Why Do Guitar Stores Have Forbidden Riffs? Explained

Why Do Guitar Stores Have Forbidden Riffs?

Employees in guitar stores, like in Guitar Center, will probably be able to give you a list of songs they never want to hear again for the rest of their lives.

Forbidden riffs are the “not this again” frustrations of guitar store employees. When customers enter a guitar shop to purchase a guitar, they often ask to play a song with the guitar to test it out. Many customers end up playing extremely overplayed songs that everyone is tired of listening to.

Guitar stores have forbidden riffs to encourage customers to test-play other songs. Although it’s an inside joke in the guitar world, any employee in a guitar store won’t hesitate to eye-roll when you play a song like a Stairway to Heaven”. Some guitar stores have even made a list of forbidden songs on the store wall.

But when and how did forbidden riffs begin? Below is a brief history of how forbidden riffs originated and some popular forbidden riffs.

The Origin of Forbidden Riffs

The forbidden riffs started in London guitar stores in 1973. Like today, customers used to go to stores to try out the guitar before purchasing.

However, many customers of the guitar shops hadn’t made it past the beginner stage, and all of them played the same songs while trying out the guitars. But as you can guess, usually the beginners misplay the songs and they could even sound awful.

Hence, guitar store employees curated lists of popular songs they no longer wanted to hear, especially played by beginners.

Over the years, the lists have grown, and even now, new songs are added to the lists.

Common Forbidden Riffs You Should Know

Although forbidden riffs vary in guitar stores, there are some widespread ones. This list also doubles up as classic songs every beginner guitarist should learn.

“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

This is one of the most overplayed songs on the radio and arguably one of the best songs ever written. As a result, many beginner guitarists quickly wanted to learn how to play it. Led Zeppelin is a renowned rock band that made waves in the 60s and 70s.

Up until today, the song is often played on classic rock radio stations all over the globe. Hearing beginners play it incessantly got tiring, hence the addition to the forbidden riffs. Wayne’s World, a 1992 film, also popularized the forbidden riff. In the scene, a character was banned from playing the “Stairway to Heaven” in a music shop.

“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

This iconic riff is easy to learn, which is why many beginner guitarists pick up on it quickly. It is a splendid introduction to power cords, so it’s one of the first few songs you can learn as an amateur.

“Enter Sandman” by Metallica

Many expert guitarists admit ripping out this riff many times as a beginner. The song is the first track and debut single from Metallica’s album in the 90s. Although the song has complex parts, the main riff requires only down-picking, so it’s fairly easy to learn.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Every guitarist will learn this song at some point in their career. It’s a ton of fun to play, and it sounds awesome. It requires simple power chords, so you can quickly learn it online.

“Back in Black” by AC/DC

Back in black is another song fledgling guitarists overplay. The song is from one of the best-selling albums of all time, so you can only guess how popular it is. It’s one of the first riffs many guitarists learn to play because it’s actually super easy.


You’re allowed to play anything you can in a guitar store. Store attendants are just tired of hearing the same riffs. Additionally, all the riffs in this list should be learned because they’re great starting points for any beginner guitarist, and you can also joke about them if you can play them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most popular forbidden riff?

Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ holds the title of the most popular forbidden riff. Most people refer to it as the forbidden riff because of how overplayed it is.

Can I play forbidden riffs?

As a beginner guitarist, you should learn all the riffs but try not to play them in a guitar store.