Let’s talk about forbidden guitar riffs. Did you know that there’re a whole bunch of amazing and great sounding guitar riffs that you should consider avoiding when trying out a guitar or a piece of gear in a guitar store? If you didn’t know this, please read on or you could find yourself serving a lengthy prison sentence. Or, you may even wind up in a mental institution. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that serious but you may find that you get a “look” or a raised eyebrow twice the size of Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s.
In this article, I shall explain the concept of forbidden guitar riffs and provide you with a list of riffs that you should perhaps maybe consider staying away from while in a guitar store. What you read next will be hugely beneficial. After reading this, you’ll never once have to potentially maybe deal with a slightly uncomfortable situation.
What are forbidden guitar riffs?
The concept of what forbidden guitar riffs are is actually very simple indeed. You see, a high percentage of guitarists never make it past the beginner or the early intermediate stage of playing. The footfall in a music store will often reflect this, resulting in many folks with a limited skill set trying out new guitars and new gear. There’s nothing wrong with this obviously. Everyone goes through the beginner stage and everyone tries out gear at that stage too. I certainly remember fumbling away in local music stores in the early days.
A beginner guitarist’s way of trying out gear will often take the form of playing beginner friendly riffs that they’ve learned recently but the problem is, the beginner friendly riffs that are learned are always the same ones because they’re beginner friendly. This can become somewhat tedious for those working in the store.
Imagine it. You work at a guitar store and throughout the day, you hear the same riffs over and over and over again, more often than not, played in a mediocre and clunkly way. Or to put it another way, they hear these riffs played badly, over and over again.
This scenario has resulted in a set of guitar riffs that guitar players should avoid when trying out guitars and gear.
Are forbidden guitar riffs really a thing?
Yes and no. There are definitely stores out there that have gone as far as putting up signs stating “NO RIFF X Y Z” but the article is kind of tongue in cheek because for the most part, the whole concept of forbidden guitar riffs is kind of tongue in cheek too.
The idea of forbidden riffs is more of a guitar community inside joke than anything else. The idea that a guitar store is going to take any serious measures against a potential paying customer who plays “forbidden guitar riffs” in the store a little silly. Imagine it.
“Good afternoon good store assistant. I’d like to buy this guitar along with a strap, case and stand. This amp, along with this bunch of cables, these pedals, 50 packs of strings and my own body weight in plectrums please, oh and this book entitled “the ultimate secrets of guitar that will make you the best guitarist in the world in 7 days ever I promise”. It’s for a friend. Anyway, here’s a huge pile of money.”
“I’d love to accept your custom dear customer but unfortunately, you played a riff that I heard twice already today. Now get out. Also, because you offended me, I broke all the windows in your car and crapped in the hood of your coat when you weren’t looking.”
That said, I have seen a store try to enforce a forbidden guitar riffs rule in the past.
Forbidden guitar riffs – the swear jar
One day, during my formative years of guitar playing, I found myself doing what I often did. Walking around a music store trying out guitars that I couldn’t afford. 10 or so feet away from me, there was another guy about the same age (mid to late teens) who was doing the same thing. He was with a friend and I was naturally alone. We were both playing away, relatively quietly as we both sucked pretty hard still and then, he did the unthinkable. He played a forbidden guitar riff.
I kind of chuckled in my own head “oh he’s playing that in a guitar store”, and then continued to mind my own business. To my surprise, a store worker approached the young gentlemen with some kind of jar or tin. I couldn’t see what it was exactly because my eyesight sucks but they were gesturing and suggesting that the guitarist places a coin inside.
It turned out that this store had a “swear jar” policy whereby if you play certain riffs, you had to put money in the jar. The guitarist in question had no idea what was going on and was clearly not in on the forbidden guitar riffs joke. Perhaps if he’d have read this, he wouldn’t have lost £1 and his pants. Or, maybe it was just £1 I can’t remember exactly.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, no, forbidden guitar riffs aren’t really an official thing and they won’t land you in any real hot water but if you’d like to avoid them, read on because next, we’ll learn which riffs are the forbidden ones. Or some of them least.
List of forbidden guitar riffs
As mentioned, it isn’t necessarily the case that you can’t go into a music store or guitar store and play the guitar riffs in this list, but I guess there are stores out there which may frown upon them so you may choose to avoid them.
This is not an exclusive list and it’s a list that could alter over time as new songs emerge so take the list below as more of a guide than definitive.
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin is often cited as “the” forbidden guitar riff and why wouldn’t it be? It’s only one of the greatest pieces of guitar music in the history of everything. That intro has been right at the top of the riff mountain since it came out in 1971 and just so happens to be fairly beginner accessible. Killer combination.
Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
Smoke on the Water is for me at least, the song that’s most synonymous with the beginner guitarist. It’s nice and simple to perform and it sounds bloody brilliant. This one has been making new guitarists happy since 1972. The problem that I think it has is that if it were to be repeated, over and over, it could easily begin to sound rather mundane.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Next, we head off to the 90s and the land of grunge. This is pure power chord heaven, or hell if you had to listen to it over and over I guess. So, you’re trying out a distortion pedal? Now you can go from a clean tone to a distorted tone. That doesn’t mean that you HAVE to play the Smells Like Teen Spirit riff. To be honest, I think the verse part on repeat would annoy me more but that’s just me.
Iron Man – Black Sabbath
We have a song and main riff from Black Sabbath’s 1970 Paranoid album next. Iron Man. A song that’s robotic by name, and, if you repeat that main guitar riff for long enough, robotic in nature. A couple of loops wouldn’t hurt but I guess hearing this several times throughout the day could drive someone slightly insane.
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
With me being somewhat of a miserable b******, this one would be right up there for me. Some of the others on the list would be an issue with repetition but I can’t imagine starting work at 9am Monday morning and having to listen to someone play something upbeat and lively. Yeah, too early for that my friend. Not in the mood.
Enter Sandman – Metallica
Enter Sandman is I guess a special entry because it has more than one part to the song that is worthy of the list. We have the clean intro section which would get real boring real fast if you had to endure it again and again, and then you have the distorted part that follows with that little slide up bit in there. Then of course, it can be put together for twice the danger. I remember playing intro to this song on loop myself once in the early days. We’re all guilty of breaking the forbidden guitar riffs rule at least once I guess.
Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
Crazy Train is a single from Ozzy Osbourne’s solo album, Blizzard of Ozz and funnily enough, it’s here for pretty much the same reasons as Iron Man. Hearing it now and then wouldn’t be an issue but can you imagine having to endure the Crazy Train main riff on loop? Then you get a rest from it then an hour later, someone else comes in and plays it again? Yeah I can see why that would become annoying.
Wonderwall – Oasis
There was a guy at college where I studied music who played Oasis constantly. Nice guy, decent guitarist, but he loved his Liam and Noel, a little too much. After about 9 seconds, it got old and even he never played Wonderwall. I get it, it’s a beginner’s favourite and you can make it sound like the record but Jesus, it isn’t half dull after a while.
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
You know, I don’t mind a bit of Stairway if it’s done well so that isn’t “the” forbidden riff in my opinion. No, for me, it’s Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses. The song is great. I can’t fault the song. The song is perfect from start to end. I just don’t want to hear YOU play it. It’s very 8th noteish and it gets old after 1 repeat. Leave this one where it belongs. On the record.
Back In Black – AC/DC
I said I didn’t mind a bit of Stairway and you know what, I don’t mind a bit of Back in Black either. You can even learn it yourself if you like by clicking here. Problem is, lot’s other people don’t mind a bit of Back in Black either and therefore, they want to learn it and therefore they do and because it sounds so cool, they therefore want to show it off.
Forbidden Guitar Riffs – The Conclusion
So, in this article, we’ve looked at what forbidden guitar riffs are and we’ve discussed both the seriousness of the concept and the offending riffs themselves but there’s only one way to wrap this up and that’s by saying that you should probably just not worry about this.
It’s an interesting little quirk of the guitar community, and it’s good to be in on the joke, but I wouldn’t truly give it much thought. It’s something that’s a bit of a running joke, and if anyone takes it more seriously than that, that’s a them problem, not a you problem.
Like I said earlier, I can’t see store workers realistically enforcing anything like this and if they did, that probably isn’t the store for you. Or me. Or anyone.
Could you get smirks or comments from other shoppers? Maybe. I guess on rare occasions but sadly, the guitar world is full of snobs who know better, and people like that will always find something to criticise you for. How you respond is up to you but taking it to heart would be the incorrect way.
When you go into a music store, you’re not there to put on a gig. Or at least, you shouldn’t be. Yeah, I see you and you know who you are… You’re there to test out guitars, our amps, or any other kind of gear with the view of potentially making an informed purchase.
To make the correct purchase, you have to be as informed as possible and if your guitar playing involves playing some classic tracks like the ones above, then you should do it.
I’ve said it a million times. Nobody tells you what to play. You decide that.
Just, don’t be the person that goes into the store and plays the forbidden guitar riffs on purpose as a joke. It’s not funny and it will never be funny.
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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.