Top 10 Hardest Guitar Solos to Learn

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Top 10 Hardest Guitar Solos to Learn

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Zachary Siechen
These guitar solos rock! For this list, we'll be looking at those challenging guitar interludes that even the greatest axe wielders on Earth might struggle to play. Our countdown includes “Sultans of Swing”, “Under a Glass Moon”, “Eruption”, and more!
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Top 10 Hardest Guitar Solos to Learn


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Hardest Guitar Solos to Learn.

For this list, we’ll be looking at those challenging guitar interludes that even the greatest axe wielders on Earth might struggle to play. We’re focusing specifically on solos and their difficulty, so if you don’t see an entry you think belongs, check out our list of the Top 10 Hardest Rock Songs to Play on the Guitar or the Top 20 Greatest Guitar Solos.

Is there a guitar part that you’re still painfully practicing? Let us know in the comments.

#10: “Sultans of Swing” (1978)

Dire Straits
While not the fastest on our list, Mark Knopfler’s fingerstyle solo in “Sultans of Swing” is a ballet of digits. His right hand dances about the guitar neck almost as much as his left, with his thumb exploring everywhere from low strings over the narrow frets, to high strings above the pickups. The result is a unique fingerprint of varying tones assigned to each note, making the pattern quite the quandary to replicate. Doing so demands a clean sound, and it also may require the 1961 Stratocaster that inspired Knopfler to finally complete the song. Ready for a masterclass in fingerpicking? Here’s your bread and butter.


#9: “Flying Fingers” (1956)

Joe Maphis
Think multi-neck guitars, and tremolo picking, only belong in the world of heavy metal? Meet: Joe Maphis. Known as the “King of Strings,” Maphis mastered several musical tools. The guitar, however, was his primary domain, and he doubled up on the instrument’s wooden nape long before it was cool. With this track, appropriately dubbed “Flying Fingers,” Joe puts the blues scale on a treadmill, plucking its notes at lightning speed. While not missing a string, the ol’ school picker still makes time to form some inventive licks and riffs that you’ll miss if you give your ears a second to blink. It’s a little bit of bluegrass, and a whole lot of country shred.


#8: “CAFO” (2009)

Animals as Leaders
We hope you’ve been practicing your sweep picking. “Animals as Leaders,” the self-titled debut album of the progressive metal band that shares its name, spotlights guitarist Tosin Abasi’s self-taught expertise. Abasi’s rhythmic and technical skills shine most on the album’s eighth track, “CAFO,” whose title reportedly references an acronym for “controlled animal feeding operation.” After initially banging your head along to “CAFO’s” one-hundred-fifty-five beats per minute, you can listen closely to hear a melodic marriage of jazz and classical guitar playing structure. And when you put this solo into practice, you’ll further learn how the expert sweeping and two-handed tapping techniques, combined with tempo changes, create a sound that’s just a little bit different from anything else that you’ve tried to play.


#7: “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
You can’t talk guitar for very long without bringing up Jimi Hendrix. He is perhaps one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, and his crowning achievement is considered by many to be “Voodoo Child.” It takes soul to play the guitar, and just as no two spirits are alike, so too do no two “Slight Return” solos sound the same. Though structurally the piece hovers around mostly the E7 chord, it’s Hendrix’s emotion that makes the notes come alive, as he opens up each chakra in his body and allows his divine love of music to flow. Before attempting this one, make sure you’re ready to play the guitar like a vehement extension of your inner spiritual self.

#6: “Crazy Train” (1980)

Ozzy Osbourne
The recognizable Ozzy “eye-ee” that barreled its way into football stadiums everywhere is just a precursor to Randy Rhoads’s insane fingerwork. Dubbed the ninth greatest guitar solo ever by “Guitar World” magazine, this one may be brief, but it bursts in towards the end of “Crazy Train” just long enough to make its point. Get ready to stretch your fingers like an alien or something if you’re going to pull off these tapping moves. And repositioning your hands for some of the bends and slides required might be more challenging than you think, if you want them to sound seamless. For those of you guitar heads, remember that pentatonic scale you learned when you first tried soloing? Not so easy now, is it?

