A great guitar outro can serve as the musical equivalent of an exclamation point, something to drive home a song in a memorable way. Whether flashy or subtle, the best guitar codas leave an impression that lingers long after the last notes fade. Below are 10 of the very best.
“Mr. Crowley” (Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads)
Randy Rhoads’ beautiful, classically inspired outro elevated this Ozzy classic into something of monumental proportions. The late guitarist spent hours working on the solo, but remained frustrated with the results until Ozzy told him to simply wing it and play as he felt. Rhoads then nailed it. As always, Rhoads comes off as a shredder with exquisite taste, more concerned with serving the song properly than with burnishing his ego.
“La Grange” (ZZ Top/Billy Gibbons)
Few guitarists are better at ushering up memorable codas than Billy Gibbons is, and “La Grange” ranks among his very best. From the chugging boogie riff to the trademark pinch harmonics, the outro for “La Grange” has all the ingredients that make Gibbons’ style instantly recognizable. The guitarist was once asked if there was a point where ZZ Top truly hit their stride. “That would be ‘La Grange,’” he told Goldmine. “We liked the tones, the richness of the instrumentation and the simplicity of the composition. We just thought, ‘Alright, this is us. We can do this.’"
“Black Dog” (Led Zeppelin/Jimmy Page)
Page’s searing finale for this classic is said to have inspired Robert Plant to hit his highest note on any Zeppelin recording. Page once said he used “an army” of Les Pauls to craft the track. “We put my Les Paul through a direct box, and from there into a mic channel,” he told Guitar World, in 1993. “We used the mic amp of the mixing board to get distortion. Then we ran it through two Urei 1176 Universal compressors in series. Then each line was triple-tracked.” Reviewing the original tapes years later, Page felt the guitars sounded “almost like an analog synthesizer.”
“Moonage Daydream” (David Bowie/Mick Ronson)
Mick Ronson’s extended outro on this Bowie classic – played on a Les Paul Custom with a wah pedal for tone control – constitutes one of glam rock’s definitive moments. In an interview with Gibson.com, producer Ken Scott said the late guitarist nailed the solo in a single take. “My recollection is that there had been no discussion, beforehand, regarding what it should be, or what it was going to be,” Scott revealed. “It was more like, ‘Okay, it’s time to do it,’ and he went and played it. David and I just went, ‘Wow!’ Whether or not Ronson had spent time working on it at home, beforehand, is something I can’t answer.”
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (The Rolling Stones/Keith Richards/Mick Taylor)
The Latin-tinged coda that caps off this Stones song was a bit of a departure, likely inspired by the recent addition of Mick Taylor. Speaking to Jazzed Magazine in 2007, Taylor said Jagger and Richards loosened up a bit, musically, when he came on board. “I think I became really aware of it when we were in the studio recording Sticky Fingers,” he said, “when we went into the instrumental section at the end of 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking.’ That was completely spontaneous. What you hear on the album is exactly what happened – we just kept playing.”
“November Rain” (Guns ‘N Roses/Slash)
Slash delivered some of his finest-ever guitar work in this GNR classic. After playing with stately elegance for the majority of the track, he cut loose in the coda with a maelstrom that proved to be the perfect six-string send-off. “One of the best things about a melody for a guitar solo is when it comes to you the same way every time, and that was definitely the case with ‘November Rain,’” Slash told Guitar World, in 2008. “When it came time to do the record, I just went into the studio, played the solo through a Les Paul Standard and a Marshall and said, ‘I think that sounds right.’ It was as simple as that.”
“Layla” (Derek and the Dominos/Eric Clapton/Duane Allman)
The soaring blues anguish that fuels this masterpiece finds release in the song’s majestic coda. Recorded three weeks after the main track was put down, the outro saw Duane Allman delivering poignant slide work, with Eric Clapton’s acoustic guitar and drummer Jim Gordon’s piano composition riding on top. “The song and the whole album are definitely equal parts Eric and Duane,” producer Tom Dowd told Guitar World. “There had to be some sort of telepathy going on, because I’ve never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level.”
“Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd/David Gilmour)
Producer Bob Ezrin once said you could “give David Gilmour a ukulele and he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius.” That talent was never more fully in evidence than on the outro for this Pink Floyd classic, which Gilmour pieced together from five or six solo takes. “I just followed my usual procedure,” he said in 1993, according to Guitar.About.Com, “which is to listen back to each solo and make a chart, noting which bits are good. Then I just follow the charts, whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase to make a really nice solo all the way through.”
“Hotel California” (Eagles/Joe Walsh/Don Felder)
Don Felder used a 1959 Les Paul Standard to duke it out with Joe Walsh on the coda for this dual-guitar classic. Last year, Walsh spoke with Gibson.com about the song’s grand finale. “We decided that, at the end of the song, we would have a go at one another. Felder and I pushed each other. It was competitive. It was like, ‘Okay, watch this!’ We did that on purpose, because it created tension, that effort to be the tougher guy.” Walsh added, “Don and I might have spent two days, three hours at a time, building up the guitars on ‘Hotel California.’ Those were great times. We were really focused.”
“Free Bird” (Lynyrd Skynyrd/Allen Collins/Gary Rossington)
Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins fashioned his lead on a Gibson Explorer for this sensational outro, while Gary Rossington handled rhythm duties on a Les Paul and added slide fills with an SG. Amazing, the band’s record company originally tried to persuade Skynyrd not to include the song on their debut album, insisting the track was too long. Fortunately, the group held its ground. The extended live version that appears on the 1976 album, One More from the Road, sealed the song’s classic status.