Hardest Guitar Parts to Learn EVER

Published on 13 June 2024

17 minutes

The hardest guitar parts ever? You mean, like Eruption?

No, not really. Today, I’m not talking about shreddy solos (well, not entirely), I’m talking about guitar parts that make up the main bones of a song - the riffs and sections - that just happen to be scandalously difficult to play.

I’ve searched high and wide for the toughest parts and the most intimidating riffs that have ever bothered a guitar fingerboard. Drawing from a diverse range of genres and styles, I present to you twenty examples of guitar parts that were not written for us mere mortals to play. Can you play these? Any of them?

The Hardest Guitar Parts to Learn EVER at a Glance

 

Technical Difficulties - Racer X

When a band is called Racer X, they are hardly going to hit you with too many mellow country tunes. When said band calls a song ‘Technical Difficulties’, it’s a warning that you are entering hostile waters indeed. Nothing about this tune is what any player would consider ‘fine’ to get under their fingers, from Paul Gilbert’s stupendous speed to bassist Billy Sheehan’s dexterity. You’ll pull muscles in your fingers trying this one!

OD - Polyphia

I could’ve picked any Polyphia tune to put here, but I feel that OD brings together a good cross section of the type of playing that has put the band on the map. There are lots of notes for sure, but it’s the catchiness of the parts, along with the ever-evolving variations played by Scott LePage and Tim Henson that makes this one terrifying to consider learning. The fact that their guitars are only slightly distorted also means that there is nowhere to hide in terms of fluffed or missed notes!

Jambi - Tool

Tool’s music is complex for sure, but in guitar terms it isn’t often particularly difficult to get under one’s fingers.

That is, unless those fingers have to slip off the strings in order to sound secondary notes at quite precise timings. That’s when it gets hard! I admit to thinking that this tune was quite a simple ‘pull off’ affair, but it’s actually a pretty unique technique!

Physical Education - Animals as Leaders

Having Tosin Abasi on here was pretty much a given, right? The obvious song choice was CAFO, so instead I’ve opted for this equally tricky piece.

Physical Education highlights Abasi’s ‘Thump’ technique, which he originally got from bassist Victor Wooten. His playing here is mainly fingerstyle on an 8 string guitar, and it’s all about keeping the notes clean and the rhythm tight. As you listen to this song, it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s no bass player. Good luck!

Cliffs of Dover - Eric Johnson

It’s a firm favourite for fans of blistering technique, plus it’s a nice sounding piece that will impress your family and friends…if you can ever actually play it properly!

So much is said about Eric Johnson’s Captain Spock-like attention to detail when it comes to his sound, that it’s often easy to forget just how ferocious he is as a player. One or two licks from Cliffs of Dover will be easy enough for you, but it’s being able to play the piece in its entirety that separates the part-timers from the truly dedicated.

Nong Eye Gong - Dillinger Escape Plan

It’s only 76 seconds long: how much time will it really take to learn?

Yeah, just try counting the time signature changes for a start! This tune is brutal in more ways than one, and if you can even keep up with it - far less master it - then you’re doing better than most.

Master of Puppets - Metallica

Ok, so we all know that the main riff is an endurance test in terms of downwards-only picking, but how far have you taken the rest of the tune? It’s nearly 9 minutes long and is quite a labyrinth of riffs and parts. None of it is simple, and the bits where it does let up are only a few bars away from a complex solo! So yeah, well done for nailing the riff, but come back to me when you’ve smashed this one from start to finish, okay?

Fracture - King Crimson

Three things to know about this: the first is that the tab book for King Crimson’s Discipline trilogy (which doesn’t contain this song but I’m painting a picture here) has been referred to as ‘the Necronomicon of tab books’ thanks to the stiffness of difficulty level involved.

The second thing is that Robert Fripp - the very person who wrote and played these guitar parts - finds it almost impossible to play himself.

The third thing is that one guitarist who tried and failed to learn the piece (he spent 22 years on it) actually felt compelled to write an entire book about the ordeal: Failure to Fracture by Anthony Garone. So, all things added together, Fracture by King Crimson is one of the instrument’s ultimate challenges. The term is ‘moto perpetuo’. Good luck!

Mediterranean Sundance - John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia

When you take three of the greatest guitarists in the universe, put them in the same room with acoustic guitars and yell ‘Go!’, you should justifiably expect more than a cack-handed crash through Wonderwall.

Indeed, fireworks fly on the live album Friday Night in San Francisco, and any of the tracks from it would impress. But it’s the artistry and delivery that makes this performance special. It feels like a lot of the music is reactive and improvised, so it’s almost beside the point to recreate it note for note, but when you consider the wealth of styles and techniques firing off from these three - and on acoustic, don’t forget - then even learning snippets of this will be to your benefit.

If you can do it all, then you are frankly remarkable.

Angelina - Tommy Emmanuel

Whilst on the subject of acoustic greatness, it’s hard to see past Aussie wizard Tommy Emmanuel. Tommy always puts melody and composition above everything else, and in doing so, sometimes creates guitar parts that sound wonderful but are shockingly hard to pull off.

For example, try the harmonics in Angelina. They sound heavenly, but getting each one to sound nice and clean, particularly within the context of playing the rest of the song, is absolute water torture. Try it if you want, but don’t come crying to me afterwards, because you’ve been warned!

