There are so many “best guitar riffs” of all time articles out there—but many of them kind of miss the point.

It’s as if the guitar was only good in the 60s and 70s and no one innovated on the instrument post-2000s.

That simply can’t be true. There’s so much guitar music from newer bands that’s totally awesome and worth paying attention to.

So, if you want guitar chops that span across decades of exploration and knowledge here’s 10 amazing guitar riffs from every decade since the 70s.

Each riff we’ve picked focuses on a specific guitar skill so picking out these riffs and learning them will be incredibly useful if you’re a beginner.

To make things easy, each riff comes with a free downloadable tab too!

1. Whole Lotta Love (1969)

Perhaps one of the most iconic riffs from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is the rockin’ and rollin’ riff played throughout Whole Lotta Love.

The riff from Whole Lotta Love isn’t shy about its blues influence—most classic rock guitar riffs aren’t.

But this one is special because it’s so recognizable and just plain fun to play.

Why should you learn this riff?

It’s not the simplest riff ever, but its medium tempo makes it a good starting point for diving into more complex blues and rock guitar playing.

Check out the tab for Whole Lotta Love.

2. Purple Haze (1970)

Jimi Hendrix is my favorite guitar god from the 70s era of rock music.

His way of effortlessly weaving blues and psychedelia into powerful rock arrangements still blows my mind.

Without a doubt, his coolest riff is Purple Haze. I’m pretty sure anyone who calls themself a guitarist knows this one.

Why should you learn this riff?

Purple Haze is a great way for beginners to learn how to grip and use one of the most important guitar chords—the Hendrix chord or dominant 7 #9 chord.

Plus it’s an excellent riff to break out at your local garage jam.

It’s an excellent riff to break out at your local garage jam.

Check out the tab for Purple Haze.

3. Crazy Train (1980)

Moving on to the 80s, we’ll start with a legendary riff from Black Sabbath’s progenitor Ozzy Osbourne.

Crazy Train is all about that hair metal sound. To play it properly you’ll definitely need some distortion.

Why should you learn this riff?

Crazy Train uses some pretty challenging picking techniques. It’s a great way to work alternate and down picking into your guitar playing.

Plus, the faster tempo is good for speeding up your guitar chops—especially if you want to delve into heavier guitar styles like metal and hardcore.

Check out the tab for Crazy Train.

4. Back in Black (1980)


Back in Black is easily one of the most recognizable riffs of all time.

The way Angus Young made his power chords punch through on his red Gibson SG is unparalleled.

Why should you learn this riff?

Back in Black is an excellent riff to learn if you struggle with changing between open chords.

The tempo is bright but not super fast, so with a little bit of practice, you’ll pick it up.

Check out the tab for Back in Black.

5. Enter Sandman (1991)

Guitar music didn’t lose any steam in the 90s but it definitely changed.

Metallica’s Enter Sandman encapsulates the sound of 90s heavy metal for me.

Legend has it that Kirk Hammet wrote the riff after being inspired by Soundgarden’s 1989 album Louder Than Love.

Enter Sandman makes use of over the top distortion, chorus and phaser with blistering runs and djenting power chords—even if this riff was written before djenting was a thing.

Why should you learn this riff?

Enter Sandman is an excellent starting point for learning how to incorporate effects into your guitar playing.

In the intro the riff is played with a clean guitar tone before Hammet smashes the distortion pedal to crank out some massive tone.

Try it for yourself and you’ll definitely see why flipping from a clean to a distorted tone is so much fun.

Check out the tab for Enter Sandman.

6. Killing in the Name (1991)

If Enter Sandman represents the evolution of rock guitar, Killing in the Name showed where guitar could go.

Rage Against the Machine was a 90s rap-rock group with a political message against racism and police brutality—no doubt, you need a powerful guitar riff to go with a powerful message.

Hands down, Killing in the Name is my favorite riff on this list because it takes rock guitar and mashes it with some very funky playing that can be rapped over.

Hands down, Killing in the Name is my favorite riff on this list.

It was written by guitar legend Tom Morello, who’s best known for his innovative use of guitar effects and unique guitar tone.

Why should you learn this riff?

Killing in the Name grooves hard. It’s the perfect riff for getting into percussive, funk-influenced guitar playing that’s just as much about hitting muted strings as playing notes and chords.

Don’t forget to check out Tom Morello’s innovative use of the octave pedal to get that insane tone in the intro and during his solo.

Check out the tab for Killing in the Name.

7. Lose Yourself (2002)

Who says guitar riffs are limited to rock music? Hip-hop and guitar have a love affair that continues to this day.

Who says guitar riffs are limited to rock music? Hip-hop and guitar have a love affair that continues to this day.

Easily the most iconic guitar riff from the 2000s comes from Eminem’s Lose Yourself—no sports movie is complete without a training montage to this track.

It’s a sampled riff that loops throughout, when you hear it you know exactly what’s coming next.

Why should you learn this riff?

The riff from Lose Yourself is based on a very simple power chord so it’s easy to pick out for beginners.

Aside from the simple chord structure, it’s an excellent introduction to palm-muting—a guitar technique where the player uses the palm of the playing hand to muffle the guitar.

Palm-muting makes it possible to play short, staccato notes like what you hear in Lose Yourself.

Check out the tab for Lose Yourself.

8. Seven Nation Army (2003)

Perhaps the biggest rock band of the 2000s was Jack White and his band The White Stripes.

The White Stripes are best known for their incredibly simple yet potent arrangements and production style.

You won’t hear much more than drums, bass, guitar and vocals on most of their tracks.

Seven Nation Army is the best example of The White Stripes’ simple rock formula and it includes one of the most iconic riffs of all time.

Why should you learn this riff?

It’s a great way to learn how to play power chords around the guitar neck.

Its medium tempo might be a challenge for beginners, but slowly practicing your power chord shape movements will help your gear up to learn more songs with the same power chord style.

Check out the tab for Seven Nation Army. 

9. Do I Wanna Know?

Arctic Monkeys are one of the best rock bands from the past decade. They’re incredibly adept at turning bluesy rock arrangements into sugary sweet, radio-friendly pop.

Do I Wanna Know makes use of a bluesy, rock guitar lick that’s heard through pretty much the entire song.

The lick is really the inspiration for most of the song—even the vocal melody mirrors the lick.

Why should you learn this riff?

This is a modern take on blues-rock. It’s great for learning how to pick out a simple melody on the guitar.

Check out the tab for Do I Wanna Know?

10. Rope

The last riff on this list is a challenging one from the Foo Fighters.

Rope is a modern alternative rock song that draws on every riff we’ve talked about on this list.

This is a good one to keep as a goal to learn after you master all the other riffs on this list.

Why should you learn this riff?

It combines challenging rhythms with fast alternate picking and interesting chord structures.

There’s even some cool polyrhythmic themes in the intro section too.

Check out the tab for Rope.

Did we miss your favorite riff?

We probably missed your favorite riff. If we did, sorry about that!

We loved these riffs because they all explore the guitar in different ways and they look at some modern ways of playing.

It’d be nearly impossible to really boil down exactly what riffs are the best—and that’s not really the point of learning or listening to music anyways.

Just listen to the songs, check out the guitar tab and if you love the riff, learn the riff!