For acoustic and electric guitar players alike, learning to play solos is an exciting experience. Whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate guitarist, or an advanced player, there’s a solo out there to learn. Here a few great ones.
The Top Guitar Solos for Every Level of Guitarist
Nirvana — “The Man Who Sold the World” (Beginner)
This solo is relatively simple, and it’s a good one to start with. “The Man Who Sold the World” is actually a David Bowie song, but Nirvana’s cover (and especially their acoustic version, as shown in this video) became very popular.
The solo for this song is based on the picked acoustic riff featured throughout the song. If you’ve recent learned how to play a vibrato by string bending, this is a great solo to practice it on. You’ll also get to practice sliding down the neck and back up again.
If you want to play it like Kurt did on MTV Unplugged, you’ll need to tune your guitar a half-step down. Instead of E, A, D, G, B, E, the tuning would be E flat, A flat, D flat, G flat, B flat, E flat. Check out the tabs if you’re ready to learn it!
The Beatles — “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (Beginner)
This tune offers one of the more accessible acoustic guitar solos by just a little-known band hailing from Liverpool in the UK. No one could have predicted quite how popular the band would eventually be – shaping as they did the whole of the popular culture pantheon in their wake – though by the release of Help! they sure had a rampant following, even going so far as to appear on various American performance programs like the Ed Sullivan Show.
This acoustic guitar solo should present no difficulty to a beginner guitarist. One of many examples of an early Beatles’ acoustic song where they crack out the acoustic guitars and show songwriting what’s what, this acoustic solo might seem a little more difficult than it is because it is played on a 12-string guitar, thus doubling up each of the notes – but fear not!
Jeff Buckley — “Hallelujah” (Beginner)
My favorite part about this song is how often the lyrics have been changed and brought to mean something else. Leonard Cohen did this to devastating effect whenever he performed the song, editing and moving around the lyrics to fit his own whims on the day of performing.
Jeff Buckley took the reins and delivered a crushingly depressing take on the tune that has been adorned on the bedroom wall of edgy psyches forever more. Though this is not one of the best acoustic guitar solos, the arpeggiation on display here is a must for anyone learning to play guitar, for this is a technique that is exhibited when playing guitar all the time.
The Beatles — “And I Love Her” (Beginner)
Another offering from the so-called ‘Fab Four’ comes on the album one or two after Help!, the Hard Day’s Night album that was released alongside the theatrical release of the film of the same name. Those who have already seen the film will know that this song, and many of the others from this album, have a main feature in the flick, where the band performs the tune during a soundcheck-like moment.
Much as with the previous Beatles tune, this is relatively straightforward, perhaps even more so here because the solo is not a solo as much as it is simply a reiteration of the vocal melody in the song.
I suppose no one could have known how necessary it was to hear that vocal melody on a classical guitar until it happened, for the timbre of it offers a solemn admittance of affection that is not at odds with the kind of macho gaze that plenty of their early songs attempt to convey.
Nirvana — “About A Girl (MTV Unplugged)” (Beginner)
Kurt Cobain was actually a humungous fan of the Beatles; they were his first noteworthy musical obsession. This aspect of his musical tastes is revealed like a naked truth throughout their MTV Unplugged session; you really begin to see that beneath all the screeching and animal lust, there are real songs here with feelings that were born deep within his soul.
As with many other solos by Cobain, this one is incredibly rudimentary, though this simplicity might be said to belie just how emotionally stirring it can be. His playing is at once thuggish and tender, the very actualization of the quietly strained expression he seems to exhibit throughout the session.
The Beatles — “Michelle” (Beginner)
Yet another offering from those little-known legends from Liverpool; if the others here arrayed were not enough to convince you of their inherent power to convert the most basic songwriting elements into certified classics.
McCartney himself said:
“Michelle” was a tune that I’d written in Chet Atkins’ finger-picking style. There is a song he did called “Trambone” with a repetitive top line, and he played a bass line while playing a melody. This was an innovation for us; even though classical guitarists had played it, no rock ‘n’ roll guitarists had played it. The first person we knew to use finger-picking style was Chet Atkins … I never learned it. But based on Atkins’ “Trambone”, I wanted to write something with a melody and a bass line in it, so I did. I just had it as an instrumental in C.
As with one of the other Beatles offerings on this list, the solo here is mainly a reiteration of the vocal melody that features throughout the rest of the song. Likewise, though, this melody allows us to view the song from a different perspective. We take a step back from the claustrophobic single perspective of the narrator and are able to hear those affections ring out into nothing, as though they are awarded no reply from the object of their affections.
Or perhaps, the solo itself is the reply, echoing the sentiments of the narrator but lacking in the language to say it?
