In a recent article for Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat, I listed 24 of the greatest acoustic guitar intros in the history of the universe. Now it’s time to plug in and dial up that volume as we take a look at some of the greatest electric guitar intros in the history of the universe.
I’m going bigger, longer, and better this time. Instead of 24, I’m listing 48. That’s double by the way. I know that anyone who has anything to do with guitar is a little lacking in the IQ so just thought I would point it out. The entries are in no particular order and I’m not claiming that this is an exclusive list hence the words “of the” in the title. Don’t go taking this list seriously. The idea of the article is simply to appreciate some extraordinary music and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it would be that all these intros are definitely that.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros
The electric guitar, in my correct opinion, is the best tool to use when crafting the perfect song intro. The following list of 48 is evidence of that. Let’s dive in.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #1 Johnny Be Goode Chuck Berry
What a way to start the list. We have to go back to the year 1958 for this one. The standard setting guitar intro of Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Goode is a dictionary definition of what rock n roll guitar should sound like. It’s a double stop packed bright delight that’s just as impressive today as it was back then. Want to write a rock n roll song? I would recommend opening with something like this but be warned. Many have tried to top it, but all have failed.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #2 Master Of Puppets Metallica
Master Of Puppets is a track from the 1986 Metallica album of the same name. but we all know it’s much more than that. Master Of Puppets is considered by many to be the signature Metallica song. Some may dispute that, but one thing that we can all agree on is that the guitar based intro is nothing short of massive. This blistering intro is Metallica personified and it’s a very satisfying tongue twister for the fingers. It’s even hard to keep up when you’re just listening!
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #3 Day Tripper The Beatles
It hasn’t taken long for an intro to appear that utilises a short yet incredible guitar riff in the intro and I can assure you, this will be the first of many and what a first! The Day Tripper main guitar riff is one of the greatest ever crafted. The entire song is based around it, not just the opening but that intro definitely leaves you craving more of those iconic two bars.
Day Tripper TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #4 Pride and Joy Stevie Ray Vaughan
The commanding guitar playing by blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan in the opening of his signature track Pride and Joy features one of the sweetest and thickest guitar tones that has ever been recorded in the history of music. That powerful and confident and brash guitar demands the attention of the listener with a pentatonic masterclass. The intro to Pride and Joy is like a VIP arriving at a party. Everybody sits up and takes notice and the impact is made instantaneously.
Pride and Joy TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #5 Iron Man Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath’s Iron Man tells the story of a man who saw an apocalyptic future and was turned into metal via a magnetic field upon trying to return to his own time. He tried to warn others but was ultimately shunned by society so he decided to take his revenge which caused the apocalypse he witnessed earlier or, as Ozzy put it, it sounded like a big iron bloke walking around. Either way, the unsettling and dystopian sounding guitar intro based around the manipulation of those E notes paints a vivid picture indeed.
