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The Best Iconic and Most Influential Classic Rock Guitar Riffs Ever

Updated on February 19, 2013

The way to Rock!!


Following on from the Best guitar players ever, here are my top ten best guitar riffs ever. The riffs I have picked in this list are the most iconic riffs I can find or have heard. They are, in my opinion, the most influential or most powerful guitar pieces of recent history.

Radiohead - Creep

If only for the intro to the chorus, this riff is perhaps one of the strangest pieces of music ever to go mainstream. The song follows pretty normal conventions until the palm muted guitar leading into the chorus, which does not seem to follow the beat or the offbeat, until the chorus actually hits, then it all fits somehow. Masterful guitar work.

Metallica - Nothing Else Matters

This epic piece is all about the guitar part. The arpeggio and long soulful guitar solo are almost without compare. This song is a good one to show to those who believe Metallica and bands like them are not capable of beautiful melodies.

Black Sabbath - Paranoid

A piece that cannot be left out of any list of great guitar riffs in my humble opinion. The beginning of this song is so well known that I haven't actually met an electric guitarist who doesn't know how to play at least this part.

Deep Purple - Smoke On the Water

This riff has been used in countless adverts aimed at men between 18 and 40, simply because it oozes masculinity. Very powerful, yet simple guitar. Another one almost anyone could play, yet difficult to play well. The sheer power of the start is enough to make the hairs on the back of the neck of any muscle bound behemoth stand on end.

Guns 'n' Roses - Sweet Child of Mine

This piece is the first thing you will often hear drifting out of a guitar salesroom after those immortal words "can I try it?". A true guitarists guitar piece.

Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven

So overplayed was this riff, that it was actually spoofed in comedy rock film "waynes world", where a sign actually forbade the playing of the riff in a guitar shop. One of the most well known intros ever.

Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

Perhaps one of the longest songs ever recorded by a popular music artist, bohemian rhapsody has stood the test of time. The huge build up to the main guitar riff is what makes the riff stand out. Without the unbelievable production prior to the riff, it would probably not have been quite so spectacular, however, it is still one of the most famous riffs ever.

Motorhead - The Ace of Spades

The seventies produced a huge number of classic guitar riffs, however this riff can still be heard regularly on advertisements, in action films and montages etc around the world. A simple, driving riff that aims and succeeds in blasting its audience with loud, heavy rock.

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

This riff was heavily overplayed in the nineties. It has somehow lost some of its significance in recent years, however it is the defining riff of the grunge era. It is the antithesis of the majority of guitar styles in the years preceding it. It is simplicity and power and only has four chords, all of which are power chords.

The Beatles - Helter Skelter

Defined by some as "the original heavy metal riff". Heavy metal barely existed when the Beatles wrote this huge, powerful and iconic riff. Listening to it puts you in mind of most of the heavy metal bands of the last fifty years. A truly prescient riff.


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    • xxtonybxx profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from wales


    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I think this is a good collection! Thanks!

    • xxtonybxx profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from wales

      Tbh mate, I've not heard much genesis. Will have a listen though thanks :).

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great line up thanks for sharing

      btw what do you think of Steve Hackett and his time in Genesis I think he brought in quite a sound


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