When you want to make it to the next level as a guitarist, you need hard guitar songs that challenge you. Songs that introduce you to new techniques and take you out of your comfort zone keep you growing as a player and introduce you to the core repertoire of a serious guitarist.
Challenging yourself to climb the mountains made by the masters who came before you will prepare you to blaze your own way as a musician, pushing the boundaries further than they have been in the past.
If you’re looking for a list of some of the hardest guitar songs, this list was made just for you. You may have heard some of these pieces before, but others will be new to you. Those are the ones I would recommend you focus on the most.
A number of these songs require a lot of practice hours or even additional guitar lesson training due to the techniques involved.
Some songs are not as long or complex but have unusual techniques that will challenge you to extend into new technical territory. Blending an awareness of mastering tricky solos and developing improvisational sensibility, this list is a mix of older and newer guitar virtuoso pieces that will push you past where you thought your limits were!
Let’s get started!
What Are the Hardest Guitar Songs?
1. “Cliffs of Dover” By Eric Johnson
Cliffs of Dover is a timeless masterpiece, seamlessly combining beautiful melodies, and a dozen solos showcasing Eric’s exemplary guitar skills while even the main riffs aren’t simple by any means.
The main reason why Cliffs of Dover is so difficult to play and master is that Eric does a bit of everything in slightly over 4 minutes – shredding, sliding, tapping, and vibratos, not to mention that his picking accuracy and technique are simply outstanding.
2. “Drifting” By Andy McKee
Andy is famous for simulating a one-man band on his acoustic guitar, blending multi-finger tapping with percussive taps and knocks on the guitar’s body. Drifting is a perfect song to showcase his talents; its beautiful melodies and gorgeous rhythm parts are as stunning as his technique.
If you didn’t watch the official video, you’d think at least two guitars were playing this song. Even without the rhythmic bumps and slaps, Andy McKee’s Drifting is groovy and upbeat, despite the ballad-y melodies and licks.
Read Next: How to Improve Rhythm (8 Practical Tips)
3. “Air Tap” By Erik Mongrain
Guitarists that were not fortunate enough to be introduced to the vintage 70s and 80s music may be puzzled by people that play guitar sitting on their knees. The “lap steel guitar” master Erik Mongrain goes toe to toe with modern prog-math-fusion metal shredders with his “Air Tap”.
This song is the pinnacle of technique when it comes to acoustic guitars, and the sheer range of tricks Erik uses is baffling even to seasoned veterans. This is one of the hardest guitar songs ever played simply because “standard” techniques can’t be used to cover it.
4. “La Cathedral” By Agustin Barrios Mangore
La Cathedral is considered among the best pieces of one of the most prolific classical guitarists of our era, the late great Agustin Pio Barrios. Composed and performed on a 12-string guitar, this song will have you jump across the fretboard, take you through numerous key changes, and test your accuracy and speed.
5. “Through the Fire and Flames” By Dragonforce
Through the Fire and Flames has been hailed as the hardest guitar song for years, and it is still considered among the most challenging pieces in metal as a whole.
As djent, prog, and math metal genres came to the scene, this tune is still giving young shredders a blast as they try to memorize solo after solo, riff after riff, and an absolute maelstrom of notes, harmonies, and gallops.
6. “Sultans of Swing” By Dire Straits
Sultans of Swing is the first song on the list that is not too difficult from a technical point of view. The guitar work in this song is smooth and evenly paced, and there aren’t too many key or tempo changes to worry about.
However, the groovy feel and authentic tone of Dire Straits is almost impossible to achieve without the right rig and fingers that have played it thousands of times.
7. “Passionflower” By Jon Gomm
Passionflower is more of an artistic statement than a song. It transcends music genres and proves that a song can be extremely complex and remarkably fluid at the same time.
Jon slaps, taps, pops, slides, and bends on his guitar in Passionflower; of all the music styles, it leans heavily toward progressive music as it is characterized by the heavy time signature changes and a unique selection of tones and scales.
8. “For the Love of God” By Steve Vai
The entirety of Steve Vai’s catalog is sonic proof that music is about evoking emotions, sending a powerful message, and making an impact. According to most of his fans and peers, For the Love of God is his ultimate achievement in music, with which he strings solos atop a nostalgic backing guitar.