Iron Man TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #6 A Hard Day’s Night The Beatles
We have our first instance of one act having two entries in the list already as our sixth entry is A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles. It joins Day Tripper but this one is here for a completely different reason. Off the top of my head, no other song exists that can be described as the song that opens with “that” chord. Multi tracking has a part to play here but for me, this intro simply has to be here. Nothing else on the list gets so much out of one single guitar chord.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #7 Cliffs Of Dover Eric Johnson
Cliffs Of Dover is the first instrumental song on the list and it also happens to be my favourite Eric Johnson track. It’s a track from Eric’s 1990 Ah Via Musicom album and it features an almost half minute long guitar solo as the opening. This lead guitar exhibition with a killer tone and sweet reverb is a short showcase of just how good Mr Johnson is. If you’re going to introduce a song with a guitar solo, especially when that song is a guitar based instrumental, you better make sure that solo is very impressive. Eric did just that with the mesmerising intro to Cliffs Of Dover.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #8 Highway to Hell ACDC
Highway to Hell is the opening track to the 1979 ACDC album of the same name so this intro doesn’t just open a classic song, it opens the whole album and what better way to open a song and album than with one of the world’s most iconic guitar riffs. A simple but extremely effective chord based riff crafted by Angus Young rings out on its own at first hooking the listener instantly. When you hear this intro, you know you’re in for something good.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #9 Crazy Train Ozzy Osbourne
Crazy Train is the first single by Ozzy Osbourne and it was a track on his debut solo album, Blizzard of Oz. Like other entries on the list, the song’s intro is based around a guitar riff and also like other entries on the list, the riff in question is one of the greatest of all time. This one was composed by guitarist Randy Rhoades. This riff has an aura of the demented or deranged about it and that, paired with that creeping tempo makes for the perfect and fitting guitar riff and the perfect guitar intro.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #10 Thundershock ACDC
The inclusion of this next ACDC intro won’t be particularly shocking. Okay I’m sure some of you thought that joke was lame but one thing we can all agree on is that the intro to Thundershock is electrifying… Okay, that was the last one I promise. Seriously though, this intro feels dangerous. That 16th note vibe is controlled but if you get too close, you may get electrocuted by a moderately powerful Pikachu. It should come with a warning sign.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #11 Smells Like Teen Spirit Nirvana
Smells Like Teen Spirit is the absolute undisputed king of the grunge tracks. There’s a lot to love about this song but one of the things I love the most is its raw sound. We first experience this at the beginning of the song. The riff is the same as it is throughout only, we lose the gain. It’s a simple touch but an effective one. The power chords combined with those percussive strums are a killer combination and the clean riff moving into the heavy gain is a brilliant contrast.
Smells Like Teen Spirit TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #12 Don’t Fear The Reaper Blue Oyster Cult
Don’t Fear The Reaper is a song from the 1976 Blue Oyster Cult album Agents of Fortune. It’s about eternal love and death and it also happens to have an awesome guitar intro. This one doesn’t depend on massive chords or an in your face riff or a whole boat load of gain. This one is based on A minor, G major and F major arpeggios. It’s ambient sounding and a subtly brilliant piece of guitar playing that’s just as commanding as it’s more aggressive siblings on the list.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #13 Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love Van Halen
The intro to Van Halen’s Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love has a lot of different elements and they all rock. The intro itself is a two parter. There’s the broken chord part and the full chord part, both of which could make the list on their own. Then you have those subtle little licks that slide into their place sublimely and you also have the sweet as sugar pinches in there too and that’s all topped off with the most perfect tone ever. We all know that Eddie is a master but the guitar playing in this track is something else and it all starts at the start.
Aint Talkin Bout Love TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #14 Joker and the Thief Wolfmother
Welcome to the world of drop D tuning. Joker and the Thief is a track from the Wolfmother’s painfully underrated debut and self-titled album from 2005 and much like the previous entry, this one has two separate parts both of which are as cool sounding as each other. You have the first hammer on based section that does a great job of using the open strings and triplets and that’s followed by the chord-based groove. This one doesn’t have the little injected licks like the previous entrant, but riffs are equally as impressive and the groove is one of the strongest you can hear.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #15 Should I Stay Or Should I Go The Clash
We must travel to the year 1981 for this next one. Should I Stay Or Should I Go comes from The Clash’s Combat Rock album and everything about it is freaking awesome. It’s based on the good old D major open chord transformed into a D suspended 4 chord that guitar players love so much and that chord trick is surrounded by tiny yet memorable sounds. You have the perfect integration of percussive muted string sounds and then you have that mini hammer on too. A very fun intro that uses simple technique to the fullest.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #16 Heartbreaker Led Zeppelin
Number 16 on this list of great guitar intros is occupied by Led Zeppelin and the intro to their song Heartbreaker from their second album, Led Zeppelin II which came out in the year 1969. This intro is another that utilises a two bar riff and I’ve Said it before and I’m sure to say it again before the end, what a riff! This one kinda moves around too which takes it to different dimensions of sound. I’m hooked even before the first verse as I find myself hanging on every note of this raw rock classic.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #17 The Trooper Iron Maiden
The Trooper, a song from Iron Maiden’s 4th studio album entitled A Piece Of Mind (1983) is my personal favourite Iron Maiden song. It’s also a song that just so happens to be one with an intro that’s rammed full of content. The intro is based around not one but two world beater guitar riffs. We have one riff based on the low notes and one fiddly hammer on/pull off riff too. The harmonised parts are introduced mega early in the song and they sound great and then there’s those huge sounding chords that bridge us to the verse. Fast moving, brutal and delicate all at once.
