The following is a list of some of the greatest instrumental guitar songs of all time. I love instrumental guitar songs. Instrumental music is grossly underappreciated in my opinion. Some of the most amazing pieces of music I’ve heard have been completely instrumental and as a guitarist, I’ve always been drawn to instrumental music that places the best instrument in the world at the forefront.
This list is my tribute to a style of composition which I think deserves more love. The songs on this list are much more than some guitarist demonstrating their skills. They’re much more than notes and scales. Each of these songs is a musical experience and they’re all truly magnificent in their own way.
This list is in no particular order and this isn’t a “top 20”. There’s a lot more amazing instrumental guitar music out there for those who want to find it. This is simply a list of my personal favourites.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #1 Joe Satriani – Satch Boogie
My list opens with one of the most iconic instrumental guitar songs of all time. Satch Boogie is surely the signature song of guitar master and legend Joe Satriani. Satch Boogie feels like an entire big band on one guitar and it’s a track that contains all the best of Satriani trademark sounds. It’s fun, it’s fast moving, and it’s very impressive technically. The track hops from one amazing moment to the next and by the end, you’re left with just one word in your mind. Wow. I love everything about this from the whammy bar antics to the legato. I also love the chromatic stuff and the pick tapping and the tapping in the bridge. Satch Boogie really has it all and then some.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #2 Van Halen – Eruption
If you want to hear what a lead rock guitar should sound like, listen to Eruption by Van Halen. I haven’t looked at a dictionary since school but I’m sure if I looked up “godly guitar performance”, the definition would read something along the lines of “what you hear in Eruption”. It’s less of a song and more of a showcase of guitar playing at the highest possible level. The word impressive would be a massive understatement. This track features Van Halen at his best. The technique on display is inspiring and the blistering sound of lead guitar perfection is jaw dropping. This track that features lead guitar and lead guitar only is the end goal for anyone who picks up an electric guitar.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #3 Dick Dale – Miserlou
Miserlou (which can also be spelled Misirlou) is surely the undisputed ultimate surf rock guitar song. If you like the sound of both the E strings being picked very quickly, this is the song for you. Rapid picking isn’t the only trick this song has though. Miserlou is very melody driven. Once you hear that main hook that’s performed on guitar, you’ll never forget it. This is definitely a track that makes every guitar player think “hey, I wanna play that” and play it they must because this is a really fun track to perform and audiences love to hear it.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #4 Link Wray – Rumble
Rumble by Link Wray. The entry with perhaps the most instantly recognisable three chords in the entire genre of instrumental guitar music. The title of Rumble refers to the fact that the music sounds like a fight is about to break out and you can certainly hear that in this rough exhibition of rhythm focused guitar work. There is lead guitar in there too and pretty cool sounding lead guitar at that, but this one is all about the rhythm and the mood. Rumble is not pretty which is great because it isn’t supposed to be. It’s an instrumental piece with an attitude.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #5 The Shadows – Apache
Apache by The Shadow is the perfect instrumental guitar song for anyone who happens to be a cowboy. I’m joking of course. Apache by The Shadows is the perfect instrumental guitar song for cowboys, and anyone who likes riding horses. I’m still joking of course. The wild west feel to this track is but one great element of many. It always impresses me how a clean guitar tone can sound badass without distortion and Apache is Definity an example of that. This is a song that sounds like it’s going to walk in and kick my ass at any minute for not opening the list with it. Furthermore, the reverb on that guitar sounds truly amazing. Incredible tone.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #6 Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover
Like Eruption, Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover opens with what a lead rock guitar should sound like. This intro paves the way for a song that’s a perfect example of what an instrumental guitar song should sound like. I’ve always loved the rhythm of this track and I find that main melody that’s used at different points throughout to be sheer instrumental perfection. The reverb on the guitar is right up there with the best I’ve ever heard, and the track is packed full of awesome licks. I particularly enjoy the pivot note work and the class outro creates an incredible guitar sandwich that I could eat over and over again forever.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #7 Joe Satriani – Always with Me Always with You
