Wednesday Question: Most Complex Guitar Riff Ever

Name a riff you've been struggling with for years.

Ultimate Guitar

If there's one thing to get a guitarist tingling, it's a tasty riff. But tasty can mean quite a few different things.

On one hand, there are riffs stunningly simple, yet incredibly tasty. But on the other, the proper mixture of technique and guitar mastery can result in riffs stunningly complex, yet once again incredibly tasty. So as the title reads, we're focusing on the latter group, making this week's Wednesday Question:

What is the most complex guitar riff ever?

'Tis your time to shine, prog lovers. Name that single riff that just takes you on a journey with its staggering intricateness. Or that riff you've been struggling with for years now. There can only be one No. 1 of course, and you get to choose it.

Same rules as always apply - only one suggestion per comment, vote up the ideas you support and vote down the ones you dislike. We'll sum up your votes by Friday and bring you another traditional UG Top 10. Let the complexity battle begin!

632 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Cliffs of Dover - Eric Johnson
    if you break it up into sections its actually pretty easy, EJ was always very pattern minded.
    I thought that's a good song, but the opening in Breaking All Illusions was waay harder to play.
    The opening to Breaking All Illusions is amazing. Too bad the video you linked starts a minute or so into the song, and doesn't have it. =P
    Waves by Guthrie Govan.
    Took me forever to get the smaller spaces between the notes as equal sixteenth notes as the others. Amazing once you finally get it.
    Yes! I spent a whole summer chipping away at learning that song & I still could never quite seem to get it right
    Animals as Leaders - CAFO
    I think AaL could fill half this list by themselves, but this song is probably the most known. And awesome.
    Deep Purple - Smoke on the water
    Black Sabbath-Black Sabbath
    Oh and the ending to Lil Wayne-Leather So Soft. Have gotten blisters trying to play it.
    Aww, the more I see of Lil' Wayne playing guitar the more sympathy I feel for him.
    For once I'm happy that YouTube has blocked this video in my country.
    This is the most hilarious high-production guitar playing performance ever. Like dude, someone actually PAID you to play that?! He's atrocious on a guitar. Luckily for him, he has his ignorance or he'd probably be so ashamed of himself that between the choice of living or throwing himself off a bridge; my money is on the bridge.
    Ha, his stuff is pretty embarrassing but with the metric fuсkton of cash he makes off it I doubt he'd give a single shit whether he knew or not.
    I somehow made it to 1:14, and hit pause so I didn't have to listen to it anymore. There's three guys - two guitarists (for some reason) and a drummer, and all three of them look like they're trying to hide their faces. The guy in the white shirt is looking at the camera as if he's saying to the camera man: "Dude, don't point that thing at me, I might be able to maintain some credibility as a musician if I can't be identified."
    why? its the first riff any kid learns so it cant be that hard. even when played properly its not exactly complex
    But Jon Gomm - Passionflower would have to be my vote...
    Oh man, I have been looking for this song for so long! Thanks for sharing it! c:
    La Villa Strangiato- Rush
    The only tricky part about that song is the solos, but they're not even that bad they're just a bit unusual. As much as I love La Villa, I wouldn't vote it #1. Unless you're talking about the bass solo. That'll turn your fingers into spaghetti. At least for a bass n00b like me.
    it's one of my favourite songs of all time, but which riff are you talking about? it's never been especially hard to play (good to see it finally on a UG poll though)
    Also, Divinations by Mastodon. Damn everything about that song. That chorus?
    Any of Brent's crazy hybrid picking parts but, the middle section of Capillarian Crest takes the cake, probably the only time a riff made me go "wtf". starts at 15
    I came here to say Capillarian Crest, but you beat me to it! I learned the intro and main riff once, then gave up.
    Blackened- Metallica
    nah disposable heroes little open note weird ass timing riff, or fight fire with fire intro, I've never seen why people say Blackened has a particularly complex riff, I guess it just came easily to me.
    i have trouble with this one cuz i cant downpick fast at all. and even up to speed alternate picking just doesn't make it sound right..
    Practice slower and speed it up gradually. After a few days you should be able to nail it. Try Puppets first,it's not that complex but I find it challenging to downpick for 8 minutes straight playing along with the CD. That should get you in shape!!!
    yeah haha idk. Ive just always sucked at downpicking. i can alternate pick, economy pick and sweep fast and clean but for some unholy reason i can't downpick faster than about 130bpm..
    I never had problems with that one. No idea why. Also the solo was easy to learn for me. I struggle on Dyers Eve and Fight fire with fire though.
    While not that difficult to play, Blackened is definitely one of those songs where you go:"How the heck did that redneck Hetfield compose something cool and complex as that?"
    Newsted actually wrote the majority of Blackened, I think it was one of his few writing credits on the album
    The intro riff.
    The riff at 1:29 in this is perhaps AAL's most complex riff in terms of rhythm that I can think of:
    Wow, not listened to much AAL but The Woven Web is awesome. CAFO... not so much.
    i prefer the riff at 2:30, but only because it's one my fav leads
    Dream Theater-The Dance of Eternity. Take your pick from the six and a half minutes of madness.
    Oh, and Holy Wars - Megadeth
