Top Ten Riffs For Summoning A Guitar Store Clerk

There are ten songs that boast riffs likely to be heard on a daily basis in guitar stores throughout the world.

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Absolutely, under no circumstances at all are customers allowed to play "Stairway To Heaven", "Sweet Child O' Mine", or "Smoke On The Water" while trying out guitars. Sign in the window of a music store on Denmark St, in England. It's imperative that anyone in the market for a new guitar have a grab-bag of great licks at his or her disposal. Ask any sampling of store clerks which riffs are played most often by potential buyers, and chances are you'll get a fairly wide range of selections. Still, when a shopper takes a seat and cradles that Les Paul or SG, some licks just beg to be played. Below are ten songs that boast riffs likely to be heard on a daily basis in guitar stores throughout the world.

10. "Walk This Way" - Aerosmith

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Based on the E blues scale (E G A B-flat B D), the opening lick to this funk-rock romp is a snap to master. Lots of novice players never venture past those first four bars, but that brief snippet comprises one of rock's most instantly recognizable hooks. Shoppers who go deeper into the song are guaranteed to cause heads to turn.

9. "La Grange" - ZZ Top

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This prime example of ZZ Top's low-down boogie style kicks off with just a handful of notes, plucked with the promise of more powerful stuff to come. Sophisticated guitar shoppers are careful to incorporate the subtle bends Billy Gibbons tosses into the pattern. Players who move past the first drum-fill should have a pick handy, as Gibbons sets fire to the lick and kicks it into a full-on wallop.

8. "Smoke On The Water" - Deep Purple

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Simplicity and brilliance have rarely merged in better fashion than on this Deep Purple classic. Virtually every beginning guitarist is drawn magnet-like to Ritchie Blackmore's easily-fingered two-string intro (although many make the mistake of picking the strings instead of plucking them). The verse sections are only a tad trickier, consisting, as they do, mostly of single notes and occasional double-stops played at a leisurely tempo.

7. "Purple Haze" - The Jimi Hendrix Experience

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It's fitting that the very first song on Hendrix's very first album is also the one most often heard in guitar stores. The reason? The intro sounds amazing and is one of the most easily-grasped licks in the Hendrix canon. Based on E pentatonic minor, the intro is richly melodic in an outer-space sort of way. For players drawn toward psychedelic-blues, this riff offers a great test-run.

6. "Enter Sandman" - Metallica

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Some shoppers are compelled to play "Enter Sandman" because it's simple; others are drawn to the song's ominous vibe. Moreover, as metal riffs go, this one ranks among the most melodic. Lars Ulrich once aptly characterized "Enter Sandman" as a "one-riff" song, since all the parts emanate from Kirk Hammett's memorable lead pattern.

5. "Sunshine Of Your Love" - Cream

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This riff is not only one of Eric Clapton's most memorable, it's also one of the most fun licks for beginners to play. Nailing the song's signature vibrato is probably the trickiest challenge, along with accurately duplicating Clapton's renowned late 60s "woman tone". It's imperative that an SG be the instrument of choice for shoppers using this Cream classic as their test riff.

4. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana

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Shoppers of a certain age invariably like to showcase their skills with this alternative-rock classic. Played in the key of F minor, the main riff consists of four power chords played in a syncopated sixteenth note strum. In typical fashion, Cobain brushed aside the riff's minimalist brilliance, hinting that it was a rip-off of Boston or even The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie". In point of fact, the riff was a master-stroke that established how grunge players approached their instrument.

3. "Heartbreaker" - Led Zeppelin

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We understand that a day rarely passes that guitar clerks aren't treated to at least one version of "Stairway To Heaven". Still, "Heartbreaker" is the go-to Led Zeppelin riff for electric-guitar shoppers. Characterized by paint-by-numbers simplicity and elegant blues aggression, the intro marks one of the first instances in which Jimmy Page used his famous Les Paul/Marshall stack combination. Steve Vai once said it was this riff that "had the biggest impact on [him] as a youth". The same is undoubtedly true for a sizeable portion of guitar shoppers.

2. "Sweet Child O' Mine" - Guns N' Roses

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The opening riff for this Guns N' Roses classic has all the ingredients aspiring six-stringers love: majesty, melody and just enough difficulty to constitute a challenge. Comprised of a simple eight-note pattern, the riff pedals around the fifth note of the key - a standard exercise in rock guitar. It's ironic that a riff that started out as a throwaway exercise for Slash is now regarded as a prime example of why melodic octaves sound so great.

1. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" - The Rolling Stones

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It's a good thing it was Keith Richards who dreamed the riff for "Satisfaction". A less astute player might have laughed it off as child's play, rather than seeing it for the slice of minimalist brilliance that it is. Echoes of Richards' beloved Chuck Berry licks can be heard in those four simple notes. Many shoppers gussy up "Satisfaction" with their own personal flourishes, giving the lick an even greater wallop than it already has.

142 comments sorted by best / new / date

    L2112Lif
    No May I Help You riff? Blasphemy!
    metalhead2475
    No Stairway, Denied!
    L2112Lif
    Am I supposed to be a man? Am I supposed to say, "It's OK, I don't mind, I don't mind"? Well, I mind! I mind big time! And you know what the worst part is? I NEVER LEARNED TO READ.
    xHellbound
    I always hear Schism in the bass section. And my personal favorite when trying out guitars is just to blast Iron Man. You'll hear from different sections of the store everyone chiming in and playing with you.
    PIMO
    that or you'll get people competing on who plays it better...
    Shaggy91
    This is so true it hurts. How many guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    ZeligtheAxMan
    As many as there are around: One to screw it in, and the rest to say the coulda done it faster, cleaner, or with a better tone...
    JelloCrust
    Three, one to do it, one to say they could have done it better and the other to become a fan boy.
    JFRules
    LOL Stairway I always play that when I'm using my friends guitar and he has no Pick. I'm like oh man it's Stairway time then he looks for a pick really hard haha
    JDEANB
    I always forget anything i know when i walk into a store...
    CrazyAce#7
    This ALWAYS happens to me. I brainfart and the I'm like "I know Shine by Collective Soul!" I never wanted to be the guy that just plays all the big riffs.
    rockczar
    i always do Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath" simple three notes giving you room to breath and hear the guitars tone plus it creates such a wicked atmosphere in the guitar store. then if you pull out the galloping section everyone is gunnar smile a wicked grin
    lugnut1968
    I'm 44 and just learning. When I go in a shop I just pick one I like, plug it in, crank the amp and bang on the strings like a tard till someone comes (running) over. Then I ask them to play something for me.
    les8664
    Too funny; I want to shop with you! I'm right with ya - 49 and just learning, finally. Got my first electric this past Mother's Day.
    Guitarus Rex
    Best post today! I have tears running down my face! HA! Awesome! I am sooooo gonna try this...
    BigDrK
    I hardly play any tunes when I check out instruments. Usually just improvise.
    Thermon
    Voodoo Child by Hendrix always seems to be my go to, and Victim of Changes by Judas Priest.
    N7Crazy
    I always end up playing either the entire OK-computer album, or Nirvana's entire catalouge... And he store clerk always ends up hating the everloving shit out of me...
    zack.m92
    I do an A then a G then a D like in cold hard bitch and after those 3 chords i know all i need to know about the guitar
    soulgrenade
    I like to flick the strings real hard and let them ring out. The clerks get all pissy and then i launch into something killer.
    PuckMugger
    I play Snowblind by Black Sabbath because it's not a hugely popular tune, it has different elements you want to hear and uses a wide range of the fretboard. I also play April Wine's She's a Roller and Pat Travers Snortin'...
    dial-a-death
    For me, it's: Nightrain: rhythm Black Magic Woman (Santana): lead Sanitarium: clean Paranoid Hallowed Be Thy Name: just 'cause.
    dennis.1960
    I always play the opening riff to 'Symptom of the Universe' then King Crimson's '21st Century Schizoid Man'...I find that's a good statement of intent.
    DeanRedneck
    How do you play that chord is in '21st Century Schizoid man' (you know the one)? I've never been able to figure it out, and everything I've found online isn't quite right.
    xonty
    It's just a C power chord: D--10 A--10 E--8
    DeanRedneck
    There's something else going on. It's based around a c chord, but there's something dissonant going on as well
    travislausch
    Japanese score book says the main riff is fuzz bass and the guitar plays triple stops in Cm. Look it up on Scribd.com.
    BVBKilljoy
    Crazy Train? Iron Man? Back In Black? Paranoid? I hear then ALL the time at the store I go to. WHY AREN'T THEY ON THE LIST?
    Vabolo
    I usually play the Trigun theme to test the crunchy overdrivey distortiony part of the amp
    Short, but sweet!
    Ishiga
    You're my hero. Introduced my roommate to that show a while ago, he immediately recognized the intro, I play it all the time.
    GrimmShadowbane
