25 Greatest Instrumental Albums of All Time

As voted by UG community.

Ultimate Guitar
25 Greatest Instrumental Albums of All Time

This week, we decided to rehash some of the best Wednesday Questions of all time - 25 Greatest Instrumental Albums of All Time.

Who needs vocals when you have musical instruments, right? That's what many musicians think as well. Instrumental albums are great for many things, for example listening to music with lyrics while working or working out can be distracting, but instrumental albums suit that purpose just fine. 

We received close to 450 comments and a healthy chunk of votes, all of which have been neatly summed up into a lovely little Top 25 rundown.

Before kicking things off, we'll point out that honorable mentions include Rodrigo y Gabriela's self-titled album, John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (as well as "My Favorite Things"), Al Di Meola and "Elegant Gypsy," The Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Time Out," John Petrucci and "Suspended Animation," CHON's "Grow," Jeff Beck and "Blow by Blow," Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene," Intervals and "The Shape of Colour" and Eric Johnson's "Ah Via Musicom."

With that stuff out of the way, make sure to check out the full list right in the section below.

25. Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters

Kicking off the list, Mr. Herbie Hancock, "Head Hunters" album, "Chameleon" opening track. You folks decided to give a bit of love to the jazz icon and this fusion jazz funk piece, and we certainly don't mind. The album was released in October 1973, marking the man's 12th studio effort.

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24. Russian Circles - Empros

Up next are US post-metal boys Russian Circles with their fourth studio album "Empros." You folks gave two other RC efforts a bit of love too - "Geneva" and "Enter."

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23. The Aristocrats - The Aristocrats

Up next is the record that announced the arrival of The Aristocrats - their 2011 self-titled debut. This was merely the first step of the wild ride Guthrie Govan, Bryan Beller, and Marco Minnemann put us on.

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22. Camel - The Snow Goose

If you like classic '70s prog and music inspired by Paul Gallico's novella "The Snow Goose," then Camel's "The Show Goose" is for you. The band initially wanted to write about Hermann Hesse's, "Siddhartha," but quickly changed their mind. Due to copyright tensions, the record was technically named "Music Inspired by The Snow Goose," and all lyrics were abandoned as too legally iffy.

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21. Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling

Shifting to modern times and post-rock, Mogwai are up next with their 2008 album "The Hawk Is Howling." Marking the band's sixth studio album, it's the first time the gang embarked on a fully instrumental musical journey

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20. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Released in February 1992, "Selected Ambient Works 85-92" is the very first full-length studio effort from electronic giant Aphex Twin. The effort itself is labeled as ambient techno...

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19. Nobuo Uematsu ‎- Final Fantasy VIII OST

MisterJazzHands, who nominated the "Final Fantasy VIII" soundtrack, had this to say: "This is nerdy as hell, but I really want to give the OST for 'Final Fantasy 8' some love here. The theming on it is masterful, leitmotifs are used in some of the most brilliant ways I've ever heard, and it actually influenced the way I write in a big way. It's genius. Nobuo Uematsu is basically the Beethoven of video games."

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18. Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame

Fusion time again! "The Inner Mounting Flame" is the debut album of the mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra. Released in August 1971, it features instrumental music entirely composed by guitar mastermind John McLaughlin, as well as drum mastery of the one and only Billy Cobham.

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17. Frank Zappa - Jazz From Hell

"Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar" also got a nice share of votes, but it's 1986's "Jazz From Hell" that gets to represent the legendary Frank Zappa this week. It's Zappa on Frank Zappa on the Synclavier DMS for 35 minutes, what more can a music fan ask for?

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16. Pelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

Returning to the realm of post-metal, Chicago gang Pelican is up next with their sophomore studio effort - 2005's "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw." If you're wondering about the peculiar title, it's meant to be confusing. The effort was originally supposed to be called "Black Doom on Tuesday." Oh, and note that Pelican's "Australasia" also got a decent chunk of votes.

