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Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ Voted Best Guitar Riff Of All Time

Poll of music fans reveals iconic rock classics and modern hits in the top rankings.

“Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns n’ Roses is the best guitar riff of all time – more than 35 years after it was released.

A poll of 2,000 music fans saw Prince’s “Purple Rain” voted in second place, with Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits taking third.

Among the more modern tunes to feature in the top 40 were Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under,” Pharell Williams’ “Happy” and Arctic Monkeys “Do I Wanna Know.”

The poll was commissioned by Sky Arts ahead of its new show Greatest Guitar Riffs, featuring axe legends Andy Summers, Tony Iommi and Nancy Wilson.

A spokesperson for the show said: “Do not fret – for here is the definitive rundown of the great guitar riffs of all time showcasing top masters of the electric six-string. It’s the ultimate air guitar playlist.

“Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns n’ Roses is the best guitar riff of all time – more than 35 years after it was released. PHOTO BY YABEE EUSEBIO/PEXELS 

“Whether it’s the late, great Jimi Hendrix, the stalwarts such as Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin, or the new artists coming through, rock n’ roll will never die.

“There’s new talent coming through constantly. The appetite for new tunes and sweet riffs is as great as it ever has been.”

In fact, the research, carried out by OnePoll, found an overwhelming 83% said they prefer music with guitars in it.

It’s perhaps no surprise 81% said a memorable guitar riff was vital to a good rock song.

Queen’s Brian May was voted the greatest of all time (12%), ahead of the iconic Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.

Being unique (41%) and helping you identify the song within seconds of it starting (37%) were the other key factors in making a guitar riff great.

“Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns n’ Roses is the best guitar riff of all time – more than 35 years after it was released. PHOTO BY YABEE EUSEBIO/PEXELS 

Other notable mentions include Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits and the Guns n’ Roses legend Slash.

The ‘golden age’ of the riff was the 1970s, according to 30% of music fans, while 21% felt the 80s had the most to offer.

Worryingly, more than half (53%) said the guitar riff is dying out – with 74% of those believing it’s a bad thing.

But there’s still hope yet, as a whopping 65% felt the guitar is one of the coolest instruments you can play.

The electric guitar is considered the most important instrument to make a song truly great (58%), ahead of the drums (58%) and bass (41%).

A spokesperson for Sky Arts said: “Among music fans, the guitar is absolutely essential to making sure you’re hitting the right notes.

“Across all genres, its impact is undoubted and its coolness unquestionable – as seen by our survey results.

“The new wave of guitarists have a lot to live up to, but we know there’s more great music than ever being made – it’s about making sure you’re looking and listening in the right places.”


  1. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses
  2. “Purple Rain” – Prince
  3. “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
  4. “Smoke on the Water” – Deep Purple
  5. “Money for Nothing” – Dire Straits
  6. “You Really Got Me” – The Kinks
  7. “Beat It” – Michael Jackson (Eddie Van Halen)
  8. “Every Breath You Take” – The Police
  9. “Walk This Way” – Aerosmith
  10. “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  11. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Rolling Stones
  12. “Born to Be Wild” – Steppenwolf
  13. “Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin
  14. “Purple Haze” – Jimi Hendrix
  15. “Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry
  16. “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie
  17. “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes
  18. “Day Tripper” – The Beatles
  19. “Back in Black” – AC/DC
  20. “Thunderstruck” – AC/DC


  1. Brian May (Queen)
  2. Jimi Hendrix
  3. Eric Clapton
  4. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
  5. Slash (Guns N’ Roses)
  6. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
  7. Carlos Santana
  8. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
  9. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
  10. Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)
  11. Chuck Berry
  12. Angus Young (AC/DC)
  13. Johnny Marr (The Smiths)
  14. Eddie Van Halen
  15. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)
  16. Jeff Beck
  17. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
  18. B.B. King
  19. Pete Townshend (The Who)
  20. Joe Satriani

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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