What Is The Forbidden Guitar Riff?

What Is The Forbidden Guitar Riff

When many people embark on their journey of learning how to play the guitar, asides from the standard terms used for the equipment and parts of the instrument, there is another popular term that they will most likely hear a lot of times, and that is ‘The forbidden riff.’

As expected, the first question that will pop up in the mind of such a person would be, “What is the forbidden riff?”

The forbidden riff refers to all songs that have been banned from being played in most guitar shops, albeit jokingly. The common reason for prohibiting most of these songs from guitar stores is that the notes have been overplayed and sometimes wrongly played, mainly by people new to playing the guitar.

This article will help you discern most of the songs that fall under the forbidden riff tag and, as such, will prevent you from making the mistake of playing them in a guitar store.

The Origin Of The Forbidden Riff

There are several conspiracies that surround the origin of the forbidden riff, but the most popular one dates back to the 1970s in the well-known Denmark Street in London.

It is believed that this term started as a sort of in-house joke between guitar sellers on Denmark Street. This set of people, at the time, became fed up with hearing people looking to buy a guitar play the same type of song repeatedly.

This occurrence was common then because most people who started playing the guitar around that period mainly used the same song to learn. As such, whenever they are out to buy their first guitar, in a bid to test the guitar tune or show off their not-so-perfect skill, they would always play the same song.

It became unbearable for guitar sellers, and they all unanimously decided to ban some of these songs from being played in their stores. These prohibited songs would later be known as the forbidden riffs.

Top Songs That Are Considered To Be Forbidden Riffs

Several songs fall under this category, but the top ones that are widely known include:

Stairway To Heaven

This particular track is arguably one of the main songs that made the term forbidden riff widely known, thanks to the famous scene from the 1992 music comedy titled Wayne’s World. The song was released in 1971 by Led Zeppelin, and many people regard it as one of the most popular songs of all time.

The song garnered a lot of airplay and was an instant favorite among guitar players worldwide. This point explains why it was the top goto song for novice guitarists and, consequently, it became tiring to guitar shop owners.

Up until the release of Wayne’s World in 1992, the ban on the song in guitar stores was a joke, mostly popular among store owners. A scene in the movie showed Mike Meyers, who played the role of the main character, Wayne Campbell, in a guitar store, attempting to play the song, Stairway To Heaven.

He was immediately interrupted by the shop owner, who then showed him a signpost on the stairwell with the caption “NO STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN” boldly written on it. Although the ban had been in place long before the movie was released, it became more popular after that iconic scene.

Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns ‘N Roses

For most guitarists back in the 1980s, Guns ‘N Roses was their favorite band, and as such, the band’s songs were always played by almost everyone. Top on the list of the band’s most famous songs is Sweet Child O’Mine, it was one of the most spectacular tracks from their first album.

As described by Slash, a musical icon and one of the members of the Guns ‘N Roses band, the riff played in the song wasn’t an intentionally created sound, and as such, it was catchy but challenging to play. The actual reason why the riff became forbidden by guitar shop owners is that novice players always find a way to ruin the sound when they try to test play it.

Other Examples

Apart from the songs listed above, solely because they are among the most popular songs in the forbidden riff lists, there are other notable mentions. Such as Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple, The House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals, Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes. 


The idea of the forbidden riff is a combination of myth and a joke. In reality, the songs are not entirely prohibited, and if you play them in a guitar shop, you will not be sent out by the store owner.

The concept behind it is just a means to stop people, mainly novices, from playing the same sound repeatedly each time they visit a store to buy a new guitar.

The term has been known among guitar shop owners for a very long time but only became popular to everyone generally after the success of the 1992 movie Wayne’s World.

Is it a crime to play a forbidden riff?

Legally and in reality, it is not a crime to play a forbidden riff. No guitar store owner will have you arrested for playing any of the songs regarded as the forbidden riffs.

Are forbidden riffs terrible songs?

The tracks that people term as forbidden riffs are, in fact, excellent tracks. They are jokingly prohibited because new guitar players most times can not play the riffs perfectly.