A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World magazine compiled what we feel is the ultimate guide to the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, websites and publications around the world, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (Number 100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (Number 1).
To quote our "Stairway to Heaven" story that ran with the list, "If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then 'Stairway' is his Close Encounters."
We've kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We're pitting Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we will ask you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket.
You can vote only once per matchup. The voting for each matchup ends as soon as the next matchup is posted (Basically, that's one poll per day during the first round of elimination, including weekends and holidays).
In some cases, genre will clash against genre; a thrash solo might compete against a Southern rock solo, for instance. But let's get real: They're all guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists, most of them in some subset of the umbrella genre of rock. When choosing, it might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative? Which is more iconic? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Winner: "November Rain" (79.36 percent)
Loser: "You Really Got Me" (20.64 percent)
Today's Round 1 Matchup (Day 22):
"Bohemian Rhapsody" Vs. "Light My Fire"
Today, Brian May's guitar solo on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (20) squares off against Robby Krieger's solo on the Doors' "Light My Fire" (45). Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
20. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Soloist: Brian May
Album: Queen—A Night at the Opera (Hollywood, 1975)
“Freddie [Mercury] had the whole piece pretty well mapped out, as I remember, but he didn’t have a guitar solo planned. So I guess I steamed in and said, ‘This is the point where you need your solo, and these are the chords I’d like to use.’ The chord progression for the solo is based on the verse, but with a slight foray into some different chords at the end, to make a transition into the next part of the song. I’d heard the track so many times while we were working on it that I knew in my head what I wanted to play for a solo. I wanted the guitar melody to be something extra, not just an echo of the vocal melody. I had a little tune in my head to play. It didn’t take very long to record.
“The next section of the song, the heavy bit, was really part of Freddie’s plan. I didn’t change what he had very much. Those guitar riffs that everybody bangs their heads to are really more Freddie’s than mine. And at the end of that section, I sort of took over. I wanted to do some guitar orchestrations—little violin lines—coming out of that. And it blended in very well with what Freddie was doing with the outro.
“We were stretching the limits of technology in those days. Since ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was entirely done on 16-track, we had to do a lot of bouncing as we went along; the tape got very thin. This ‘legendary’ story, which people think we made up, is true: we held the tape up to the light one day—we’d been wondering where all the top end was going—and what we discovered was virtually a transparent piece of tape. All the oxide had been rubbed off. It was time to hurriedly make a copy and get on with it.”
45. "Light My Fire"
Soloist: Robby Krieger
Album: The Doors—The Doors (Elektra, 1967)
“Light My Fire” was one of the first songs ever written by Robby Krieger, and his extended solo on the album version was also one of his shining moments as a guitarist. Ironically, however, in order for “Light My Fire” to become a hit for the Doors and Krieger the songwriter, Krieger the guitarist had to swallow his pride and allow his masterly two-and-a-half-minute solo to be trimmed down to its essential opening and closing themes for use on the single.
“That always bothered me,” Krieger readily admits. “We never wanted to cut it, but our first single, ‘Break on Through,’ flopped and radio stations told us that ‘Light My Fire’ would be a hit if we cut it down. We didn’t have much choice because AM radio ruled everything, and if you wanted to get on AM you had to have a short song.”
The longer solo now regularly broadcast on the radio in its entirety is a perfect distillation of Krieger’s style. A flamenco-trained guitarist who played with his fingers and often evoked sitar-like Eastern sounds with his Gibson SG, Krieger pulled out all the stops on “Light My Fire.” Still, the guitarist says that the complete version on the album is far from his finest effort. “It was the kind of solo that I usually did, but it was different every night. To be honest, the one on the album is not one of my better takes. I only had two tries at it. But it’s not bad; I’m glad that it was as good as it was.”
Winner: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (77.77 percent)
Loser: "Light My Fire" (22.23 percent)