The Trooper TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #18 Wasted Years Iron Maiden
Two entries from the same band in a row? Who wrote this garbage? Yeah, I won’t reply to the email so don’t bother. Anyway, Wasted Years is an Iron Maiden track that utilises one of my favourite approaches to lead guitar and that’s pedal notes. That high E string holds strong as an epic riff is built up around it. The intro to Wasted Years (a track from Somewhere in time, the band’s 6th album from 1986) is perhaps the best example of this approach in action. I certainly can’t think of a better example.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #19 Purple Haze Jimi Hendrix
We have our first entry from Sir Jimmy of Hendrix next with the intro from one of his biggest songs, Purple Haze. There’s a lot going on here. It’s like a riff and a bunch of lead guitar at the same time. It’s uncaged and unrestricted. It has that interesting augmented thing at the start and it has that cool octave sliding part. Then there’s the random slides between the phrases and then there’s the phrases themselves! Then, you have the chord-based section to the intro featuring a chord that’s so Hendrix, it was named the Hendrix chord. One of the densest with cool elements intros on the entire list and I’d expect nothing less from JH.
Purple Haze TAB and guitar lesson
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #20 (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction The Rolling Stones
Next up, we have an intro that features a guitar riff that’s considered by many to be one of the greatest hooks in music history. It’s a two bar riff that’s so simple yet effective that it makes me angry. It uses less than a handful of notes from the A string including the open A itself. An intro, or a riff, doesn’t have to be complex. As long as something sounds good, it is good and the riff / intro to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction definitely sounds good. Seriously though, it really is actually quite annoying to us normal musicians.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #21 Plug In Baby Muse
I’ve always said that Muse are disturbingly underrated. They should be right up there in people’s minds when they think of the best bands in my opinion and I was convinced of that the moment u heard the opening moments of Plug In Baby which was the lead single from the band’s second studio album Origin of Symmetry. This one is very notey compared to the last entry but those notes are arranged to perfection to create a killer riff that sounds like it’s been played by a particularly sentient robot.
Greatest Electric Guitar Intros #22 Walk This Way Aerosmith
Next on the list is Walk This Way by Aerosmith. It was from their 1975 Toys in the Attic album and one could argue that the intro to this track has the guitar riff with the most attitude. Thanks to that guitar riff, the opening to this song is brash, bold, and very much in your face. It’s a strutting riff with a subtle little chromatic bit that I adore so much. It’s all of the adjectives above yet at the same time, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun and light. There’s a personality to it that I wish I had.
#23 Start Me Up The Rolling Stones
You know this song is going to be good after hearing approximately 3 seconds of the thing. There’s just something about those chords isn’t there? The silences say as much as anything else too. Start Me Up was the lead single from The Rolling Stones’ 1981 album entitled Tattoo You. Another intro that opens an album that grabs your attention right away. It’s those first few seconds for me. It’s like when you’ve broken a lamp or something and your dad walks in and you know sh*t about to go down.
#24 Smoke on the Water Deep Purple
A riff that’s so good, you’re not allowed to play it, apparently. Well, this one certainly requires zero introduction. Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple is a song that’s based around, and opens with, one of the greatest guitar riffs in the history of everything. Some may even suggest that it is the greatest riff of all time rather than just “one of” the greatest. We all know how it sounds and it was never not going to be here. No, I’m not a contrarian. There will be no “actually it’s overrated” from me. Anyone with a brain knows that that opening and riff is one of the greatest moments in rock music.
