Top 10 Best Jazz Guitar Solos ( + 10 Licks)

In a recent forum post, we asked our readers to name their favorite jazz guitar solo. And, as you might imagine, we got a varied response to that tough question. As readers struggled to pick just one solo that they would rank as their all-time favorite, a short-list of tracks began to emerge that would end up becoming the top 10 best jazz guitar solos laid out below.

You may or may not agree with this list, so feel free to read through and then post your own top 10 list in the comments below.

As well, besides a video of each of the recordings on this list, there is a lick transcribed from each solo for you to check out.

So, without further ado, here they are, the top 10 best jazz guitar solos as chosen by the readers of JGO.

1. Wes Montgomery – Besame Mucho

Wes Montgomery - Besame Mucho

 

The most popular jazz guitar solos, as chosen by our readers, is Besame Mucho by none other than “The Thumb” himself, Wes Montgomery.

Taking a fresh look at this tune, by playing it in 6/4 rather than the traditional 4/4 time, Wes’ solo is energetic, sophisticated, and full of classic Wes vocabulary.

The transcribed lick contains a favorite structural approach that Wes often used in his jazz guitar solos.

  • The first bar contains melody 1, a short line that is played over the Ebm7 and F7b9 chords.
  • From there, bar two is a slightly altered version of melody 1, changed to outline the new Bbm7 and Gm7b5 chord changes.
  • The lick then goes into a new melody, melody 2, as Wes completes the four-bar phrase.

While this might not be his most famous tune, this solo has one over the hearts of jazz guitarists around the world.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite Wes solo made the top 10.

 

Lick [starts at 2:30 in the video]

 

Wes Montgomery Besame Mucho Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Wes Montgomery solos (in order of popularity):

  • Four on Six
  • Impressions
  • Round Midnight
  • Airegin
  • West Coast Blues
  • No Blues
  • Caravan
  • The Days of Wine and Roses
  • D Natural Blues

 

2. Joe Pass – Django


 

Number 2 on the list of top 10 best jazz guitar solos comes from Joe Pass.

Joe’s recording of Django appears on his album, “For Django,” a tribute to the legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

This is a fiery solo, full of double-time licks, where Joe is on top form during his creative and intense improvisation.

In the transcribed line below, you’ll find a number of idiomatic Passisms that you can study further in your practice routine.

  • The first is the Fm9 arpeggio in bar 1, running down from the third to the third of the underlying chord, Ab to Ab.
  • From there, you’ll see Joe using a C augmented triad over the C7 chord in bar two, another characteristic Pass sound that is found in many of his solos.
  • Lastly, Joe borrows a page from the John Coltrane playbook as he uses the 1235 interval set to outline the F7, Bb7, and Eb7 chords.
  • From there, he resolves the lick in typical Joe fashion.

Check out the list below to see if any of your favorite Joe Pass solos made the top 4 as suggested by our readers.

 

Lick [starts at 0:50 in the video]

 

Joe Pass Django Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Joe Pass solos (in order of popularity):

 

3. Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life


 

A top 10 best jazz guitar solos list wouldn’t be complete without including at least one Pat Metheny improvisation.

Pat has long been at the top of the jazz guitar world, and it all began with his groundbreaking recording, “Bright Size Life.” His solo on the title track of that album is often considered one of Metheny’s best-recorded improvisations. It also helped to have Jaco and Bob Moses by his side as he navigated these fun to play, and creative, chord changes.

The lick below is taken from a live recording, and features a number of characteristic Metheny sounds.

  • The triplets that start the line are a favorite of Pat’s, where he runs up a scale using a series of three-note groupings.
  • Notice the E-D-E-E pattern in bar three, which is heard in the original recording of Bright Size Life, and many of Pat’s other recordings as well.

Metheny may have accomplished an enormous amount over his career. But, it all stems back to his first recording as a bandleader, and Bright Size Life is one of the most memorable solos on that memorable recording.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite Metheny solo made the top 5 as chosen by jazzguitar.be readers.

 

Lick [starts at 1:25 in the video]

 

Pat Metheny Bright Size Life Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Pat Metheny solos:

  • Are You Going With Me
  • Phase Dance
  • Lonely Woman
  • James

 

4. George Benson – Breezin’

Breezin' - George Benson studio version

 

George Benson has had one of the longest and most diverse careers in jazz guitar history.

