Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, David Gilmour. What do these guitar gods have all in common? Yep, they played some of rock music’s most mind-numbing guitar solos ever recorded.
There’s something fascinating about guitar solos, whether you are a virtuoso who tries his hand on one, or just a broom-swinging or air-guitar-practitioning fan who loves some epic face-melting guitar eargasm.
Go try searching for the greatest solos of all time and you will get lists of guitar deities with their legendary entries. Jimi, Duane, and David are just three of the most familiar names on those lists.
But, it’s so hard to find the most prolonged guitar solos in classic rock. Like, there’s no definitive list yet? What about now? Here’s an attempt at finding the longest solos ever recorded.
Of course, these solos were part of a song of any classic rock band, not the world record solos created for the sake of holding one. Yeah, I’m looking at you David Didonato, and your inhuman near-25-hour guitar solo.
These guitar solos are not great included because of their length, but also for their enduring legacy and impact on music history.
Rock Music’s Forgotten Hero: the First Electric Guitar Soloist
But first, how did we even come up with guitar solos?
There was a time when people first heard an electric guitar weep and do its magic, they first thought of a weirdly-toned saxophone. It wasn’t really a surprise though; the instrument’s first genius handler wanted it to sound like one.
That’s how Charlie Christian made an enduring mark very few people know about.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the guitar was not yet considered a dominant solo instrument in popular music. It was primarily used as a rhythm instrument, providing chords and support for the melody. However, Christian’s innovative playing style and technical prowess changed this perception.
Christian first gained recognition as a member of Benny Goodman’s band in the late 1930s. He was one of the first guitarists to incorporate the electric guitar into jazz music, using an amplified Gibson ES-150. This allowed his guitar to be heard clearly over the other instruments, marking a significant departure from the traditional acoustic guitar sound.
While Christian himself was primarily known as a jazz guitarist, Christian’s influence transcended genres and played a significant role in shaping the development of rock music.
Christian’s innovative use of the electric guitar, his melodic improvisation, and his rhythmic approach directly influenced many early rock guitarists. His mastery of single-note lines, rapid runs, and bluesy bends laid the foundation for the guitar as a lead instrument in rock music.
Christian’s innovative style of playing, which blended blues, swing, and bebop—powered by his mastery of single-note lines, rapid runs, and bluesy bends provided a blueprint for the fusion of different musical genres that became a hallmark of rock music. Rock guitarists in the 1950s and 1960s drew inspiration from Christian’s melodic sensibilities, incorporating his techniques and ideas into their own playing.
The finger-play evolved as more guitarists found the beauty of having the guitar lead the song.
Many iconic rock guitarists, such as Chuck Berry (who himself was a rock pioneer), Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page, have acknowledged Charlie Christian’s influence on their playing. They built upon his ideas, expanded the boundaries of rock guitar, and further popularized the instrument as a centerpiece of rock music.
Otherworldly Guitarists Channeling Otherworldy Music: What Makes a Great Guitar Solo?
A great guitar solo is one of music’s most mesmerizing moments, a frame of time that has the power to captivate listeners and leave an indelible mark on their hearts. But what truly sets apart a great guitar solo from the rest?
There are a lot of elements that act as a recipe for a guitar solo’s enduring magic. One is the piece’s storytelling—a melodic journey if you will.
At the heart of a remarkable guitar solo lies a captivating melody. It weaves through the musical landscape, telling a story, and evoking emotions. A great solo carries a memorable melody that resonates with the listener long after the song has ended.
Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is an ace in this regard. He used his expressive bends, sustain, and emotive phrasing to conjure melodic and atmospheric solos.
Innovation and uniqueness are also a pair of important elements that make up a great guitar solo. Unleashing creativity and originality take a guitar solo to unparalleled heights.
Jimi Hendrix often takes his listeners to a different musical stratosphere using his unique style of approaching any piece his fingers land on. Hence he’s widely known as one of the most inventive rock guitarists.
The third element to look out for is technical wizardry, and this is undoubtedly one of the easiest to experience. Any popular rock band worth its salt is equipped with technical skills that separate them from the rest.
Technical prowess is undoubtedly impressive, but it’s the purposeful and tasteful application of those skills that elevates a guitar solo. A balance between speed, accuracy, and musicality creates a harmonious blend, showcasing the guitarist’s abilities without overshadowing the music’s essence.
Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Joe Satriani are among the few who mastered the technicalities of the guitar. They carved a name for themselves that remained steadfast even with the advent of new generations of guitarists.
Lastly, a great guitar solo is just a guitar solo without a soulful connection. As one of music’s oft-used conduits for emotions, guitar solos connect the listener’s heart to the artist’s soul. Bending, vibrato, and slides infuse the solo with an expressive touch, leaving an everlasting impression that stirs the depths of one’s being.
An exceptional solo breaks the mold, exploring uncharted territory through innovative note choices, unconventional phrasing, or fresh techniques. It’s the moment that shines with a distinct identity.
The following are some of the greatest guitar solos that transport you to another realm, where the power of music reigns supreme. Most, if not all, were recorded and released as they were, retaining the original length of their solos.
Not included are live versions, which more often than not, are much different from the original versions the guitarists initially intended. Unless, of course, the first recording were the live version itself, just like some of the entries on the list.
Top 10 Longest Individual Guitar Solos in Classic Rock
You’re in for some eargasmic journey. Here are the longest of the most memorable and enduring individual guitar solos in classic rock.
Duane Allman in “Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers Band – Approximately 3 minutes and 23 seconds
“Whipping Post” is a beast of a guitar solo. But its final form—its live incarnation on At Fillmore East which lasted for 23 minutes— will be forever remembered as one of the songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll.
From the composition down to the story the song embodies, “Whipping Post” is influential in the development of Southern rock and jam band genres. Its raw energy and emotional intensity served as a blueprint for many subsequent Southern rock and jam bands, inspiring them to incorporate extended jams and exploration into their own music.
The twin guitar harmonies of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts created a mesmerizing and intricate tapestry of sound. This magical fusion of blues, rock, and soul became the signature sound of the Allman Brothers Band.
The raw and honest lyrics about loneliness and longing, combined with the impassioned vocal delivery by Gregg Allman, struck a chord with audiences. “Whipping Post” has endured and survived generations of country music, making it an important and influential piece of rock music history.
Peter Frampton in “Do You Feel Like We Do” – Approximately 3 minutes and 1 second
This is the song that made Peter Frampton a household name. What started as a six-minute song released in 1973 on his second album has become a fan favorite that Frampton refined over and over again into its famous 14-minute live rendition.
“Do You Feel Like We Do”’s infectious and catchy melody makes it instantly recognizable and memorable. Frampton’s distinctive vocals, the song’s upbeat rhythm, and the phenomenal use of a talk box created a captivating and enjoyable listening experience.
And let’s not even talk about Frampton’s improvisation and exceptional guitar skills, as he kept extending the instrumental sections of the song as he pleased.
“Do You Feel Like We Do”, along with two other songs “Show Me The Way” (which also featured a talkbox) and “Baby I Love Your Way”, powered the live album Frampton Comes Alive, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time and propelling Frampton to stardom.
Jimmy Page in “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin – Approximately 3 minutes
It’s about time you stop worshipping “Stairway to Heaven”’s guitar solo and turn your ears to other Led Zeppelin songs, particularly this uber-underrated gem.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is one of Led Zep’s most ambitious take on blues, and one of their finest compositions. Recorded live without any effects pedals and little to no overdubbing, making it very hard to record, was a perfect amalgamation of John Paul Jones’ intricate bass lines, John Bonham’s thunderous drumming, Robert Plant’s impassioned soaring vocals, and, of course, Jimmy Page’s stellar fingerwork and blistering solo.
The languid rhythm deceptively lulls the listener, unknowingly making them indulge in a cocktail of a song that blends elements of blues, rock, and soul, creating a sound that was groundbreaking for its time.
The song’s importance lies in its enduring popularity and impact on Led Zeppelin’s legacy. The live performances of Since I’ve Been Loving You”, in particular, allowed the band to showcase their improvisational skills and stretch the boundaries of their musicianship, solidifying their reputation as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
Jimi Hendrix in “Machine Gun” – Approximately 2 minutes and 35 seconds
In any list of top 10 guitar solos, Jimi’s name will never be absent. Unless you compile the worst ones. But why would anyone waste time with that? When you can just let ‘The Bat’ assault your ears.
Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” is widely regarded as a masterpiece due to its groundbreaking qualities. The song is an intense and emotionally charged sonic experience, with Hendrix’s passionate and expressive playing drawing listeners in.
His use of bends, slides, and other techniques, combined with his distinctive tone and mastery of effects, creates a unique and captivating sound that pushes the boundaries of what the guitar can do.
That’s why it’s often regarded by many as Hendrix’s best recording. “Machine Gun” has solidified Hendrix’s status as one of the greatest guitarists of all time and cements the song’s place as a timeless and powerful piece of musical artistry.
Carlos Santana in “Soul Sacrifice” by Santana – Approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds
Carlos Santana might or might not have sacrificed his soul, but if you can be as good as him, some help from the supernatural might be worth it, right? Right?
Whatever ritual Santana did before climbing the stages of the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival, it succeeded. Their divine rendition of “Soul Sacrifice” catapulted them from being a relatively unknown band to international stardom.
And they achieved the feat using pure soul-stirring music, minus the lyrics. Subduing an infamously non-sober Woodstock crowd with this magical track, minus the superstar fanfare, is without a doubt a powerful announcement of not just Santana’s existence, but also of the richly distinct Latino rock.
And this isn’t just Carlo Santana’s guitar solos reigning over the stage; the percussion section also let their power known. The marriage of the sonic elements onstage flowed down a groovy path and infected the crowd below. Santana were already kings by the time they stepped out of the stage.
In a festival known for its iconic lineup and the historic performances that helped enshrine rock deities, earning yourself a defining moment amidst such memorable chaos was enough for Santana to be introduced to a wider audience and claim their place in rock history.
Tom Verlaine in “Marquee Moon” by Television – Approximately 2 minutes and 15 seconds
Tom Verlaine’s outfit of punk rockstars opted for a jazz-inspired stripped-down style of punk improvisation. This segue from the usual reckless punk style helped invent post-punk at the height of the punk movement, while also inadvertently giving birth to alternative rock.
The title track in Television’s debut album was a legendary feat between two equally-skilled guitarists: Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. The intertwining guitar lines of this genius duo, filled with jangly arpeggios, angular riffs, and unexpected chord progressions, create a distinct and mesmerizing sound.
The extended guitar solos, marked by their controlled intensity and expressive phrasing, showcase a level of musicianship that pushed the boundaries of what was expected in punk and rock music at the time.
“Marquee Moon” was the love child of artistic experimentation and musical exploration of the 970s New York punk scene. Grafting art and clean techniques onto punk, while seemingly sacrilegious for punk purists, worked and Television pioneered a new era of rock.
David Gilmour in “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd – Approximately 2 minutes and 11 seconds
It feels so wrong to create a list of great guitar solos without seeing David Gilmour. Thank the rock gods there were a bunch of lengthy solos from Gilmour, and his best one graced our list.
“Comfortably Numb” is one of the most popular Pink Floyd songs ever made. It’s nearly everybody’s go-to answer to the greatest guitar solo query. Of course, boasting two solos by Gilmour certainly helps.
The second solo of the track was one for the ages. Gilmour’s haunting storytelling portrayed by his guitar went well with Roger Waters’ poignant lyrics that took listeners on a harrowing journey of emotional detachment.
“Comfortably Numb” is influential for its contribution to the progressive rock genre. The guitar solos, particularly the iconic dual solo in the song’s climactic section, demonstrated why Pink Floyd one of the greatest and most influential rock bands in history, and “Comfortably Numb” remains a pinnacle of their artistic achievements.
Slash in “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses – Approximately 2 minutes
One of the crass and loudest bands of the 80s and 90s was seemingly inspired by the crazy success of their “Sweet Child o’ Mine” that they decided to put on some serious romance vibes and amped everything up a notch.
And the result was one of the 90s most enduring classic power ballads—the epic 9-minute love symphony “November Rain”. Apart from the song being such a beloved classic created by a band known for their appetite for destruction (*wink wink*), its inclusion in the list is also an homage to Slash.
This ambitious tease to their female listening population won’t be a GnR track without a sprinkle of Slash’s soaring guitar solo. Slash’s distinct style and technical prowess have inspired countless aspiring guitarists and contributed to the continued popularity of the song.
