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 yesterday, 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.
40. “Marquee Moon,” Television (Tom Verlaine)
“Marquee Moon” is so intricate it forced founding Television member Richard Hell out of the band because he couldn’t play it. Indeed, Television and lead guitarist Tom Verlaine were anomalies on the fast-loud-hard CBGB punk scene, what with this 10-minute song, of which nearly half was a jazz-influenced solo. Playing in mixolydian scale, Verlaine takes his solo from a one-note buzz, to ringing, single-note workouts to mellifluous chording – until he joins up with his band in a doomsday riff that won’t cease until the band achieves euphoric guitar nirvana. – Bryan Wawzenek
39. “My Sharona,” The Knack (Berton Averre)
The signature riff on The Knack’s “My Sharona” ranks as one of rock’s most recognizable. Equally as brilliant, though somewhat relegated to the shadows, is Berton Averre’s wicked solo, a blistering piece of guitar work that arrives nearly three minutes in. The effectiveness of the solo is that it seamlessly bridges singer Doug Fieger’s early-building lust for Sharona with the state of unravel he becomes by song’s end, where he can only m-m-m-moan her name repeatedly. Averre’s solo is a revelation. – Sean Patrick Dooley
38. “Blue Sky,” Allman Brothers Band (Duane Allman, Dickey Betts)
Another great uplifting solo by the Allman Brothers, this one is a great use of melody, technique and some of the classic Southern Rock harmony riffs that the Allmans made so popular – and that became such a signature style of the ’70s and Southern Rock in general. It also occupied a place in the song of equal weight and importance as the rest of the verses and choruses. Truly a melodic masterpiece! – Arlen Roth
37. “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones (Keith Richards)
Keef’s guitar work on “Sympathy for the Devil” is as much an impersonation of Lucifer as Mick Jagger’s vocal performance. Piercing through the song, which is locked firmly in a samba groove, Richards’ solo runs absolutely wild. You’re never quite sure how it will strike next – if Keith is going to unleash a raging blitzkrieg or a perfectly placed, one-note dagger. But one thing’s for certain, this solo can lay your soul to waste. – Bryan Wawzenek
36. “Besame Mucho,” Wes Montgomery
Recording as one-third of a trio put all ears on West Montgomery’s storied, silky-smooth style. The thumb-plucking jazz legend shines brightly on this Spanish standard (recorded in the early ’60s), moving from gorgeous single lines that race up and down the fretboard to octaves that ring out with satin-covered cool. Montgomery’s ability to wow you with rapid-fire passages, while never interrupting the midnight mood of the song, is astounding. – Bryan Wawzenek
35. “Purple Haze,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience
You might as well cut the history of rock music in half with this track. Before Hendrix, there were sonic explorers of the blues (Clapton, Bloomfield and Beck, among others), but Jimi was from a different planet. It’s not that the solo (or the end solo) of this 1967 classic is particularly fast or technically complex. With Jimi, it’s more the flutters of sound, kissed in feedback and fired back at the listener through an Octavia. Everything is done with the perfect feel to propel an already-smoking song into the stratosphere. – Michael Wright
34. “Don’t Believe a Word,” Thin Lizzy (Brian Robertson)
Thin Lizzy was one of the all-time great Les Paul wielding bands, perhaps the greatest, and co-lead guitarist Brian Robertson’s solo on “Don’t Believe a Word” is nothing short of an epiphany. At just a little over two minutes long, it’s a short sledgehammer of a song, and Robertson’s wickedly cutting lead drives home Phil Lynott’s precautionary words. The solo pierces your chest like a diamond-tipped drill, and it turns your insides into a tingly mush. – Sean Patrick Dooley
33. “Race with the Devil,” Gene Vincent (Cliff Gallup)
By all rights, Cliff Gallup should be a household name. An original Blue Cap, he left Gene Vincent’s backing band shortly after playing on nearly all of Vincent’s classic early recordings, including “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” “Blue Jean Bop” and this fire-breather, “Race with the Devil.” Rejected by radio as too dangerous, this drag race of a track is nitro-charged by Gallup’s seemingly effortless solo – fast and furious, like you’d expect from the hot-rodding Vincent’s band. – Michael Wright
32. “Are You Experienced,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience
One of the greatest by the greatest! This solo incorporates all of Jimi’s innovations and is truly a guitar extravaganza from the psychedelic era. Great effects, recording techniques and many previously unheard-of sounds were incorporated into this emotional and technical marvel. I don’t think Jimi ever played a mediocre solo, but this really has to rank up there among his finest, for sure! – Arlen Roth
31. “Time,” Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
David Gilmour’s solo on this Dark Side of the Moon stand-out takes the song out of the clock shop and launches it into the milky way. Drenched in echo, the solo just seems to go on forever – not just in terms of the ticks on your watch, but in terms of space. It’s one of the biggest-sounding solos ever recorded. It’s also one of the most exciting – nearly threatening to melt away as Gilmour reaches for those screaming high notes. – Bryan Wawzenek
Votes for the Top 50 Guitar Solos of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew Vaughan, Sean Patrick 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.