The forbidden riff has become a running joke in the guitar community, but the origins of the concept date back to the 1970s. Forbidden guitar riffs are sections of songs that are simple to play on guitar but widely popular, which means they become heavily overplayed, especially by beginner guitar players.
Forbidden riffs are so-called by guitar store employees who are subjected to hearing them all day long, and are often played poorly by beginner guitarists. Thus, the riffs are humorously banned from guitar stores everywhere. Let’s identify the most overplayed forbidden riffs so that you never fall victim to the mocking that ensues when these songs are played in guitar stores.
1. Stairway To Heaven – Led Zepplin
Stairway To Heaven is the original forbidden riff. This is the riff that started it all, and it has become the riff that is generally accepted as the forbidden riff in every guitar store.
This riff is iconic simply because it is among the best guitar songs ever written and is a riff that almost every guitar player has learned at some point.
The intro riff to this song is relatively simple to play and is a great-sounding piece of guitar music. This leads many new guitar players to learn it, but only a few progress further than the intro of the song, as it becomes very challenging to play as the song progresses.
This means that many beginner guitar players testing out guitars in music stores have played the intro to Stairway, and often very poorly. This overplaying of the iconic riff has caused many guitar store employees to loathe hearing it, and thus it has become the forbidden riff.
Stairway To Heaven was cemented in the mind of guitar players everywhere by a scene in the movie Wayne’s World when a guitar store employee intensely reprimands Wayne Campbell for playing this riff within the store.
If you want to hear the riff for yourself or refresh your memory regarding what the forbidden riff sounds like, this iconic guitar tune can be heard here.
2. Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
This riff is another iconic guitar tune that has become synonymous with poorly executed beginner guitar playing, incorrect note choice, and generally overplayed riffs.
Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple is a riff that is often played incorrectly for the sake of ease and is very easy to learn for guitar players of any level. This means that Smoke On The Water has become among the most hated riffs by all guitar store employees everywhere.
This song easily makes its way onto the second slot on this list, as there are very few riffs more overplayed or poorly executed than Smoke On The Water.
This is an iconic riff, and learning the entire song in the correct key with the correct notes is something that every guitar player must do, but the basic riff is something that no guitar player should ever play while demoing a guitar in a music store.
The original recording of Smoke On The Water is great, but it should never be repeated within a guitar store.
3. Enter Sandman – Metallica
Another song that many new guitar players learn to play, albeit only the main riff, is Enter Sandman by Metallica. This riff is big, loud, fun, simple, and full of attitude, and it makes every electric guitarist feel immensely powerful.
However, not all beginners learn this song well, and there are many who only learn one or two lines from the riff, and when this riff is played badly, it can sound painful to the ears of experienced players.
This means that Enter Sandman is among the riffs that are considered to be forbidden in many guitar stores. The only appropriate circumstance to play this riff is if you can shred the entire song, including the solo immediately afterward, or if you are actually in the band Metallica. This will grant you permission to play the riff in a public space.
Enter Sandman is a great song. Listen to it here to refresh your memory of it, but never play it anywhere but in your own home.
4. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
Seven Nation Army is an anthemic song internationally, and it is a riff that every guitarist can play and one that every guitar player enjoys as well. This riff is simple, memorable, fun, and powerful.
Unfortunately, all of these characteristics of the song are a recipe for a forbidden riff. Every new guitarist learns to play the Seven Nation Army riff, as this riff constitutes most of the song; if you can play the riff, you can play the song, and this is great news for new guitarists.
Most beginner guitar players will play this riff whenever they get the chance, and this often occurs within guitar stores, much to the chagrin of the employees stationed there.
This riff is iconic and fun to play, but it is widely hated by many guitar players simply because it is so overplayed. Seven Nation Army is forbidden in many guitar communities, but it remains a hero for new electric guitarists everywhere.
The song is great to listen to and even more fun to play, but keep it to yourself as much as possible.
5. Iron Man – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi is among the greatest guitar riff writers to ever live. His riff in Iron Man is among the greatest ever written and is among many great riffs played throughout the song.
However, the iconic nature of the main Iron Man riff, combined with the success of certain superhero movies, has brought this riff into the forefront of overplayed guitar pieces in recent years.
This riff is easy to play, which makes it easily accessible for every guitar player, but many do not play the riff correctly. This truth, combined with how often it is heard in public places, places this riff firmly on the list of forbidden riffs.
Iron Man is a rite of passage for many young guitar players, but it has become nothing more than an irritation or background noise in most guitar stores.
