Top 15 Most Challenging Songs to Play on Guitar

As voted by UG community.

Ultimate Guitar

This week's traditional Wednesday Question saw the UG community discussing the matter of trickiest songs to play on guitar.

Plenty of votes and suggestions we got, all of which were neatly summed up into a Top 15 rundown.

The goods await below.

15. King Crimson - Fracture

King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp has described "Fracture" off 1974's "Starless and Bible Black" as one of the most difficult pieces he ever performed, and that says quite a bit. We're looking at a chaotic 11-minute track packed with many dynamic changes and tricky bits. A great piece to kick off the list. Here's what the folks of UG community had to say:

Travislausch: "That song is a fucking BITCH to play. +1"

Arfing Thumb: "One should never underestimate Fripp's guitar skills."

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14. Necrophagist - Symbiotic in Theory

While you folks agreed that quite a few tracks from German technical death metallers Necrophagist are more than eligible, "Symbiotic in Theory" surfaced as the most upvoted one. Not long, but technical to the max, the tune comes off the band's 2004 masterpiece "Epitaph."

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13. Andy McKee - Drifting

Taking yet another major turn in terms of musical style, the title of the Lucky 13 this week goes to Andy McKee and his hit track "Drifting." Every guitarist out there probably saw this one at least once, and believe it or not, it's nearly 10 years old.

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12. Jon Gomm - Passionflower

Up next is another acoustic guitar master, Mr. Jon Gomm and "Passionflower." Once again we're looking at heavy percussion, this time around spiced up with some neat tuner tricks.

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11. Guthrie Govan - Waves

Guthrie Govan was a shoo-in for this one, and here he is at No. 11 with "Waves" - the opening track of his first, and so far only solo album "Erotic Cakes." Here's what the UG panel noted:

Triface: "Those crazy stretches right at the beginning... But it sounds so melodic and awesome that you keep practicing it and end up with a cramp."

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10. Cacophony - Speed Metal Symphony

When you put together guitar masters Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, you get Cacophony, one of the most technical guitar acts of all time. Representing them on this week's list, you folks voted for the title track of their 1987 debut album "Speed Metal Symphony." Lotsa shreddin' goin' on here... A few words from the UG panel:

iommi600: "My reaction to the arpeggios:

reconssuck: "Pfft easy, I can play that song...
..On bass..."

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9. Jason Becker - Perpetual Burn

Well this turned out nicely - after Becker, Becker once again. This time around his signature solo piece - the title track of Jason's 1988 debut album "Perpetual Burn."

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8. Cannibal Corpse - Frantic Disembowelment

Picking it up a notch, death metal behemoths Cannibal Corpse are up next with with "Frantic Disembowelment." According yo you folks, playing this song so it sounds "clean" is no mean feat.

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7. Megadeth - Tornado of Souls

After Becker appeared twice on the list, Marty now also gets to make a second entry, thanks to what is universally hailed as one of the finest guitar solos of all time - Megadeth's "Tornado of Souls." The big question UG community has about this one is, "How can I do pull from 17 to 10?"

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6. Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

Not exactly an obvious choice, but getting Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" just right is not an easy task. A song doesn't have to consist of mind-boggling shredding to be challenging to play, and it's cool to see you folks acknowledge that. BloodDuster noted about this one: "Personally I really struggled with 'Sultans of Swing,' getting the right 'groove' is hard."

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5. Dream Theater - The Dance of Eternity

As is often the case with Dream Theater, this song is not just a struggle to play on guitar, but for any instrument involved. Released on 1999's "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory," the "Dance of Eternity" has just about as many time signature changes you can pack within 6 minutes. A few words from the UG panel:

Shreddguitarist: "It does have easy parts, like the passage consisting only of open Bs. The guitar solo, on the other hand, is no walk in the park. And whilst the guitar proficiency needed may not be as extreme as other Petrucci songs, the complex structures and meters (time signatures) mean that is challenging anyway, so yes, it is 'hard for guitar.'"

Triface: "Tried learning this because I thought, 'Hey that sounds fun!' Trying to memorize many small variations of a riff (that you cannot half-ass because they're all the same note duration and the thing that actually changes is the time signature) is NOT fun. Not fun at all."

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4. Racer X - Technical Difficulties

Paul Gilbert is the star in this one - Racer X and "Technical Difficulties." The title says it all...

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3. DragonForce - Through the Fire and Flames

An obvious choice here - the most difficult song on Guitar Hero, elephant Nintendo sounds so far away n' all that - DragonForce and "Through the Fire and Flames."

