The definition of metal changes every decade as musicians continually push the genre to new extremes. But several elements have remained consistent throughout the years: distorted guitar, heavy riffs, and lightning-fast solos. Some of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded can be found on metal classics from the '70s and '80s, and many of those solos were recorded using Gibson guitars.

What makes a guitar solo great? While technical precision and speed are certainly important, a good solo should also be inventive and imaginative. The solo should support the song, and the best solos are ones that are so melodically strong that you can sing them while you wail away on your air guitar. All of the following solos meet those criteria, and, even better, they were all played on Gibson guitars! 
Jimmy Page
“Whole Lotta Love”
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II [Atlantic, 1969]
Jimmy Page
Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Standard

Although it was released in 1969, “Whole Lotta Love” formed the foundation for hundreds of great heavy metal tunes that followed in the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond. Page’s solo at the climax of the “orgasm” section exploded with primal fury, accentuated by double stomping power chords that defined “heavy” and “metal” with a one-two punch. The entirety of Led Zeppelin’s second album is full of awe-inspiring solos, but with “Whole Lotta Love,” Page made his point loud and clear that the guitar hero for the modern age of rock had arrived.

Tony Iommi
“War Pigs”
Black Sabbath, Paranoid [Warner Bros., 1971]
Tony Iommi
Guitar: Gibson SG Special

Tony Iommi’s epic solo begins with a majestic symphonic line that would make Tchaikovsky proud before bursting into an impressive display of descending triplets and bluesy howls. Ozzy Osbourne’s lyrics may have painted a brutal depiction of war mongers, but Iommi’s solo made listeners feel like they were in the middle of battle, surviving an onslaught of machine-gun bullets, screaming rockets, and bomb blasts. One of Black Sabbath’s finest moments.

“Rock Bottom”
UFO, Phenomenon [Chrysalis, 1974]
Michael Schenker
Guitar: Gibson Flying V

This tour de force showcase of Schenker’s formidable guitar talents was the metalhead equivalent of “Freebird,” and it became the centerpiece of UFO’s  live performances (captured brilliantly on Strangers in the Night). Schenker’s extended solo displays virtuoso skills that left an indelible mark on numerous Euro-centric players like Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen.

“Stranglehold”
Ted Nugent, Ted Nugent [Epic, 1975]
Ted Nugent
Guitar: Gibson Byrdland

Another extended guitar solo, Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” summoned up a barnyard full of squawks, squeals, and howls along with hypnotic melodies that make this song a sort of heavy metal “Bolero.” Nugent’s use of a Gibson Byrdland—a guitar normally associated with jazz—was certainly unorthodox, but thanks to his uncanny ability to tame feedback he used it to great advantage.

“(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”
Blue Öyster Cult, Agents of Fortune [Columbia, 1976]
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser
Guitar: Gibson SG Special, Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
Buck Dharma’s exotic solo on Blue Öyster Cult’s breakthrough hit takes the song to a dark underworld full of tension and wonder while retaining the tune’s somber, minor-key mood. Dharma’s Middle Eastern, raga-esque lines were unlike anything heard in hard rock before, but they fit perfectly.

Angus Young
“You Shook Me All Night Long”
AC/DC, Back in Black [Atlantic, 1980]
Angus Young
Guitar: Gibson SG Standard
Angus Young has always insisted that his main influence was the blues, and here he shows his roots in smashing form. But instead of fiddling about in the pentatonic box, Young delivers a rich, melodic solo that you can sing along with. An AC/DC classic.

Randy Rhoads
“Flying High Again”
Ozzy Osbourne, Diary of a Madman [Epic, 1981]
Randy Rhoads
Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Custom

Any of the solos that Randy Rhoads played during his brief time with Ozzy Osbourne could easily make the list, but “Flying High Again” fits just about everything that Rhoads was about as a player into a tidy package. You can hear Rhoads’s classical influences in the melody and his Van Halen inspiration in the tapped flourishes, but, in the end, this solo is all about Rhoads’s impeccable taste and immaculate phrasing, which few players since have matched.

Vivian Campbell
“Stand Up and Shout”
Dio, Holy Diver [Warner Bros., 1983]
Vivian Campbell
Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
The year 1983 should go down in history as the period when the new age of shred officially began, and Vivian Campbell  deserves recognition for helping to kick-start this trend. No one knew who Campbell was when he joined Dio, but after they heard this blistering, thousand-notes-a-second solo they had to find out more.

John Sykes
“Thunder and Lightning”
Thin Lizzy, Thunder and Lightning [Warner Bros., 1983]
John Sykes
Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Custom

John Sykes is another shredder who completely turned the guitar world upside down with his stunning speed and tasteful technique. Like the song’s title, Sykes’ playing was loud and flashy yet mysteriously mesmerizing. Sykes later enjoyed even greater success and fame by helping craft Whitesnake’s breakthrough album, but from a guitar player’s perspective this remains one of his finest moments.

Slash
“Welcome to the Jungle”
Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction [Geffen, 1987]
Slash
Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Standard

By 1987, every guitarist was shredding like mad and studying exotic scales at GIT. Slash ripped across the grain with his boozy and bluesy playing on “Welcome to the Jungle,” which evoked Joe Perry’s raunchiest moments with Aerosmith. Sure, other players may have had more polished technique, but few of them could match Slash’s sweet emotion.


Five Overlooked Metal Solos You Should Know

“Sails of Charon” Scorpions (1978)
Uli Jon Roth’s epic Euro shred masterpiece.

“Hammerhead” Pat Travers (1979)
The prototype for ’80s speed metal.

“End of the World” Gary Moore (1982)
The two-minute intro is the NWOBHM answer to Van Halen’s “Eruption.”

“Far Beyond the Sun” Yngwie Malmsteen (1984)
Still awe-inspiring — many have imitated Malmsteen, but he’s still unequaled.

“Mr. Scary” Dokken (1987)
George Lynch’s off-kilter instrumental fireworks make ’80s hair metal seem okay after all.