This led to a trend of copycats also grabbing themselves some of the hard rock/soft melody goodness. That’s probably one of the reasons why the 90s romance was as sappy as the schmaltzy chick flicks it gave birth to.
But, of course, it’s a Slash guitar solo. On a desert in front of a tiny church in the middle of nowhere. It’s gotta be here.
Mark Knopfler in “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits – Approximately 2 minutes
Ah, that iconic fingerstyle intro followed by Mark Knopfler’s rambling baritone voice. The story about some jazz band performing in a near-empty South London pub was how Knopfler’s Dire Straits barged into the music scene.
But, unlike the tempo of “Sultans of Swing”, it wasn’t really a quick rise to success. Dire Straits starting career wasn’t much different from the funky band in the story, as they were in dire straits themselves as well (heh), hopping from gig to gig hoping to land a big concert or tour.
More than half a year later, it finally happened. Their self-titled album finally earned a spot in the US charts, echoing back to the UK as it started to climb up. And the rest was history; the “Sultans” finally ‘made the scene’.
But it wasn’t just the remarkable story and the mesmerizing fingerstyle that made the song iconic. Knopfler’s solos in “Sultans of Swing” made him one of the rock’s greatest musicians.
The enthralling solos Knopfler employed throughout the song made it seem as if the Sultans themselves jumped out and played their heart out in front of the empty bar. The fingerstyle and the freewheeling broken chords took the song to another level, from being an honest talk-singing track to a seminal rock song that remained a classic rock radio staple to this day.
Neil Young in “Cortez the Killer” – Approximately 2 minutes
Neil Young’s haunting tale of a song about the Spanish conquistador who orchestrated the downfall of Aztecs rounds up this amazing list.
The cynical guitar deity penned and performed the somber album the song was part of, Zuma while going through a bad breakup with then-girlfriend and mother of his first child, Carrie Snodgress. Hence the record’s depressing atmosphere and the heart-rending first-person last verse calling out to an unnamed woman, “And I know she’s living there. And she loves me to this day. ”
While “Cortez the Killer” may not have had a direct influence on specific musical genres or styles, its impact lies in its artistic and poetic expression, which has inspired musicians and listeners alike to delve into introspection and explore meaningful storytelling through music.
The song’s blend of folk, rock, and psychedelic elements and the gloomy hue of despair hanging over the track creates a captivating and immersive musical experience. Young’s emotive vocals and powerful guitar solos, filled with raw emotion and intricate melodies, have had a lasting impact on fans who unwittingly stumbled upon Zuma.
“Hotel California” by Eagles (Approximately 1 minute and 51 seconds): The dual guitar solo in “Hotel California” features both Don Felder and Joe Walsh, combining their talents to create an iconic and memorable moment in the song.
“Eruption” by Van Halen (Approximately 1 minute and 42 seconds): While relatively short in duration, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo in “Eruption” is legendary in its impact and influence on future generations of guitarists. It is regarded as one of the most iconic solos in rock history.
“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (Approximately 1 minute and 41 seconds): The dual guitar solo in “Free Bird” is a staple of classic rock, with Allen Collins and Gary Rossington delivering a powerful and melodic display of guitar work.
“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin (Approximately 1 minute and 24 seconds): Jimmy Page’s guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven” is an iconic moment in rock music, known for its intricate and evocative playing.
“All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix (Approximately 1 minute and 21 seconds): Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in his rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” is a prime example of his ability to make the guitar sing and wail with passion and intensity.
Legacy Beyond the Fretboard
Guitarists like Hendrix, Page, Clapton, David Gilmour, and more pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved on the instrument, and their extended solos became a staple of classic rock songs. These solos served as a platform for the guitarists to demonstrate their technical skills, experiment with different sounds and effects, and express their emotions through music.
These solos, often showcasing technical virtuosity and expressive improvisation, have become iconic moments in rock history and continue to resonate with audiences across generations. These framed moments in music history left lasting impacts that reverberate loudly up until now.
Guitar solos are more than just a vehicle for emotional expression within classic rock music. It’s the current generation’s ticket to a rich musical experience that the current rock scene won’t probably ever replicate.