Top 5 Acoustic Guitar Solos

December 13, 2012

by Daniel Brooks

The electric guitar solo has been a part of rock and roll since its very beginning. Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” one of the first hit singles to establish rock and roll as a new genre in 1954, features a blistering lead that offered a formidable challenge to any would-be guitar hero, and inspired many to pick up the guitar and get creative. As the 1950s unfolded and rock and roll grew into an important cultural presence, the seminal work of such musicians as Scotty Moore, Hank Marvin, Eddy Cochran, Chuck Berry and others helped establish the guitar solo as a powerful feature of many great rock and roll songs. Ever-increasing numbers of young, very enthused musicians began creating their own rock and roll, the music evolved, and inventors, designers and engineers made innovative leaps forward in the development of electric guitars, amps and effects to expand the sonic palette available to the creative guitarist, and transforming the guitar solo far beyond the wildest imaginings of the earliest rock and roll musicians.

Amidst all of this, the acoustic guitar remained an essential voice in every genre of rock music. It was traditionally seen as a simple but well-balanced accompaniment for singers, but not nearly loud enough to be heard among the large ensemble of brass, wind, string and percussion instruments used for jazz and classical music. Ironically, many of the innovations that allowed the guitar to be amplified and heard in such live settings also lent themselves to advanced recording technologies that could capture the sound of an acoustic guitar, as it is, and give it enough volume to have a recorded voice. Just as the guitar was finally loud enough to play live, it didn’t need to be loud to be heard on a record. As a result, many guitarists were free to revel in the evocative grace of the acoustic guitar’s natural timbre itself and use it as a lead instrument to create some of their most inspired music. The history of recorded music is full of great acoustic guitar solos. Here are just a few.

The Beatles used acoustic instruments early and often. Their second album featured George Harrison’s tasteful acoustic guitar solo on “Till There Was You,” and his work on “And I Love Her” elevates a Lennon/McCartney composition that might have otherwise been overshadowed by the rest of the soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night.

Throughout the 1960s, there were some who thought of the Rolling Stones as a dark counterpart to the Beatles, but they often achieved a singular form of rock and roll greatness beyond comparison with anyone before or since. “Sympathy for the Devil” is one of the Rolling Stones’ many masterpieces and it is full of surprises, not the least of which is the knowledge that the incendiary guitar solo was performed on an acoustic guitar plugged directly into the mixing board for a visceral, overdriven effect.

As a follow up to “Dark Side of the Moon,” one of the biggest albums in rock history, Pink Floyd turned to themes of loss and absence. “Wish You Were Here,” the album and the song, proved to be a chilling, poignant, beautiful masterpiece and a fitting homage to their founder, Syd Barrett, who had fallen to mental illness.

The day after his first son was born, Yes guitarist Steve Howe sat down and composed “Clap.” While this may not be a typical Steve Howe acoustic lead guitar solo, if such a thing could be said to exist, its sheer exuberance in celebration of a new life make it one of the great rock and roll moments on the acoustic guitar. And it certainly points the way to so much of Howe’s other work with Yes.

Layla was Eric Clapton’s shining achievement with Derek and the Dominoes, and it remained brilliant when transformed into an all-acoustic ballad. Originally inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for Pattie Boyd Harrison, Layla has stood as one of rock and roll’s definitive love songs. If anyone could completely rewrite rock and roll history with an acoustic guitar, it would have to be Eric Clapton.

Of course, the list of great acoustic guitar solos is far more extensive than this. Works by Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Tony Rice, Leo Kottke and many more could each inspire an awe-filled listening session. As always, we would love to hear who and what you would put on the list.


  1. Rick Gray says:

    My all time favorite acoustic guitar solo is Stephen Stills’ “Bluebird”.  Recorded 1967, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Then there are a host of great Doc Watson recordings that contend as well.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 1:50 am
  2. marcelo araujo says:

    thank you of led zeppelin its a great solo too. others: paco de lucia (entre dos aguas):

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 1:57 am
  3. nel gómez says:

    I was almost sure I was going to find Eagles - Hotel California here..

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 1:58 am
  4. Bob Noxious says:

    How is it possible that Michael Hedges isn’t on this list? Everything he DID was solo acoustic guitar. And there’s a phenomenal “solo” in his version of “All Along The Watchtower” just in case there was word-parsing to contend with-solo guitar vs. guitar solo. Whatever.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:01 am
  5. Trappor Masson says:

    How about even older great acoustic players like django reinhardt!

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:02 am
  6. Dale Huntington says:

    I really like a few:

    Nuno: at the end of “More than words.”

