The Top 10 Guitar Harmonies of All Time
What’s better than a master guitarist pouring his guts out through his strings?
How about two master guitarists simultaneously pouring their guts out through their strings? You read me?
Do I hear three master guitarists? Will these questions ever stop?
Whatever the case, synchronized guitar work—which requires skillful harmonization—can take the multi-guitar lineup to its full potential—that is, make all lead parts sound bigger and badder. Here are some of the baddest.
10. Racer X, “Scarified”
That Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet play these stunning neoclassical arpeggios with such apparent ease is enough to make any insecure guitarist closet his ax for good. The fleet-fingered duo speed-pick their way through a cycle of 4ths, sweep-pick across all six strings, and tap the fretboard like some four-armed guitar god that worshippers both fear and revere.
09. Metallica, “Master of Puppets”
It’s rare for James Hetfield to play lead, but when he does he makes it count. The solo he composed for the gentle middle section of this rager about drug abuse is a true attention-getter thanks largely to the sweet melody and high-register trills. In addition, the harmonies here proved that Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett were more than just heavy-handed thrashers.
08. Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan, “Shy Boy”
How does David Lee Roth make himself look good after parting with Van Halen? Well, he hires two Eddies. Sure, Sheehan is a bassist, but he plays the thing like a six-stinger. The breakdown at the song’s end, though short, displays some truly terrifying, ultra-meticulous two-hand tapping. The section functions much like a dangerous high-speed stunt—where a good deal of the audience’s thrill derives from a secret, morbid desire to see the stuntmen fall.
07. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, “Three Guitar Special”
As the hired guns for Wills’s Western swing band, electric guitarist Eldon Shamblin, pedal-steel man Herb Remington, and electric mandolin player Tiny Moore held down three-part harmonies as though they were a horn section from a big band, all the while shredding through sophisticated jazz-based chromatic passages and arpeggios. Check out the ballsy amplification, especially of the mandolin. And this is 1947!
Note: We can't find "Three Guitar Special" on YouTube, so we've included the audio of "Twin Guitar Special" from 1941:
06. Ratt, “Round and Round”
Of those hair-farmin’, lip-poutin’, pantyhose-wearin’ pop-metal bands from the Eighties, this combo—featuring guitarists Warren DeMartini and the late Robbin Crosby—has the distinction of scoring a dual-guitar hit that wasn’t just a sappy ballad. After DeMartini takes a Halen-esque lead, Robbin Crosby joins in for the sustained string bends and descending scales that steal the spotlight from vocalist Stephen Pearcy.
05. Thin Lizzy, “The Boys Are Back In Town”
The trademark sound of the Scott Gorham–Brian Robertson tandem became the prototype for virtually every twin-ax metal band that followed. This sound is immortalized in this Top 40 hit, in which the guitarists' singing lines, adept phrasing and gradual ascension of the fretboard took the song to a dramatic climax above and beyond that of the final chorus.
04. Slayer, “South of Heaven”
Love them or hate them for pioneering a style of metal lead that is more noisescape than it is either tuneful or technical, the team of Kerry King and the late Jeff Hanneman created some of the most instantly recognizable harmony leads around, owing mostly to intervals that will creep the hell out anybody within earshot. If the chromatic descent on this unusually slow pounder doesn’t make you crap your pants, you’ve earned the right to join the Freemasons.
03. Boston, “More Than a Feeling”
When Les Paul pioneered multitrack recording, it was inevitable that someone like Tom Scholz would take it to the limit—by recording a solo six times over. Armed with pristine distortion, this one-man guitar army launched with this song what is perhaps the most evocative melodies in rock. Eventually, the consistent string bends, slurs and vibrato start to feel almost like a synthetic string section on the recording—a fact that would have disqualified Scholz from this list had he not hired Barry Goudreau and Brad Delp to help him reproduce the harmonies live.
02. The Allman Brothers Band, “Jessica”
This joyous tune recorded shortly after the death of superhuman slide guitarist Duane Allman, with Dicky Betts and Les Dudek on electric guitars. They followed this theoretical formula on one of the most famous rock instrumentals of the Seventies: simple, catchy melody times two equals mondo hooks. The countrified harmonies that constitute this instrumental’s “verse” section are, arguably, the most lyrical in all of classic rock.
01. The Eagles, “Hotel California”
Californian country-rock? Yeah, right. But throw in former James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh with Don Felder and Glen Frey and you’ve got a dreamy and dramatic chorus of electric guitars stacking arpeggios over a quasi-Spanish chord progression. Ah, you can almost detect the warm smell of “co-lee-tas” in the air…