30 Guitar Riffs That Are Fun To Play & Sound Awesome

Guitar riffs are one of the most fun things about playing guitar. Here’s 30 of our favourites from the likes of Eric Clapton, Guns and Roses and Radiohead. Let’s do it!

guitar-riffs

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In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • 30 amazing guitar riffs that make you sound like a Guitar God.
  • How to play guitar riffs from different genres such as Classic Rock, Metal, Blues and Indie.
  • 4 essential tips that will turbo-charge your lead guitar technique.

Before we dive into the epic list, let’s cover off some basics…

What is a ‘guitar riff’?

Guitar riffs are melodic phrases that are played on guitar and are catchy and memorable. They are musical ‘hooks’ and the best ones are instantly recognisable (sometimes from the very first note).

Why guitar riffs are so cool (and useful) to learn

Learning guitar riffs should be a part of every guitarist’s journey. Here are some of the benefits of learning guitar riffs:

1- It massively benefits your technique.

Often, guitar riffs can be technically demanding, so learning them will instantly improve your dexterity and technique as a guitarist. Not only do they improve your technique, but learning guitar riffs also helps with your timing.

2- Guitar riffs are a huge part of guitar culture. 

Throughout history, guitar riffs have played a major role in forming guitar culture in popular music, so it’s a right of passage for you as a guitarist.

3- They’re so much fun to play! 

One of the best things about learning guitar riffs is that they are awesome to play. What’s better than learning your favourite guitar riffs on your guitar? Literally nothing!

Ok, strap in and buckle up, it’s Guitar-Riff-Blast-Off time!

guitar-riffs

If you want to learn guitar riffs, you MUST be able to read guitar tabs. Check out our guide to learn fast: How To Read Guitar Tabs

Guitar Riffs #1 – ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes

This is one of the best guitar riffs of all time. It’s easy to play, sounds great and can be played on one string. Here’s the tab:
Seven-nation-army-guitar-tab

Tone matters

One of the most important elements in playing guitar riffs is about getting your tone right.

This song needs a decent amount of distortion with cranked mids and bass. Once you get that tone singing you’ll want to play this riff all night long because it loops really well.

Technique Tip!

This riff can be played in a number of different ways. If you’re a beginner you may be tempted to play this with one finger.

However, it will be beneficial for your guitar technique if you try and use different fingers for different notes.

  • When playing this riff, start playing with your first finger on the 7th fret then move to the 10th with your pinky.
  • Then in the last section when you jump between frets 3 and 5. Try and use your 1st finger on the 3rd fret and 3rd finger on the 5th fret.

This is known as the ‘1-finger per fret method’ and you can learn more about this technique in our guide: Guitar Techniques: 18 Guitar Tricks Which Make You Sound Amazing

beginner-riffs-on-guitar

Guitar Riffs #2 – ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson

This is one of the best examples of using guitar riffs in pop music. It’s slick and fun.

The guitar solo on this record was played by none other than Eddie Van Halen, a shred legend!

Here’s the tab for this epic track:

Beat-it-guitar-tab

Guitar Riffs #3 – ‘Smoke On The Water’ – Deep Purple

Now, if you’re a beginner guitarist this is one of the first guitar riffs that you will learn. Here are a few reasons why it’s perfect for beginners to learn:

  • It allows you to move between frets 0-6.
  • It teaches you how to use your first finger to barre over more than one string.
  • It embodies ‘classic rock’.

Here’s the tab:

smoke-on-the-water-guitar-tab

Technique Tip

One of the hardest parts about playing this guitar riff is barring over two of the strings at the same time. This can be tricky for most beginners. If you struggle with this you can play the main riff on just one string without barring at all.

If you’d like to learn more about barring technique click here to read our barre chord guide

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Where should we send it?

Guitar Riffs #4 – ‘Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones

This epic rock riff from The Rolling Stones was one of the first records to feature a fuzz pedal.

The intro riff has such an iconic sound and to this day is still considered one of the most iconic ways to use a fuzz pedal.

