How often has this happened?
Someone tells you to listen to an amazing, incredibly challenging guitar riff.
When you finally hear it, you’re disappointed.
Sure, it’s hard to play. But it doesn’t sound good.
So who even wants to play it?
You won’t find any of these here. The hardest guitar riffs we chose, impress in every way.
They sound great and are nearly impossible to pull off.
Keep reading for our list of the most difficult riffs to play on guitar.
Table of Contents
- 1 Hardest Guitar Riffs To Play
- 1.1 Intro Riff Of Loved To Death by Megadeth
- 1.2 Third Riff In Stream Of Consciousness by Dream Theater
- 1.3 Opening Riff Of Matriarch by The Black Dahlia Murder
- 1.4 Second Riff Of Song Of Solomon by Animals As Leaders
- 1.5 First Riff Of Wolf And Raven by Sonata Arctic
- 1.6 Third Riff In The Return by Shadow Of Intent
- 1.7 Little Wing by Stevie Ray Vaughan
- 1.8 Pre-Solo Riff Of The Wanton Song by Led Zeppelin
- 2 Most Difficult Riffs To Play On Guitar: Final Thoughts
Hardest Guitar Riffs To Play
As mentioned, all of the guitar riffs listed here are not only difficult to play, but they also sound great. You won’t find any riffs here that are hard just for the sake of being hard. These are all pleasing to the ear.
Intro Riff Of Loved To Death by Megadeth
There are songs where guitar tabs and listening to it on repeat are barely helpful, and then there’s Megadeth’s Loved to Death. This riff jumps between scales in the middle of a single bar more than once.
It’s composed in a whopping 142 beats per minute, and there are so many slides that will challenge everything you knew about fretting accuracy packed in about 12 seconds.
In my book, this perfectly describes what even skilled guitarists would call a “remarkably difficult riff”. The intro to Loved to Death is not necessarily too complex, but it’s just so fast and packed with notes that you’ll rarely see in such a specific combination.
It works like a charm in creating an aggressive atmosphere, though. As you would expect from Megadeth, who created some incredibly memorable riffs. We included another of their songs on our list of the best opening guitar riffs of all time. Can you guess which song?
Third Riff In Stream Of Consciousness by Dream Theater
Dream Theater is among the handful of bands that produces ultra-convoluted songs that are actually smooth and pleasurable for a casual listener. This, however, doesn’t really apply to their song Stream of Consciousness (or most songs on Train of Thought for that matter).
This tune builds up, starting slow and steady, only to reach the Maelstrom stage when the third riff kicks in after Jordan’s first piano lick. It isn’t nearly as fast as Loved to Death, but it’s fast enough to be difficult to pull off while you’re shifting between multiple time signatures.
With Stream of Consciousness, it’s quite difficult to get in the riff if you’re not completely focused, and falling out of rhythm is almost inevitable, unless you invest hours of practice. Even so, it’s a slick, very melodic riff that is amazingly fun to play.
Opening Riff Of Matriarch by The Black Dahlia Murder
TBDM rose to prominence more than a decade ago as one of the most technically-savvy melodic death metal bands to surface in this era. Matriarch is one of their more recent works, and it kicks off on all cylinders from the get-go.
My assumption is that Matriarch was named precisely after the intro. The fretting sequence almost looks like spider legs moving up and down the strings. The spider in this case, though, must’ve had a severe case of a sugar rush, since the riff is incredibly fast and requires absolute palm-muting control and finger accuracy.
Second Riff Of Song Of Solomon by Animals As Leaders
If a guitarist does a live playthrough of a song, showing precisely where the fingers should be placed, and most players still struggle to follow even the first couple of seconds, you can safely assume that you’re watching Tosin Abasi jamming to an Aminals as Leaders song. Nothing he does will ever be on a list of easy guitar riffs for beginners.
Song of Solomon checks all the boxes of a tune that requires an extremely high level of proficiency on a guitar. Not only is it composed in 113 BPM and riddled with odd time signatures, but it also deploys the use of numerous strumming, plucking, and sliding techniques.
Tosin jumps between holding modified power chords, hybrid picking, shredding, hammer-ons, and pull-offs in such a quick succession that it’s hard to tell whether looking at his fingers or hearing what he’s playing is more difficult. You can not use alternatives to a guitar pick for this one!
Just like Petrucci’s expertise makes some of the most advanced DT songs smooth, Tosin’s incredible technique makes Song of Solomon almost a catchy tune.
First Riff Of Wolf And Raven by Sonata Arctic
So far, I’ve listed songs that are more complex than average due to a variety of factors. Sonata Arctica’s Wolf and Raven is actually quite plain, but it demands pinpoint fretting accuracy and will test your strumming endurance like no other.
Composed in the key of A# Minor at 170 beats per minute, not to mention that it’s played double-time all the way through, Wolf and Raven is a barrage of notes. Since Sonata is a power metal band, you can’t rely on ultra-high-gain settings to make your mistakes less obvious.
Fortunately, this is a very melodic, catchy riff. Advanced guitarists won’t need to re-listen to it innumerable times to get the hang of what’s going on (as opposed to Animals as Leaders or Dream Theater songs).
Third Riff In The Return by Shadow Of Intent
A band that reached global renown after its singer probably broke more than a few records for growling faster than most contemporary rappers, Shadow of Intent is also famous for its intricate, rapid-action guitar work.
The third riff in The Return from their album Reclaimer is something you might hear on an Yngwie Malmsteen album. Neo-classical shredding and rapid-tempo arpeggios are just some of the things that make The Return an extraordinarily difficult song to play on the guitar.
Little Wing by Stevie Ray Vaughan
If country, jazz, and progressive rock decided to have a little get-together, it would have to be on the fretboard of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar. His Little Wing is a well-written tune, featuring an array of licks and just a handful of repeating riffs that make the song a bit catchier.
Intricate and smooth, Little Wing has a fairly straightforward theme, but the guitar parts are completely unbound. You’ll hear solos out of nowhere, encounter scales you wouldn’t expect, and tap notes you’d rarely get to use in a country song.
Pre-Solo Riff Of The Wanton Song by Led Zeppelin
Zepp were among the pioneers of rock and roll, bringing heaviness to the all-popular jazz of their time, effectively creating a new style of music. The Wanton Song is a perfect example of Zeppelin’s early influences, but it also showcases the band’s innovative approach.
The main riff of this tune is significantly simpler compared to the riffs I mentioned above. However, just before the solo hits, things become a bit faster and more complicated. Zeppelin’s unique tone is the main reason The Wanton Song is so difficult to cover on the guitar.
Most Difficult Riffs To Play On Guitar: Final Thoughts
The hardest guitar riffs to play should sound good, too. In other words, they should be something you might actually want to play. Otherwise, what’s the point. You’re just showing off. At least that’s my thinking.
Do you agree? And if so, can you think of any difficult riffs missing from this list? Please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to add a few more great riffs to this list, if you have some good suggestions for me.
And if you are a guitarist who loves a challenge, we also have an article listing the hardest guitar solos of all time.