Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs Of The 1970s

Learn how to play the greatest rock guitar riffs of the 1970s note-for-note!

The most innovative rock guitar music ever to be created is found in the 1970s. It’s when rock guitar shined the brightest and introduced us to some of the greatest riffs ever to be performed on the instrument.

These are the riffs that you’ll instantly recognize as soon as you hear the first note. These are the riffs that have inspired millions of people to start playing guitar in the first place.

And now, with my brand new course called “Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs Of The 1970s”, you can learn how to play these riffs note-for-note and discover the theory behind their magic.

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With “Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs Of The 1970s” I’ll present to you the most detailed lessons on over 50 of the greatest rock riffs of the 1970s. Each lesson will be available to you online or you can download them for offline viewing.

  • Learn through video, tablature, audio, diagrams, pictures, and easy to follow instructions.
  • Tips and tricks on how to play each guitar riff. Go beyond just the music and tab and find the easiest and most effective way to learn the riff.
  • Valuable resources that are printable and downloadable. You can even make your own reference manual.
  • Accurate transcriptions ensure you’ll be able to play along note for note.
  • Riffs are broken down to easy to digest “chunks” that allow you to master each part of the riff separately and then put it all together.

Learning these riffs should be fun and not tedious, so I’ve made sure that you’ll enjoy yourself along the line. I feel that, with a little hard work, anyone can learn how to play these great riffs.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself “What riffs will I learn?”.  So, without further ado, I present to you the greatest rock guitar riffs of the 1970s that we’ll be covering in this exciting new course:

Stairway To Heaven

You can’t have a serious discussion of ’70s rock guitar riffs without mentioning the granddaddy of them all. “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin is an epic song with different movements within the song. The song doesn’t really start rocking until the guitar solo, but it’s the soft intro riff that gets the most attention. This is the signature riff that we’ll learn. The half step walk-down is a perfect musical representation of a stairway. The chord fragments found in the riff are fun to learn and it’s one of the first fingerstyle pieces that many students are exposed to.


Derek And The Dominoes featured not one, but two guitar legends in Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. It’s no wonder the main riff from “Layla” has survived the time. It’s a heavily layered riff with three distinct guitar parts, but it’s possible to play a semblance of the riff on two or even one guitars. Clapton originally wrote “Layla” as a ballad, with lyrics describing his unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, but the song became a “rocker” when, according to Clapton, Allman composed the song’s signature riff.

Smoke On The Water

This song from Deep Purple features the iconic riff that has served as the very first riff that students learn to play. Why? Because it’s easy to play, but sounds so darn cool. I was the first real riff that I learned how to play way back in the early ’80s. The song was still greatly popular then and remains so even to this day. “Smoke on the Water” is known for and recognizable by its central guitar riff written by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. It is a four-note blues scale melody in G minor, harmonized in parallel fourths. It sounds more complicated than it really is.

More Than A Feeling

As soon as this Boston song starts on the radio, you know you’re in for a ride. The main riff to the song is an all power chord affair that creates excitement. The riff is an epitome of what rock guitar is all about. It pays homage to the song “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen and later serves as the inspiration behind the Nirvana riff from “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  Listen to these songs back to back and you’ll see what I mean!

The Boys Are Back In Town

Irish rockers Thin Lizzy cemented themselves on classic rock airwaves with this timeless song. Rolling Stone called the “twin-guitar lead by Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson” used “crucial to the song’s success”. It’s true, too. Dual guitars are needed to pull it off, so you might want to call a friend over to play this one. Super fun!

Sweet Home Alabama

This riff takes a simple D, C, G chord progression and turns it into an iconic song element that audiences recognize immediately. Hundreds and even thousands of performers play this song all over the place. A lot of them will end up doing their own thing with it. Lynyrd Skynyrd really did a number on this song and it’s hard to replicate it note for note. It’s not because it’s “so darn hard”. The reason is that it’s too much to remember! You can get a fair approximation of the song by just understanding it’s basic parts and replicating it to an extent.

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

This song from Blue Oyster Cult created a timeless groove with a three chord progression. The arpeggiated chord pattern, note choice, and use of open strings help an unforgettable riff.  The Guardian publication wrote that the song’s charm “lies in the disjuncture between its gothic storyline and the sprightly, Byrdsian guitar line that carries it.” Just add cowbell!

Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo

The twin guitar attack from the Johnny Winter version of the song is simply bad to the bone. It’s another riff you’ll want another guitar playing buddy to fill in one of the parts.  According to songwriter Rick Derringer, “The first song I wrote for Johnny was ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo’. ‘Rock and Roll’ to satisfy the rock ‘n’ roll that I was supposed to be bringing into the picture, and ‘Hoochie Koo’ to satisfy the king of blues sensibility that Johnny was supposed to maintain. And it worked out great”

Black Dog

Led Zeppelin pulls off a riff that begins in 3/4 time and changes to 5/4 time, only to change back to 3/4 time. The song’s complex, shifting time signature was intended to thwart cover bands from playing the song. As guitarist Jimmy Page put it, “It’s in A, and then it sort of goes to an E chord. But then, while it’s snaking around it, it has some sort of little triplets that take you back into the A. So, yes, it’s tricky. You just have to sort of know how to count it.”

