Top Ten Most Difficult Guitar Solos
Published on 17 November 2023
Every guitarist wants to be able to play incredible solos. There’s no point denying it, because we all know it’s a fact. Whether you are a Jimmy Page person, a Joe Satriani fan or a Tim Henson acolyte, getting serious with a flurry of faster-than-light notes is part of the goal for us all.
Some solos, though, are harder than others. Today, I’m going to separate the legends from the posers by listing the ten most ferociously difficult guitar solos ever performed. Even if you can play Eruption note for note, these ones are going to tax every guitar-playing skill in your soul!
Dare you try playing them? Well, that’s up to you, but before you decide, here’s my list - in no particular order - of the hardest guitar solos EVER!
- Flight of the Bumblebee - Jennifer Batten
- Guthrie Govan - Fives
- David Lee Roth - It’s Showtime! (Jason Becker)
- As I Am - Dream Theater (John Petrucci)
- Electric Sunrise - Plini
- Buckethead - Jordan HQ
- Within Destruction - Sakura (Jason Richardson)
- Head Cuttin’ Duel - Crossroads movie (Ry Cooder and Steve Vai)
- Far Beyond the Sun (Live with the Japanese Philharmonic orchestra) - Yngwie Malmsteen
- 1993 NAMM Show - Shawn Lane
Flight of the Bumblebee - Jennifer Batten
Not only is Jennifer Batten one of the most ferociously talented guitars ever, she also has a ton of personality in her playing. Despite this being faster than humanly possible, Batten’s cover of this classical piece is almost entirely performed with two-hand tapping, and the speed and precision is ridonkulous, never mind the attitude!
Guthrie Govan - Fives
So, without hyperbole, let’s just state it for the record: Guthrie Govan is one of the greatest players who has ever lived. Timing, taste, note choice, feel, tone, drama, imagination…he has it all.
And he can completely melt your face off too, as ably demonstrated in this run through of Fives, from his solo record Erotic Cakes. Give it a try yourself, for a laugh. Why not?
David Lee Roth - It’s Showtime! (Jason Becker)
David Lee Roth certainly attracted some talent in his time. And if it wasn’t terrifying enough to step into Eddie Van Halen’s shoes, imagine how insane it must’ve felt to step into both EVH and Steve Vai’s shoes!
Jason Becker is never given enough credit on a number of subjects, but his absolutely outstanding speed, precision and sense of fun in this particular song - an obvious nod to VH’s Hot for Teacher - firmly plants him at the top of the pantheon.
As I Am - Dream Theater (John Petrucci)
If you can listen to this solo without weeping pathetically, then you are one terrifying individual indeed. John Petrucci is rightfully famed for both his outrageous biceps and equally scandalous ability on the guitar. There are probably ten different solos that would fit in here, but this album opener from Train of Thought had me gasping when I first heard it.
Electric Sunrise - Plini
Calling Plini a ‘new generation guitar hero’ is a bit much since he’s been around for a while now, but he is definitely one of those game-changers who redrew the rulesheet that came before him.
Pioneering that particularly niche subgenre that is instrumental Djent, Plini creates music that’s both heavy and soft at the same time. What’s clear is his ability to throw out incredibly difficult pieces of music as if it’s the most casual thing in the world. Check out Electric Sunrise, with its tapping, time-signature changes and calling-card solo.
Jordan HQ - Buckethead
Guitar Hero fans, this tune may already be triggering you into feelings of anxiety! It was impossible in that game and the real-life situation isn’t any easier.
Buckethead is outrageously talented, even before he adds in things like precise kill-switch techniques to his riffs. Add to them some distinctly alien-sounding interludes and a solo that is just horrendously fast, and you have yourself a contender for one of the hardest guitar solos of all time.
Can’t play it? I’d say persevere, but on this occasion, you get points for just trying.
Sakura - Within Destruction (Jason Richardson)
In just 30 seconds, Jason Richardson will either motivate you towards greatness, or make you want to give up guitar playing forever. Check out how many daftly difficult techniques he writes into this particular face-melter, and then consider that it is still a melodic, well balanced piece of music. Not easy! In fact, absurdly hard!
Head Cuttin’ Duel - Crossroads Movie (Ry Cooder and Steve Vai)
Does this count as one solo? I’m gonna say yes, and my reasoning is this…
In the movie Crossroads, the Karate Kid kid is foolishly squaring off guitar-wise against Steve Vai, which is obviously a silly move, even if Mr Miyagi has your back. It’s a guitar battle to the death (not really) and we already know that Daniel-san will win because he’s the good guy. Since he can’t actually play guitar like that in real life, he just mimes it all, with none other than Ry Cooder supplying the bottleneck slide shrieks that impresses the denizens of the biker roadhouse venue they inevitably find themselves in for the finale.
That is, it’s Ry up to a point. As each player ups their ante, the film actually gets to a point where Ry Cooder couldn’t supply flashy enough playing (no disrespect to him), so the final back and forths between these two deadly enemies (not really) are actually all Vai. Since Vai is competing against himself, I’m going to be bold and say that this counts as a Steve Vai solo, and since it requires two people to play it, then it’s obviously supremely difficult, ergo it makes it onto this list!
Phew, glad you came with me on that one.
Far Beyond the Sun (Live with the Japanese Philharmonic orchestra) - Yngwie Malmsteen
For obnoxiously good old-school shred, look no further than our man Yngwie. So committed to the renaissance pomp of the archetypal ‘shred master’, Yng even wears frilly cuffs as he tears bolts of lightning from his Stratocaster in front of a full orchestra. His two heroes are Ritchie Blackmore and Panagini, and these two influences come together here in a piece of playing that is preposterously hard, not to mention timelessly wonderful. Unleash the fury!
1993 NAMM Show - Shawn Lane
Although it would be remiss to equate ‘most difficult’ to ‘fastest’, there’s still a fair correlation, isn’t there? Shawn Lane was one of those ‘guitar player’s guitar players’, who are highly revered in a small circle of guitar nerds. His playing was based around being diabolically fast, to the point that you just end up laughing at how preposterously superhuman it all is.
He may never have reached mass adulation in his lifetime, but his achievements on the guitar are still a yardstick by which other scary players (Rusty Cooley, Michael Angelo Batio) are measured.
This solo from the 1993 NAMM is perhaps the only time in history that Paul Gilbert, Reb Beach, Andy Timmons and Joe Satriani all got owned on stage at the same time.
Attempt to learn Shawn’s all you want. If you manage to get anywhere near an accurate rendition, do visit us in one of our stores and show us, will you?
Most Difficult Guitar Solos EVER
Now be honest with me: can you really nail any of the examples here? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a competition, so there’s no shame in admitting that these pieces are (currently) beyond you as a player. Hey, maybe they aren’t, and in that case I humbly bow and say ‘wow’ slowly to your face, but for everyone else, even using these solos as a springboard to improve your own playing is a good shout. You don’t have to nail them completely (though that is a most worthy challenge), but even grabbing a few licks to add to your bag of tricks is a good way to up your game.
And if you do attempt some of these pieces, remember: stretch well and take breaks!