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15. Plini - The End of Everything

Young guitar champion Plini is up next at No. 15 with last year's "The End of Everything" EP, also featuring Mr. Marco Minnemann on drums. Voodoochile711 noted: "Plini deserves far more attention than he gets, the guy is such a monster musician and one of the most tasteful guitarists I've ever heard."

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14. Jaco Pastorius - Jaco Pastorius

This one has one song with vocals, but we'll let it slide 'cause it's JACO. Released in 1976, Jaco Pastorius' self-titled solo record is up next - it's the album that brought "Portrait of Tracy," "Continuum," and Jaco's rendition of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" to the world, ant that's no mean feat.

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13. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV

This week's Lucky 13 goes to the nearly two-hour long Nine Inch Nails journey called "Ghosts I-IV."

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12. Buckethead - Electric Tears

You folks gave Buckethead some nice love, and it's worth mentioning that "Giant Robot" and "Crime Slunk Scene" also got a fair share of the votes, but it's "Electric Tears" that gets to represent Mr. Bucket this week. Released in 2002, this is only the ninth studio release from the man. Yes, nine is the number of albums Metallica has put out ion their entire career, but seeing that Buckethead packs 264 studio albums under his belt, nine does seem like a low number, doesn't it?

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11. Guthrie Govan - Erotic Cakes

Buckethead actually kicked off a nice string of guitar heroes on this list. At No. 11, it's Guthrie Govan and his solo debut - 2006's "Erotic Cakes."

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10. Yngwie Malmsteen - Rising Force

It's a bit confusing that the "Rising Force" song wasn't released on the "Rising Force" album, but so it happened. Cracking the Top 10 open, it's Yngwie Malmssteen and his 1984 debut "Rising Force." This is the album that brought Yngwie to the limelight of the shred world and landed him a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Performance.

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9. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place

Back to post-rock we go with Explosions in the Sky and their third studio album, 2003's "The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place." Ominous melodies and crashing climaxes are heavily present on the effort, which is often considered a conceptual record.

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8. Steve Vai - Passion and Warfare

The album that put Steve Vai on the map as a serious guitar force, 1990's "Passion and Warfare," continues the rundown at No. 8. You folks branded this one a bonafide classic, and many people are likely to agree.

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7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

Another nomination by MisterJazzHand, who had this to say: "You really have to take the whole thing in at once to get it, but damn is it ever fantastic." It's Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their 2000 double album "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven." The album's tracks are composed of individually named internal movements, here's what Wikipedia has to add:

"The inner panels of the vinyl edition released by Constellation Records contain a diagram used to illustrate the relative lengths of movements within the four tracks; each movement is drawn by Efrim Menuck as a rectangular block with its length determined by the proportion of the track it comprises. Some of the blocks are shifted slightly upwards to show an increase in intensity. The movement title and the numerical length are denoted either above or below the square. The same diagram is provided as a paper insert in the CD edition from Kranky Records."

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6. Animals as Leaders - Animals as Leaders

The latest Animals as Leaders album "The Joy of Motion" also got some love from you guys, but it's "Animals as Leaders" that gets to represent Tosin Abasi and co. On this record, it's all Tosin and Periphery guitar mastermind Misha Mansoor on production, engineering, programming, mixing, and mastering duties.

Travislausch commented: "To me, this album is every bit as important to guitar-based instrumental music as Steve Vai's and Joe Satriani's works, and pretty much kicked off a new era of shred. And before anyone comes in saying I'm wrong, Steve Vai himself acknowledged this in a Guitar World interview a few years back (where he appeared with Tosin on the cover)."

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5. Jason Becker - Perpetual Burn

In 1987, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman released "Speed Metal Symphony" as Cacophony. A year later, both Jason and Marty unveiled their solo debuts, "Perpetual Burn" and "Dragon's Kiss." Being good buddies they are, the boys made sure to make guest appearances on each other's records, so you can hear Marty on three of the "Perpetual Burn" tracks, as well as on some of the production duties. Anyhow, Mr. Jason Becker at No. 5!

