What is the forbidden riff?
Guitar shops employees will probably be able to give you a “top ten riffs we would be happy never to hear again”, and it would probably consist of things like Smoke on the Water, Stairway to Heaven, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Seven Nation Army and a whole lot of other songs that don’t start with an “s”.
These are the ones they hear played day in, day out by dozens of customers, sometimes well and sometimes… not so much.
There are stories of shops putting up signs “banning” certain songs, and of course anyone old enough to remember Wayne’s World will know the “No Stairway”scene, where that sort of practice is treated as the joke I suspect it always was.
But every job has its “not this shit again” frustrations, and if it was ever a good idea to kick a potential paying customer out of a shop because you didn’t like what they were playing those those days are long gone (and I’m not sure they ever existed in the first place).
There’s too much competition for too little money these days for a bricks-and-mortar guitar shop to be staffed by the sort of self-righteous prick who would do that.
Play what you want, but be considerate to the staff- there are frequent discounts to be had, but not you’re a dick.
What is the forbidden riff?
There is no single ‘forbidden riff’ but just a set of guitar riffs that have been so massively been overplayed at guitar stores that the store owners have grown tired of listening to them every time an amateur or a new guitar player tries on a guitar.
So out of the frustration of guitar store owners, it has become a kind of an inside joke among guitarists and guitar store owners leading to call the bunch of riffs as forbidden in guitar stores. Some of the examples of these forbidden riffs are:
- Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin
- Smoke on the Water: Deep Purple
- Enter Sandman: Metallica
- Highway to Hell: AC/DC
- Wonderwall: Oasis
- Sweet Child o Mine: Guns n Roses
- Sweet Home Alabama: Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Iron Man: Black Sabbath
- Seven Nation Army: White Stripes
- Purple Haze: Jimi Hendrix (not forbidden really, but overplayed as hell)
- Crazy Train: Ozzy Osbourne
- Nothing Else Matters: Metallica (really irritating especially if the player doesn’t know how to play the part after the opening verse).
These are a few which are on top of my mind right now. It’s usually Stairway that gets to be the butt of the forbidden riff jokes. People literally get kicked out of stores for playing Stairway in a guitar store.
Someone WILL stop you if you try to play Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store. Whenever I try out guitars in a store, I usually play the STH solo instead so that no one gets angry.
There is no “forbidden riff”.
However, I would also list some riffs/ licks which you should play at the guitar store if your goal is to impress the owner:
- Free Bird: Lynyrd Skynyrd (the solo)
- Master of Puppets: Metallica
- Eruption: Eddie Van Halen (or any other awesome tapping riff)
- Mary Had a Little Lamb: Stevie Ray Vaughan)
- Pride and Joy: also Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Johnny B Goode: Chuck Berry (it is pretty easy actually but still impressive)
However, I believe you can play whatever the heck you want to play at the guitar center as long as you get your job done.
But not Stairway.
Because, if certain riffs were not banned, the poor devils who work in the stores would have to listen to them being at best repeated and at worst butchered thirty times a day.
Seriously, Stairway to Heaven is an awesome piece of music, but once you’ve heard it played wrongly a dozen times, it starts to lose its appeal. Even if it’s played correctly, if everybody who wants to try out an acoustic guitar plays it, the store staff will come to hate it. Violently.
So for the sake of the staff’s sanity, and the customers’ bodily safety, some stores have an official list of riffs that you can’t play.
(Also, it’s a good way of separating out the serious potential customers for high-end instruments from the no-hopers.
If you’re trying a Custom Shop Strat at £3.5K and you’re just playing the opening riff of Smoke on the Water, you probably aren’t going to make a purchase, and the store owner would like you to put the expensive guitar down before you break it.)
In reality, there’s no such thing. I worked in music shops for years. Nothing was ever off-limits where I worked. Why would it be?
You have learned to play Stairway To Heaven on your banged-up second-hand guitar and you want to hear how bright and sparkly it sounds on a new one. How easy is it feels on a better guitar? Knock yourself out my friend.
Are you buying today? No? No worries have a try anyway. Friends, If we are quiet you can stay awhile. If we are busy you can have 5-10 minutes.
If you are buying an electric and want to hear what it sounds like with a top-of-the-range amp even though you are buying your first electric, that is not a problem if we have the time. You can crank it up and play whatever forbidden guitar riff you want.
Why can you do this in my shop? Because after you get told off by the other salesmen in the other shops, over which tune you play that offends them.
You will come back to me first to buy that guitar that you loved playing smoke on the water a dozen times in our shop while always being treated respectfully as a potential new customer.
We don’t mind waiting while you save up your money. Come in anyway. If you are not playing the forbidden riff right. One of us will show you how.