To those unfamiliar with Vai’s idiosyncratic playstyle, For the Love of God is easily the hardest guitar song bordering with impossible. As a master of hundreds of guitar techniques and an inventor of more than a few, Vai and his songs are difficult to cover, and For the Love of God is one of the most challenging tunes he ever composed.
9. “On Impulse” By Animals as Leaders
The bar of technical guitar playing was raised when Tosin Abasi and Animals As Leaders came to the stage. Hybrid picking and odd time signatures are a norm for this band while the combination of notes that comprise the scales and chords Abasi and his friends use is still a mystery for traditional music theory.
On Impulse feels like a perfectly synchronous improvisation; two notes rarely, if ever repeat while the barrage of high tones rarely stops to give the player a moment to catch their breath.
10. “Recuerdos De La Alhambra” By Francisco Tarrega
Tremolo picking was fairly popular throughout the classical period of music, and it is quite prominent in Recuerdos De La Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega.
Although it sounds extremely nostalgic and beautiful, this technique is very difficult to perform for 5 minutes, which is the approximate length of this song. The chords performed by the backing guitar are relatively simple while the composition as a whole takes sharp turns whenever a key change is about to occur.
11. “Mombasa” By Tommy Emmanuel
“Joyful-sounding progressive acoustic guitar” would be the most accurate and shortest description I could ascribe to Mombasa written, composed, and performed by Tommy Emmanuel. This legendary guitar player is famous for reinventing and improving numerous fingerstyle techniques, and this tune showcases it perfectly.
12. “The D Minor Chaconne” By Johann Sebastien Bach
J.S. Bach is rightly deemed among the most impactful virtuosos of all time. The D Minor Chaconne’s gorgeous, somber melodies may distract your ears from hearing innumerable tiny details and accents that make this composition so full-bodied and intriguing as it is. Just like most pieces created throughout the Baroque era, Chaconne is also fairly long and exceptionally difficult to memorize.
13. “Eruption” By Eddy Van Halen
The late Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption is “the” song that has inspired more people to pick up a guitar than thousands of contemporary 80s rock EPs and records combined. Some call it the solo that changed the world, others know it as one of the most technically-demanding rock compositions ever written while all Van Halen fans agree that it is a bit of both.
14. “Pride and Joy” By Stevie Ray Vaughan
If you thought country couldn’t be proggy and techy, you probably never heard Pride and Joy. Stevie is critically acclaimed as one of the most prolific virtuosos on the scene, and this song proves that his unique blend of feel and technique is not something you can learn in a day, a month, or maybe even in a lifetime.
15. “Dance of Eternity” By Dream Theater
Dream Theater took the rulebook bands have used to create rock songs for decades and threw it out of the window when they made Dance of Eternity.
Not only does this song feature ridiculously fast shredding but it also shows that it takes classically trained musicians with years of experience to play in such a perfect synergy along with rapidly fluctuating key, tempo, and time signature changes.
16. “Classical Gas” By Mason Williams/Tommy Emmanuel
The second tune on the list by Tommy Emmanuel is Classical Gas, featuring Mason Williams. Unlike Mombasa, it can be defined as a fingerstyle shred and is considerably more progressive and faster, as well as laden with dozens of very unpredictable key changes. It may not be the fastest, but it is certainly one of the most intricate and convoluted pieces out there.
17. “Neon” By John Mayer
Renowned for his tenure with The Grateful Dead, John Mayer is also famous for his solo work. Neon is an exquisite blend of pop, prog, and rock, with all of its ingredients being present in equal measure. With the exception of the refrains, each part of Neon is very deliberate and full of detail.
18. “Guitar Boogie” By Arthur Smith/Tommy Emmanuel
It takes decades of practice, mountains of innate talent, and a brilliant mind to be as eclectic and prolific as Tommy Emmanuel. He showed us how complex “happy” music can be with Mombasa; how insanely difficult fingerstyle shredding can be with Classical Gas, and now with Guitar Boogie he is telling us where old-school blues rock would’ve been if it wanted to technically evolve.