Always with Me Always with You is kind of like an instrumental rock guitar ballad and it’s another Satriani song that does more than one thing extremely well. To start with, the melody is packed with emotion. I’ve been lucky enough to see Joe perform this live and I can assure you, it packs a punch in person. The more traditional guitar solo passages are also performed with passion yet at the same time, there’s no lack of that liquid like legato sound that us Satriani fans love so much. Then there’s the part that’s sometimes forgotten when we talk about the top guitarists and that’s the rhythm section. Those chords that sit in the background are absolutely divine.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #8 Carlos Santana – El Farol
El Farol by Carlos Santana features a soft and delicate melody and a beautiful guitar tone. It’s almost like the guitar is singing real words. The performance of the lead and indeed, the backing guitar are gentle like the touch of a feather during the verse sections and I love the Latin vibe that this track has going on and also, the climb up at the end of the chorus sections is very cool. Then there’s the guitar solo which is performed magnificently. It’s just the right level of epic but it stays nicely within that established groove. El Farol is one of those tracks that you can get lost in. Want to escape the world for a few minutes? Listen to this.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #9 Mason Williams – Classical Gas
Classical Gas by Mason Williams is in my opinion, an iconic guitar recording. The main hook from this track is right up there with Smoke on the Water and Sweet Child O’ Mine. I’ll fight anyone that disagrees, unless you’re bigger than me. I first heard this multi award winning finger fiddling piece on the Simpsons as a kid and was blown away by how cool it sounded, and I was not disappointed when I discovered the proper recording years later. It’s huge and it’s commanding. It builds to an unforgettable hook and perhaps most importantly, it’s fun.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #10 Fleetwood Mac – Albatross
Albatross by Fleetwood Mac is very atmospheric and warm. It almost sounds like a summer holiday. The guitar tone is beautiful, and the whammy bar work is magnificent. I’m also in love with that bass part that sits behind the forefront driving the track, and it’s always impressed me that a song that has great melody work features simple chords as a main hook. In a list of songs that contain crazy feats of lead guitar mastery, this one stands out because it knows that less is more. Less is more. What a great phrase. Speaking of phrasing, the phrasing in this song is perfect. We float from one lick to the next like an angel jumping across the clouds.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #11 Steve Vai – For the Love of God
For the Love of God by Steve Vai is something else. It’s a special performance that must have been inspired by the gods themselves. Maybe that’s what inspired the title? That main melody that’s used at different points is in my opinion at least, right up there with the best and extremely under appreciated. The guitar tone could not possibly be any better. You know that a guitarist has got it right when the sheer sound of the instrument makes the hairs stand up on the back of your knees. Yes, that’s the second Simpsons reference of the article. The lead work is exactly what one would expect from Vai and then some. Some of the lead stuff is some of the best I’ve ever heard. Not one fret of the guitar goes unloved and yet, it always comes neatly back to stunning melody.
Greatest Instrumental Guitar Songs #12 The Surfaris – Wipeout
Earlier, I stated that I thought Dick Dale’s Miserlou was the ultimate surf rock track. For me, Wipeout by the Surfaris picks up the silver medal but many would quite legitimately argue that the two should be flipped. Wipeout is certainly the more well-known of the two and it’s easy to understand why. This twelve-bar wave breaker features one of the most iconic guitar melodies of all time and don’t get me started on the tone of the guitar. Totally beautiful man. I love the relationship that the guitar has with the drums and I’m not entirely sure how a guitar sounds like a day at the beach, but the guitar in this track does.
#13 Carlos Santana – Europa
Next, we have the second Carlos Santa entry. This time, it’s a more well-known track. Europa and oh my god, THAT is what an electric guitar should sound like. Wow. The word wow could be used a lot when talking about this instrumental masterpiece. It’s a track that goes from one incredibly impressive moment to the next and this trend continues throughout the whole five-minute track and each moment is as awesome as the last. There’s an incredible range of dynamics in this song as well as some huge lead guitar moments and killer tones. The arrangement is phenomenal and how the instruments work together is mightily impressive.
#14 Joe Satriani – Ten Words
Ten Words isn’t a track that’s considered to be one of the big Satriani signature songs, but I simply had to include it. It’s a track that contains some of that good old pie in the sky Satriani lead, but the very impressive lead guitar work isn’t why it’s here. Ten words is here on the list because of the focus on melody and emotion. The level of emotion is intensified when you learn that the song is a kind of instrumental guitar tribute to 9/11 and in my opinion at least, Joe captures the necessary mood brilliantly without saying one word.