Neon - John Mayer

John Mayer has this thing where everything he plays sounds pretty easy until you try it for yourself. Neon is a popular example. Approximating is no good here: this blog is all about inhumanly hard guitar parts, so if you aren’t nailing Neon, then you’re in agreement that it is brick hard!

It seems like just another example of slick Mayer-ness, but try it out and you’ll hit the quicksand soon enough. You don’t even need to try singing the tune at the same time, as Mayer does.

Dammit, John!

This Charming Man - The Smiths

Ah, you’re smirking at this one, aren’t you? How can indie legend Johnny Marr be on the same list as Petrucci and Abasi?

Well, my friend, I invite you to have a good long stab at this song and see how you fare. No, not just the tricksy intro: get from the start to the end of the song without making any mistakes. Try it! I’ll wait.

Exactly, it’s waaaay more difficult than your ears (and your prejudices) would have you believe. It’s the inventive non-linearity that makes this one extremely tricky, proving that the old maxim ‘if you can hum it, you can play it’ isn’t always true.

Bleed - Meshuggah

Endurance. That is the word I would use to sum up the terrifying prospect of playing this 8 minute behemoth. Everything about this song is deceptive from a playing point of view: it’s a single note bent up a semitone, but it’s played on two strings; it’s in Eb (mostly) but you need an extended range guitar for it; it requires almost nothing from your left hand but everything from your right.

Have you tried this song? Give it a go at the speed Meshuggah plays it at, and see how long it is before you drift out of time. Your right arm will cramp up and you will give in, throwing your pick on the ground and swearing at your guitar, just like the rest of us.

The Ultimatum - Jeff Loomis

Jeff Loomis has had a number of high-profile gigs including Arch Enemy, but it’s only on his solo material that he gets the room to truly show us what he’s made of.

And what he’s made of is solid steel. You can’t even be a very good guitarist and pull this one off: you need to be quite exceptional. Starting with some very cool harmonised ‘symphonic’ parts, this tune quickly throws lethal arpeggios at you, followed by fast melodies and then chunky riffing. If it’s a handful to play, at least the distinct sections are easy to chop into small chunks and learn.

If only it were that easy!

Big Love (Live Acoustic) - Lindsey Buckingham

This acoustic version of the Fleetwood Mac song shows off Lindsey Buckingham’s staggering chops on the guitar as well as his awesome vocals. Check out that Travis picking! Marvel at the consistency! Now, try it for yourself and quickly appreciate his right hand stamina! That’s all before factoring in those vocals. Respect!

Breaking All Illusions - Dream Theater

It’s no secret that we all love John Petrucci here at guitarguitar: he’s an indecently nice man and a supernaturally gifted musician. But none of that gives him the right to punish us with 12 and a half minute epics that have multiple time signatures and more twists than a Dan Brown ‘thriller’.

I could, of course, be referring to any number of Dream Theater songs, but since Breaking All Illusions begins with a pretty preposterous piece of playing - and doesn’t let up for several minutes -  it’s getting my vote today.

Grand Ouverture, Op. 61 - Mauro Giuliani

There hasn’t been too much of a focus on classical guitar here so far, which is a little remiss because that is one of the most demanding genres of music to play on the guitar.

This particular piece will reduce you to a blubbering wreck when you try to master it, and all the more if you haven’t any nails. Honestly, this is impossible without a good set of manicured digits, as well as superhuman talent, naturally.

Perpetual Burn - Jason Becker

An inspiring figure of hope and triumph he undoubtedly is, but Jason Becker’s music is absurdly difficult to play. Whilst there are a few cover videos of Perpetual Burn on YouTube, these are pretty impressive badges of honour, since by no means can most folk play this stuff.

Give it a minute in your ears and see if you even want to consider attempting it.

Awakening - Ichika Nito

Melody, accompaniment, taste…this piece has it all. Bedroom guitarist Ichika Nito has earned himself a signature Ibanez and is now performing live all over the world. This is all good news, given his prodigious talent: he has astounding technique, but it is all in the service of the song’s melody and harmony.

Blissful as his music may be, you can file it under ‘H’ for Horrendous in terms of learning and mastering it. Both hands on the fingerboard, shifting points of focus, grace notes that spawn their own melodies…it’s next level stuff here!

Michael Angelo Batio - No Boundaries

Ol’ MAB is of course the guy with the quadruple-necked guitar and the shreddiest of techniques. I love his consistency and commitment to his ‘more is more’ approach, and feel that his inclusion here is necessary.

That said, I did end up choosing a track that is at least playable on a standard electric guitar, should you so wish to try! Bario throws in every trick in the book here: it’s like olympic training for guitarists! And it’s totally valid here because it’s a song, not a big long guitar solo. Just.

Hardest Tunes EVER

So, how many of those are you comfortably able to play?

Yeah, me neither. It’s easy to forget that ripping out a fast solo is by no means the same thing as playing complex music in its entirety. This blog has hopefully demonstrated that blistering technique can aid you, but it’s not the be all and and all when it comes to performing difficult music.

What’s required? I suppose discipline and patience are significant factors, but I might also add intention: without appropriate intention, will you be able to find the reserves of patience and dedication required to successfully learn these pieces?

Whatever you choose to play, good luck and have fun!

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Ray

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I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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