Sometimes a brilliant guitar riff has more effect on the listener than that song itself.
My name is Lee and I’m a guitarist of 25+ years. Riffs are a part of my DNA. Thanks to some absolute belters by some incredible guitarists, I have a list of 10 riffs you really need in your life.
I’m here to share my favorite 10 with you. I’ve linked to Songsterr’s free guitar tabs for each of them, so you can learn them yourself.
Warning: Once you’ve heard these riffs, they cannot be unheard!
See Also: Easy Guitar Songs to Learn (With Tabs)
Guitar Riff Rules
Before we get into my list of the 10 best guitar riffs, it’s important to outline what makes a guitar riff truly great. Here are the defining characteristics of epic guitar riffs:
It goes without saying a guitar riff has to be memorable. A ‘good’ riff can have you humming it four days later when you least expect it. This is the point when the artist has got you. Musical geniuses like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, or Eric Clapton certainly knew what they were doing when they created these melodies. We call these ‘The Hook.’
I remember walking through Hatton Garden Market in London around the year 2000. I was on my first day in a new job. My new boss walked with me, explaining the job role. Still, I found it hard to concentrate on anything he said as I could hear ‘Paperback Writer‘ by The Beatles blasting out from one of the market stalls.
That’s a recognizable beast of a riff from all the way back in 1966. Somehow it’s gotten stuck with me for life.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
Just because Joe Satriani can play a fancy 26 bar riff (Satch Boogie) all over the fretboard, it doesn’t mean we love it.
Riffs can also be a group of truly memorable chords. How about this one; Kurt Cobain playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Now that’s probably the most famous chord riff sequence ever, right?
You’ve gotta look like a god while playing a riff.
Picture Angus Young on stage, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Slash, and Jimmy Page. These guys were born to smash guitar riffs out. You’ve gotta look like a boss.
Now, let’s get down to my favorite 10 guitar riffs of all time. If you love it, make sure you check out the song’s guitar tabs and learn it.
The 10 Best Guitar Riffs
Now that we’ve covered the essentials of a great riff, let’s get into it.
10 | La Grange – ZZ Top
Possibly the coolest Riff on the planet? Billy Gibbons plays an old-school blues lick in A.
It’s so dirty you’ll need to take a shower after listening to this:
9 | Crosstown Traffic – Jimi Hendrix
This treat from Jimi almost didn’t make it onto the Electric Ladyland Album!
Imagine going through life and not being aware of Crosstown Traffic!
The indisputable god Jimi Hendrix is at his best with this catchy little number.
We have a lot to thank this man for!
8 | Money for Nothing – Dire Straits
Everybody knows this Riff!
Possibly the most difficult to play on my list. A mix of fingers, pinched harmonics, and playing several strings simultaneously.
It’s no easy feat to copy Mark Knopfler’s masterpiece. That’s not surprising, considering he’s one of the most talented guitarists ever.
7 | Beat It – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson had many great guitarists but none more iconic than Eddie Van Halen. His solo during this track is possibly the greatest and most memorable of all time.
The riff off of Beat It is unforgettable and straightforward to play. It’s well worth learning as it’s so much fun to play along with.
6 | Foo Fighters – All My Life
Simplicity and power resonate with your audience. Dave Grohl has somehow managed to get you hooked at the beginning of the song with one note!
The Foo Fighters have many tasty riffs, but I choose this monster.
Dave Grohl appeared in not one but two of the biggest bands ever. That’s just greedy!
5 | Stone Cold Crazy – Queen
A tricky fast-moving riff written by Brian May.
Live, Queen was possibly the best band ever to show their talents on stage. They were as tight as a skin on a grape, with so many riffs to choose from.
Here’s some vintage live Queen. True English Royalty!
Sit back and enjoy this chunky riff.
4 | Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
Jimmy Page is a walking Riff! I literally could have chosen any riff from around 25 of his bangers.
One of the biggest and best bands in the world. The mighty Zeppelin feasted off huge riffs and high spiraling vocals.
The great thing is, it doesn’t matter what guitar skill level you are; Jimmy Page has a riff you can learn. Zeppelin riffs are very popular in the guitar world as they’re so fun to play.
Kashmir is my personal favorite. It’s one of those anthems you’ve heard before, but you don’t know where from. It’s in DADGAD alternate tuning, which makes it a lot of fun to learn.
Get into it. You’ll be pleased you did.
3 | Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
You know you love it.
It’s impossible not to bang your head to the Survivor rock classic ‘Eye of The Tiger’.
The 1980s were a goldmine of incredible rock bands. Survivor got the job of performing the soundtrack to the Rocky Trilogy, which spiraled them into the public eye very quickly.
Simple to learn and so much fun to play.
Try not banging your head to this; you can’t!
2 | Thunderstruck – AC/DC
We can’t get through the 10 best riffs of all time without mentioning Angus Young.
The Ozzie-born tearaway was born to play riffs with his band AC/DC.
I’ve always thought this Riff sounded like something Beethoven would create.
If we ever required an anthem for ‘Planet Earth,’ this would be it.
We Salute You Angus.
1 | Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz
I’ve put Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ at number one because it’s super fun to play. It’s got shades of Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.
It’s got all the ingredients for a perfect riff.
Craig Ross and Lenny rip out this simple but truly wicked melody. It’s recognized worldwide and will be used in the media for generations to come.
I used to play this in a band. It was fast-paced, and every audience loved it. A heart-thumping Rock Classic which was guaranteed to please.
Do yourself a favor and learn this.
What an absolute belter.
It’s also worth mentioning that Craig Ross’s solo on this track got voted one of the best in rock history.