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: "Mr. Crowley" (59.9 percent)
Loser: "All Along the Watchtower" (40.1 percent)
Today's Round 2 Matchup (15 of 16)
"Stairway to Heaven" Vs. "Machine Gun"
Today, "Stairway to Heaven" (01) — the song with the No. 1-ranked guitar solo in this 64-solo tournament — makes its first appearance since easily defeating Prince's "Little Red Corvette" in Round 1 last month. This time, "Stairway" faces a much more serious opponent, "Machine Gun" (32) by Jimi Hendrix. "Machine Gun" reached the second round by defeating B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" in Round 1. Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
01. “Stairway to Heaven”
Soloist: Jimmy Page
Album: Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic, 1971)
If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then “Stairway” is his Close Encounters. Built around a solid, uplifting theme—man’s quest for salvation—the epic slowly gains momentum and rushes headlong to a shattering conclusion. The grand finale in this case is the song’s thrill-a-second guitar solo.
Page remembers: “I’d been fooling around with the acoustic guitar and came up with several different sections which flowed together nicely. I soon realized that it could be the perfect vehicle for something I’d been wanting to do for a while: to compose something that would start quietly, have the drums come in the middle, and then build to a huge crescendo. I also knew that I wanted the piece to speed up, which is something musicians aren’t supposed to do.
“So I had all the structure of it, and ran it by [bassist] John Paul Jones so he could get the idea of it—[drummer] John Bonham and [singer] Robert Plant had gone out for the night—and then on the following day we got into it with Bonham. You have to realize that, at first, there was a hell of a lot for everyone to remember on this one. But as we were sort of routining it, Robert started writing the lyrics, and much to his surprise, he wrote a huge percentage of it right there and then.”
Plant recalls the experience: “I was sitting next to Page in front of a fire at our studio in Headley Grange. He had written this chord sequence and was playing it for me. I was holding a pencil and paper, when, suddenly, my hand was writing out the words: ‘There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.’ I just sat there and looked at the words and almost leaped out of my seat. Looking back, I suppose I sat down at the right moment.”
While the spontaneous nature of Plant’s anthemic lyrics came as a pleasant surprise, the best was yet to come. The beautifully constructed guitar solo that Guitar World readers rated the “best ever” was, believe it or not, improvised.
“I winged it,” says Page with a touch of pride. “I had prepared the overall structure of the guitar parts, but not the actual notes. When it came time to record the solo I warmed up and recorded three of them. They were all quite different from each other. All three are still on the master tape, but the one we used was the best solo, I can tell you that.
“I thought ‘Stairway’ crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there, and showed the band at its best. Every musician wants to do something that will hold up for a long time, and I guess we did that with ‘Stairway.’ ”
32. “Machine Gun”
Soloist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: Band of Gypsys—Band of Gypsys (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1970)
Contrary to popular belief, Hendrix was not in any kind of artistic decline during the last year of his life. In fact, it was quite the opposite. This apocalyptic performance of “Machine Gun,” featuring Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, demonstrates that Jimi was still growing in leaps and bounds near the end. But while Band of Gypsys captures some of the guitarist’s greatest improvisations to date, he was still dissatisfied with its outcome.
“I distinctly remember that Jimi wasn’t particularly thrilled with Band of Gypsys,” says engineer Eddie Kramer, who recorded the album and co-mixed and edited it with Hendrix. “He felt that Buddy Miles was trying to steal his thunder throughout the performance with his excessive scat singing. I can still see Jimi with his head buried in his arms, laying on the mixing console during playback, saying, ‘Buddy, would you please just shut up!?’ So, I would chop out huge passages of Buddy singing. And then I’d chop some more.”
[[ 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: "Stairway to Heaven" (73.6 percent)
Loser: "Machine Gun" (26.4 percent)