    Also how about the doors on “Spanish Caravan?”  I know it’s a classical piece but still cool

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:02 am
  7. Marcelo Kalef says:

    I prefer Steve Howe´s “Mood for a Day”., from Yes Fragile album. The best acoustic performance of all time.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:07 am
  8. tdc says:

    Sorry, the ordering of acoustic guitar solos is inane.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:08 am
  9. Rob Kessler says:

    Well this list is an obvious popularity contest…to leave out the real talent like Michael Hedges and Tommy Emmanuel yet include Steve Howe and Dave Gilmour??? Don’t get me wrong I respect them both but neither compare to Chet Atkins…

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:10 am
  10. Gman says:

    With the exception of the Steve Howe selection, which is truly brilliant guitar playing,
    this is just a short list of famous players and when they did something decent on an acoustic.
    Not like I’m a huge Bluegrass fan but even these guitar players would tell you that
    on an acoustic, they could not come close to the excellence of Doc Watson.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:14 am
  11. J Dub says:

    PGS, you should always qualify your post with a genre, because this is so slanted towards rock music that it isn’t funny. You do a great disservice to players in other styles when you assume that rock is the only music out there with capable guitarists.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:16 am
  12. frank d DISTEFANO says:

    wow, stones “...devil”...never knew that…great r&r trivia…more a beatles guy since before sullivan show.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:18 am
  13. Marcos Craveiro says:

    My top five acoustic solos:

    1- Babe I´m Gonna Leave You ( Jimmy Page - Led Zeppelin I Album)
    2- Pretty Girl ( Eric Clapton - Money and Cigarettes Album)
    3- Mood for a Day ( Steve Howe - Yes - Fragile Album)
    4- Somebody Who Cares (Paul McCartney - Tug of War Album)
    5- Sail Away Sweet Sister (Brian May - Queen - The Game Album)

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:21 am
  14. Lloyd says:

    No Crystal Mountain outro solo by Chuck Schuldiner? Or the outro solo for Blindfolds Aside by Protest the Hero?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:23 am
  15. Manuel says:

    Johm mayer is an acoustic god, listen to any song of the acoustic set in the where the light is DVD and youll agree with me. Neon and In your Atmosphere have to be classic acoustic rock/pop songs in my opinion.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:27 am
  16. Zampuuji says:

    While admittedly somewhat obscure,the acoustic guitar solo in Ozric Tentacles ” Tight Spin “,performed by Ed Wynne,is spectacular .

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:30 am
  17. smsuperstrat says:

    Uh,    have never heard of Al DiMeola?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:35 am
  18. Jeff hostedler says:

    John Mayer is an overrated piece of kaka on all guitars.  He doesn’t even do all of his own session work.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 2:45 am
  19. Chris Goss says:

    ‘Friday Night in San Francisco’ is a 1981 live album by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía… it may be considered the most influential of all live acoustic guitar albums.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 3:06 am
  20. Jwindsor says:

    Clapton’s solo on “old love” unplugged I’d better than Layla’s. And what about SRV’S “rude mood” on a Guild 12 string acoustic?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 3:13 am
  21. Andrew Meyer says:

    Okay, I get that it’s a rock list. Days of the New, anyone?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 3:27 am
  22. Fritz Cole says:

    Anything by Tommy Emmanuel…

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 3:34 am
  23. mike says:

    Didn’t hear any acoustic guitar in sympathy for the devil, checked out a half dozen live versions. Didn’t see any acoustic guitars in the live versions. Curious, did I miss it?/

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 3:56 am
  24. Jim Wilson says:

    My be you should consider something like, “The Lucky One” or “Daylight”........Real Acoustic Music just a thought.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 4:04 am
  25. Bruce Wallace says:

    The article should be titled, “Best Acoustic ROCK Solos.”  Otherwise, Doc Watson?  Gabor Szabo?  Charlie Byrd?  Etc., etc.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 4:09 am
  26. Heemowatt says:

    Keith Richards is a GREAT acoustic player. “Wild Horses” is loaded with subtle harmonics played on both 12 string and 6 string instruments. He also did the bass work on “Sympathy For The Devil”, not Bill Wyman.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 4:11 am
  27. Billy Kidwell says:

    You can’t beat Tommy’s solo on Signs when he was with TESLA, or how he did Love Song.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 4:28 am
  28. Gavin Lloyd Wilson says:

    How about that classic solo in “Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)” by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 5:19 am
  29. elmtreemike says:

    George Harrison playing “Badge” with Cream!

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 5:24 am
  30. Nick Lockwood says:

    Well, as a man with an antipodean bias, I have to sat Marty Willson-Piper’s solo on The Church’s 1982 classic “Almost With You” is the one that immediately springs to mind.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 5:24 am
  31. ShreddyGnarGnar says:

    TENACIOUS D tho??? Mmmmmmmmm ya done [messed] up now, PGS!