For more on this, check out our guide: Guitar Effects: The Ultimate Guide

Here’s the tab:

satisfaction-guitar-tab

This riff is similar to Seven Nation Army as you can also use the ‘1-finger per fret method’ here:

  • 2nd fret = 1st finger
  • 4th fret = 3rd finger
  • 5th fret = 4th finger

Guitar Riffs #5 ‘Come As You’ Are by Nirvana

This is one of the most iconic guitar riffs of the 90s grunge movement. It’s famous for three reasons:

  • It was the second single off of their monster album, ‘Nevermind’.
  • Cobain famously ‘double-tracked’ his vocals over the whole recording. Double tracking is when you do two takes of a track and layer them together to create a thicker sound.
  • The guitar in this track is tuned down a whole step. This means that the tuning is DGCFAD instead of EADGBE.

Here’s the tab:

come-as-you-are-guitar-tab

Guitar Riffs #6 – ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ by Cream

‘Sunshine of Your Love’ is arguably one of the greatest guitar riffs of the classic rock. Clapton’s roaring ‘woman tone’ along with a catchy syncopated riff makes this one of the best hooks of all time.

Here’s the tab:

sunshine-of-your-love-guitar-tab

Guitar Riffs #7 – ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks

‘You Really Got Me’ is a fantastic song famously written by Ray Davies and The Kinks.

The riff is based around power chords. Power chords are commonly used in rock music to give the music more depth and weight.

You can learn more about power chords here:

How To Play Power Chords

Here’s the tab:

you-really-got-me-guitar-tab

Guitar Riffs #8 – ‘Day Tripper’ by The Beatles

Day Tripper is a classic track from the ‘Rubber Soul’ album.

It has a strong blues influence and was included in the Beatles set until their retirement in 1966. Here are a few reasons why it’s one of the greatest guitar riffs ever:

  • It’s fun to play and is a great introduction to the influence of the blues in popular music.
  • It’s easy to play and stays mainly in the first 4 frets.

Here’s the tab:

day-tripper-guitar-tab

If you find this riff tricky, tackle it 2-3 notes at a time. The hardest part about this riff is skipping strings, so make sure that you take your time with that and practice it s-l-o-w-l-y to embed the correct muscle memory.

Guitar Riffs #9 – ‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley

‘Redemption Song’ is one of the coolest Bob Marley tracks. It kicks off the song with a pretty easy guitar riff. Here’s the tab:

redemption-song-guitar-tab

When playing this riff, take your time. There are lots of repeating sections here so it can be easy to get confused, but take it a bar at a time and you’ll be chillin’ with Bob in no time!

Guitar Riffs #10 – ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ by Van Morrison

‘Brown Eyed Girl’ is Van Morrison’s most famous song and with such an brilliant guitar riff at it’s heart, it’s easy to see why.

Here are a few reasons why it’s one of the best guitar riffs of all time:

  • It’s ridiculously catchy and memorable.
  • It uses 3rds intervals in the main guitar riff, one of the most popular harmonies used in all music.

Here’s the tab:

brown-eyed-girl-guitar-tab

This riff is a little tricky, the hardest part is using two fingers at the same time. To get used to playing this, practice playing each fretted note individually then combine each section one by one until you can play the whole riff.

Learn the 12 EASIEST beginner chords with our famous FREE guide

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Guitar Riffs #11 – ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath are considered one of the first bands to pioneer the metal genre.

Before this riff kicks in, Tony Iommi famously bends behind the note to allow his guitar to roar before the main guitar riffs kick in.

Here’s the tab:

iron-man-guitar-tab

Tone Tip

Crank the gain on your amp for this one, there’s a reason Black Sabbath are one of the heaviest bands of all time. Gimme dat gain!

Guitar Riffs #12 – ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol

‘Chasing Cars’ is one of the most played songs on British radio over the past 10 years. It gained most of its popularity through the TV show ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ where it was played in the season finale of season 2.

Here’s the tab:

chasing-cars-guitar-tab

This riff is a bit of a finger twister so you’ll need to be patient with yourself stretching between the frets. The most important part of this riff is to let each note ring out as clearly as possible.

Guitar Riffs #13 – ‘Heart of Gold’ by Neil Young

‘Heart of Gold’ was a release from Neil Young’s album ‘Harvest’ and is the only single of Young’s to reach number 1 in his homeland, Canada.

