The FORBIDDEN RIFF – Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?

The iconic song ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin became so overplayed and badly attempted by beginner guitar players that guitar stores started referring to it as the FORBIDDEN RIFF!

Guitar store employees also jokingly threaten to ban people from their stores if they play the riff.

Stairway to Heaven is just one of the forbidden riffs that makes guitar store employees cringe when they hear, along with other classic songs such as Smoke on the Water, Seven Nation Army, and Wonderwall!

Stairway to Heaven is an absolutely fantastic song. It’s commonly referred to as one of the best songs in rock history. However, when overplayed so much, people are bound to get sick of it!

What is the Forbidden Riff?

The forbidden riff is any badly overplayed song/riff like “Stairway to Heaven”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It surfaced as an inside joke in the early ’70s due to the fact that all beginner guitarists badly overplay these riffs as a way of showing off.

Popular songs like “Stairway To Heaven”, “Highway To Hell”, “Smoke On The Water”, and those similar are so often overplayed that many have grown irritant with them, hence the name ‘Forbidden Riff’.

Beginner guitarists especially have a way of overplaying these riffs as a way of showing off their skills, naturally, it backfires in so many ways. This is why guitar stores have ‘banned’ these riffs and refer to them as they do. Of course, no riff describes the term ‘Forbidden Riff’ better than “Stairway To Heaven”.

Is Stairway to Heaven Banned In Music Stores?

Stairway to heaven is not banned in music stores. However, playing it is quite a breach of etiquette!

If you start playing this song in stores you might get jeered or joked at by store employees and other guitar players. But, you’re very unlikely to actually get kicked out of the store.

If you want to keep your street cred up, maybe you should add some other songs to your arsenal (or just improvise!) when you were trying out a guitar!

The reason why guitar store employees started to dislike hearing the song so much was that it was played so often, and so badly, by beginners.

They found that the people that came in to play Stairway to Heaven were least likely to actually buy guitars, i.e. they were just coming in to show off their new ‘skills’ or just try out a few different guitars!

The Forbidden Riff has Become a Pop Culture Reference

The running joke of Stairway to Heaven being a forbidden riff has become a pop culture reference ever since it appeared in the movie ‘Wayne’s World’.

It’s now so well known amongst the guitar player community that when you play this at a guitar store, people will instantly think about this forbidden guitar riff reference, and may pass some remarks about it!

Stairway to Heaven is Forbidden Because it’s Overplayed

When you hear a song too many times, you’re going to eventually stop liking it so much. This is especially true when you have a lot of beginners badly attempting a rendition of the song every day around you!

Employees that work in guitar stores have to be subjected to a lot of different songs and playing styles from people all day long.

When they hear the exact same song, it can really start to infuriate them over time!

This is for the exact same reason that some people find busking or street performers very controversial. Many buskers in busy districts often regularly rotate between a shortlist of songs in the same set, which can greatly irritate employees in nearby shops!

Stairway to Heaven is Also Banned Because It’s So Easy to Learn

The song sounds great but it’s so easy to learn, which is why it’s played so much. Stairway to Heaven is one of the first songs that many guitarists learn.

This song has an incredible combination of being really easy to play while sounding amazing when it’s played well. It has such an amazing character and goes so well together with the lyrics.

To somebody who’s never played guitar before, Stairway to Heaven can seem like quite a difficult song to play, even though the picking is actually quite simple.

Therefore, it is another way for beginner guitarists to make it look like they’re a lot better, or a lot more experienced than they actually are!

Yes, this is another reason why it’s one of the go-to songs for beginners when they go into a guitar store.

They don’t want to just show a few chords, they want to play a nice strummed pattern of a very popular song. This is yet another reason why this song is forbidden in many guitar stores!

Stairway to Heaven was (and still is) an immensely popular song, it was it’s one of Led Zeppelin’s most well-known songs and is commonly referred to as one of the Best Rock Songs of All Time.

This is yet another reason why this is so often played amongst guitarists.

What should you play instead of the forbidden Riff?

Instead of reverting to the standard forbidden riff, just play what you would normally play. If you want to try out some new guitars, then play the kind of music that you want to play.

If you just strum a few chords when singing along to a song, then that’s what you should do.

If you play fast riffs and solos, then that’s what you should play to make sure that you know that it’s a guitar for you.

Therefore, when you’re playing in a guitar store. Play the music for YOU. Do not try and show off to anybody else. If you have your own material then play that.

If you really want to Stairway to Heaven all day long, then just go ahead and play that when in the guitar store… but be ready for the jokes, dirty looks, and general disapproval of your fellow guitarists!


It has simply just become a running joke within the guitar community that Stairway to Heaven is banned in guitar stores.

Stairway to Heaven is a very popular song that has been played many times around the world. The main reason why it’s so popular is because of how easy it is to play, and because there are a lot of beginner guitarists who want to learn this song.

When you hear Stairway to Heaven being played just one too many times, it can start to become monotonous. This is especially true when people are playing this song badly in front of you!

When people continually play the same song over and over again, there’s a chance that it will lose its effect on you… especially if they’re not very good at playing the song!

If you want to play Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store, then make sure that you learn how to play it properly. Otherwise, you are breaching an unspoken agreement and playing the forbidden riff.

Featured Image by tony morelli, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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