#25 Layla Derek & The Dominos
Layla is a track from the Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1978). The song was written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon and despite this opening, this is one that requires no introduction. We all know the riff. This is an intro that seeps and oozes class for 25 seconds of music magic. The parts dance together like two people who are good at dancing and that subversive ending is just quality personified. Layla is a song of many great elements and the intro and its recurring riff are up there with the best.
#26 Barracuda Heart
Barracuda is a track from Heart’s third studio album Little Queen and the riff that’s heard right at the beginning of the song is a riff that’s in my opinion, greatly under appreciated. This is a truly excellent guitar part. Let’s face it. Who doesn’t love a good guitar gallop? I know I do and on top of that gallop, there’s those characterful, shining, and shimmering whammy bar manipulated chords that take things to a whole new world. This is a driving intro that hooks me and reals me in every time. Yes, that was a fish pun.
#27 The House of the Rising Sun The Animals
I must say, I think that House of the Rising Sun by The Animals boasts my absolute favourite broken down chord section in the whole of music. The arpeggios are on fire and I’ve always loved the relationship between the A minor chord and the E major chord and this one exploits that relationship. This song is actually a traditional folk song. The Animals 1964 version is the most successful and well known rendition and the guitar, which we experience first in the intro is a major factor of that.
#28 Back in Black ACDC
Like Smoke on the Water and Day Tripper that came before it, Back in Black is a track that opens with one of the greatest guitar riffs in the history of everything but one could argue that this ACDC monster guitar part has more going on than the two aforementioned riffs. The chords are big, very big but on top of the commanding chords, we have those two dirty licks and the timing could not be more perfect. The second walky lick on the low strings is fun and bouncy and the first pentatonic lick on the higher strings is the ideal amount of sleaze. I can’t think of an intro that contains two licks as strong as this and the chords around them are just immense.
Back in Black TAB and guitar lesson
#29 Snow Hey Oh Red Hot Chili Peppers
I sometimes have to remind myself of the abundance of quality guitar that can be found in the Red Hit Chili Peppers discography. A great example of quality guitar in a RHCP song is the opening to Snow (Hey Oh), a song from the band’s 2006 album Stadium Arcadium. It was a close call between this one and Under The Bridge for today’s list but I just can’t get over how much I love the fiddly and intricate nature of the Snow opening or less formally, the snowpening. It’s a tricky riff but it’s not arrogant about it. There’s no “hsy look how impressive I am” involved here, but it is impressive.
#30 Welcome to the Jungle Guns N’ Roses
Welcome to the Jungle is up next and this is one of my favourites on the list. This isn’t just a riff that happens to be performed at the start of a track. This is a finely crafted masterpiece of a guitar intro. A true musical experience with the guitar right at the forefront. There’re too many great aspects to this intro to simply list. Just know that this, is the correct way to build anticipation with a guitar and the best way to start a musical journey. That little lick right at the very end, f****** epic.
#31 Revolution The Beatles
Another entry from what many consider to be the best band in history next, the Beatles. This time, we have the song Revolution, a track from the White Album. This one isn’t here because it’s a technical masterpiece. Nor is it here because it’s a clever piece of composition or because it’s pretty. Revolution is here because of its grimy and harsh in your face attitude and sound. It’s Ballsy and brave and when it arrives, you bloody know about it. It’s a fairly inconspicuous guitar part yet we all know what it is instantly.
#32 Killed By Death Motorhead
Next up is another lead guitar-based intro and this time, we have Motorhead’s Killed By Death. The introduction to this 1984 track with a poetic as hell title was totally fascinating to me when I was first discovering rock guitar music. In my head, my file sharing site of choice had helped me discover the single coolest rock intro of all time. Sure, my horizons weren’t all that expanded at that time but the blistering guitar solo at the start of Killed By Death was and still is badass nevertheless.