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4. Joe Satriani - Surfing With the Alien

Bringing us a step closer to the Big 3, Joe Satriani is up next with "Surfing With the Alien," the album that established the man as not just the guy who taught future guitar masters how to play, but a genuine guitar force on his own.

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3. Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Tension Experiment

The bronze medal for this week goes to John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Mike Portnoy, and Tony Levin, collectively known as prog metal force Liquid Tension Experiment.

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2. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

You folks shared a lot of Miles love in the comments, as both "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew" got a fair share of votes, but it's "Kind of Blue" that gets to represent the legend this week. Released way back in 1959, the record is unanimously hailed as possibly the greatest jazz effort of all time, as well as one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded.

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1. Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

At the throne of UG this week, it's Mike Oldfield and "Tubular Bells." Often known as "The Exorcist" theme, the piece was recorded in 1972, when Mike was only 19 years old!

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122 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Wow, no 1 surprised me, good job UG, good job
    And almost by tradition - here's the (long) list of great nominations that were not able to get to the main list and honorable mentions: John 5 - The Devil Knows My Name Akira Yamaoka - Silent Hill 2 OST This Will Destroy You - This Will Destroy You Sithu Aye - Senpai God Is An Astronaut - All Is Violent, All Is Bright Scale the Summit - The Migration Amon Tobin - Permutation Esbjörn Svensson Trio - Leucocyte Bohren & Der Club Of Gore - Sunset Mission 65daysofstatic - One Time For All Time Andy McKee - Art of Motion MONO - Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined NEU! - NEU! Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia Cloudkicker - Beacons Burzum - Dauði Baldrs Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois & Roger Eno ‎- Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks Marty Friedman - Scenes Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children Rick Wakeman - The Six Wives of Henry VIII Cacophony - Speed Metal Symphony Gordian Knot - Gordian Knot Andy Timmons - Resolution DJ Shadow - Endtroducing... Jeff Loomis - Zero Order Phase Hammock - Depature Songs Return To Forever - Romantic Warrior Ozric Tentacles - Waterfall Cities And So I Watch You From Afar - And So I Watch You From Afar John Scofield - A Go Go Vinnie Moore - Mind's Eye Year Of No Light - Tocsin Red Sparowes - Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun Pomegranate Tiger - Entities Tycho - Dive Paul Gilbert - Fuzz Universe Tony MacAlpine - Maximum Security If These Trees Could Talk - Above the Earth, Below the Sky Gustav Holst - The Planets Suite Caspian - Tertia Ennio Morricone - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Karma To Burn - Wild Wonderful Purgatory Magma - Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh Exivious - Exivious Wes Montgomery - The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here Jeremy Soule - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion OST Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin, Steve Stevens - Black Light Syndrome Maybeshewill - I Was Here for a Moment, Then I Was Gone The Black Mages - The Black Mages John McLaughlin - Extrapolation Phil Keaggy - The Master and The Musician Kiko Loureiro - No Gravity Toska - Ode to the Author Menahan Street Band - Make the Road by Walking Kurt Rosenwinkel - Star Of Jupiter Don Caballero - What Burns Never Returns ... and many other great albums - thank to all for your votes and nominations!) And again - hope that this list will help someone to discover more decent music!..
    I forgot to nominate my fellow countrymen. Jakob. They opened for TOOL the last time they were down under. Great music to drift off to (and I mean that in a good way)
    I was celebrating Eid this past days or else I would chime in and vote for Derek Sherinian Planet X album (Not Planet X band). Apocalypse 1470bc rocks. edit: I saw Akira Yamaoka mention for Silent Hill 2. which reminds me of him remixing Sword and Sworcery music. Deserved to be mention due for Hard Rock, Heavy Metal tune by A.Y.