    That's not that complex, I'd actually say that's one of the easier Megadeth songs.
    If you look to every note mustaine plays on the riff, it's really hard to reproduce note for note...
    yeah because he's sloppy as hell haha
    Nah. Say what you like about Dave but he's a quality rhythm guitarist. He had a period of shitness in the 90s but that was due to CTS or something similar. His playing is back on form now though. It's a shame his songwriting isn't...
    "His playing is back on form though" I guess you haven't seen the videos of him with the orchestra.
    Synaptic Plasticity by Blotted Science.
    Or any other song from Blotted Science. The theory behind those riffs are really incredible.
    Laser Lobotomy and Brain Fingerprinting as well. Unfortunately people here are too clueless for Blotted Science to be on this list.
    The riff in this is pretty complex
    Agreed,I don't feel Mark and Willie get anywhere near the credit they deserve as the amazing guitarists they are. Grace, Hourglass, Forgotten (Lost Angels) pretty much the entirety of the Wrath album are littered with complex - not to mention f*cking awesome - riffs.
    Or something older..
    I consider myself a pretty competent player, and if you put a gun to my head and told me to play this riff, my grey matter would splatter.
    ughhhh why have I never heard this before I love it
    Because King Crimson is criminally underrated and underexposed. If you love this, immediately check out all the King Crimson you can find.
    This is below average for KC - try out Discipline, Red and their debut in particular!
    Jambi by Tool. The technnique used is a b*tch.
    Oddly enough, I find Jambi quite easy. With the proper picking force on the 1st note, the subsequent pull-offs are a piece of cake to get them to sound right.
    Much easier with a high-mounted bridge, like the one on his Les Paul, for the controlled palm-mutes... Apart from that, just play it slowly, over and over again and have fun with it... It's just rolling your finger, you'll get there... Now try Third Eye... That's a bastard!
    Snow (Hey Oh)- Red Hot Chili Peppers; not a bad shout.
    The riff itself is actually not very complex. It's just the speed that is tough.
    If anything was slow enough it wouldn't be as "complex"
    you clearly have no grasp on the word complex, by your logic playing an open note at lightspeed is complex (its not) Complexity is about the compound of many parts it is not referring to difficulty or speed. (eg. a symphony is complex, a solo is not).
    Why are people downvoting this? It's completely true. Complexity has nothing to do with difficulty. Some easy pieces are quite complex and some difficult pieces are quite simple in composition. People are confusing technical difficulty with musical complexity! They are completely different. Snow (Hey Oh) is a great song, but it is not complex. It is difficult to play, but not complex.
    playing slow is also a difficult task given the right tempo, try playing Black sabbath's titled song at the proper tempo and be dead on timing wise with each note. also the overall note selction (quarter notes, dotted notes, staccatos and things in that vein) can make a song difficult to play reegardless of speed
    Difficulty =/= Complexity Complexity relates to compositional structure. A four bar riff is not really that musically complex, regardless of how good it sounds or how difficult it is to play.
    Anything by Meshuggah! Maybe "Combustion"
    You got crazy riffs in Catch 33, especially from The Paradoxial Spiral (at 0:30) to Entrapment, and In Death - Is Death. The timing is definitely ****in hard to catch.
    Meshuggah too. I'd also nominate "Marrow". In fact, the idea behind the riff is simple. BUT HOW TO PLAY THAT SHIT TIGHT IN THIS TEMPO
    My personal opinion. Probably doesn't meet the criteria but no way I could play this.
    And for the record, if it doesn't meet the criteria of songs then my choice is Technical Difficulties from Mr. Paul Gilbert
    Tool - Vicarious
    Once you get the hang of the rythm, it's actually quite straightforward imo. I'm having more trouble with Jambi and Lateralus.
    Jambi isn't a difficult riff per se, but good god it's hard to get it to sound right!
    Apart from the occasional mind-bending breakdown mid-song (e.g. the patient), nothing Tool writes is "hard to play" once you wrap your head around it... With perhaps the exception of Rosetta Stoned and that's just hard to avoid your freakin arm falling off from drilling those damn arpeggios.
    You go play schism for me then
    I play in a Tool Concept band and if you know the songs back to front timing wise they are not too hard to learn the notes. It is more how he plays it rather then what he plays. Having said that each album is progressively harder to play (on bass and guitar)I would say the missle riff in the patient had me stuck for a while
    I'm not usually a fan of prog, but your post has led me to really like this band.
    what the **** this is awesome how have I never heard of these guys they sound a bit like lighter Protest the Hero mixed with a slightly whinier version of Coheed and Cambria
    Necrophagist are pretty ridiculous, as are any technical death metal bands. Animals as Leaders as mentioned above...that almost has to be in the list so I'll put my vote on Symbiotic in Theory by Necrophagist instead
    Guthrie Govan Sevens (the tapping riff, it looks so technically demanding but it sounds so peaceful and calm when you listen to it), (also guthrie just ahs a video of his favorite riffs, every riff on their is insane (
    ) and maybe John Mclaughlin's solo's with Shakti (I'm thinking Mind Ecology I just love the blend of kinda bluesy jazz with indian you can hear in the guitar alone)
    Lick number one sounds like R2D2's dying... Still, he's awesome. "This is a grown up's guitar, it stops at 22" - Love it...