#33 Always With Me Always With You Joe Satriani
Come on. You didn’t think I was going to write a list containing the greatest guitar XYZ and not include something from Joe Satriani, did you? I’ve gone for Always With Me Always With You which is probably Satch’s most well-known song behind Satch Boogie. This intro isn’t flashy flash but the clean arpeggios are musically impressive. It has a deep and emotional punch to it. Anyone can play fast and flash but Satriani did more here. He made us feel with these muted chords that transition oh so perfectly into the following verse.
#34 Sad But True Metallica
The opening to Sad But True is nothing short of pure unadulterated badass. In all, this intro is almost a minute long and the bone crushing tension doesn’t let up for one single second. It’s an opening that’s almost split into two as there’s a couple of equally strong riffs that do slightly different things. You have those huge and tense chords right at the start then you have more of a vibe based riff. Two for the price of one and either could have made the list alone if the other wasn’t there so you could say Sad But True is a double entry.
#35 Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin
This is a proper riff. One of the best pieces of individual guitar ever crafted. Whole Lotta Love is from Led Zeppelin II and features a riff so strong that almost the entire 5 and a half minute song is based around it. It’s first heard, as you’d probably guess, in the opening. Similar to the Rolling Stones entry from earlier, it’s a riff that does simple to perfection to a godly level. The intro is short compared to others in the list but for a few seconds, the only thing that matters in the world is that guitar riff and shortly after, the guitar with its 4 stringed younger and admittedly mentally challenged brother.
Whole Lotta Love TAB and guitar lesson
#36 2 Minutes to Midnight Iron Maiden
2 Minutes to Midnight is a song from Iron Maiden’s 5th studio album, Powerslave. The thing I love most about the opening to this one is that it creates a real sense of urgency almost to a point where I’m anxious. It’s got a nice pace to it for sure and it’s performed with serious intention and conviction. This isn’t one for those hoping for a casual stroll or a relaxing experience. The opening lets us know exactly what we are in for. A long and intense sprint.
#37 Detroit Rock City Kiss
Detroit Rock City was written by Paul Stanley and is a track on the band’s 1976 album Destroyer. It also happens to feature my personal favorite Kiss guitar moment and that moment is the song’s intro section. Not many parts can be described as the part that goes dernerner dernernernerner but this one can. I love that fast moving and driving rhythm and the little chord bit concludes the phrase perfectly.
#38 Paranoid Black Sabbath
I’ve always loved the nifty little riff that opens Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. It’s based around a single power chord and a few hammer ons. For those that aren’t guitarists, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the way this little riff works is very freaking cool. This is perhaps the intro on the list that gets the most out of the least. There’s little going on, but the end result is a very distinctive sound and to my knowledge, this kind of thing hasn’t been achieved to this level since Paranoid came out in 1970 on the album of the same name.
Paranoid TAB and guitar lesson
#39 For Whom the Bell Tolls Metallica
This Next one is neither the first nor the last entry from Metallica. This time, it’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. A song from the band’s 1984 album, Ride The Lightning. Ignore the bell. We don’t care about the bell. What we are interested in is all those epic guitar parts of which there are plenty and I mean plenty. This intro is proper jam packed with awesome guitar. For Whom The Bell Tolls is a five minute track and two minutes of those five are guitar centric intro. The parts are all unique and identifiable and they all work perfectly together and each one is as huge and epic as the last. Want to lose yourself in a world of heavy guitar greatness? For Whom The Bell Tolls is the one for you. One of my favourites in the list.
#40 No One Knows Queens of the Stone Age
No One Knows is a track from Queens of the Stone Ages’ 3rd album, Songs For The Deaf but this one for sure isn’t one of those. This is the only track on the list that utilises C standard guitar tuning but aside from that, it’s not unique at all because like all the others, it features a very good guitar based introduction. Those big conquering C chords grab the attention immediately and the riff that follows is one of the greatest of all time. The little slides are just gravy and that little harmonic thing at the end just tips me over the edge. Great intro that I will never get bored of hearing even if I played it a million times in a row.