    His soundtrack for Shadow of the Damned is good and heavy too, although there are vocal tracks there so it wouldn't be suitable there.
    Well, if UG ever mention "Best Video Games soundtrack by UG community" I'm sure it would be in top 5. I'll check it out now on YT, thanks for the recommendation.
    Akira Yamaoka - Silent Hill 2 OST How it ended up lower than FF7 OST? :o This is such a good album with many flavours of ambient, triphop, rock (Theme of Laura), blues (Love Psalm), metal (Angel's Thanatos), minimalistic piano pieces and some general musical weirdness. There's one track (Overdose Delusion) which contains 3-4 neatly layered electric guitars playing at once, each one different part and it's very well mixed (Akira Yamaoka is good sound producer too).
    I think it's because Akira Yamaoka nomination was muuuuch lower in the comments section - so most of people didn't scrolled until it. Anyway of course Akira Yamaoka is such a talented composer!..
    Akira Yamaoka is the shit, I really love his "Industrial" approach to the game music, that Sword and Sworcery EP and Contra: Shattered Soldier are a great example of his heavy stuff.
    Yay Kurt Rosenwinkel is mentioned!
    Oh, also I would like to add this album: Latitudes - Agonist Amazing crushing instrumental sludge/post-metal!.. (Though technically two tracks have episodic vocals) Here's the title track:
    Plus for all prog metal lovers - really good record: Spastic Ink - Ink Complete
    And: 5ive [aka 5ive's Continuum Research Project] - 5ive
    And yes, maybe of course not the best but I think I need to mention it: Behold... The Arctropus - Skullgrid Some crazy technical shit.
    I would have loved to see 'Ode To The Author' on this list but nevermind. Great list U.G
    I would add to that We Lost The Sea - Departure songs. Amazing album.
    Great list, with lots of different music, both well known and more obscure, and a surprising no. 1. These wednesday questions seem to have become a lot better lately. Now we just wait for N-D to drop by and give a shout-out to the nominations that didn't make it.
    Definitely agree with you - we also glad to see so many great nominations - and so cool top lists as a result. And yes, you can see the rest of the list in my comment above
    Lol A Love Supreme honourable mention. Alan Holdsworth IOU, Weather Report Black Market, Miles Davis Bitches Brew, In a silent way, Beethoven Emperor Concerto, Rachmaninoffs 2nd, Bill Evans Everybody Loves Bill Evans.
    Seriously, the fact that Coltrane didn't make it but Yngwie did is absurd. Oh right. Guitar site. I forgot.
    This list, as well as the ones for Greatest EPs and for Darkest Songs have greatly expanded my music taste into awesome areas I would have otherwise likely have never discovered. Keep doing Wednesday Questions like these!
    Holy shit, FF8 made it on this list?! Definitely agree there, though never would have thought to see it here. Absolutely memorable and great soundtrack that I still listen to on pretty frequent rotation
    yea although for videogame OSTs the shadow of the colossus one was the way to go
    One of my favs as well. It technically has a few vocal tracks in it though, so I say that the guy who nominated it should be viciously beaten in the dick. Please.
    I think there's a definable difference between using the voice as an instrument and having a 'lead vocal' in a song. Including occasional chants in Latin on the first track of a four-hour-long soundtrack shouldn't really push the FFVIII soundtrack into 'vocal' territory. That said, I agree with the dick-beating sentiment, and would like to participate. Though I've never beaten anybody else's dick before, I've spent a lot of time beating my own, so I feel I'm qualified for the job.
    Totally agree. I actually used similar reasoning to justify my nomination of the soundtrack. They really are "instrumental vocals" aren't they? I think along a similar vein, "Hocus Pocus" by Focus should be called an instrumental. The yodelling is just more music in the mix, except it just happens to be delivered by a human voice. About the dick beating thing, I'm actually accepting applications. I've already gotten a lot of promising ones, but I'm sure if you email yours to pleasedont@nope.gov it'll be looked over by my dick beating secretary. Thanks.
    Well to be fair guys, that's not the only vocal part of the soundtrack. "Eyes on Me" is a ballad sung by Faye Wong at the end of disc 3.
    A dick beating secretary? Good idea, at least you don't beat around the bush. Unless your secretary has a bush of course. My hands need a break so im super jealous you have a secretary.