Listen to the song for yourself, and you will quickly realize why this song is so beloved and simultaneously so hated.
6. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
An anthem of the 1990s that was written by a phenomenal artist, Smells Like Teen Spirit, is both a widely played riff and a usually poorly executed riff. This song will forever mark musical history for many reasons, but it still finds itself on the list of forbidden guitar riffs.
The main reason why this legendary riff is lumped together with other forbidden riffs is that it is highly overplayed, but mostly because few guitar players play it correctly.
This riff is more challenging to execute well than most new guitar players realize, and most versions heard played in a guitar store demo are simplified, incorrect versions of the riff.
The only way to get away with playing Smells Like Teen Spirit in a guitar store or any other such location is to play the song well, play it correctly, and demonstrate to others that it can be correctly played.
Listen to the song here to hear it in all its glory, and relive the magic that is Smells Like Teen Spirit.
7. Wonderwall – Oasis
Wonderwall is a symphony of simplicity and is a song that many guitar players regard to be way overplayed and much too embarrassing to learn. This song is a standard cover for many guitarists everywhere; it has become widely regarded as a song that is much too mainstream, and it is a forbidden riff by every standard.
Many guitar players still learn to play Wonderwall, as it is a simple song to play, and it has an unforgettable tune, but if any guitarist plays it around other guitarists, mocking is inevitable.
Wonderwall is one of those songs that are not only forbidden by guitar store employees but by every guitarist everywhere, especially those who are immersed in internet guitar culture.
In truth, there is nothing wrong with Wonderwall, and it is a good song, but the fact that it has become so overdone has earned it a place on the list of forbidden riffs.
If you have somehow never heard the song before, you can listen to Wonderwall here.
8. Back In Black – AC/DC
It is hard to place a song by these rock legends on a list of forbidden riffs, but the truth is that Back in Black has become one of these overplayed riffs that every guitar store employee hates to hear.
This riff is rarely played well as it has elements that are exceedingly difficult to play properly, and it is also a song that every new guitar player yearns to learn.
Walk into a guitar store, find a Gibson SG on the wall, plug into a loud amp, turn it up, and rip through Back In Black as if you wrote it yourself! This is the dream of every new guitarist, but the unfortunate reality is that they rarely very play it well, and no one likes to hear this song unless it is played well.
Learning back In Black is good for all new guitar players, as it is a good challenge that teaches many important skills, but it is a song that should never be played in public unless it is executed flawlessly.
Listen to this incredible riff here, and remember to learn it properly if you ever have the itch to get Back in Black under your fingers.
9. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns n’ Roses
Sweet Child O’ Mine is a riff that will go down in musical history as one of the most memorable ever, but even the man who wrote the riff became tired of playing it.
This song is such a big international hit and remains a jewel in the history of rock guitar playing that it is still a highly played song on the radio, in movies, in playlists, and in general content everywhere. This song is almost too iconic for its own good.
Sweet Child O’ Mine is a great riff for beginners to learn, but it is challenging to execute well.
The general overuse of this song, as well as the flood of new guitarists who learn this riff every year, keeps Sweet Child ‘O Mine on the list of forbidden riffs for almost every guitar store, despite the fact that it is part of a truly great song.
The original Guns n’ Roses recording is a thing of beauty to listen to.
10. Nothing Else Matters
Another riff on this list comes from Metallica, as Nothing Else Matters contains one of the simplest riffs to play on guitar. The opening guitar line of Nothing Else Matters is played entirely on the open strings of the guitar and is among the very first thing that many guitar players learn.
With that said, as soon as the song progresses past the intro, it becomes highly challenging to play well. This means that few beginner players progress past the intro and therefore do not learn to play the rest of the song.
This alone is enough to land this riff on the list of forbidden riffs, as every new guitar player who can only play the intro will repeat it incessantly until they move on to another riff, which is a constant source of anguish for other guitar players who are subjected to this type of playing.
Nothing Else Matters is a monumental guitar song and is considered to be one of the best ever written. Listen to it here to experience it for yourself.
No guitar stores will actually kick you out for playing one of these riffs, but the other guitarists in the vicinity will be sure to tease you for playing them. These riffs are from great songs, but unless you can shred the entire song perfectly, try learning some lesser-known riffs for your next guitar store demo.
All of these riffs are fun to play, and every guitar player should know them, but try to avoid playing them in guitar stores, even if it is only for the sake of the sanity of the employees working there.