A new poll to decide the greatest guitar riffs of all time has surprising results

The Survivor lineup that recorded Eye Of The Tiger (pictured in 1982 with Frankie Sullivan on guitar)
(Image credit: Ron Wolfson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

What makes a great guitar riff? Guitarists and everyone else can argue about that forever but the true test is how it stands the test of time with listeners. And polls are a pretty good way of measuring what sticks… and sometimes that can be surprising.

According to a nationwide study in the UK of 1500 people in March 2022 by music content and software provider Muse Group, Slash’s earworm on the Guns N’ Roses classic Sweet Child O' Mine got the biggest share of votes. Not too shocking, but Eye Of The Tiger in second position with 31% is! Kings Of Leon's 2008 festival favourite Sex On Fire at number 4 is perhaps even more eyebrow-raising… big hit and an essential for any rock covers band set now, but an all-time greatest riff? Not for us.

You can check out the top 30 below, but the survey also asked people in the UK about other riff and guitar-related habits with some interesting findings.

Of those asked, 44% of Brits said that music is one of their great passions in life and a third played an instrument. But there's clearly room for the others to be pursuaded; 24% say that they haven’t played an instrument since school but would love to take one up. Maybe they should start a beginner guitar lesson and a budget electric guitar

The Muse Group survey also found that half of the people who do play an instrument said practising made them feel happier and more relaxed. We wholeheartedly agree, except for that time we tried to learn Eruption in two nights. and 69% saying the experience of learning something until they perfected it was a 'great morale boost'.

No wonder 92 percent of the parents polled would like their children to learn an instrument or how to produce and compose music.  

Here's those top 30 riffs in full:

  • 1. Sweet Child O’Mine - Guns N' Roses 
  • 2. Eye Of The Tiger - Survivor 
  • 3. Another One Bites the Dust - Queen 
  • 4. Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon 
  • 5. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin 
  • 6. Beat It - Michael Jackson 
  • 7. Smells like Teen Spirit - Nirvana 
  • 8. Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • 9. Layla - Eric Clapton
  • 10. Money for Nothing - Dire Straits 
  • 11. Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix 
  • 12. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac 
  • 13. Back in Black - AC/DC 
  • 14. The Ace of Spades - Motorhead 
  • 15. Walk This Way - Aerosmith 
  • 16. Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple 
  • 17. You Really Got Me - The Kinks 
  • 18. The Wall - Pink Floyd 
  • 19. Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash 
  • 20. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll - Joan Jett 
  • 21. Voodoo Child - Jimi Hendrix 
  • 22. Born to be Wild - Steppenwolf 
  • 23. Seven Nation Army - the White Stripes 
  • 24. Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No) - the Rolling Stones 
  • 25. Come as You Are - Nirvana 
  • 26. Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin 17%
  • 27. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor  - Arctic Monkeys 
  • 28. Message in a Bottle- The Police 
  • 29. All Right Now - Free 
  • 30. Brown Sugar - the Rolling Stones

How to play the riff to Guns N' Roses Sweet Child O' Mine

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.