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 6:08 am
  32. chazzan says:

    Richard Thompson, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”  And, of course, any number of Leo Kottke and Tommy Emmanuel numbers.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 6:19 am
  33. Jim H says:

    Just for clarification…are we talking about solo guitar leads taken in the middle of a song, or an entire solo guitar piece, because they are two completely different things. My vote for a great, but relatively unknown acoustic guitar lead is Roger Steen from The Tubes wailing in the song Brighter Day from their Young and Rich album.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 6:20 am
  34. Ken Bost says:

    I know that all lists are subjective and I am cool with that. Just had to respond to the John Mayer comment. I never was a fan of his until I saw him on an Austin City Limits tribute to SRV and I mist say he blew me away. Try you tubing him (I know you have to wade thru a lot of commercial pop songs) before you cast judgement. The man is truly amazing!

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 6:38 am
  35. Jonathan Kratz says:

    For nice open shape simplicity and within-reach for most learn-as-you-play-along types, and let’s face it, generally good feeling major chord stuff amid all the dour seriousness in modern music, the lead in “Amy”,  Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  And for tension and nervous energy, I was sure before I opened this I’d see the bit in “Who Are You”, you know, just before the WUNGH-WUNGH WUNGH-WUNGH (E major) WUNGH-WUNGH-WUNGH (E major - D) and the Whoville choir, you know?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:02 am
  36. mark says:

    on the guns n’ roses album “g n’ r lies” theres 4 acoustic songs, some of which are from the illustrious “appetite” album. these are great tracks with acoustic solos. well worth a listen.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:08 am
  37. David Fellows says:

    @ Bruce it really sould just be titled five main stream accousic solos and I think they were really lazy picks at that..

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:11 am
  38. Shane Gogo says:

    How about Neil Young and Stephen Stills in Find the Cost of Freedom?

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:17 am
  39. Vogelsong says:

    I really thought GnR’s “Patience” would be on here.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:26 am
  40. Ted Gomez says:

    Stephen Stills’ “Bluebird”

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:50 am
  41. The Reverend says:

    Tony Rice, Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, and quite a few of the Candy Rat Records crowd.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:51 am
  42. Joe Barborich says:

    ********Rory Gallagher*******
    Pistol Slapper Blues
    As the Crow Fly’s
    Barley & Grape rag
    Too Much Alcohol
    Out on the western Plain

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 7:59 am
  43. paulus van maulus says:

    listen to the past recedes by john frusciante. that’s how to do it right.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 8:29 am
  44. Glen says:

    How about Midsummer Daydream by Rik Emmett

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 9:30 am
  45. Steve says:

    Bob Noxious,  Rob Kessler; I was thinking the same thing about my classmate, Michael Hedges. His was a rare talent, and he created many master works in the acoustic music realm. I wish that more of his music was featured when the art of acoustic guitar is being discussed.

    The man was truly one of a kind.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 9:54 am
  46. Adam B. says:

    PGS did say, “Here are just a few,” and here indeed are just a few of the greatest acoustic guitar solos ever recorded.  Nice choices.  Of course there are many others.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 10:29 am
  47. Adam P. says:

    Sister Blue by Mindfunk….waaay better than most of these pentatonic selections here.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 10:42 am
  48. シャネル says:


    posted on December 14, 2012 at 10:56 am
  49. Oleg Schnap says:

    I miss myself.

    posted on December 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm
  50. Caio Mistura says:

    You never listened to Jorge Ben’s “Tabua de Esmeralda”, that’s is some really nice acoustic work

    posted on December 15, 2012 at 2:13 am
  51. zach says:

    Yes, this is a silly list based on the title “Top 5” but Harrison on And I Love Her? Gimmeabreak. It’s a nice complement to this great song, but there is nothing awesome - or even very interesting - about his solo.

    posted on December 15, 2012 at 2:56 am
  52. zach says:

    Oh yeah, what is your source for the assertion that the Sympathy for the Devil solo is on acoustic guitar? Please provide some proof for this, as I am very skeptical.

    posted on December 15, 2012 at 3:12 am
  53. BRiley says:

    Agree w/Chris Goss.  Friday Night in San Francisco - Mediterranian Sundance
    Heart - Crazy on You (Into)
    Allman Brother’s - Southbound (Sweet Melissa - An Acoustic Evening)
    Led Zep - Thank You
    Steve Howe - The Clap

    posted on December 15, 2012 at 8:39 am
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  56. mouseporn says:

    Kyuss-Space Cadet

    posted on December 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm
  57. rb says:

    If I remember right, I think that the “Sympathy for Devil” solo was done on an acoustic with a pickup through an over driven tape cassette recorder that Richards used to practice through when on tour. He tried to get the same sound using amps in the studio, but they went back to using the cassette recorder. As the signal was amplified, I’m not sure it counts in this line up.

    posted on December 16, 2012 at 1:20 am
  58. psd says:

    This list is biased seriously to British players .. there are so many great American players in the Bluegrass and Country genres it seems misbalanced. No Doc Watson? No Chet Atkins? No Jazz players at all?


    posted on December 18, 2012 at 3:33 am
  59. JimiG says:

    Steve Morse,Lindsey Buckingham,Adrian Legg,Leo Kottke ???