The guitar riffs are particularly interesting as they combine chords and melody. Here’s the tab:

heart-of-gold-guitar-tab

This track mainly uses Em, G, C and D chords which makes it a perfect beginner track to learn.

Guitar Riffs #14 – ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica

Metallica are titans of the metal genre and when you hear the guitar riffs from ‘Enter Sandman’ you can hear why!

Here’s the tab to play one of the most metal guitar riffs of all time:

enter-sandman-guitar-tab

Technique Tip

This guitar riff uses a lot of palm muting. You can learn more about this cool technique here: Palm Muting: The Essential Guide

Guitar Riffs #15 – ‘Back In Black’ by AC/DC

‘Back In Black’ is easily one of the greatest guitar riffs of the 1980s.

It comes off of the ‘Back In Black’ studio album which is the first album to feature vocalist Brian Johnson. It combines chords, pull-offs and single-note lines.

Here’s the tab:

back-in-black-guitar-tab

Take care when learning this song as it can be challenging to move between the chords and the lead parts. If you’re struggling, try to learn it in distinct phases and gradually blend them together.

Guitar Riffs #16 – ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd

‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is one of the guitar riffs that is instantly recognisable from the first few notes.

There’s a huge country influence here so you’ll want a bright, sparkly tone for this one with a dash of reverb and a slapback delay.

This riff can be fiddly as it uses the following chords: Dsus2, Cadd9 and G.

Technique Tip

If you’re struggling with this guitar riff, learn the chords first and then try to pick the individual notes. Here’s the tab:

sweet-home-alabama-guitar-tab

Want more easy song for beginners? Check out this cool roundup we put together, just for beginners: 10 Easy Songs on Guitar

Guitar Riffs #17 – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana

This song, in many ways is the sound of the grunge era. There’s nothing more grunge than hearing Kurt Cobain rock out on the opening guitar riffs from this song! Here’s the tab:

smells-like-teen-spirit-guitar-tab

Make sure you kick on your distortion channel for this song. Cobain famously used a ‘Boss DS1’ so you can easily get his tone with that pedal.(To learn more about Boss pedals click here.)

 

Guitar Riffs #18 – ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith

‘Walk This Way’ is one of Aerosmith’s best guitar riffs. It’s the song which catapulted them into stardom and gave them the recognition that they deserved.

A decade after its original appearance, Aerosmith famously collaborated with rap group ‘RUN DMC’ giving this song a makeover and an even stronger groove.

Here’s the tab:

walk-this-way-tab

The key to getting this riff right is to use hammer-ons and pull-offs. If you’re not sure how to do hammer-ons and pull-offs check out this lesson:

How To Play Lead Guitar 

Guitar Riffs #19 – ‘Rebel Rebel’ by David Bowie

‘Rebel Rebel’ by David Bowie has been described as Bowie’s farewell to the glam rock movement which Bowie helped pioneer.

The riff itself features the chords ‘D’ and ‘E’ and uses open strings between them. When you practice this riff it’s so important that you let the strings ring out as they are crucial to the guitar riff’s sound. Here’s the tab:

rebel-rebel-tab

Learn some cool ways to play D and E in these popular guides of ours:

Guitar Riffs #20 – ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix

‘Purple Haze’ is one of Hendrix’s best guitar riffs. It uses interesting melodic notes borrowed from eastern and blues music as well as heavy fuzz tones.

If you want to sound like Hendrix, make sure that you crank the gain on your amp with a strat style guitar. Here’s the tab for this epic riff:

purple-haze-tab

Technique Tip

You may notice that when you play the guitar riff along to the record it sounds weird. This is because Jimi Hendrix used to tune a half step down.

So his strings were tuned as follows:

  • Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb.

So to play along with song in its natural key, tune your strings down.

Hendrix uses techniques such as bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs. These are crucial to use if you want to perfect this guitar riff.

As Hendrix was a pioneer of interesting electric guitar sounds, you may find this guide of ours useful: How To EQ An Amp In 3 Easy Steps

guitar-riffs

Guitar Riffs #21 – ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns ‘N’ Roses

‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ is Guns ‘N’ Roses biggest hit.