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2. Eric Johnson - Cliffs of Dover

Silver medal this week goes to Eric Johnson and "Cliffs of Dover." As the man's signature tune, the song sees Eric utilizing a variety of techniques, all while putting musicality first. As leoca1996 explained, "It requires a master level of lots of unusual techniques like string skipping, alternate picking, chicken picking... It's also a long instrumental song, full of changes, so it's not very easy to remember the whole guitar part."

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1. Animals as Leaders - CAFO

At the throne of UG this week, give it up for Mr. Tosin Abasi and Animals as Leaders' "CAFO"! Released as a part of the band's 2009 self-titled debut album, the song was entirely recorded by Tosin, with Periphery's Misha Mansoor handling a fair share of production and mastering duties. Here's what you folks had to say:

Vppark2: "Yeah, that thumb slapping technique is ridiculous."

Travislausch: "Came here just to find some AAL."

PAWNlol: "More like ANYTHING by Animals as Leaders."

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Honorable mentions include Shawn Lane's "Time Is the Enemy," "anything by Beyond Creation," Paco De Lucia and "Entre Dos Aguas," Steve Vai's "For the Love of God," Joe Satriani's "Satch Boogie," Buckethead and "Jordan," and staple Symphony X tune "Sea of Lies."

Honorable prank votes include the intro to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" (this one got the gold actually), "Any Meshuggah song when you only own a 6-string," (which technically isn't far from the truth), John Cage's "4'33"," Al Bundy's "Sandwich Solo," Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," "that song Lil Wayne was playing live. Seemed pretty hard to pull it off," and Napalm Death epic "You Suffer."

And that wraps it up! Stay tuned until next week for yet another edition of WQ...