    Well, I always start with "Master of Puppets." Then play a bunch of different Trivium songs. To test the clean, usually play "Fade to Black" or Freya's theme from Final Fantasy IX.
    st017
    I've sold several amps by playing Master Of Puppets, Ride The Lightning, and Dyers Eve. lol
    Bromazar
    No AC/DC ? ...Back in black ?...Thunderstruck ?...Touch too much etc.
    rip3149
    My number 1 test riff for a new guitar is always raining blood. and every time i play it someone plays the harmony lmao
    intheshadowplay
    I lie avoiding the cliches. I usually bust out "Can't Stop" by RHCP, because everyone knows that riff whether they know it or not. If I'm looking at an acoustic I'll fingerpick an improvised version of "The Zephyr Song" or "I Could Have Lied". If it's a bass, I'll play The Stooges "Down On The Street" or "Dirt".
    S2S
    If I'm testing out an electric, I will immediately tune it down to Drop D so that I open up an entirely different selection of songs to play. I might crank up the distortion and play "My Own Summer" by Deftones or keep it quiet and play "I Might Be Wrong" by Radiohead. For an acoustic I will keep it in standard tuning and play "There There" by Radiohead or "Where Is My Mind?" by The Pixies or something like that. You'd be surprised how many people have complimented me when I'm just playing these very simple songs to test out the guitars' range.
    theblackwell
    Every now and then I like to be the guy to pick up a Razorback and play a shitty version of "Walk." Then a good version "Cemetary Gates."
    RAGE GT350
    I usually just go through "when the night falls" by iced earth and then maybe about a girl by nirvana.
    JoeFlips
    I thought they said no Smoke on the Water and no Sweet Child o' Mine. Both are on the list, though. Hm.
    tyler_j
    They said that those songs are forbidden in a guitar shop (and in fact, many that I've been to) in England.
    JoeFlips
    I think you missed my point.
    tyler_j
    I think you missed mine; "Absolutely, under no circumstances at all are customers allowed to play "Stairway To Heaven", "Sweet Child O' Mine", or "Smoke On The Water" while trying out guitars. Sign in the window of a music store on Denmark St, in England. " They only mentioned those songs while referring to a sign in a guitar shop which forbids people from playing them.
    JoeFlips
    I get that. But if you are going to lead with that quote, you don't really want to break the same rule. It's like saying, "Most shops don't want you to play these songs, but here they are anyway!"
    Tommat
    Also, I'm I the only one who picked up on "Its fitting that the very first song on Hendrixs very first album is also the one most often heard in guitar stores." ..... That wasn't Purple Haze? :L.
    olix95
    well, on the US and Canadian versions it is in fact Purple Haze
    gkex
    I always feel compelled to play Panama whenever people can hear me. Can's explain it, but that riff never seems to get old for me.
    PsiGuy60
    I almost always use the May I Help You riff in the guitar store I go to. It always elicits a few chuckles from the clerk, but it works just as often.
    cmvideo
    Nobody here like Al DiMeola? I love playing Al on acoustics in guitar shops. A little Mediterranean Sundance on the acoustics and Egyptian Danza on an electric... those are the best songs for getting the feel for the guitar... they are all over the neck.
    xonty
    Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne Cliffs Of Dover - Eric Johnson Jordan - Buckethead Paranoid - Black Sabbath Evil Eye - Yngwie Malmsteen
    Thrashfly
    the best riffs to try out guitars are Symphony Of Destruction and the spider chord riff of Wake Up Dead
    shwilly
    Not necessarily in guitar shops, but there are just times I walk past my good ol' guitar and this uncontrollable urge to pick it up comes over me. This feeling is quite different from the usual "I'm gonna try and learn this song"/"I'm bored so I'll just noodle away while watching TV"-moments and it's NEVER to play some fingerstyle or solo or whatever: even though I like to play a variety of stuff, it's always one of the following riffs that make me want to kick in my OD and strap on my axe: Led Zeppelin - Custard Pie (only I play it with loads of pulloffs) Ozzy - Bark at the Moon Hendrix - Manic Depression Tool - Aenima Steve Vai - Answers ...like the article says you rarely play more than the main riff when you enter this mode. Even though I'm the kind of person who likes learning songs all the way through, I don't think I've ever done that with any of these songs. Usually I create my own bastardized versions of the riffs, adding pulloffs and open strings whenever I can -> like with Answers, when hitting that first chord I always tend to add an the open A and D strings. Partly 'cos it sounds cooler that way (well, to me at least), but mostly because of the way that sh*t feels in my fingers. Nothing quite like it
    Eweman
    I always hear seven nation army. If I actually heard someone playing it properly with a slide it would be much more interesting.