Learning difficult songs is the best way to make progress when playing an instrument. Once you’ve learned some pretty challenging songs, you will start stretching your abilities and improving as a musician.
However, some songs will take a lot of time to learn and master, no matter how advanced you are. Those songs are usually played by legendary guitar virtuosos.
Of course, it’s hard to make a definite list for many reasons and one of the first that comes to mind is that technical difficulty can’t be the only reason for a song to be on the list. In our opinion, a hard song also requires a lot of theoretical knowledge and a well-trained ear. Finally, such a song needs to sound great. Simply said, the song needs to be legendary.
We’ve included various music genres and here is our list of 15 hardest guitar songs to play:
1. Van Halen – Eruption
“Eruption” is one of the most famous rock instrumentals of all time. Although in the form of a simple guitar solo, this piece revolutionized the guitar world. Even these days, more than four decades since it’s appeared, it is still one of the most challenging guitar pieces to play, at least for players that are on the way to become real masters.
Of course, the song is full of Eddie’s trademark techniques, which means loads and loads of amazing tapping chops.
2. Yngwie Malmsteen – Blitzkrieg
It may not be Yngwie’s most famous piece, but this instrumental is definitely one of his most challenging songs to play.
The song is extremely fast and full of Malmsteeen’s trademark techniques, full of harmonic minor and Phrygian scale runs, smooth sweep picking and other techniques. The constant high intensity of the piece also requires a lot of stamina, while the piece by itself also sounds great and it is really fun to practice.
3. Animals as Leaders – CAFO
Tosin Abasi is a hero of our time and definitely a player that has brought something new in terms of guitar sound and techniques.
In this piece, Tosin showed pretty much everything from his huge arsenal of guitar skills, including various advanced techniques that take years to be mastered.
4. Guthrie Govan – Waves
Guthrie is a living legend and pretty much every piece in his portfolio requires otherwordly skills and techniques.
This is a very challenging song to play because it includes so many different things, such as wide sliding intervals in the main melody, tons of sleek and super fast chops and, of course, that crazy harmonized lick in the middle of the song.
5. Shawn Lane – Time Is The Enemy
We are still waiting for someone who will get close to Shawn Lane in terms of speed and overall skills, but the Memphis-born virtuoso was way more than that.
This piece may not be the fastest one in his portfolio, but if you combine his “average” speed with tons of “outside” notes, you get one of the hardest songs to play.
6. Eric Johnson – Manhattan
Eric Johnson is one of the most iconic guitars players of all time and although “Cliffs of Dover” is the first thing that comes to mind, we find “Manhattan” even more difficult to play.
Of course, there are Johnson’s recognizable, fast pentatonic runs and super clean playing, but this instrumental incorporates so many different techniques, such as Johnson’s signature chord voicings, harp harmonics, slide etc.
7. Al Di Meola – Splendido Sundance
Al Di Meola was a real monster back in the 70s, but some of his songs are still extremely hard to play, not just because of fast scale runs, but also because of his impressive sense of rhythmics.
“Splendido Sundance” has been recorded with just two guitars and both lead and rhythm parts are very dynamic and pretty hard to play.
8. Dragon Force – Through the Fire and Flames
Put Al Di Meola in the world of melodic metal and you will get Dragon Force.
Although a pretty regular song, with verses, chorus and all other things, “Through the Fire and Flames” also consists of incredibly fast solo parts, where guitars shine in the most melodic way we’ve ever heard from Herman Li.
9. Buckethead – Jordan
Buckethead has so many songs that are incredibly hard to play but “Jordan” is among the most popular choices among players who want to learn to play something from his huge “songbook”.
Of course, the song is full of super-fast legato chops and other advanced techniques, but that crazy Super Mario-like bunch of notes in the middle is the part where real headache starts for everyone who tries to learn this song.
10. Dream Theater – Glass Prison
When you have so many skilled and talented musicians in one band, where everyone needs a couple of minutes to show his talent, it’s no surprise that most Dream Theater songs are very long.
This particular piece is good for more than 13 minutes, so it’s no wonder that there is a lot of Petrucci’s guitar work. In his typical manner, most of these parts are super fast and extremely challenging to play.
11. Allan Holdsworth – Devil Take the Hindmost
Allan Holdsworth has always been a completely different dimension compared to the rest of the guitar world and while many find most of his pieces to hard to listen, this one is actually popular by a wide range of guitarists.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier than a typical Holdsworth song, as you may count on Allan’s crazy outside legato runs and those otherworldly harmonies.
12. Jason Becker – Perpetual Burn
Unfortunately, Becker’s career didn’t last long enough, but he still managed to leave a huge mark in the guitar world, especially among those who prefer neoclassical instrumentals and shredding in general.
For them, “Perpetual Burn” is one of the most essential pieces. Of course, it’s all about neoclassical tones, but the song also involves tons of amazing chops that include techniques Jason typically used, including lots of sweep picking, legato, alternate picking etc.
13. Racer X – Technical Difficulties
Another jewel from the so-called shred era. Paul Gilbert is generally known for some of the finest skills when it comes to alternate picking and technique in general, and this song is a perfect example.
Fast and dynamics alternate picking chops come in a combination with lots of neoclassical licks with tons of arpeggios. It sounds hard enough for us.
14. Bireli Lagrene – Mouvements
Bireli Lagrene probably isn’t the most famous guitar player around, but those who are more into jazz fusion and gypsy jazz guitar know very well what this name means.
He is one of the finest guitar players around, know for super fast but also extremely melodic playing style. Also, he is equally good on electric and gypsy jazz guitar.
This particular piece is played on electric guitar, but you definitely have to check his Manouche work too.
15. Joe Pass – Nuages
Although younger generations often rather listen to fusion than classic jazz players, Joe Pass is someone who draws attention even today. As an ultimate jazz guitarist, he delivers an impressive amount of knowledge, skills and authority through his playing, and he does this in such a musical way.
Like many other players, he also played Django’s famous tune called “Nuages”, which combines beautiful melody with a little bit of an untypical chord progression. That makes everything much more challenging, especially when you hear Joe’s approach to this amazing piece.
That’s our list of 15 of the hardest songs to play on a guitar. As it was already mentioned, this is not a definitive list and there are probably many other songs that are extremely hard to play.
Feel free to leave a comment and let us know about your picks when it comes to the hardest guitar songs.