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.

Ultimate Guitar

"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

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.

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09. "La Grange" - ZZ Top

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.

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08. "Smoke On The Water" - Deep Purple

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.

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07. "Purple Haze" - The Jimi Hendrix Experience

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.

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06. "Enter Sandman" - Metallica

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.

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05. "Sunshine Of Your Love" - Cream

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.

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04. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana

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.

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03. "Heartbreaker" - Led Zeppelin

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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Thanks for the report to Russell Hall,

240 comments sorted by best / new / date

    These are the traditional ones we all love as guitar store classics, but now when I go into a guitar store, all I hear is CHUG CHUG CHUG SQUEAL played by a bunch of br00tal kids who are in the guitar store to escape from home because they are angsty at the fact their parents made them tidy their bedroom. No kiddin' either. I'm right about these sort of things.
    Amuro Jay
    I like to out-brutal the brutal kids and play along to whatever the beginners are playing, except correctly. Checked.
    Wither a kid is playing d4 br00tz or one of many songs in this list, at least their getting their ass off guitar hero thinking their boss after experting a song.
    Wow. A bunch of musicians ripping on other musicians for playing (all be it not very well sometimes) their favorite song. Real mature. No wonder I can't get along with anyone in a band. Bunch of stuck up *****s.
    I play some Riverside and King Crimson on guitars I'll never make enough money to own on an amp at a low volume...then piss off some wannabe shredder with "Big Love". Priceless
    Mr Winters wrote: I don't really get all this hate towards "stupid kids who rape all the guitars by playing TEH BR00TZ". Just like you, these kids are in the store to try guitars, and just like you, these kids have their own tastes in music and they are going to play whatever they want to play, because it's what they like. There's no need to insult them just because you don't like br00tal chugga chugga stuff.
    I was just going to post another comment saying this but you got it in one. There's lots of music/guitarist elitism in music shops which I really hate. I've been to Denmark Street and everyone who works there is a stuck up prick (cept for the bass shop, they're cool).
    Just play some Protest the Hero. The clerk's gonna cry since he can't play it!
    But you guys need to remember not everyone is as amazing as UG users, we all know you're the best people in the world ever and you always to everything right, so there's no need to go on about it and insult other people (who are generally just beginners)
    dopelope wrote: I get sick of the teenies downtuning and messing up ALL the damn guitars in thte store. can't even try something out without spening 20 minutes tuning it to STANDARD.....
    It takes you 20 minutes to tune a guitar to standard...? Also, there are alot of great songs written in drop tuning. Not trying to be a prick here, just saying.
    I don't care what people play. I go in, try out a few stuff, play what I want to play then leave. Seriously who cares what anybody else is playing. If their shredding or playing the Br00t4lz, why would it affect you?
    This makes no sense. I don't know why people give a damn about pointless things like this. I don't care if some kid next to me is playing like crap, just as long as they don't talk it.
    I'm gonna write all these songs down and run to the next guitar shop. I'll time myself to see how long it takes to get kicked out and then post my time for the rest of you to try and beat.
    Mr Winters
    I don't really get all this hate towards "stupid kids who rape all the guitars by playing TEH BR00TZ". Just like you, these kids are in the store to try guitars, and just like you, these kids have their own tastes in music and they are going to play whatever they want to play, because it's what they like. There's no need to insult them just because you don't like br00tal chugga chugga stuff.
    jammyninja wrote: Hearing stuff like Bullet For My Valentine played badly is pretty excruciating as well.
    I think hearing it period is bad
    RDSElite wrote: Novationband wrote: Where the hell is the "May I Help You Riff" What the hell is the "May I Help You Riff" ?
    Wayne's world mother ****er. waynes world. lol
    Well, when I go into a music store, I just sweep, improv some technical death metal, maybe do some cool tapping riffs and decide if I like the instrument or not. I don't do it to show off or impress people. I do it to try out the guitar for the type of music I play. That's what you should do. When I bought one of my first guitars, the clerk was impressed with me play "Raining Blood." Last month, when I bought my 4th guitar (Ibanez RG4exfm1) I was doing some sweeps and some guy came up to me and said, "Your really good! How do you do sweeps like that?" And I said practice. I wasn't trying to impress anybody, I just played and he liked. I hate hearing people play simple stuff or playing offbeat punk riffs like E,G,A#. I guess it is your choice on what to play, but don't crank your amp to max like you're trying to show off. When I test out guitars, I keep the volume low enough where I can hear it, but not high enough to drown out the people around me.
