Great Musical Moments and Mistakes Made Magnificent in Headphones

OK, so you have your headphones out.

What do you want to listen to? Something beautiful? Something cool? Something you’ve never heard before? How about all three?

The following are five tracks by some of your favorite bands worth putting under the microscope for reasons listed below.


Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love"

Someone laughs briefly at the very beginning, must be Robert Plant. It’s nearly impossible to detect except on headphones, but the laugh exudes a “get a load of this” confidence and sets the stage for one of the most crushing songs ever recorded. But most importantly it provides part of the human element that helped make Led Zeppelin one of the most revered and heralded bands of all time.

Steve Howe, "Sketches in the Sun"

Most folks know Steve Howe’s fabulous “Mood for a Day” instrumental, but some folks may not be as familiar with his “Sketches in the Sun” track. On headphones, listen to the tender articulation of this performance and the interaction between the guitar and the lush reverb; the song takes on an amazing orchestral quality.

David Lee Roth, "Drop in the Bucket"

There is so much going on in this song it is ridiculous, from a spunky acoustic guitar intro, to Jason Becker’s subtle finger-picked clean lines, to a signature sweep picking solo break. But starting around 3:37 the guitar and vocals begin a magnificent interplay where at one second you think you are listening to David Lee Roth singing in falsetto, but it is actually Jason Becker’s guitar, and the next second it is the other way around. This passage is just beautiful and gives me the chills every time I listen to it.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" from Live Alive

This song is a pure treat on headphones as the guitar slathered in a slow panning effect just struts around the stereo field destroying all in its path. Stevie had a masterful way of making his guitar scream that was utterly unique. You can just feel the volume and the amount of air being pushed out of his amps.

Nirvana, "In Bloom"

This song jumps right out of the speakers and with incredible power. If you listen on headphones, you will notice that instead of simply double tracking the same exact guitar rig/EQ setup and panning hard left and right, the left side guitar was recorded with a different rig/EQ setup. These two different guitar sounds combine to make this track sound absolutely huge, and accentuates the quiet/loud verse/chorus structure of the song.

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Brad Tolinski

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Brad was the editor of Guitar World from 1990 to 2015. Since his departure he has authored Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen, Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page and Play it Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound & Revolution of the Electric Guitar, which was the inspiration for the Play It Loud exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2019.