Getting his start playing hard-driving bebop, pushing Wes’ accomplishments on the instruments to the next level, Benson then moved into the smooth jazz world as he expanded his musical horizons. While some disapproved of his switch in musical focus, as indicated by the fourth most popular jazz guitar solo on our list, fans the world over have embraced Benson in all his forms.

The lick in the “Breezin’” example is played in the typical, energetic Benson style. Full of triplets, 16th notes, and short rests to break up the phrases; this line encapsulates the energy that has made Benson a favorite among fans for over half a century.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite Benson solo made our readers’ list of top 6 George Benson guitar solos.

 

Lick [starts at 4:01 in the video]

 

George Benson Breezin Lick Transcription

 

Other popular George Benson solos:

  • Take 5
  • This Masquerade
  • California Dreaming
  • Stella by Starlight
  • Seven Come Eleven

 

5. Charlie Christian – Swing to Bop

SWING TO BOP (1941) by Charlie Christian

 

Known as the father of modern jazz guitar, it’s no surprise to find Charlie Christian on a list of top 10 best jazz guitar solos.

The solo voted to our list by readers, “Swing to Bop,” showcases the melodic control, harmonic understanding, vocabulary, and creativity that propelled Christian to the top of the jazz world early in his career.

Though he left this world at a very young age, Christian helped to shape the future of jazz, and influenced almost every great jazz guitarist that came after him in one way or another.

The longer, bebop influenced lick in the example below is characteristic of Christian’s sophisticated, yet bluesy and melodic, approach to soloing.

With a number of chromatic notes, scales and arpeggios, this line reflects the cool, and bebop-based sound that made Christian the first major figure in modern jazz guitar.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite Christian solo made our reader’s top 4 list of solos.

 

Lick [starts at 1:27 in the video]

 

Charlie Christian Swing to Bop Solo Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Charlie Christian solos:

  • Stardust
  • Flying Home
  • Rose Room

 

6. Pat Martino – Just Friends

Pat Martino "Just Friends"

 

Pat Martino stormed onto the jazz guitar scene at a very young age. Before many other players could drive a car, or even grow facial hair, Martino was already making a name for himself as a top-level jazz guitarist.

Although he has recorded many memorable solos, Just Friends remains as a fan favorite and is considered essential transcribing by jazz guitar educators the world over.

The lick below showcases a number of characteristic Pat Martino soloing concepts.

  • First, is the opening bar, which starts on a high A for a quarter note, then runs down the underlying scale from there, a line heard commonly in this era of Martino’s recordings.
  • In the C7 bar, you’ll notice the bebop scale being used (C-B-Bb-A) to create a bit of tension and release over that chord.
  • In the A7 measure, there’s an A7 arpeggio starting from the 3rd of that chord (C#) which is an arpeggio approach Martino loves to use in his solos.
  • Lastly, the use of D melodic minor over Dm7 showcases Martino’s understanding and usage of classic bebop vocabulary.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite solo made our reader’s list of top 5 Pat Martino improvisations.

 

Lick [starts at 1:38 in the video]

 

Pat Martino Just Friends Solo Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Pat Martino solos:

 

7. Jim Hall – You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to

Jim Hall - You'd be so nice to come home to (Audio Quality 256 kbps)

 

A member of the cool jazz scene, Jim Hall made his name in the jazz world by eschewing speed and chops for a melodic approach to soloing. Though he did possess the chops to play double-time licks, and at fast tempos, Hall preferred to leave space, work melodies, and experiment with textures and colors in his solos.

It’s no surprise to see Jim’s solo on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” on this list of top 10 best jazz guitar solos. The performance is one of Hall’s best on record, featuring his strong rhythmic and melodic approach to improvisation throughout the tune.

The lick below reflects Hall’s melodic approach, as he develops melodies across the phrase, leaving space and letting each note breathe as he plays over the changes.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite Jim Hall solo made our reader’s list of top 7 solos.

 

Lick [starts at 0:55 in the video]

 

Jim Hall Youd Be So Nice to Come Home to Solo Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Jim Hall solos:

  • I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  • Concierto de Aranjuez
  • Body and Soul
  • My Funny Valentine
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Blue Bossa

 

8. Django Reinhardt – I’ll See You in my Dreams

I'll See You In My Dreams By Django Reinhardt

 

Consistently voted as one of the best jazz guitarists of all times, Django Reinhardt’s name has long been synonymous with gypsy jazz guitar.

