When Jimmy Page sat down with Total Guitar for an exclusive interview that charted his journey from session player to the Yardbirds, and the stories behind the incendiary and visionary compositions that placed Led Zeppelin at rock's apex, we got to thinking about his greatest moments.
Page was always the innovator. He gave the electric guitar a power that had only ever been hinted at before. His taste for exotic Celtic, Indian and Arabic chords scales, incorporating alternate tunings in a neo-folk style, made the acoustic guitar a crucial component in Led Zeppelin's sound.
Dynamic, vital, still fresh, still provocatively daring, here we present 20 of his greatest moments.
1. Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
The Zep I tone, showcased here, was Page’s dragon Telecaster into a Supro amp, with a Sola Sound Tone Bender fuzz pedal when extra filth was required. Page created other-worldly theremin sounds by plucking natural harmonics and bending them behind the nut.
2. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
This was recorded on his well-known Harmony Sovereign H1260 from the mid-60s. Joan Baez had already made the song famous. Zeppelin revolutionised it with contrasting acoustic and electric sections, anticipating the quiet/loud dynamic of grunge and introducing the lament bassline to hard rock (Tenacious D send their thanks).
3. Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
There’s a little-known trick to making this legendary riff sound like Page. The second note is doubled by playing the 5th fret of the A string and the open D string at the same time. Bend the fretted note slightly sharp to create Page’s monster pseudo-doubletracking effect.
4. Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
It’s rumoured John Bonham plays a plastic bin on this song, possibly inspiring the drum sound on Metallica’s St Anger. The guitars here are in standard tuning, and the unusual sound comes from sliding open chord shapes (mostly E major) around without barring, so the open strings continue to ring.
5. Heartbreaker (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
The definitive Les Paul and Marshall tone. Page’s use of hammer-ons and pull-off s in the solo opened up entirely new possibilities on the guitar, most notably inspiring one Edward Van Halen. Page created the bends by pressing behind the nut with his picking hand, and in so doing defined the guitar hero.
6. Since I've Been Loving You (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
Two things stand out in Page’s finest blues performance. His dynamics, from barely audible to fire-breathing, are controlled using only his pick attack and guitar’s volume pot. He also highlights chord changes, playing Ab (9th fret, B string) just as the chord changes to Fm, nailing the minor 3rd. Beautiful.
7. Tangerine (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
Page tastefully embellishes an A minor chord on the intro by alternating with Asus2 (remove your first finger) Asus4 (add your 4th finger to the B string, 3rd fret). His pedal steel playing was inspired by Chuck Berry’s playing on songs like Deep Feeling.
8. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
When you hear guitarists speak of Jimmy’s Stairway Les Paul tone, lose friends immediately by informing them the solo was actually played on a Telecaster. Although the song is in A minor, Jimmy solos in D minor pentatonic. This contains the F note that fits beautifully with the Am-G-F chord progression.
9. Going to California (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
Recorded using Page’s Harmony Sovereign in open G, the overall sound is a blend of Page’s fingerpicking and John Paul Jones’ mandolin. The second guitar enters at the same time as Plant’s vocal. Check out the instrumental mix on the Led Zeppelin IV Deluxe Edition for the full effect.
10. When the Levee Breaks (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
Open F tuning (CFCFAC), used here, means the chords in the B section are much easier than they sound: just a barre on the first three strings, starting at the 12th fret before moving 7-5-7-10- 12. The slide part is similar and a good place to start learning this technique.
11. Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
This homage to Little Richard shows how to combine major and minor pentatonics in one solo. When the band drops out, Page plays a repeating legato lick (5-8-5 on the B string and 7 on the G string), sliding it up one fret at a time to spectacular effect.
12. Black Dog (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
While some rockers insist only valve amps give good tone, Page confounded purists by plugging straight into the mixing desk, overloading the input for distortion. When the riff moves down after the first verse, Page plays a variation 21/4 beats long, so it falls in a different place on each repeat.
13. The Rain Song (Houses of the Holy, 1973)
One of the most stunning bits of guitar arranging, Page’s layers of acoustic and electric guitars sound like an orchestra before Jones’s keyboards even enter. George Harrison remarked to Bonham that Zeppelin didn’t do ballads, prompting Page to write this, even including the opening chords from Harrison’s Something as a musical joke.
14. Kashmir (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Page used his Danelectro 3021 in DADGAD tuning to create this riff masterclass. The main riff is just three beats long but played over John Bonham’s epic 4/4 beat. The interplay between them creates the hypnotic groove. The B section again creates a 3-against-4 polyrhythm, which makes it so propulsive.
15. Ten Years Gone (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Drop D was not much of a thing in hard rock before Page’s pioneering use. The harmony section features a whopping 14 guitar tracks, enough to make even Brian May gulp. The initial chords are an open A and a version of D minor played over an open A string – an unusual progression that gives the riff much of its character.
16. In My Time of Dying (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
This is a defining example of the Zeppelin magic trick: making Delta blues sound like a rampaging dinosaur. The liner notes say Zeppelin wrote this Gospel song, which must’ve surprised people who heard Bob Dylan sing it in 1962, or Josh White’s take from 1946.
17. Achilles Last Stand (Presence, 1976)
The combination of galloping rhythms on a palm-muted open string with higher chord stabs inspired 80s metal: this could be proto-Iron Maiden. The chords are largely triads on the top three strings. The solo uses E natural minor rather than the pentatonic scale, moving away from Page’s blues-rock sound.
18. Nobody's Fault But Mine (Presence, 1976)
A reworking of an early blues/gospel track, this was credited to Page/Plant but is based heavily on Blind Willie Johnson’s 1928 composition It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine. It’s the stops that give Zeppelin's version such power. The band’s sledgehammer riffing feels all the more aggressive after moments of silence.
19. In the Evening (In Through the Out Door, 1979)
Page finally gives up his Les Paul for a Strat, allowing serious whammy abuse between riff s. Some internet tabs have powerchords for the riff , but Jimmy actually fretted it along the G string. The other notes you’re hearing are the open B and sometimes E strings ringing above.
20. Poor Tom (Coda, 1982)
This skiffley tune might have sounded like early Beatles if it weren’t for Bonham’s pounding. Utilising an unusual C6 tuning (CACGCE), the guts of the riff is a first-string pull-off from the 3rd fret, strummed against a descending bassline on the third string. It’s simpler than it sounds.
- Jimmy Page: The Anthology is out now via Genesis Publications.