#41 Walk Pantera
This intro is so bloody cool! Walk is a track from Pantera’s 6th studio album entitled Vulgar Display of Power and wow, the intro to this track fits that title because that guitar is powerful as f***. So, here’s why I adore this one. The vibe of the rhythm is kinda blues rock in nature but the guitar tone and what’s actually being played is more akin to the most brutal of metal. These two approaches come together like apple and pie or, like me and your mother. I don’t think that a guitar can sound much more badass than this.
#42 All Right Now Free
All Right Now is a song by the English rock band, Free. The track originally appeared on the band’s third studio album Fire and Water which came out in the year 1970 and of course, it’s a track with an awesome guitar intro. Like a couple of other entries in the list, the All Right Now intro is chord based and it has a fabulous relationship with the drums. The chords are a little stop start in nature and the whole thing gives off a positive and up best vibe. When you hear the guitar at the start of this one, you know you’re in for an easy and enjoyable ride.
#43 Don’t Tread on Me Metallica
Metallica’s Don’t Tread On Me is one of my absolute personal favourites when it comes to guitar intros. It’s similar to Sad But True in that it’s a two part intro but this one uses a different approach by blending the two elements together. Our starting point and end point are vastly different in terms of the vibe but the transition was so seamless. This maybe heavily distorted guitar music, but this intro was as beautiful as a love poem written by someone who’s good at writing poems.
#44 You Shook Me All Night Long ACDC
We are reaching the tail end of the list now and we now come to the final ACDC entry. The intro to this one lasts around half a minute and is comprised of 2 sections. The first is a kind of stand alone prelude that uses the guitar to attain your attention and almost hypnotise you before handing you over to the second part that’s a cool chord based vibe. The guitar that’s quite stop and start in nature like the one from Free earlier works hand in hand with the drums here to immerse the listener fully in this song before a single lyric is performed.
#45 Sweet Child O’ Mine Guns N’ Roses
The opening to Guns N’ Roses’ undoubtedly most famous track, Sweet Child O’ Mine is perhaps the most recognised guitar intro of the lot. Not just within the guitar community, but in society in general. Sweet Child came out in the year 1988 as a part of GNR’s debut album Appetite For Destruction and both the song and the main riff which is heard in the opening have reached immortal status. Many musicians or music fanatics who consider themselves to be in the right may roll their eyes when this one is played but as for me, I never get tired of it. The song is absolutely perfect and that opening lets me know that the next few minutes of my life are going to be very enjoyable indeed.
#46 Stone Cold Crazy Queen
The opening to Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy, a song from the band’s 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack, is one that very much lives up to the title of the song. The guitar here is unhinged. It’s off the wall, it’s a little mental and unpredictable and, it’s insanely great. There’s an element of danger there like anything could happen but we know that master May is in full control. It’s fast paced, scary and when I first heard it, it filled me with anxiety but I guess that doesn’t take much doing as it’s not the first entry on the list to do that.
#47 Sunshine of Your Love Cream
The 1967 Cream song Sunshine of Your Love wins the award for most psychedelic track on the list and on top of this, it’s also one of the most unique entries. These two statements become apparent right from the opening with that masterfully Eric Clapton crafted opening riff which instantaneously gives off a laid back and chilled vibe. The composition itself isn’t all that complex but what we hear is absolutely divine. It’s definitely a track for the guitar fanatic and we all knew it right from the beginning.
#48 Voodoo Child (slight return) Jimi Hendrix
Wow. Number 48. We’ve reached the end and what better way to wrap things up than with the master himself, Jimi Hendrix. I can summarise the opening to Voodoo Child (slight return) very simply like this. That, is what an electric guitar is meant to sound like. This intro for me at least is the ultimate. The king of them all. The tone is nothing short of heavenly and to say Jim’s playing is virtuoso level is probably an understatement. This one is in a category of its own and I honestly don’t think it will ever be topped. This is the pinnacle of all guitar intros.
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.