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 4:57 am
  60. DR says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this thread. A few artists I’m not familiar with so am looking forward to discovering some new music over the holidays. Thanks Daniel for the article, it started a great discussion.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 5:10 am
  61. Dave E. says:

    Mediterranean Sundance by Al DiMeola.
    Song for George by Eric Johnson

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 5:20 am
  62. Ray says:

    First one that came to my mind was Clapton as well, but I thought we’d see some Tesla on the list.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 5:47 am
  63. Bosko Cubrilo says:

    Stephen Stills - Treetop Flyer is one of my favourite acoustic solos

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 5:50 am
  64. Keith says:

    JimiG, thanks for mentioning Adrian Legg.  The others are great as well!  I don’t know that Adrian’s work should qualify as ‘solo’ other than it’s ALL acoustic, but his work is some of the most haunting stuff out there on acoustic.

      Fully agree.. for those quibbling about the omissions, this is a great thread and I do plan to comb through this over time and do some self edumucation!  ;-) Thanks to all!!

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 7:01 am
  65. Adam says:

    Slash does a great acoustic solo on Patience.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 7:36 am
  66. paul morgan says:

    Is this really the best you can come up with? Please,give be a break..the Rolling Stones..who will get on a two chord grove and milk it to death with absolutly no tasteful guitar work.whoever wrote this article must have spent the better part of two minutes composing it..Sorry for the discust,but anyone who has played any length of time has got to still be laughing after looking at this.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 7:39 am
  67. James says:

    Intelligence is reality-oriented. The intelligent readers are the ones who actually read the article and responded, thoughtfully and positively, to what it actually said, often with interesting suggestions for listening to musicians who are outside of my experience. Who knows what the detractors (trolls?) wanted it to be? Who cares?

    I am one musician and fan who is grateful for this blog and these responses.  Thanks, PGS.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 8:11 am
  68. hue says:

    Di Meola and De Lucia- Mediterranean Sundance.  Probably two of the most heated acoustic solos ever recorded. I’ll take this version over the Friday Night In San Fran version.

    More to mention, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo or any number of Flamenco guitarists who rip the fretboard. Another vote for Django Reinhardt. He’s amazing. The late Great Lenny Breau. JImmy Rosenberg.  Don Ross, Andy McKee…......the list is endless.

    The world of pop is not a place to look for greatness. It’s a candy bowl full of sweets. Great fun to listen to but too much of it will rot your brain…and your ears.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 9:36 am
  69. Kazwell says:

    I never knew the lead on Sympathy was an acoustic. WOW. I first listened to that track in the mid 70’s still consider it one of the best rocks songs of the classic era as well as one of the best rock leads of all time. Acoustic. Goes to show you. I haven’t been this surprised by a track and gear combination since I heard Carlos Santana was playing a Strat on the lead to Shes Not There on the Moonflower Album 1978. One of my all time favorite albums and all time favorite leads on that song. I was thinking the whole time it was a LP or Yamaha FG2000.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 12:42 pm
  70. lastlegssally says:

    i learned stairway to heaven when i was 16, and jimmy page never even wrote it untill he was 22!  i think we know whos the better guitarist.

    posted on December 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm
  71. Mike Roberts says:

    All Brits…all of whom I admire…but almost everything they played was inspired by and/or learned from American artists and music. So I am somewhat dismayed by the fact that there are no American guitarists in this list. Is the author British? Check out Stephen Stills ‘Black Queen’.

    posted on December 19, 2012 at 6:49 am
  72. MWTexas says:

    The solo in Doobie Brother’s “Texas Lullaby” is a great one.

    posted on December 21, 2012 at 3:25 am
  73. Cryo says:

    Depends on how “top” is defined.  Usually “top” in the industry means the most sold or played on radio stations.  This can be across genres.  It appears that the rock songs originally listed would meet that definition.  “Top” can also refer to individual preference or be more categorical as far as genre.  Appears that many here are going with the latter.

    posted on December 28, 2012 at 9:12 pm
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