Metallica — “Fade to Black” (Beginner)
Metallica certainly is not the first band that comes to mind when I am drawn to thinking of acoustic guitar solos, but here they exhibit a more tender side to them. This is only one of several moments like this throughout their discography, where raw musical progression and tender artistic contemplation are brought together to create something quite unlike their usual ‘metallic’ direction.
The song “One”, for example, uses many elements that might be more commonly attributed to progressive rock songs, including a longer song length and an unfurling sense of harmony and structure. Metallica does have it in them to push things forward in this way.
And this song is no exception. The fast solos and distortion are traded out here for resonant and chiming guitars that bring new meaning to the word ductile. The solo here is barely even a solo, but rather an instrumental break that reinstates the chords with very brief but tasteful articulations and trills. Rock on!
Grateful Dead — “Ripple” (Beginner)
This rock band has had its place cemented among the annals of rock and roll history; they have a long and storied history riddled with bootlegs and studio albums alike. This tune, however, comes from one of their original incarnations in the 1960s when they were exemplars of the contemporaneous hippie flower-power movement. And, though it is one of their earlier works, it is no less powerful for it, having stood the test of time and represented plenty of what that movement meant to say without even saying it.
The guitar work is incredibly light and delicate compared to their later music, where the guitar became less of an instrument and more of a soap-box for the throaty vocal cords of the world seeking help and assistance.
Some might not even consider this a solo, and that is fine with me, for it is no less an important part of the song no matter how you refer to it.
Bob Marley — “Redemption Song” (Intermediate)
What more needs to be said about the already cataloged history of arguably the most influential (and easily the most famous) reggae artist of all time? It is a pity that many of his oft-universal themes and messages of love throughout the world, peace and harmony among all, are oft doused in cannabis smoke; that his legacy has, in some cases, been reduced to an icon of his face on a grinder for ganja or on a lighter. Surely he means more than this?
Whatever the current climate, this song was released just after Marley had heard the news that he had cancer, two years before it would eventually claim his life. He repurposed lyrics from pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, particular those transcribed from a speech he gave in October 1937:
‘We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind.’
The song is noteworthy among Marley’s discography as being exclusively an acoustic ballad without any hint of reggae style or rhythm.
James Henke said: ‘With Bob accompanying himself on Guitar, “Redemption Song” was unlike anything he had ever recorded: an acoustic ballad, without any hint of reggae rhythm. In message and sound it recalled Bob Dylan. Biographer Timothy White called it an ‘acoustic spiritual’ and another biographer, Stephen Davis, pointed out the song was a ‘total departure’, a deeply personal verse sung to the bright-sounding acoustic strumming of Bob’s Ovation Adamas guitar.’
Eric Clapton — “Layla” (Intermediate)
This solo from one of Clapton’s better-known songs is a great way to test and refine some of the most important guitar techniques. You’ll use hammer-ons, pull-offs, and of course, some soulful string bends. It’s commonly played on an electric guitar, but it’s a great solo to learn for an acoustic guitar, too. This video shows you the acoustic version.
The “Layla” solo starts out fairly easy, but it gets more challenging as it goes. It’s a good idea to learn it piece by piece. Make sure to master it slowly at first — speed will come as a by-product of good technique. This video shows you the tabs and offers a great close-up view of an example solo.
Oasis — “Live Forever” (Intermediate)
Though they are a rather British phenomenon, many outside this national context will no doubt already be aware of the existence of Oasis, even if only due to the rather factional rivalry between themselves and the contemporaneous Britpop band Blur.
The band has, for many reasons, garnered quite a reputation as wreck heads, though this song does exhibit a side of them and the lead singer Liam Gallagher that is almost reminiscent of the raw spirit of childish wonder so often lost to the mundane and grey of modern adult life.
The guitar solo here is not too difficult, though the use of bending might be new to some. In fact, attempting to mimic the bending of another guitarist is pretty difficult at first and is, thus, a vital step towards guitar mastery, being able to map your own pitch against someone else’s.
Pink Floyd — “Wish You Were Here” (Intermediate)
In much the same way, this tune by Pink Floyd requires you to learn precisely the phrasing of another guitarist and play it as though it is your own. The soloist here, David Gilmour, is particularly praised for his phrasing; this aspect is what often separates him from other guitarists doing similar things in similar genres.
Thus, you might find it a little difficult to keep up with the various turns of phrase his solo takes here, for they are, after all, extremely personal to him. If you were to play this solo as he actually did, singing along to each of the notes while simultaneously playing them, then this would no doubt be a more advanced tune, making use of several of the mind’s faculties at once.
