Here’s what you voted the greatest acoustic guitar song of all time – and the winner might be controversial

Jimmy Page playing acoustic guitar live
(Image credit: Ian Dickson/Redferns via Getty)

Last month, Total Guitar asked you to cast your votes for what you believed to be the greatest acoustic guitar song of all time.

It was a stacked list of entries spanning genres and generations, from Robert Johnson’s famed 1936 slide standard Cross Road Blues all the way to Oasis’ Britpop masterpiece Wonderwall, and Jon Gomm’s virtuosic contemporary cut, Passionflower.

By the very nature of the poll, the song that claimed the list’s top spot was destined to divide opinion, and while the track that received the most votes will come as no surprise to the majority of readers, it will also prove to be slightly controversial.

Because the greatest acoustic guitar song, as voted for by you, was none other than Led Zeppelin’s iconic 1971 hit, Stairway to Heaven.

The word “iconic” doesn’t even do justice to the song’s opening acoustic riff, so it makes sense the song would be involved in the conversation: the arpeggiated A minor-flavored motif, performed from the fretboard of Page’s Harmony Sovereign H1260, has become a go-to, must-learn melody for all guitarists.

Having said that, Stairway to Heaven may be a controversial pick for some guitar fans. Yes, the riff is one of the most well-known acoustic lines of all time, but the track itself has a large electric guitar presence, too.

Not only that, Page famously performed the song live using his Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck, rather than his acoustic, which was favored to accommodate the considerable electric action of both the original’s jangly Fender XII chords and Fender Telecaster guitar solo.

Nevertheless, the opening four minutes of the song is drenched in Page’s Sovereign, and that riff alone makes it worthy of the top spot.

“I wanted to try to put something together which started with quite a fragile, exposed acoustic guitar playing in the style of a poor man’s Bourrée by Bach,” Page once told the BBC about the track. “The idea was to have a piece of music, a composition, whereby it would just keep on unfolding into more layers, more moods. 

“The subtlety of the intensity and the overlay of the composition would actually accelerate as it went through on every level, every emotional level, every musical level, so it just keeps opening up as it continues through its passage.”

Stairway to Heaven beat out some tough competition to reach the poll’s peak, trumping the likes of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Eagles Hotel California, which came second and third, respectively.

Some far more conventionally acoustic cuts flanked the Led Zep number, too. The top five was completed by Eric Clapton’s heartfelt fingerstyle number, Tears In Heaven and The Beatles’ fretboard-spanning chordal masterclass, Blackbird.

Visit Magazines Direct to pick up the latest issue of Total Guitar, which contains the full list of the greatest acoustic guitar songs of all time.

Prior to this poll, Total Guitar also sounded out your thoughts to find out what was the best guitar solo of the 21st century – and the winner was recorded more recently than you might think.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.