Lead guitarist Slash claims that this guitar riff was written purely as an exercise to practice string skipping technique, however when Slash got together with the other members of the band it quickly turned into one of the greatest rock songs of all time!

Here’s the tab:

Sweet-Child-O’Mine-tab

To listen to this song, check out the video below:

Technique Tip

When playing this song, the hardest part of it is skipping from one string to the next.

The best way to approach this is to use alternate-picking technique.

All this means is that on each note you’re going to use a downstroke and then an upstroke.

To learn more about alternate picking, go here:Alternate Picking: The Ultimate Guide

Guitar Riffs #22 – ‘Layla’ by Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is one of the greatest guitarists of all time and the guitar riffs from his hit song Layla prove exactly why.

With epic bending and melodic note choice, this is a guitar riff not to be forgotten. Here’s the tab:

Guitar-riffs-and-licks

You can listen to the song here:

Technique Tip

The foundations of this song are built on bending and the use of the pentatonic scale.

These are crucial aspects of the guitar world that you need to learn if you want to become Master of Guitar Riffs!

Learn more about these epic guitar methods here: How To Play Lead Guitar

Guitar Riffs #23 – ‘Johnny B. Goode’ – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry was one of the pioneers of rock and roll guitar in the 50s and 60s.

  • This song is considered to have one of the most recognisable guitar riffs in popular music history.
  • With a combination of bluesy licks, pentatonic runs and double stops, it’s one of the most fun riffs that you can play on your guitar.

Here’s the tab:

guitar-licks-and-solos

This song was famously used in the film ‘Back To The Future’, you can watch Marty McFly shred on this classic tune here:

Technique Tip

As the guitar riffs in this song frequently use a lot of different techniques it can be tricky to learn.

  • The easiest way to learn this song is to learn it one phrase at a time.
  • We call this method ‘segmenting’ and it allows you to perfect one phrase, then move onto the next one, and in this way we assemble the whole thing like lego bricks; piece by piece.

With segmenting, you’ll be rockin’ along with Chuck in no time.

Guitar Riffs #24 – ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ – Jimi Hendrix

Voodoo Child is one of Jimi Hendrix’s most famous songs.

  • Coined from a jam with Steve Winwood and Jack Cassady, the Jimi Hendrix experience adapted the song and completely made it their own.
  • With the use of the wah-wah pedal and the pentatonic scale, Hendrix had the perfect recipe to create one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time, even Rolling Stone Magazine agrees!

You can read that article here:500 Greatest Songs Of All Time – Rolling Stone

 

Here’s the tab:

Guitar-riffs

Here’s the song:

 

The crucial part to learning this song correctly is to learn the E Minor Pentatonic scale.

This particular song is based around the 3rd and 4th position of the minor pentatonic scale.

Once you have those scales down, you’ll be rocking this riff in no time! To learn the pentatonic scale, go here:

Pentatonic Scale: The Ultimate Guide

Guitar Riffs #25 – Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones were known for creating some of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time and Stairway To Heaven is no exception.

From the fantastic 12 string intro to the ripping solo at the end, it truly is one of rock’s greatest anthems.

Here’s the tab:

Stairway-to-heaven-tab

The most important part about this song is letting each individual note ring out.

It’s crucial that you treat each part almost as a chord, this way each note will be clear and defined.

To check out the original, go to this video:

Guitar Riffs #26 – Paranoid Android – Radiohead

Although the addition of a Radiohead song in this list may seem strange, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’ Brien and Thom Yorke are known for create weird and wonderful guitar riffs.

Here’s the tab for this Radiohead classic:

riffs-and-licks

This one’s a tricky one to play for sure, but don’t be fooled by the tab.

The best way is to approach each of the main riffs as ‘chords’ and then pick the individual notes.

Here’s the track for reference:

 

Guitar Riffs #27 – This Charming Man – The Smiths

Johnny Marr from The Smiths is known for creating jangly guitar riffs which stand out from the crowd and ‘This Charming Man’ fits the bill for that.

Although this is an indie anthem it’s particularly tricky to get under the fingers!