Bon Jovi – “Wanted Dead Or Alive” (Intermediate)
Famously paying homage to heroes of the old west – both fictionalized and real – we have here exemplified plenty of the things that were wrong with the old outlook of so-called rock and roll legends. Jon himself once said he was inspired to write the song one morning on the road when he could not sleep, stating that the ‘lifestyle of every rock band’ was similar to that of outlaws in that each was ‘a young band thieves, riding into town, stealing the money, the girls, and the booze before the sun came up’.
Thankfully, this kind of grand rock and roll mirage has died a miserable death and will perish once the classic generation of rock idols come to turn to dust. This song and the guitar solo housed within is a pretty good representation of this kind of simple-minded outlook. The guitar uses several strings at once to get its message across, though this is an illusion as many of them are just playing open strings.
Fleetwood Mac — “Landslide” (Intermediate)
Fleetwood Mac is a band that has been highly relevant artists for several decades of its tenure. An early highlight for me is the serene “Albatross”, featuring some of the most tender slide guitar you are ever likely to hear, its calls being answered far off into the distance by its fellow compatriots.
This tune is, however, one of their later hits, a song that eschews rock music and the electric guitar solo but that still exhibits some adept guitar playing. This really is a fantastic acoustic solo covering a whole breadth of emotions exhibited in the lyrics of the song, where heartbreak melts away to a realization of how good life could be without the other.
Kansas — “Dust in the Wind” (Intermediate)
And here we have another band with the gall to name themselves after a place, though this time they feel it necessary to brand themselves with an entire state! Some nerve! Still, it would be way worse if there were a band called the United States of America – hang on a second, there is!
While the United States of America was an incredibly forward-thinking and experimental pop group from the 1960s, Kansas has suitably demoted that kind of experimentation down considerably over the decade between the prime of the former and the latter. Here, instead, we have a light soft rock dully articulated with flailing arpeggios.
There is not much of a solo here to talk of really unless one counts the arpeggiation of chords repeatedly as a solo. I suppose this comes down precisely to the definition of a ‘solo’, something that I am a little miffed that we have not already discussed.
Etymologically speaking, a solo of any kind would surely mean something playing on its own without accompaniment, right? Yet, the solo has simply come to mean that the instrument soloing is the only one playing anything notable, or rather that all the other instruments are backing up the soloist.
A true solo would be next to impossible if we take into account John Cage’s philosophy of music as exhibited in his landmark experimental piece “4’33”. In this piece, essentially nothing happens, the instrumentalist fidgeting and adjusting the score and readjusting their seat height for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.
Rather than simply being annoying, this is instead intended to make us draw attention to all of the sounds around us, to consider as music all of the diegetic sounds surrounding us that we usually take for granted.
Scorpions — ‘Born To Touch Your Feelings” (Intermediate)
Scorpions will no doubt be more familiar to the listening public as the writers of ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’, an 80s rock jam that is as much of an empty husk as the stadiums it is intended to fill. And yet, they had a past before these kinds of big hits, operating in the 70s and writing some pretty miserable and depressing acoustic guitar ballads.
Seriously try and find something that is more mind-numbingly depressing to the point where it turns you laconically clonic. This kind of music really gets under my skin, the kind that pulses to you beneath the constant hum of tires on tarmac, eyes trained through the condensation on your window, and the lyrics barely audible over the sound of mom and dad fighting yet again.
Still, there are some tender moments, and they tend to come in the form of guitar passages that break up the grey clouds of song overhead. Here, the guitar is a 12-string fed through a surprisingly tasteful amount of chorus effect, to the point where the guitar begins to sound like it is walking on water toward you.
Eagles — “Hotel California” (Advanced)
This song is undoubtedly a classic, and part of its lasting acclaim is thanks to its impressive solo. That solo can be played acoustically or electrically — check out this video of an unplugged version. Part of what makes it challenging is the fact that it switches between several different scales.
Knowing your scales and modes can help you better understand how all of the notes work together, but switching between them can be tough even for advanced guitarists.
Like the “Layla” solo, this one will also test your ability to use different techniques. There’s plenty of string bending, sliding, and vibrato involved. And like most complex solos, breaking this one up makes it a lot easier to learn. This video breaks it into manageable parts and includes a helpful tab.
Chicago — “If You Leave Me Now” (Advanced)
It takes some gall to name a band after a whole city – you best really be an analog of that city in musical form, or else! Unless Chicago is a reanimated soft rock corpse, then I doubt they did a very good job, but thankfully this song was sampled by one of my favorite earnest electronic groups from the UK, Lemon Jelly.
