perfectly mirrors the song’s regretful lyrics about love and loss. Simultaneously sharp and fuzzy, Prince’s wrenching repetition takes the epic home. It’s unfathomable that “Purple Rain” would be one of Prince’s signature songs without this solo. – Bryan Wawzenek
25. “Sweet Jane” (live), Lou Reed (Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner)
Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter created one of rock’s greatest dual-guitar moments when they unleashed their three-and-a-half minute intro to this opening track from Lou Reed’s 1974 album, Rock ’n’ Roll Animal. Close friends in real life, Hunter and Wagner weaved a sustained solo tapestry that sounded born of brother-like telepathy. By the time the song’s signature riff kicks in, you feel you’ve been carried on gossamer wings to a place where beautiful six-string splendor rules. – Russell Hall
24. “Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley and His Comets (Danny Cedrone)
Some might say that when rock and roll was created, Danny Cedrone threw down the gauntlet for every guitarist who would follow. His landmark solo on the Bill Haley classic, “Rock Around the Clock,” was an exercise for speedsters everywhere. And not just the early triplets, either; the rapid-fire descent back into the verse helps sandwich some tasty little jazz phrasings in between. Taken as whole, the solo is a masterpiece in pacing and technique. – Michael Wright
23. “Cortez the Killer,” Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Only a handful of guitarists can claim a style as instantly recognizable as this. Until the apocalypse, when someone plays a ragged, gritty solo that seemingly meanders on its own accord, yet ends up knowing exactly where it’s going, they’ll be pulling a “Neil Young.” His influence is understandable, given the thrilling fluidity, anger and passion built into his rampant soloing on “Cortez the Killer.” Young’s solos almost conquer the songwriting – quite a compliment when the writer is also Neil Young. – Bryan Wawzenek
22. “One,” Metallica (Kirk Hammett)
Super shredder Kirk Hammett takes no less than four solos on “One” (including two aching, fluid ones and one in tandem with James Hetfield), but we all know the one we’re talking about here. Just following the “machine gun” part of the song, Hammett goes wild with finger tapping that sounds like a slot machine has just paid out. Soon, he’s thrashing out bluesy licks so fast, your brain can barely keep up. There’s only one word for it: insane. – Bryan Wawzenek
21. “Texas Flood,” Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
The truth is that before Stevie Ray Vaughan released the album Texas Flood in 1983, blues had all but fallen off of the hip-o-meter. This album changed that in a hurry, thanks in large part to the slow, bluesy and passionate title track. The solo on “Texas Flood” is so dripping in gut-wrenching emotion that, at one point, it’s nearly impossible not to shut your eyes, grit your teeth and sway your head from side to side as Stevie Ray takes a single note and bends it further, further and further still, to a point you notice you’re actually holding your breath, waiting for him to release you from his iron grip. – Sean Patrick Dooley
Votes for the Top 50 Guitar Solos of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew Vaughan, Sean Dooley, Russell Hall, Ted Drozdowski, Paolo Bassotti, Dave Hunter, Bart Walsh (David Lee Roth), Jeff Cease (Black Crowes, Eric Church) and the Gibson.com Readers Poll.