Here’s the tab:

guitar-riffs

You’ll notice that the guitar riffs from this song are totally different to every other song in this list.

  • That’s because when Johnny Marr was writing this he deliberately tried to create a counter melody to Morrisey’s vocal part.
  • The guitar part in this song is very intricate so be patient when learning this song.

Check out the video here:

Guitar Riffs #28 – Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love – Van Halen

If you want to get your 80s rock and roll on, you need to learn this epic Van Halen guitar riff!

Eddie Van Halen was known for pioneering ‘tapping’ technique in the 1980s, however as well as being a phenomenal lead guitarist, Eddie was also fantastic at creating guitar riffs which grooved and moved audiences.

‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ is one of those guitar riffs. Here’s the tab:

van-halen-riff

The key to getting the sound of this guitar riff right is to use lots of palm muting, with distortion and a phaser effect.

This will give you that ‘swooshy’ sound which is so iconic on the record.

Here’s the track:

Guitar Riffs #29 – Money For Nothing – Dire Straits

Mark Knopfler is one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

  • His iconic fingerpicking style combined with technical flair and precision makes him one of the most unique sounding guitarists out there.
  • ‘Money For Nothing’ is one of those guitar riffs which is instantly recognisable from the first note.

Here’s the tab:

guitar-riffs

Here’s the track:

How did he get that tone?

The most iconic element of this track is the opening guitar tone, it’s so unique and different from anything that had been heard before.

Knopfler managed to get this cool tone by using a Gibson Les Paul into the distortion channel of his amp with his Wah-Wah pedal set in the middle.

This is totally unusual as usually Wah-Wah pedals are used to rock back and forth, but in this case Knopfler rests the treadle of the pedal in the middle to get throaty vocal sound.

Guitar Riffs #30 – Hotel California – The Eagles

If you’ve ever played the video game ‘Guitar Hero’, you’ve definitely heard the guitar riffs from this Eagles classic.

From the 12 string intro to the beautifully harmonised guitar solo at the end, ‘Hotel California’ is one of the best guitar tracks of all time.

You can listen to the track here:

Here’s the tab:

Guitar-riffs-and-licks

Here, we’re only going through the main intro part that kicks off the song.

  • This is played on a 12 string guitar usually, however it’s possible to play this on a regular guitar.
  • In the tab written here, a combination of barre chords and arpeggiated chords are used.
  • However, you can also use a capo on the 7th fret to make this slightly easier.

To learn about barre chords and capos, go here:

How To Practice Guitar Riffs

Looking at tabs is only one part of the story when learning music.

There’s so much more to put into practice when you’re learning guitar riffs.

Here are a few essential practice tips to help you become a guitar master.

Tip#1 – Practice Guitar Riffs Slowly

Practicing guitar riffs slowly is the key to success.

Again: Practicing guitar riffs slowly is the key to success.

Again!! Practicing guitar riffs is the key to success.

If you can play something slowly, you embed the muscle memory more and this makes it more likely you will be able to play it at tempo.

Here are a few things you can do when you first learn guitar riffs:

  • Check the tab to make sure that you have the correct fingering.
  • Play the riff slowly, out of time, to make sure you can connect each note together. This is purely an exercise to get used to the fingerings of the notes and build your muscle memory.

Tip #2 – Play Along To The Track

Not enough people do this essential tip when learning guitar riffs. It is SO important that you can eventually play along to the track. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Playing to the track improves your timing enormously.
  • It gives you an indicator of whether your technique is good enough. If you can’t play to the track yet it means you need to go back and practice some of the parts.
  • It’s loads of fun!

guitar-riffs

Tip #3 – Play To A Backing Track

Although playing to the track is fun, it can sometimes ‘mask’ what your guitar playing actually sounds like.

If you’re practicing a song, try and get hold of backing track which has removed the guitar so you can play along.

This will improve your technique, timing and allow you to feel like YOU are part of the band.

Tip #4 – Jam With Friends

One of the best things about playing guitar riffs is playing them with other people.

Once you’ve learned some of your favourite guitar riffs, get together with a friend or bandmate and jam them!

It’s what music is all about.

riffs-on-guitar

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