    That's alright, Yngwie Malmsteen's album Rising Force has vocals, but that doesn't matter.
    How about best guitar oriented albums/artists that are not rock or metal for wednesday question someday, to stir things up?
    Pleasantly surprised to see a Final Fantasy OST here. Despite criticisms of the game itself, FFXIII also had a really nice soundtrack with a really nice leitmotif (The Promise/Serah's Theme/In The Sky That Night/Fabula Nova Crystallis).
    Actually really impressed with this list, sure there's a lot of great albums that aren't on here but there's a nice variety of jazz, prog, shredding and post rock. Personally I would've picked Bitches Brew to represent Miles, Heavy Weather instead of Jaco's self titled and Joy of Motion for AAL though.
    Woo I have like 6 of these albums. (Camel, Mogwai, Pelican, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Mike Oldfield)
    Did you guitar playing people ever listen to Dragon's Kiss by Marty Friedman? It's the best neoclassical shred album!
    Sad not to see Ozric Tentacles, I got too late to suggest it!
    Bedside Shred
    Same, they've got so many good albums. I would have personally nominated Sliding Gliding Worlds, or Bits Between the Bits, love the heavy acid trip vibe of those early ones.
    Where is the Rik Emmett album, 10 Invitations From the Mistress of Mr. E? Greatest Classical album of all time, BAR NONE!!!
    Interesting list but surprised nonetheless that Ah Via Musicom by Eric Johnson didn't make it. Will definitely check the artists that I don't know!
    FUCKING YES SIR! Tubular Bells! I think I legitimately regained a bit of trust that this is a guitar website.
    Sylosis frontman Josh Middleton recently released his instrumental album 'Hollowed-Out Planetoid' which is definitely a contender on this list.
    It's a very new album so understandably was not mentioned; but Sylosis frontman Josh Middleton's new album Hollowed-Out Planetoid is definitely worthy of contention on this list.
    What about Conquering Dystopia's self-titled debut album? Jeff Loomis and Keith Merrow are doing some pretty awesome shredding on that record. That said, I honestly thought that Steve Vai's "Passion and Warfare" would rank higher.
    Huh. Tubular Bells. Good album but I didn't expect it here, much less at number one.
    Good to see some Big B in there. No one's put out more instrumental albums than he has.
    I think this is the first time my nomination actually made the list hope some of yall give Pelican a listen to
    Mike Oldfield N1 yes!!! Underrated artist! I prefer Electric Sea to Electric Tears though both are awesome.
    I preferred LTE 2 instead of the first album, solely because of Acid Rain. That song has such a strong rhythm, kicks in right at the start, shreds in your face and never lets up for six and a half minutes. I won't say it goes into the realm of "tasteful", but damn is it melodic and enjoyable. A little surprised Scale The Summit, Exivious and Vinnie Moore didn't make it though.
    Grant Green is sorely missing from this list. Amazing jazz guitarist. One of the smoothes and tastiest players I've ever heard. You can hear shades of what would become Hendrix in his playing.
    This is one of my favourite instrumentals of all time. Just smooth and melodic all the way through. Everyone killing it on their respective instruments.
    I love seeing Satch, Jason Becker and Tosin Abasi neck and neck in the race!! Come on Vai get up there!!!
    I was going to submit A Love Supreme by Coltrane but technically it's not an instrumental album lol.
    I thought exactly the same, and ended up nominating Kind of Blue... went well in the end I guess.
    This has to be the worst list Ive ever seen. So much missing.
    Just looked back at the original question and looked through the comments- didn't see you submit ANY nominations. So what are you bitching about?
    FF8 shouldn't have been there, if soundtracks were alowed then the whole list would be flooded with them what gives that soundtrack the excption. the FF8 isn't even the best one.
    Arguably, any jazz > that list UG should have specified "instrumental rock" Also, whoever thinks Rising Force and especially Ah Via Musicom are instrumental albums must not have listened to those
    Bedside Shred
    Not even arguable, most classical > that list. I actually nominated Chopin and Hovhannes but folks weren't having any of it. Beethoven, Scriabin, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bach and many more deserve this list.