Why Is Stairway To Heaven Banned In Guitar Stores (The Forbidden Riff)

Why Is Stairway To Heaven Banned In Guitar Stores? (The Forbidden Riff)

When I was a youngster, my friends and I used to hang out at our local guitar store. The staff were cool, they knew we had no money and weren’t going to buy anything. They also knew we were not there to cause any trouble either.

So they left us alone, just drooling over some of the best guitars ever built. One afternoon I overheard the following, I promise you it’s 100% true. A customer asked one of the store assistants if he could have a closer look at a particularly nice Fender Stratocaster. They used to display guitars all over the store walls and the Strat was around 12 feet from the ground.

The assistant said he’d go and fetch a ladder which he did, then he took the Strat over to one of the amps set up on the ground, and said to the customer, there you go sir, I’ll just tune it for you. The assistant then played a 10 minute guitar lesson, when I say lesson-he took us all to school. I was around 12 years old at the time but that solo has left such an impression on me, 40 odd years on, and I can still hear it.

Once he was satisfied it was correctly tuned up, he passed it to the customer, this guy just strummed the strings in a downward strum, muted the strings and said thanks I’ll take it. He obviously wasn’t as adept at guitar playing as the assistant was and once he’d heard exactly what that guitar could do in the right hands, he just wanted to have it.

What’s That Got To Do With The Forbidden Riff?

Not too much to be honest, only to demonstrate just how skillful the store assistant was. I was just a kid, I have no idea of the wage structure of that shop, but I’d hazard a guess at it being minimum wage. Yet that assistant was so skillful, he could have played professionally, can you imagine how annoying it must be to hear the same tunes played badly over and over again day in and day out.         

If you’re familiar with the Led Zeppelin track stairway to heaven, you’ll know just how easily recognisable it is from just the first few bars.  Imagine working in a guitar store, if you enjoy playing guitar, and having to listen to those first few bars again. If there was any truth in the ban I could understand it completely.

Why Is Stairway To Heaven So Popular?

The first thing to point out here is stairway to heaven is on Zeppelin 4 which is Led Zeppelin’s most popular album. There is also all that controversy with the band spirit claiming Zeppelin stole their riff. Which may or may not be true, but there are only so many musical notes and if you go down that route then every song has been stolen from some other song. The point is that put stairway to heaven is in the forefront of people’s minds, making it even more popular than it already was.   

Then of course who can forget Tenacious D’s song tribute. Which was a tribute to stairway to heaven. Which introduced a new generation to the Led Zeppelin classic.  

Why is Stairway To Heaven The Forbidden Riff?

The truth is, it’s not. To find out what it’s all about you’d have to watch the film Wayne’s world. This 1992 film was a comedy about a couple of friends who set up a local access TV studio in wayne’s parents house (where he still lives), anyway the plots are not that important it’s more the little humorous snippets that make Wayne’s world a joy to watch.

One of them being a sign in a guitar shop that says no stairway to heaven, which is pointed out to the lead character by an assistant, just as he’s about to get into the opening riff. He looks directly at the camera and says “No stairway, denied” Which was a dig at all the thousands of people who go into guitar shops and play that riff every week.

After the success of that film, some guitar shop owners stuck no stairway to heaven signs up as a fun reference to the film. As far as I’m aware no one has actually been stopped from playing that or any of the other overplayed riffs you can hear in any guitar shop anywhere in the country. In a recent article stairway to heaven came second in the most overplayed guitar shop riffs. beaten by sweet child of mine.

How To Play The Forbidden Riff


Tunes Not To Play In Guitar Shops

Guitar Shop

According to guitar shop assistants, there are many overplayed tunes that they would appreciate not hearing. They include:

  • Sweet Child O’ Mine
    Guns ‘n’ roses
  • Stairway To Heaven
    Led Zeppelin
  • Smoke On The Water
    Deep Purple
  • Iron Man
    Black Sabbath
  • Crazy Train
    Ozzy Osbourne
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • Blackbird
    The Beatles
  • Wonderwall
  • Rock You Like A Hurricane
    The Scorpions

How To Be Considerate To Others In A Guitar Store

There are certain ways to behave in polite society, well, guitar shops anyway. Here’s how to try a guitar whilst having consideration for others.

  1. Ask if you can try it in a private booth
    Many guitar shops have private booths designed to allow you to try a guitar without bothering others. 
  2. Keep the volume low
    You are trying to get a feel for the guitar not blasting out loud music which could be annoying others in the store.
  3. Keep away from those annoying-always played tracks
    Don’t be tempted to play one of those tunes from the above list.
  4. Replace any guitars, pedals etc
    Don’t be that one who leaves expensive equipment laying around putting it in danger of getting damaged.
  5. Don’t be tempted to show off
    You should be there to try out a potential purchase, not make yourself feel good because of all the clever runs, riffs and tricks you’ve just performed.
  6. Always be respectful to staff
    The store assistants in guitar shops can help save you money and time. They will be aware of any special deals or offers and many are excellent guitarists and can help you set up the guitar you are thinking of buying.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Stairway to Heaven banned?

Stairway to heaven isn’t banned, that started as a joke in the 1992 film Wayne’s world. Some guitar shops started displaying the sign in reference to the film.

What are the forbidden riffs?

The forbidden riffs are the overplayed riffs heard continuously in guitar shops. These riffs cause the staff to inwardly shudder every time they hear them again. They include: stairway to heaven, smoke on the water, smells like team spirit, sweet child o’ mine, Iron man and crazy train.

Who invented guitar solos?

Guitar solos were first developed by blues guitarists like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and T-bone Walker.

Who made the double neck guitar famous?

Jimmy Page made the double neck guitar famous when he used a Gibson EDS-1275 on stairway to heaven.

Disclosure: We are a professional review site that receives compensation from the companies whose products we review.

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