Ranked as the 8th best jazz guitar solo of all time by our readers, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is a classic Django improvisation.

The solo builds in intensity, contains a strong rhythmic feel, and brings out Django’s penchant for developing melodic phrases over the course of his solos.

In the lick below, you’ll see just such a melodic line.

  • Here, the line is built off of a single phrase, which is played in the first two bars as a statement or call and then the response is played in the second two bars.
  • After the call, the line is resolved and then Django moves on to other ideas in his solo.

It’s this level of organization and melodic control that have kept Django’s name near the top of the list of greatest jazz guitarists for decades since his passing.

Check out the list below to see if your favorite Django solo made our reader’s list of top 5 improvisations.

 

Lick [starts at 2:14 in the video]

 

Django Reinhardt Ill See You in my Dreams Solo Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Django Reinhardt solos:

  • Nuages
  • All of Me
  • Minor Swing
  • Honeysuckle Rose

 

9. Kenny Burrell – My Favorite Things

Kenny Burrell - "My Favorite Things"

 

While it’s not surprising to see Kenny Burrell on a list of the top 10 best jazz guitar solos, what might be surprising, is the solo chosen…

With a long and successful career, Burrell has released a number of memorable records over the years, including his most famous album, Midnight Blue. But, the solo voted by readers as his best, and number 9 on the list, doesn’t come from that record, instead its Burrell’s take on the classic jazz tune “My Favorite Things.”

Playing in 4/4 time, as opposed to the traditional jazz waltz feel, Burrell brings his characteristic bluesy feel to this often-played jazz standard.

The example line is built with a favorite rhythmic and melodic motive of Burrell’s, one that you can hear in his other recorded solos. As well, Burrell’s control and love for the blues is showcased in this Em7 phrase.

 

Lick [starts at 1:53 in the video]

 

Kenny Burrell My Favorite Things Solo Lick Transcription

 

Other popular Kenny Burrell solos:

  • The Midnight Special
  • God Bless the Child

 

10. Grant Green – Blues for Willarene

Grant GREEN "Blues for Willarene" (1961)

 

Though many know Grant Green as a jazz funk pioneer, his early career was firmly based in the Blue Note, hard bop sound.

His unique tone, strong sense of rhythm, and control of bebop vocabulary helped propel Green to the top of the jazz world in the 1960s.

Known for his strong blues playing, it’s no surprise to find “Blues for Willarene” on this list of top 10 best jazz guitar solos.

As you’ll see and hear in the lick below, Grant was a master of jazz blues soloing, with an endless supply of licks under his fingers to draw from in his improvisations. Grant didn’t just recite lines, he made them his own, and brought his personality into everything he played.

 

Lick [starts at 1:02 in the video]

 

Grant Green Blues for Willarene Solo Lick Transcription

 

Other Popular Grant Green solos:

  • My Favorite Things
  • I Wish You Love
  • ‘Round Midnight

 

What are your favorite jazz guitar solos? Let us know in the comments below…

 

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Arpeggios

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56 thoughts on “Top 10 Best Jazz Guitar Solos ( + 10 Licks)”

  1. Tony Faelens

    Nothing from Allan Holdsworth ? or is that not “JAZZ” ? i don’t like jazz guitar police, absolute concervative and a litle bit boring.

  2. Kurt Pipa

    This is a great list and lots of wonderful comments mentioning great work by those who didn’t make the list. I would second the comment about John Abercrombie and add Mick Goodrick to that. Hard to pick just one solo from those guys.

    I would love to see a second round that excludes those who made this first list and see what comes out. There are so many greats out there that don’t get due credit–some of which were mentioned in the comments. It could be fun and instructive to make another list and look at their work. Alas, I couldn’t possibly take on transcribing 10 solos, and Dirk has done so much amazing and wonderful work already to provide us with so much for so little….

  3. matelski

    Wes, Baby It’s Cold Outside

  4. Philippe

    Great collection of lines from the masters. Wes’ Besame Mucho is taken from Take 2 of the tune on that date, I believe. What an(other) astonishing solo. I am hearing the second two measures a little differently. Transcribing these for myself gets my ear working in a whole different way. Many thanks for this.

  5. 3shiftgtr

    Great stuff above for sure. But lots of modern players left out. Pat Metheny’s studio version of Third Wind has, IMHO the greatest jazz guitar cadenza to start a solo ever. And the solo has the most incredible dramatic arc. Mike Stern’s solo on Silver Lining is melodic and rhythmic gold. And Robben Ford’s solo on Monmouth College Fight Song from the Casino Lights album is truly my fav of all time. My playing’s goals reside in effects that solo.