#5: “Painkiller” (1990)

Judas Priest
When media outlets questioned if Judas Priest would be heavy enough to compete with an upcoming wave of hardcore bands, Priest answered boldly with “Painkiller.” The album’s statement is defiant, especially with this valiant solo, beginning with crazy arpeggios that let you know from that get-go that it’s not fooling around. The licks sound like they’re cultivated from Painkiller’s central riff, rather than a flashy attempt to drown out the rest of the song. It’s not fast for simply the sake of speed—though it may not feel like it when you try to keep up with Glenn Tipton’s tempo. This is Tipton’s favorite solo to play, and the way he makes the guitar scream as wildly as Rob Halford, we can really tell.


#4: “Under a Glass Moon” (1992)

Dream Theater
We considered a few of John Petrucci’s insane spiderwebs of shredding for this list, ultimately awarding the spot to his solo work for “Under a Glass Moon.” Ranked by “Rolling Stone” magazine as one of the top 100 guitar solos of all time, it vividly encapsulates the sound of the rainstorm Petrucci was listening to when he composed the song. Thunderous tremolo strikes and flashing whammy wails punctuate a tempest of hammer-on/pull-off moves and gnarly sweeping. Petrucci himself has commented on the “strong sense of synchronization” needed by both hands to achieve his alternate picking style. Reaching that level of mastery is no simple task, but if you can tackle the “Glass Moon” shrolo (a solo that shreds), you’re on your way.


#3: “Through the Fire and Flames” (2006)

DragonForce
If guitaring is your epic quest for glory, welcome to the final boss. You’ll need every weapon in your arsenal: tremolos, tapping, sweeps, slides, screams, and untabbable notes you’ve never even heard before. Herman Li and Sam Totman battle each other at an inhuman pace of 200 beats per minute, eventually joining forces to shred a triumphant conclusion to a godly amalgamation of musical stamina and technique. Though some allege that DragonForce’s recording has been sped up and that the solo is actually impossible, the broken string sustained by Li’s guitar during recording argues otherwise. A brutal legend throughout all of rock, “Flames” is a beast of strings that, when conquered, will forever silence all your haters.


#2: “Cliffs of Dover” (1990)

Eric Johnson
Toddlers throw splotches of paint onto easels, but Jackson Pollock arranges splotches into art. Guitarists shred solos, but Eric Johnson sweeps arpeggios into melodies. Less a guitar solo and more a musical orchestration, “Cliffs of Dover” is composed of expert-level improvisation, which Johnson then marries harmoniously with bars of mellow tempo and repetition of key euphonious notes. The result is that listeners don’t focus on the complexity—they hear only one fluid, rapturous symphony. Such an effect mandates precision and a true artist’s ear, as a single mis-bent string or ill-timed sweep will stand out like a calloused thumb. It amazingly took Johnson just five minutes to write, and it might take the rest of us an eternity to perfect.


Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Electric Sunrise” (2016), Plini
Exercise Your Fingers Well If They’re Going to Be Hammering Nonstop for This Long

“Free Bird” (1974), Lynyrd Skynyrd
It Has So Many Parts That Playing It Is Like Reciting an Epic Poem From Memory

“Follow the Signs” (2011), Born of Osiris
Arpeggio Upon Arpeggio Upon Arpeggio—Only for Advanced Players Comfortable with Seven Strings

“One” (1989), Metallica
Notes So Fast That Your Fingers Will Feel Disembodied From Your Hand

“Tender Surrender” (1995), Steve Vai
Vai Reportedly Admitted to Practicing 10 Hours Each Day to Be Able to Play It


#1: “Eruption” (1978)

Van Halen
Winning number one is the magnum opus of a man who reinvented the meaning of the guitar solo. To Eddie Van Halen, the guitar wasn’t just an instrument—it was the gateway to unlocking a brave new world of sound creation. Have you ever thought about sliding on a string while tapping? What about chiming the steel strands way up by the tuning pegs? How many tones can you make simply by slapping the neck? Can you sustain mini solos-within-the-solo by pattering the frets and never lifting a pick? Eddie and “Eruption” dare you not to simply rock, but to experience guitaring fourth-dimensionally, and to imagine how high the inventive spirit of an axe wielder can truly soar. Challenge accepted?
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