#15 Yngwie Malmsteen – Far Beyond the Sun
How have I got this far without a Malmsteen track? Far Beyond the Sun is probably the most obvious one that I could have chosen but the reason for that is because it’s so dam good. We guitar fanatics all know what we’re going to get from Yngwie and boy does this track deliver. We’re treated to more than I can list. Yes, the Swedish Sensation does not disappoint. The guitar solo work is incomprehensible at times to say the least. This is one of those guitar performances where you must sit back and say, “how the hell does he do it?” The story doesn’t end there though because this is more than a shred fest. There’s also a clear focus on melody resulting in an instrumental that has it all.
#16 Yngwie Malmsteen – Evil Eye
“TWO MALMSTEEN ENTRIES IN A ROW? WHO WROTE THIS ****? THEY SHOULD BE FIRED!” That would be me and no, I don’t respond to butt hurt messages. No time for that. You were almost more annoyed to be fair because it was nearly three in a row. The list was originally 21 but 20 was neater, so I had to cut one. This was a choice between Evil Eye and Black Star. I settled on Evil Eye because I loved the stop start nature that’s persistent throughout the track making it rather unique. I also particularly enjoy the clean and classical part at the beginning of the track and the changes of approach but most of all, I love the amount of crazy balls to the wall Yngwie that I get to listen to. If you want a whole bunch of insane guitar playing, listen to this.
#17 Unknown Composer – Romance
The origins of the classical piece known as Romance (or other names such as Romanza) are unknown which is a sad fact because I’d love to know who composed such a stunningly beautiful piece of guitar music. Romance is a short classical piece split into two sections. A minor section and a major section. The minor section has a longing, sombre and almost mourning depth to it but in contrast, the major section feels warm, almost like love itself. The two sections somehow fit together very nicely and I’m not sure how. It’s a clever piece of music packed with feeling and emotion. One of my favourite classical pieces of all time.
#18 John Petrucci – Glasgow Kiss
Well, this is very Scottish isn’t it? I’ve used a similar statement to the following already in the list, but I don’t care. I’m not sure how an instrumental guitar track can sound Scottish, but this does. I don’t think there’s any other piece of music that makes me want to put on a kilt and invade England on horseback. Glasgow Kiss is one of the longer entries in the list and its jam packed with different sounds and musical experiences each as big and epic sounding as the last. It takes us on an adventure and not one moment of that adventure id disappointing. I’m not going to list everything I like about this song because like I said, there’s a lot to it but I do have to point out one thing. The guitar soloing is bloody breath-taking.
#19 John Williams – Cavatina
Cavatina by the great composer John Williams is the penultimate entry on the list. I’ve chosen this one for one very simple reason. Cavatina is a beautiful piece of music. This isn’t about flashy guitar licks and crazy skills. It’s not about reverb, gain, tapping or speed picking. It’s not even about emotive and passionate guitar playing. Cavatina transcends that. For me at least, The melody of this piece is one of the greatest ever written in the history of music. There aren’t many pieces of music that bring out the level of emotion in me that this does. I simply don’t have the lexicon of adjectives to describe just how divine this piece of music is. I’ve not used this next statement for any other entry so as not to dilute its impact. Words can’t do this music justice. You must go and listen to it and experience it for yourself.
#20 Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien
I believe that Satriani has the most entries on this list of great instrumental guitar songs. I’m a huge Satriani fan so that was always likely going to happen, but it was only possible because the guy has some many songs that are worthy of making the list. I’ve left out at least three which I wanted to include just to avoid it becoming too one sided.
Surfing, like Satch Boogie and Always with Me, is a signature Satriani track, and for good reason. This was actually the first Joe Satriani song that I heard back in my very early days of guitar playing. I think I’d had one guitar lesson at that point.
I’d never heard anything like it before in my life. From the moment I heard that track, I knew that I wanted to get really good at guitar playing and do what I saw Joe doing. The best way to sum up Surfing with the Alien for me at least is inspirational.
Thanks for this one Joe. I wouldn’t be writing this article now if it wasn’t for this song.
That about wraps things up for this list on some of the greatest instrumental guitar songs of all time. Are you a list junkie? If so, take a look at these lists.
Hello. My name is Ryan J Mellor and I play the guitar. I’m also the creator of Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat. I’ve ben a guitarist for many years and my guitar playing has been described as “above average”. My guitar and music knowledge is somewhat impressive but most importantly, I have a passion for creating great guitar and music related content.