    1. RadioFM74

      I so agree with your comment on Third Wind. But I also wish there were more old timers (see below).

  6. Kevin Webb

    No one, bur no one could play licks like Barney Kessel. The guy was outstanding, not just in technique, but also in the imagination he carried into his music. He always preferred to be called a musician first – who happened to play the guitar. That was the difference. I have most of this albums – all of which are excellent – but the latest was ‘Soaring’ (1976) which is exceptional. Even non-guitarists who love jazz think this is amazing – they tell me so. Try it!

  7. Jim Caudill

    The only problem I see with this list is, trying to pick Wes’s best solo?!

  8. Andy Pegg

    This is a great list. I have no problem with the exclusion of McLaughlin, but would certainly have added a John Schofield track to my personal list in order to include another contemporaneous example.

  9. Henley

    Hi!Thank you for sharing these great guitar legend!!i think all guitarist will agree that these fellows has been the roots and truggger of every musical inspirations!!Pat Martino has always been my source of inspiration and reference as well but I RESPECT all the Masters of Jazz you’ve listed!Thanx Again for sharing this moment.

  10. Hiram Rosenberg

    This is so fascinating; the transcripts and discussions are so valuable. i realize that this list has a basis in public opinion, but as earlier commenters mentioned, I would include Tal Farlow’s studio cut of Love Nest, and although I can’t put my finger on the tune, there’s one in particular by the player I feel is a candidate for the greatest guitarist alive today, Bireli Lagrene.

    But congratulations for bringing this out – it’s a solid list and as with any list, there’s plenty of room for people to disagree.

  11. Tommaso

    The first time that the pickup of my record player fell on Boss Guitar vynil I was astonished by Besame Mucho solo. Therefore, I am happy and moved by the result of the survey. I believe, however, that the take above is not the one inserted in Boss Guitar, which instead is this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQHepZ2u7a4
    Happy listening !

  12. Jonathan

    I think Larry Koonse take on “How deep is the ocean” with Bob Sheppard is really something. What a great player he is!

  13. Len Williams

    Has no one heard Billy Beans work.
    His tragically short career delivered
    stunning guitar improvisation not to
    mention his very durable friend and
    musical compatriot, John Pisano.

  14. Deolindo

    Agreeable with most of the choices. I would also take something from the Incredible Jazz Guitar for Wes Montgomery, and would bring that solo by Jim Hall a bit further up (Maybe I’m also a member of the old guard).
    And I would definitely include Jimmy Raney on Autumn in New York, recorded in a trio setting in Paris (1974).

  15. Max

    I would say Pat Metheny’s solo on Gary Thomas’ cover of “You don’t know what love is”, is my personal favourite PM solo. I would have also liked to see McLaughlin (as already mentioned) John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Kevin Eubanks, Sonny Sharrock and Paul Bollenback on that list. In general, the published list seems a little bit “retro”, great though all the musicians listed actually are. Jazz guitar has evolved a bit since the early 60s.

  16. Gil

    Guess I’m old – there are a lot of Barney Kessel licks, some Johnny Smith licks (Moonlight In Vermont, Walk Don’t Run) and Charlie Christian on Undecided with Benny Goodman’s sextet that could have been included. That being said, not only is this a very good list, but now I realize I have some woodshedding to do. Make that a LOT of woodshedding to do! THANKS!!

  17. Gavin Davis

    Great list, but I would have rated George Benson a bit higher – perhaps not with Breezin’ but with Weekend in LA, which I think was Benson at his best. Another great guitarist who does not feature on this list is Charlie Byrd and the late South African Johnny Fourie. I would agree that the list is mostly American, if not all, but a good list nevertheless.

    1. Timothy Barr

      Charlie byrd definitely

  18. John

    I use to follow McLaughlin for his tasty licks. And then he started going faster and faster in his playing, leaving behind taste for the sake of speed. More is said for fewer notes in phrasing then piling a bunch of them together and not going anywhere.

  19. fidanza max

    DJANGO et PAT par exemple la comparaison est impossible : époque différente et surtout orchestration différente
    C’est la même chose pour tous : il faut comparer à époque identique sur un solo de guitare sans accompagnement

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