144 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Well... That was a boring list. The honorable prank votes were the best.
    Yep, I watched that Cannibal Corpse song and it made me feel exhausted so I took a wee nap.
    Actually one of the most diverse and unobvious results the Wednesday questions have had in a long while, but okay...
    Yeah, an alternate title could be... 15 Songs That Are Generally Difficult To Enjoy Listening To
    Dragonforce above Necrophagist? At that point i ragequit. UG 15year olds are confirmed as cancer.
    Most of Dream Theater's songs could fit this list. I also find Metallica's Dyers Eve a very challenging song to play.
    Not necessarily, their stuff is all over the place - few DT songs are _easy_, but plenty are certainly manageable (well, Pull Me Under for an obvious example, as well as many of the ballads), and they often combine mindfuck sections with simpler, groovy ones. However, in prog metal land, a band that doesn't get enough credit in terms of technical complexity imo is Opeth. There is no such thing as "an easy Opeth song that isn't In My Time of Need or Weakness", and how Mikael plays the stuff he does while singing/growling melts my brain. Even the acoustic stuff is left hand murder.
    Well, Opeth isn't necessarily super difficult to play from the technical aspect, it's more of Akerfeldt's mentality of making really weird stuff that's all over the place.
    that 17 to 10 jump, still haunts me till today, best solo ever.
    Arfing Thumb
    Turns out that playing bass helps. When you go back to guitar the frets have become much smaller ^ ^
    there is a technique for that, you have to pass your hand on the top of the fretboard
    Bedside Shred
    Where's Al Di Meola?
    Just to one up every single one of those suggestions.
    used to be my guitar teacher havent seen this video in a while
    UG puts my comments in an article, but they're so asinine... Glad to see Fracture here though. Only song I've actually considered "impossible".
    It got a bunch of down votes when I first nominated it. So glad it made it cos I agree, it's a total fucking nightmare
    I think "Eugenes Trick Bag" is probably worth a mention.
    Agree. Especially if you alt pick and play jumping allegations like Ralph pretended to in the movie. Same for tumeni notes. Unfortunately this was bound to be a crap list. Those songs aren't that fast but for their speed they're pretty damned hard to play clean. But if we're thinking like that, there are tons and tons of slow songs that hypothetically would be near impossible to play very fast. So would you just go for the fastest? Well no one plays much of anything other than bumblebees at super high speeds, specifically because it is easier than most things to speed up that much. So what can you do.. Still it should have been on the list
    drifting isnt even that hard
    Arfing Thumb
    Agreed! I tabbed this out once and really put some effort into learning it, but once you made yourself comfortable with this style of playing it isn't that hard anymore. Of course it's far from easy, but there are much harder songs alone in McKee's catalogue
    So glad to see that version of Passionflower on here, such a beautiful performance. Jon Gomm has some great guitar work
    I think YRO would have been a better choice for Racer X. But I say that because it's my favorite Racer X song. So...
    I didn't think it would have a place but since there are Andy McKee & Jon Gomm, I find Sam Westphalen's compos hard to pull off to say the least :
    this looks prett damn hard, and I'm surprised this isn't on the list.
    Nero Galon
    It's a great song and sounds and looks very difficult but when you come to learn it then it is actually not so bad. Open tuning makes it fairly comfortable.
    Just a suggestion when you make those lists, right next to the name of each track, add a link for your tabs of it so lazy people like me don't have to search through all of it ourselves Edit: Actually just realized the link is actually there for most of them, I'm dumber than I ever thought I was Good list!
    I know there are many reasons to not like this song, but I think this might technically be one of the hardest songs to play.
    I feel anything with Batio doing double neck stuff would be hard as fuck to play because you'd essentially need to play two guitars at the same time.
    "Essentially" is not a good word choice in that sentence. A guitar is not essentially played without any picking, because it's not a keyboard.
    imo the hardest stuff comes from the classical repertoire. Regardless of how fast it is, there is just so much challenging stuff in terms of fingerings, and above all, being able to get a beautiful tone out of it. glad to see Symbiotic in Theory on there though. Should be #1 compared to the other songs here, imo. Definitely the hardest Necrophagist song.
    I completely forgot Tetrastructural Minds by Vektor. Insane riffs, hard as fuck to play.
    No Symphony X? With a few exceptions, this list is a complete and utter joke.
    I agree, you could pick any Symphony X song and it would be more difficult to play than Tornado of Souls
    I agree, you could pick any Symphony X song and it would be more difficult to play than Tornado of Souls
    What a stupid list. Though all these songs are difficult almost every technical deathmetal song is more challenging than these songs take brain drill as an example Brain Drill "Beyond Bludgeoned"
    (slowly looks around, with an ever widening smile) Yeah but can they djent????? loloolololololololololololololololololololololol ol
    The fact that you've been posting this on every article in the last couple of days is actually becoming quite hilarious. Keep up the good work, mate.
    i'm not sure if that's sarcasm or not. But one thing for sure is....ITS NOT DJENT!!!!lololol ololololol ololol ololo lololololololololo l
    Yeah we get it, you can stop now.
    Sorry, but if I stop now, I still feel as if it can come back. I've seen several people use it and rather recklessly. I have to be sure, this is very serious work. Ladies and djentlemen, please be patient.
    Soon we'll rid ourselves of the plague known as "Djent", and I djentuinely cannot wait to see it happen.
    mfw no Zappa
    Zappa was obviously a phenomenal musician and guitarist but I think the crazy thing about his music came from the composition as a whole more than it did consistently from a single musician.
    Yes indeed but i was thinking about songs like The Black Page or Moggio that are complete brain crushers rythmically.
    Check this guy. Not very popular, but definitely uses a very difficult technique. Is amazing.
    I can play the andy mckee one! its ironic because it looks hard to play but once you have it down to muscle memory its one of the easiest songs ever. I must have learnt it when I was 17. I never forgot how to play it.
    Cliffs of Dover is at number 2? I'm surprised because it doesn't sound more challenging than a lot of the pieces in the list. If it's really that difficult, then dayum, that is some messed up difficulty-awesomeness ratio.
    I appreciate the acoustic love in this list, but Drifting is actually a pretty easy piece by most contemporary acoustic standards. I learnt it in about 3 weeks with no background in fingerstyle prior.
    What about Nothing Else Matters? Even if it was a troll, it won in the poll, and it should be more than just honorable mention
    Contrary to the cliché (open strings blah blah...) the timing in the intro is not that easy for beginners... It is closer to intermediate level.
    Bleed - Meshuggah? no?
    Believe it or not, Meshuggah songs aren't that hard. They're just lessons in odd riffing/time signatures.
    While I agree to an extent, Bleed does stand out for the sheer stamina and precision needed to pull it off. It takes a lot more concentration that most other Meshuggah songs. That being said, I don't think it needed to be on the list.
    Have you ever even tried learning Bleed by Meshuggah on guitar?
    If I were debating with someone that technical and difficult guitar tunes don't necessarily make music that's good to listen to, I'd show them this list.
    Conclusion (for guitar listeners, not players) challenging doesn't mean necessarily good. Exception that prooves the rule: Sultans of Swing
    losing battle
    Sultan's of swing definitely belongs up there, it's one giant guitar fill with a trickey groove.
    losing battle
    Sultan's of swing definitely belongs up there, it's one giant guitar fill with a trickey groove.
    Speed Kills.. anything with speed is the hardest to master.. lots lots lots lots lots lots lots of time and muscle memory to master the lightning speed, thats is my opinion