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” (100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (01).
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."
In June, we kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We pitted Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we asked you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket. Now Round 1 has come and gone, leaving us with 32 guitar solo and 16 (sweet) matchups.
You can vote only once per matchup, and the voting ends as soon as the next matchup is posted (Basically, that's one poll per day).
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: "Brighton Rock" (54.45 percent)
Loser: "Crazy Train" (45.55 percent)
Today's Round 2 Matchup (12 of 16)
"One" Vs. "Cortez the Killer"
Today, it's Kirk Hammett's guitar solo on Metallica's "One" (07) against Neil Young's often-overlooked solo on "Cortez the Killer" (39). Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
Soloist: Kirk Hammett
Album: Metallica—…And Justice for All (Elektra, 1988)
“I had a very clear idea of where I wanted to go with my guitar playing on …And Justice for All,” recalls Kirk Hammett. “Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for me to fully execute my ideas.
“We worked on basic tracks for six or seven months, and then I only had eight or nine days to record all my leads because we were heading out on the Monsters of Rock tour [with Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken and Kingdom Come]. To get that done, I had to do incredibly long, grueling days—like 20 hours at a pop—and it took so much out of me. As soon as I finished one solo, I had to do the next one. There was no time to breathe, as the whole vibe was to do it the best you could and keep moving. It was a pretty frustrating experience, to be honest.”
Despite these frustrations, Hammett was immediately pleased with most of his work on “One,” which featured three very different solos. “The first solo and the last solo were completely worked out in advance because I had been playing them for months,” recalls Hammett. “So in those cases it was just a matter of fitting in tone-wise. I elected to use a clean sound in the intro solo, which was the first time we used that kind of sound. I dialed it up on an ADA preamp and, once we found the right sound, it just flowed.
"For the final solo, I used my conventional lead sound of the time. That one flowed quickly, too—once I worked out the intro right-hand tapping technique, a process I really enjoyed. I wanted a high energy intro that would be different from anything I had done in the past. So I got those two solos done quickly and was pleased with them. But the middle one just wasn’t happening.”
Ultimately, Hammett was so displeased with the results of his second solo that he returned to the studio in the midst of the Monsters of Rock tour—spending a day at New York’s Hit Factory with producer Ed Stasium. “I redid the entire second half of the second solo and worked to make it all fit in,” Hammett recalls. “It was better, although I was never totally satisfied with it. I guess I did a good enough job.”
Apparently so. The song would soon become Metallica’s first legitimate radio and MTV hit, its solos firmly established as Hammett signature licks.
39. "Cortez the Killer"
Soloist: Neil Young
Album: Zuma (Reprise, 1975)
“Cortez the Killer” hails from Zuma, one of Neil Young’s most overlooked albums, often lost in the shuffle of its predecessor, the much-praised Tonight’s the Night, which came out just five months prior. But there’s really a very simple explanation for the song’s high rating. Just take it from Young himself, who once proclaimed that, “ ‘Cortez’ is some of my best guitar playing ever!”
Remarkably, the song’s structure was largely shaped by an accident—a power failure which occurred in the midst of recording a perfect, transcendent take of the song. Rather than recut the tune, Young just plowed forward and later he and producer David Briggs went back and did some creative editing, which required the lopping off of several verses. “They missed a whole verse, a whole section!” Young says. “You can hear the splice on the recording where we stop and start again. It’s a messy edit…incredible! It was a total accident. But that’s how I see my best art, as one magical accident after another. That’s what is so incredible.”
“Cortez the Killer,” about the Spanish explorer who conquered Mexico with bloody success, is also a prime example of Young’s physical style of lead playing.
“I am a naturally very destructive person,” he says. “And that really comes out in my guitar playing. Man, if you think of guitar playing in terms of boxing…well, let’s just say I’m not the kind of guitarist you’d want to play against. I’m just scarred by life. Nothing in particular. No more scarred than anyone else. Only other people often don’t let themselves know how damaged they are, like I do, and deal with it.”
[[ When you're done voting, start learning every guitar solo in this poll — and more! Check out a new TAB book from Guitar World and Hal Leonard: 'The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: A Treasure Trove of Guitar Leads Transcribed Note-for-Note, Plus Song Notes for More Than 40 of the Best Solos.' It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $29.99. ]]
Winner: "One" (70.92 percent)
Loser: "Cortez the Killer" (29.58 percent)