Funk #49

Guitarist Joe Walsh was noted for his innovative rhythm playing and creative guitar riffs. In particular, he was known for hot-wiring the pick-ups on his electric guitars to create his trademark “attack” sound. This signature song from his band James Gang is the perfect example. Turn up the volume for full effect!

All Right Now

This #1 smash from the band Free featured a young, pre-Bad Company,  Paul Rogers on vocals. It’s easy guitar riffs provide the perfect backdrop for the song’s vocal delivery.

China Grove

The Doobie Brothers were known as one of the most popular California pop/rock bands of the ’70s. They evolved from a mellow, post-hippie group, to a slick, soul-bound pop band by the end of the decade. Their band name created quite a bit of controversy, but they always shrugged off drug-related comments, with a bit of a laugh in between……

Iron Man

Slow and heavy describes Iron Man from Black Sabbath with it’s wandering power chords. Upon hearing the main guitar riff for the first time, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne remarked that it sounded “like a big iron bloke walking about” and hence the name “Iron Man” was attributed to the song.

Cat Scratch Fever

This Ted Nugent song is well known for its signature riff, which is a 3-tone minor-key melody harmonized in parallel fourths. Technically, that just means that this riff rocks!


This Allman Brothers instrumental was written by guitarist Dickey Betts, the song is a tribute to Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, in that it was designed to be played using only two fingers on the left hand. R.I.P. Greg Allman….


This Pink Floyd staple is instantly recognizable with the walking guitar riff and cash register sound effects. It’s written in the weird time signature of 7/4 which gives it it’s unique rhythm.


The song “Paranoid” from the band Black Sabbath was written as an afterthought in the studio during the recording of their first album. As bassist Geezer Butler put it, “We basically needed a 3-minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.” Isn’t it incredible how it all came together to create something so memorable?

 Highway To Hell

ACDC were masters of the rock riff. Guitarist Angus Young once recalled, in an interview, of how the song was almost lost. “We were in Miami and we were flat broke. Malcolm and I were playing guitars in a rehearsal studio, and I said, “I think I have a good idea for an intro”, which was the beginning of “Highway to Hell”. And he hopped on a drum kit and he banged out the beat for me. There was a guy in there working with us and he took the cassette we had it on home and gave it to his kid, and his kid unraveled it [laughs]. Bon was good at fixing broken cassettes, and he pasted it back together. So at least we didn’t lose the tune.”


This song from the band Heart is an aggressive early try at heavy metal, but some refer to it as a heavy hard rock number notable for a galloping guitar riff and its use of natural harmonics.

Walk This Way

This Aerosmith smash hit helped revive the band in the ’80s when hip-hop artist Run-D.M.C. released their version of the song with its iconic music video featuring Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Hotel California

The Eagles’ original recording of the song features Henley singing the lead vocals and concludes with an extended section of electric guitar interplay between Felder and Joe Walsh. The song is considered the most famous recording of the band, and its long guitar coda has been voted the best guitar solo of all time.

Hair Of The Dog

“Hair of the Dog” is the title track of Nazareth’s 1975 album Hair of the Dog. It is sometimes called “Son of a Bitch” because of the repeated lyric in the hook (“Now you’re messing with a son of a bitch”).


The song is almost entirely built upon an ascending chromatic ostinato over a pedal drone that Page had first recorded in his home studio, using the same guitar tuning (DADGAD) as he used for “Black Mountain Side”, “White Summer” and the unreleased “Swan-song”.  The song’s time signature combines duple and triple meter.

La Grange

Rolling Stone called this ZZ Top song, “…a standard for guitarists to show off their chops.” The initial groove of the song is based on a traditional boogie blues rhythm used by John Lee Hooker in “Boogie Chillen’” and by Slim Harpo in “Shake Your Hips”.

Brown Sugar

The song, with its prominent blues-rock riffs, dual horn/guitar instrumental break, and danceable rock rhythms, is representative of the Rolling Stones’ definitive middle period and the tough, bluesy hard-rock most often associated with the group.

Over 50 Riffs! Imagine The Possibilities

Imagine yourself at a party or maybe at school, your guitar in hand, surrounded by people enjoying your music, and even asking you to play more for them. People always appreciate good music, and you may just find yourself the center of attention among your friends.

Imagine playing “name that song” with your friends and pulling out riff after riff of the 1970s. Imagine the skills you’ll acquire while learning how to play these riffs. The sky is the limit!

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