Featuring Arthur Smith, Guitar Boogie rocks out with numerous different guitar techniques at a fairly upbeat tempo. Nailing just the rhythm parts may be challenging to intermediate players, not to mention the solos.
19. “Jordan” By Buckethead
Buckethead’s Jordan will make every guitarist who thinks using the wah-wah pedal is easy to think otherwise. Heavily relying on a broad spectrum of effect pedals, Buckethead creates extremely idiosyncratic and quirky sonic landscapes in Jordan. Moments after the dazzling opener ends, he cranks out a shreddy solo and maintains peak speed for more than a minute.
The real challenge of Jordan lies in its second half. Buckethead doubles down on his playing speed and activates nearly half of his pedalboard, launching an onslaught of notes and showcasing his impeccable fretting accuracy.
20. “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” By Nuno Bettencourt
Imagine what would happen if you took one of the fastest classical compositions, revved up a distortion guitar, and played it even faster. Nuno Bettencourt did it with the Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee, dishing out 200 beats per minute.
This song is one of the most delicate tests of accuracy and focus, requiring the player to remain perfectly precise while playing extremely fast.
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21. “Phunkdified” By Justin King
Some would say that funk is a groovier version of rock, leaving the flair of technical shredding at the wayside while focusing on the vibe and feel more than anything. Justin King disagrees, as shown in his tune called Phunkdified.
Justin makes lightning-fast slap, pop, and tapping techniques look easy while in reality, there is more to this song than that. Halfway through the song, he unleashes a frantic barrage of fingerstyle plucking that only a handful of people may come close to achieving. Not many songs are deserving of the label “impossible to play” outside of extreme metal genres, and Phunkdified takes the cake.
22. “Satch Boogie” By Joe Satriani
Joe Satriani is one of the very few people that are capable of making outstandingly complex yet danceable music. Seamlessly alternating between groovy licks and solos, Satriani does a bit of everything there is to do on a guitar in Satch Boogie. As an incredibly talented virtuoso, he doesn’t even break a sweat while moving between at least a dozen playing styles and themes while gelling it all together perfectly.
23. “Concierto De Aranjuez” By Joaquin Rodrigo
The last classical piece on the list comes from Joaquin Rodrigo, a famed Spanish musician, and composer who worked with innumerable symphonic ensembles and orchestras. His Concierto De Aranjuez takes the listener across multiple themes and motifs, each being characterized by different guitar techniques. It is one of the few musical compositions that are as wholesome as they are complex.
24. “Limehouse Blues” By Django Reinhardt
One of the most famous Django songs from his “Gipsy Genius” record, the Limehouse Blues is arguably one of the fastest and most cohesive jazz tunes of all time. There aren’t too many tempo, key, or signature changes, but the sheer speed of his playing is more than enough to declare Limehouse Blues one of the hardest guitar songs ever made.
25. “Misty” By Joe Pass
Joe Pass and his Misty show a much different side of Jazz in comparison to Django. Everything about this composition is as deliberate as it is challenging, bordering on confusing to people that may not be familiar with his work. Pinpoint accuracy, impeccable timing, and deft finger movements are some of the many prerequisites to covering Misty.
26. “Breaking All Illusions” By Dream Theater
The majority of tunes in DT’s catalog are qualified candidates for the title of the “hardest guitar songs” ever written and performed. While Streams of Consciousness boasts the most difficult and elaborate guitar solo, Breaking All Illusions takes the cake of the most demanding guitar song in virtually all aspects of guitar performance.
Sudden key changes, tempo shifts, and time signatures bouncing across the board are enough to make the listener’s head spin, not to mention that not a single fret is spared throughout the song.
It’s more of a marathon than a song since it lasts nearly 12 and a half minutes, with the only window when Petrucci is not burning the strings on his guitar around halfway through. Merely a couple of bars after the ballad part, another session of metal shredding begins.
Breaking All Illusions will introduce another dimension of scale and note choices for guitarists; unless the player attempting to cover this song is well-versed in nearly all aspects of music theory, this song is almost impossible to play. By the way, memorizing it note-for-note may be possible if you don’t mind dedicating a couple of years to such an adventure.