    Has anyone noticed that there is always that One guy at the shop that tries to one up everyone else. He probably wonders why no one will be in a band with him.
    when I'm checking out a guitar for quality I play the songs Alive by Pearl Jam or Buried Alive by Avenged Sevenfold or both of them probably don;t here those everyday I bet
    Also when testing out a guitar, I like to finger pick some clean stuff, play some blues, then progress to some Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, and then if a hot girl walks in I play the absolute most technical shit I can come up with (usually sweeping).
    agree totally
    SOAD_SoG wrote: FUCK Guns'n Roses stuff! Sweet child of mine gotta be the most boring song of them all. so overrated it makes me puke.
    By the way, I'm not against ACTUAL metal. Just the fake shit. Emo people screw up everything.
    i play eruption at LEAST 3 or 4 times every time i go to guitar center haha. and this one clerk always comes over to watch the tapping part, cuz ive played for 5 years, hes been playing for 14 and cant do it =)
    You know what's even more irritating than the douchey metal teenieboppers at big chain guitar stores? The washed up 80's butt-rockers with pattern baldness and pony tails that are way too thrilled to be working there and say "right on, bro!" after every damn thing you say to try and get on your level. And also the random middle-eastern guy in dockers and loafers asking 500 questions about the $3,000 Les Paul he wants to buy for his 11 year old son that decided he wants to learn guitar after listening to avenged sevenfold for the first time.
    Angel of Death or Phantom of the Opera, I always like those riffs
    once i was in there playing some smoothjazzy stuff and some kids where playing some drop tuned riff which consisted of chuggin on the e string for 5 minutes the clerk asked them to turn it down and asked me to turn it up
    I go in there and play Scavenger of Human Sorrow or Symbolic by Death, hoping that at one point in my life, somebody will actually recognize that I'm playing some REAL guitar.
    The only thing worse than hearing people play these riffs is hearing them play along with the song... Damn whoever thought to put an AUX input on practice amps...
    Hearing stuff like Bullet For My Valentine played badly is pretty excruciating as well.
    jammyninja wrote: Hearing stuff like Bullet For My Valentine played badly is pretty excruciating as well.
    yeah because one person can't play their songs effectively
    i normally just play after the burials berzerker and random animals as leaders songs and riffs.
    There's a store in my former home town that had a sign that said "If you want to play Stairway to Heaven, Smoke on the Water or Paranoid please feel ree to use this lead" - a red lead, jack one end, electric plug at the other. I rarely bother playing anyone else's material when I try gear out. Usually I'll rattle through a couple of simple scales, open chords, power chords and repeat with different settings. Having said that I have been known to play Battery and Walk on "inappropriate" instruments (Squire Strats or a Gretsch hollowbody) just to annoy the children that gather to "shred" (badly). Which can be fun.
    Seeing as I'm left handed, it makes it god damn difficult to play a lot of riffs (especially when I've already learnt them the opposite way around). So I try these on the right-handed guitars Queen - 39 (Acoustic and Clean) Judas Priest - Genocide (electrics) and I'll probably incorporate God Save the Queen now for super-extra-funz. also - to that guy who said he could play Dancing Days - HOW THE HELL DO YOU GET IT INTO THE RIGHT TUNING IN A GUITAR STORE?!
    "Powerslave" by Iron Maiden if I'm playing electric guitar. "Five Magics" by Megadeth if I'm ripping up a bass. Five Magics got the clerk to pay attention. lol
    I tend to play the music I would be using the equipment for, to test the equipment, instead of trying to get people's attention. I used to do it when I was younger, maybe in my 3rd or 4th year of guitar playing (considering I was about 14 then), but not so much any more. I remember once I played a Avenged Sevenfold riff on a les paul through a fender tweed amp 'cause I thought people would be impressed with how fast it was -.- loooool. I've noticed I tend to play a few blues licks, maybe some beatles-y stuff, then play a few of my band's songs to hear how the gear deals with that.
    also - to that guy who said he could play Dancing Days - HOW THE HELL DO YOU GET IT INTO THE RIGHT TUNING IN A GUITAR STORE?!
    its easy. tune the A string with the d string till it sounds like a power chord.. and tune the high e string to the 3rd fret of the b string. but i might be the only dude in my GC that ever plays SRV stuff. even tho all the strats there have 9s >_> its like playing dental floss lol. but yeah electric - SRV, harder metallica songs like blackened, since ive been loving you, pink floyd.. acoustic - of course i have to play some zep, symptom of the universe,
    Maybe Cowboys from Hell, Ive heard that quite a bit, as well as Master of Puppets.
    I always play: Voodoo Chile Rude Mood (someone mentioned it, I made half the people in GC stop playing guitar when I cranked up the amp playing this I was actually amp shopping-the GC sales man told me I could I think he thought I'd butcher it, but he just thanked me and walked away) Piano Man (Clean and just to mess with the pianist walking around)
    I find The Wind Cries Mary works well. Even had some employees end up jamming along on drums. Quite a nice song to "acoustify" too.
    Eifler121 wrote: Symptom is an unknown song?
    It's not Iron Man, Paranoid, or War Pigs, so no radio listens know about that song. To be honest, I'm getting tired of the 3 I just mentioned because of the radio.
    I usually hit up the prog songs when I go in. Spirit of Radio, La Villa Strangiato and Far Cry by Rush As I Am, Metropolis, constant Motion by Dream Theater some King Crimson, Pain of Salvation, some Iron Maiden if I feel like it (Paschendale, Fear of the Dark, Wickerman etc.) If I go play bass, I might try Tempus Fugit by Yes (though I have trouble with that) If I nail it, I get some good looks.