Contrary to the very pillowy soft rock exhibited throughout the rest of the song, the solo itself is rather tangential, and, though the individual elements of the solo might not warrant it being so advanced, the fact that it is so tangential and does not seem to go where you expect makes it a little more difficult to play from memory than some of the other solos on this list.
The Beatles — “Blackbird” (Advanced)
Yet another on this list from the Beatles, this one comes considerably later in their 7-year career. This is one of the more famous tunes from their self-titled album, later known as The White Album.
By this point, the band was clearly forging their own separate ways toward things, often not seeing eye to eye. This was evident in the way that they all would arrive at the studio in separate cars from their separate lives that they were now trying to build. Once there, they would typically be working in separate studios within the studio on separate songs, typically coming together to add parts to songs that each had written mostly on their own.
This is made clear in the iconography within the album itself. Before, all the images on the previous covers would have featured George, John, Paul, and Ringo standing together, posing for the camera. Now, you simply see four separate square tiles grouped together; four separate photographs of the members brought together with the magic of photography, much as the magic of the recording studio was unifying a now dysfunctional and tumultuous band with fraught interpersonal relations.
Tommy Emmanuel — “Classical Gas” (Pro)
This is some really advanced stuff, so much so that we had to call it pro! If you have any interest in acoustic guitar musicianship and prowess, then Tommy Emmanuel should be no stranger to you.
He has long been one of the leading fingerstyle acoustic guitar celebrities, often simply touring as a one-man band. The man packs out rooms, which might seem a little hard to comprehend but it is precisely because of how full his style is, involving all of the bass work and the rhythmic flair that the rhythm section would be contributing, alongside the melody and all of the harmony.
This is what we could all be doing with our four fingers if we really put all the time and effort in that we said we were going to. Tommy is clearly someone who has loved guitar all his life and has the credentials to show for it. “Classical Gas”, though not a composition of his own, has come to take on a new life at his fingertips to the point where many do not even realize that this song was once written by another.
Tommy Emmanuel — “Guitar Rag” (Pro)
Here, again, we have an offering from Tommy Emmanuel, joined by a fellow guitarist and vocalist. In some ways, though the structure of this song is certainly simpler, being a more or less simplified version of the 12-bar blues – the fact that Emmanuel is essentially improvising along with the other guitarist and vocalist throughout almost the entire song makes mimicking these movements that much more difficult.
For any naysayers in the room who thought Emmanuel’s greatness was purely limited to simply learning songs and playing them before an audience, you are certainly mistaken. Here we see Emmanuel improvising fluidly and tastefully beneath the guitarist and vocalist, taking the spotlight when there is a moment to do so but equally quelling his appetite for it when it is not needed.
While it is somewhat important to learn solos of this type, it is likely more useful to try to solo along with the same kind of accompaniment yourself. You will be amazed at the kinds of things you will pick up from simply throwing yourself in at the deep end and listening, using your own ears to suss out what sounds good and what does not.
Learning some of your favorite solos is a great way to better understand your instrument (and even to write your own solos if you want). Always make sure to challenge yourself while still remaining patient, and you’re sure to develop as a guitarist.
FAQs Acoustic Guitar Solos
Indeed you can, and in fact some songs really are better off for it. Take ‘And I Love Her’ by the Beatles, for instance, where the solo is not a solo as much as it is simply a reiteration of the vocal melody in the song. I suppose no one could have known how necessary it was to hear that vocal melody on a classical guitar until it happened, for the timbre of it offers a solemn admittance of affection that is not at odds with the kind of macho gaze that plenty of their early songs attempt to convey.
There is not one ultimate guitar solo that is to be heralded above all others. This is a matter of personal taste, and my own choice on this matter will most likely be different from yours. For example, I am rather fond of the guitarist Robert Fripp, particularly his more melodious guitar work when working with frequent collaborator Brian Eno. His solo on the song ‘I’ll Come Running to Tie Your Shoes’ is, for instance, an incredibly simple solo, but the way that it is played and the sound design behind the playing make it burst with ecstatic energy.
The main thing that makes a guitar solo difficult to play for those who did not initially write is precisely all of the little inflection that each guitarist brings to the table. These kinds of particulars are incredibly difficult if not entirely impossible to notate and so they must be sussed out by feeling. Some would even say that it is useless to attempt to learn solos in this way because every guitarist’s method of accentuation and phrasing ought to be different.
A little, yes, but only because most guitarists have a bad habit of playing too stylistically rather than playing as their hearts and souls desire to be heard. Rather, they attempt to sound like all of their idols, most of whom are already dead or not more than a few barre chords away from the grave. This is the problem with guitar in this day and age and why so many people have already heralded the so-called ‘death of guitar music’.