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: "Cortez the Killer" (69.33 percent)
Loser: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (30.67 percent)
Today's Round 1 Matchup (Day 24):
"Heartbreaker" Vs. "Europa"
Today, Jimmy Page's guitar solo on Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" (16) squares off against Carlos Santana's solo on Santana's "Europa" (49). Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
Soloist: Jimmy Page
Album: Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic, 1969)
Performing a convincing solo in a group context is difficult for any musician, but it takes a real man to stand unaccompanied and deliver. On “Heartbreaker,” Jimmy Page did just that. For an electrifying 45 seconds, Page let loose sans rhythm section and, needless to say, the guitar world has never been quite the same.
“I just fancied doing it,” laughs Page. “I was always trying to do something different, or something no one else had thought of. But the interesting thing about that solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished “Heartbreaker”—it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded in a different studio and was sort of slotted in the middle. If you notice, the whole sound of the guitar is different.
“The solo itself was made up on the spot. I think that was one of the first things I ever played through a Marshall. I was always having trouble with amps, and Marshalls were state-of-the-art reliability. By that time I was using a Les Paul, anyway, and that was just a classic setup.”
“We definitely recorded the solo section separately,” confirms engineer Eddie Kramer. “Jimmy walked in and set up and the whole session was over in about 20 minutes. He did two or three takes and we picked the best one, which was edited in later. However, to this day, I have a hard time listening to it, because I think we did a shitty edit—the difference in noise levels is pretty outrageous. But I don’t think Jimmy cared, he was more interested in capturing an idea, and on that level, he succeeded.”
Soloist: Carlos Santana
Album: Santana—Amigos (Columbia, 1976)
“I started writing this song in 1966 or ’67, but didn’t finish it until ’75 when we were on tour with Earth, Wind and Fire, in Manchester, England,” says Carlos Santana. “We were backstage while they were onstage playing. And we were just warming up, tuning up. I started playing it and [keyboardist] Tom Coster and I completed it right there on the spot. It immediately became a crowd favorite; it is one of those songs that, whether it’s played in Japan or in Jerusalem or in South America, it just fits right in with everything.”
Winner: "Heartbreaker" (65.19 percent)
Loser: "Europa" (34.81)