27. “Speed” By Steve Vai
“Speed” is a tune aptly named after its tempo. It was written and performed at 124 BPM and roars with rapid-tempo soloing and riffs from start to finish.
Vai seamlessly blends jazz, fusion, metal, and rock, although Speed is leaning more toward the latter two. It is a heavy, gritty song that showcases his amazing arsenal of techniques.
What makes Speed “playable” is the fact that at least there are no time signature changes, although Steve’s precision alone should be more than enough of a challenge for most guitarists.
28. “Monomyth” By Animals As Leaders
Just like Steve Vai took rock and metal to the next level, Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders brought another dimension into djent and fusion metal. All songs performed by him and his bandmate Javier are extremely intricate and saying that they are unpredictable would be a massive understatement.
Monomyth starts off with a “classic” djent gallop before progressing into an ascending scale comprised of notes most guitarists would think of stringing together. The notes form a perfect harmony but are played in such an order that even seasoned music instructors would have to think twice before declaring which scales they belong to.
Arguably the main reason why Monomyth (just like nearly all Animals As Leaders songs) are frustratingly difficult to cover is that Tosin uses a unique combination of pick and finger-picking styles simultaneously.
The way Tosin effortlessly combines several advanced guitar techniques at the same time makes Monomyth one of the hardest guitar songs of our time.
29. “The Lemon Song” By Led Zeppelin
While metalheads focus on technicalities and speed, rock virtuosos were more into the feel and tone of their guitars. Jimmy Page was among the pioneers of heavy rock and metal, and Led Zeppelin earned global fame by introducing grit and power to the then-smooth folk, jazz, and blues.
The difficulty of The Lemon Song does not lie in its pacing; it’s the fact that old-school recording techniques required artists to do everything in one take. Since Mr. Page loved to improvise, you will hear a different accent at the end of each bar, meaning that you can’t simply memorize the main riffs and the song structure to cover The Lemon Song.
Mini solos are scattered around the main one, and there are only a couple of seconds for guitarists to relax their fingers before this tune speeds up again.
30. “Level Five” By King Crimson
King Crimson sits on the same pedestal as Procol Harum, Rush, Genesis, and Jethro Tull, standing at the peak of progressive rock music. Although nearly all of the songs they’ve written could be dubbed as the hardest guitar songs ever, Level Five is considerably more convoluted and intricate than most.
The band is famous for jumping across the board when it comes to odd time signatures; coupled with fairly odd and dissonant intervals, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than predicting the scales and future notes in Level Five.
This describes the first half of the song. About halfway through, the song becomes faster, and the solos become more prominent.
If there is one thing that makes Level Five at least somewhat manageable, it’s that it has a couple of repetitive parts, but even so, a 7-minute long onslaught of weird scales and chords is enough to confuse anybody.
31. “Swing to Bop” By Charlie Christian
The time when Charlie Christian released Swing to Bop was during the peak of parlor jazz music. Simple, relatively tame background music usually laid the foundation for jazz artists to paint the song with notes that only musicians in the crowd could barely recognize or remember.
Swing to Bop is a masterpiece, but it is also an extremely complex tune that is as pleasant to listen to as it is challenging to cover.
Charlie performs this tune as effortlessly as if it was an improvisational session or a casual Tuesday practice. However, syncing with the rest of the band, executing each note with surgical accuracy, and having a perfect guitar tone to make the mix work are just some of the ingredients that make Swing to Bop so difficult and beautiful at the same time.
What separates this song from similar jazz tracks of its time is that it boasts a healthy dose of melody. Unlike certain old-school jazz songs primarily focused on guitarists showcasing their music theory knowledge, Swing to Bop is doused with a bit of blues and classical influences.
32. “Four on Six” By Wes Montgomery
Featured on “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery”, Four on Six is one of the most popular Wes songs that withstood more than five decades of music evolution, all the shredders, and the advent of electronic music styles.
Wes’s unique style revolves around jumping in and out of any given rhythm, but he does it so nimbly and deliberately that anyone who tries to replicate it “by the book” will often spectacularly fail.
