Updated: Oct 24, 2019
What makes a great guitar riff? Riffs are designed to be repeated, to be catchy, to get stuck in your head, so that's the criteria I've decided to go with for my list. Most of these are riffs that have stuck with me since I was a kid, some of them are new but I just can't get enough of them. There's quite a wide variety of genres in this list as I think it's good to open up your ideas to different sounds and different perspectives. Kicking things off with my all time favourite guitarist and king of blues guitar B.B. King!
B.B.King 'The Thrill Is Gone'
For a long time now B.B.King has been one of my guitar heroes and the thrill is gone is the perfect display of his ability to give every riff its own voice and reason for being. In this song he plays interwoven riffs in a call and response style with his voice, knowing perfectly when he should play and when he should not play, his entire solo is fantastic and thoughtful as he moves effortlessly with the gradually increasing tempo of the band.
Franz Ferdinand 'Take Me Out'
Scottish Indie band Franz Ferdinand's album of the same name is in my opinion an indie gem every track on it is full of catchy and unique riffs, powerful but clean drums and fantastic vocals, their single 'take me out' and the entire album is probably the best example of founding members Alex Kapranos' & Nick McCarthy's ability to churn out catchy but simple riffs one after another without breaking a creative sweat.
Muse 'Supermassive Black Hole'
Muse front man Matt Bellamy is a one man powerhouse, playing guitar, keyboard, piano and singing, his 3-piece devon based band Muse are known for their unique take on alternative rock infusing romantic classical influences and later on their album featured above, incorporating electric and pop elements through their influence of bands like Depeche Mode and other groups of the 1980's. Supermassive Black hole and the main riff is one of the best examples of the groups ability to blend electronic and rock genres to create a unique piece of music that will never get out of your head. A strong thumbs up to Matt Bellamy's pedal board and guitar rig for enabling such a beast to be born.
Jimi Hendrix 'All Along The Watchtower'
Legendary Guitarist Jimi Hendrix's rendition of Bob Dylan's 'all along the watchtower' has always been one of my favourite songs, the lead riff at the start of the song is the perfect example of the new wave of psychedelic Beatles inspired tones of the music of the late 60's, a perfect lead up to the rest of the tracks colourful and vibrant style, the whole album is a fantastic piece of work filled with Hendrix's classic guitar riffs and 'live in the studio' feel.
Michael Jackson 'Beat It'
This track is packed full of catchy punchy riffs, michael jackson is the king of hooks, as well as being the king of pop of course, what I like about this riff is how is fits in with the second riff perfectly as they play off each other.
Eric Clapton 'Tears In Heaven'
This little acoustic beauty is a gorgeous riff that has so much feeling behind it despite being a fairly simple melody, the meaning behind the words of this track are also very powerful as it was written in memory of Eric Clapton's son who sadly passed away in 1991, I think because of this the song has a true and real feel to it as it was written from the heart. Aside from that the use of suspended and inverted chords with the articulation of Clapton's playing makes this riff and whole song a masterpiece.
AC/DC 'Back In Black'
I remember learning this when I got my first electric guitar as a child and running around my room playing it, it's a powerful timeless riff that never fails to make me happy. The Young brothers of AC/DC are known for their memorable and punchy rock riffs and this one tops the lot, despite not being one of their original tracks I'll always love it. (Closely followed by hells bells)
Probably the heaviest track on my list, I love this riff because it's vicious and really makes you grit your teeth and move your head. With the use of a down-tuned guitar and palm muting along heavy distortion this riff is really powerful. Jim Root is a great guitarist and I love how he uses a Fender Telecaster to create such beasty metal music!
The White Stripes '7 Nation Army'
There aren't many people who haven't heard this riff and stomped their foot to the rhythm, it's amazing that this riff hasn't already been discovered since it's such a simple but incredibly catchy riff. Jack Whites guitar sound and stripped down music style really make this riff punch through like Mike Tyson. It's the sort of riff that could be looped endlessly without sounding repetitive, that's why it's on my list.
Pink Floyd 'Money'
What can I say about Pink Floyd? Their guitarist David Gilmour has a penchant for opening a new universe of sounds with his guitar playing and solos, as well as creating mean riffs that weave in and out of the beat with grace, as well as a killer main riff, 'money' also has an incredible guitar solo that picks up the slack straight from Dick Parry's tenor sax mastery, Parry also features on other tracks on this album (Dark Side of The Moon) lifting up the entire album with his bluesy goodness.
To arrange guitar lessons via Skype, or in Derby, UK contact me here