Guns N’ Roses’ 10 greatest guitar moments, ranked
Every kid growing up wants to shred like Slash. From piercing lead lines to wailing solos, he had had it all – and he still does
Credit: Zuma Press/Alamy
Despite being born in Stoke-on-Trent and wearing a hat that barely anyone else alive could pull off, Slash still remains one of the coolest guitarists on the planet. Even now, coming up to four decades after he founded Guns N’ Roses, he exudes effortless cool and inspires thousands of new guitarists to pick up an axe every year.
Such was the impact of Slash’s riffs on Guns N’ Roses, the two-and-a-half decades that the band spent without him, between the early 90s and mid-2010s, felt fundamentally incomplete, missing their dazzling key ingredient, shirtless, conjuring stunning noises from a sunburst Les Paul.
Always iconic and dripping with drama, the riffs of Sweet Child O’ Mine and timeless November Rain solo inspired many a young guitarist, and millions of air guitarists besides.
As the band return to the UK this summer to headline Glastonbury and Hyde Park, we take a look through an illustrious career and try to pick out just 10 of Guns N’ Roses’ greatest guitar moments.
10. Get In The Ring (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
Get In The Ring was written by the band as a riposte to journalists making up bogus stories about them, and transmits all this rage and disdain into a snotty punk anthem. Before this, though, Slash gets his moment in the sun, beginning the track with a wailing solo that puts him front and centre from the off. The track was recorded in the studio with crowd noise added in later, mimicking the roar of a sold-out stadium. It’s silly, fun and OTT – everything Slash and Guns N’ Roses do best.
9. Out Ta Get Me (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
Again, Slash steals the show here before Axl Rose gets to open his mouth. Following the opening crunchy riff with a simply massive scream from his Les Paul, Out Ta Get Me is an underrated highlight of the no-filler Appetite For Destruction. The track’s main strength is how Slash dovetails with Izzy Stradlin for a deliciously heavy double-pronged attack.
8. Estranged (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
Slash begins this ten-minute epic with a breathtaking double stop, but his work is far from done with its opening solo. Across the sprawling track, which sees Axl at his most vulnerable and open, he magnifies the feeling with intermittent solos. In its official video, he plays the middle solo while floating through a town at night with a cigarette hanging off his lips. Estranged sounds just about as invincible and epic as that looks.
7. Nightrain (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
“I’m a mean machine, been drinkin’ gasoline / and honey you can make my motor run,” Axl sings in Nightrain, an addictive and giddy Appetite For Destruction highlight that sees him “loaded like a freight train”. As all good guitarists do, Slash transmits this feeling with a series of fun, loose and free riffs to kick things off, complemented by a classic GN’R solo in the track’s mid-section. “That song has a rhythm to it in the verses that from the start always made me go crazy,” the guitarist has said of the track – his favourite to perform live – and you can hear his excitement in every note.
6. Mr. Brownstone (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
From the iconic scratching of its opening bars to the gargantuan riff that follows it, Mr. Brownstone sees Slash showcasing the full breadth of his ability. From the chunky riffage of its verse to the customary flair-filled solo that follows later. The track was written about the band’s collective addition to heroin (sometimes known as Brownstone), yet Slash and Stradlin’s tactic to convey this vice-like grip was to let themselves loose. “Yowzer!” Axl exclaims at the track’s end, presumably at the delightful criss-crossing riffs the pair just produced.
5. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
Rarely has a cover version become so synonymous with the cover artist as Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. On the band’s version of the Bob Dylan classic, they make it entirely their own. After a verse that features little flourishes at the edges of a shimmering chord sequence, the overdriven chords of the chorus hit like a hurricane, bringing the track firmly into the Guns N’ Roses universe and creating the defining version of the track. As if to hammer the point home, Slash then follows the chorus with a solo full of bends and incredible atmosphere, set off by twinkling piano in the background.
4. Welcome To The Jungle (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
Most – if not all – bands would kill for a set opener like Welcome To The Jungle. Though they don’t tend to begin their gigs with it nowadays, there’s no better introduction to a show – and a band – than those iconic, glitchy notes. Colliding with a squealing lead riff and Duff McKagan’s descending bassline, all three then avalanche towards the drop, and the funky, irresistible riff everyone knows so well. Nearly four decades later, it still hits like a sledgehammer.
3. Paradise City (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
In terms of pure technical ability, Paradise City is Slash’s magnum opus. Its outro solo features fretting that’s frankly absurd in terms of its speed. As the band go into double time, he hammers on and pulls off over and over, leaving a whirlwind in his wake. The track is largely remembered for its instantly recognisable chorus, but Slash’s outstanding solo in its frenzied outro is its crowning glory.
2. Sweet Child O’ Mine (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
It feels like Guitar Hero was made entirely for Sweet Child O’ Mine. Every beginner dreams of being able to shred the ageless opening riff to one of the biggest rock’n’roll songs of the last 50 years, and – as the band build atmosphere behind it – it makes you feel absolutely invincible. As the track rolls on, Slash peppers its five minute runtime with signature solos, but its opening riff, a marvel of rock’n’roll shredding, is what survives above all else. “It was just me messing around and putting notes together like any riff you do,” Slash has said of creating the riff. All in a day’s work for the master.
1. November Rain (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
Put simply, November Rain has one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time. What begins with Axl Rose at the piano and sweeping strings ends with a lesson to all young guitarists of what poise, power, melody and feeling look like. Still seared into the minds of all rock fans is Slash, standing in front of a church in the desert, striding forwards in cowboy boots before throwing out a colossal solo that defined him as a guitarist. It’s not his most challenging solo in Guns N’ Roses’ oeuvre, but it is his most dazzling, and by far the most impactful.