Four on Six is a huge test of endurance for guitar players. Regardless of how skilled, fast, or precise someone is, maintaining peak focus for 6 minutes is a feat not everyone can achieve.
Another important reason why this song is easily among the top 10 hardest guitar songs of all time is that Wes never truly takes a break from guitar playing in Four on Six. Even when other instruments take over, he is bouncing between playing backing riffs and adding intricate accents.
33. “Joy” By John McLaughlin & Shakti
Jazz fusion is a huge step up from “regular” jazz in terms of technical playing, but John McLaughlin and his group Shakti took that to another level with Joy.
This is one of the most complex acoustic guitar pieces to date, featuring John shredding at the speed of sound, jumping his guitar’s fretboard multiple times over in a matter of seconds while his aggressive style of playing is enough to intimidate even other professional players.
Joy is an 18-minute long composition, with merely a couple of seconds between parts where the violin takes over to catch some breath and continue playing. Due to its incredible speed, Joy is extremely difficult to learn by ear while tablatures, if any are entirely correct, are dozens of pages long.
34. “Ice 9” By Joe Satriani
Joe Satriani’s “Surfing With The Alien” is one of the most iconic instrumental rock albums of all time, and Ice 9 is arguably one of the best, yet most difficult songs on the record.
Satriani is famously regarded as the master of harmonies, with which he paints Ice 9 through and through. Although there are several parts that sometimes repeat, the majority of this song features intricate guitar sections and a barrage of different guitar techniques.
Dozens of mini solos, impeccable use of vibrato, gorgeous harmonies, and ultra-fast shredding have earned it a slot on this list of the hardest guitar songs of all time.
35. “Burlap Curtain” By Buckethead
There are multiple layers of difficulty enveloping the Burlap Curtain tune. Firstly, the guitar parts are ridiculously fast and are in line with the underlying horror theme in terms of note choices.
Unseasoned guitarists may confuse the riffs with random shredding on the higher notes, but these tones follow a logic that can only be deciphered by experts in music theory.
Burlap Curtain is not “impossible” to perform because, fortunately, there are a couple of moments in the song where the guitarist is allowed to take a breather. This is quite pronounced at the very middle of the song before the background music changes.
Which Songs Should I Start With?
This list encompasses what may amount to decades of guitar study. So where should you start? There are several possible right answers. First, listening to the ones you don’t know is a good bet. Second, make sure you’ve learned a lot about “chunking,” or techniques for breaking down a song into small pieces.
Here’s a tip: get the tab, print it out, and cut up every single measure. Learn every single measure separately, starting with the hardest. Go so slow that people listening wouldn’t recognize the song. Slowly put the phrases back together, but go back to the individual measures as you need to, especially the tricky ones.
Another way to approach this question is to start with what you are attracted to. Are you drawn by the most difficult songs? The most unusual? The ones with the loudest solos? Think about what energizes you, since you will have to stay motivated through a very long learning process, and doing pieces you hate won’t be sustainable.
Then again, if you have already tackled some virtuoso pieces and you want to find something that will stretch you the most, try going into the territory of the songs you are least familiar with.
Another thing to consider is the balance of composition versus improvisation. Some of these songs have not a single note that isn’t in the original score. Others may have a simple hook, but demand a high level of style in the jam, or else they feel underwhelming. Ask yourself what your interests are, as well as your weaknesses that you’re trying to improve upon.
Here are a few lists to give you some suggestions:
Shreddiest Rock Guitar Songs
- Cliffs of Dover
- Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee
- Satch Boogie
- Through the Fire and Flames
Hardest Fingerstyle/Polyphonic Songs
- La Cathedral
- Recuerdos de la Alhambra
- The D Minor Chaconne
- Classical Gas
- Guitar Boogie
Songs with Improvisation/Soloing
- Limehouse Blues
- Pride and Joy
- Sultans of Swing
Progressive Electric Songs
- On Impulse
- For the Love of God
- Dance of Eternity
Songs with Tricky Techniques (Tapping, Slapping, etc.)
- Amazing Grace
Leave a comment below if you think we left out any good songs, or if you need more tips for practicing! Also, if you find these songs too difficult, check out our other article on the 50+ easiest guitar songs and see if that’s a better fit for you.