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Why Is Stairway To Heaven The Forbidden Riff? Was It Overplayed? (2023)

Why is Stairway to Heaven the forbidden riff? Discover what made this iconic song by the legendary band Led Zeppelin by some guitar shops and music stores.

Quick Answer

why is stairway to heaven the forbidden riff

“Stairway to Heaven” is often referred to as the “forbidden riff” due to its popularity and the controversy surrounding its use. The song was released in 1971 by the British rock band Led Zeppelin and quickly became a classic. Many aspiring guitarists have attempted to play the song’s iconic guitar riff, leading to its status as a cultural touchstone.

However, some guitar stores and music shops have banned the riff due to its overuse and perceived lack of originality. Despite this, “Stairway to Heaven” remains one of the most beloved and recognizable songs in rock music history.

To discover more insights into “Why is Stairway To Heaven the forbidden riff”, read on…

Let’s get into it!

Stairway to Heaven is a 1971 song by the English classic rock band Led Zeppelin, and it’s often regarded as one of the best and most iconic rock songs of all time. It was released as part of the band’s fourth studio album, and it was written by the band’s guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant.

In the decades since the classic song’s release, it has consistently been voted as one of the top rock songs of all time. It came in at number 3 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock Songs list, and number 31 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song is usually described as “progressive rock”, but it also blends into the genres of folk and hard rock. Typical of progressive rock songs from the early 70s, the song is pretty long, clocking in at 7 minutes and 55 seconds in length.

Because of the song’s iconic status, many guitar stores have jokingly banned this riff from being played in their stores. Let’s dig a little deeper into the reasons why.

Why Is Stairway To Heaven Banned In Guitar Stores?

The banning of the Stairway to Heaven riff in guitar stores is a kind of inside joke within the guitar community.

Stairway to Heaven is such an iconic song, particularly for Jimmy Page’s guitar playing. Jimmy Page is regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time and is a “guitar hero” to many aspiring shredders.

Because the opening riff is so iconic, it is the reason many people have decided to pick up a guitar in the first place. For this reason, a lot of people who go to guitar stores looking to purchase a new guitar will first test it out by playing the iconic riff.

Since the song is so iconic and hugely popular, many people, particularly owners of guitar stores, will regard the song as “over-played”.

The opening riff to Stairway to Heaven is so iconic because it is such a pleasing composition to the ear. It’s also quite simple and relatively easy to play, which is why if you spend a good amount of time in a guitar store like Guitar Center, you’re bound to hear that opening riff at least a few times.

There are a bunch of classic guitar riffs that would be considered “overplayed” in guitar stores, such as Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. Riffs like these are normally beginner-friendly, catchy, and very popular.

Because of the fact that these riffs are easy to play, they are often played by beginners in guitar stores, and quite often they’re playing badly. This is another reason why these “forbidden” riffs are reviled by guitar store clerks and owners, as well as other guitarists.

Much of the time, beginner guitarists would go to guitar stores to play around on guitars with no actual intention of buying one. Although this is still welcome in most stores such as Guitar Center, it can sometimes be a big annoyance for some guitar store owners.

Having a bunch of amateur guitarists playing the same overplayed riffs badly on expensive guitars is understandably an undesirable thing to have in your store.

In popular culture, the most well-known reference to the banning of the opening riff of Stairway to Heaven is from the 1992 Mike Myers film Wayne’s World. In the now iconic scene, Wayne goes to a guitar store with the hopes of buying his dream guitar, a white Fender Stratocaster.

He asks for the guitar to be removed from its perspex display case for him to try it out. He begins to play the first two or three notes of the iconic opening riff before the guitar salesman stops him and points to a sign that reads “No Stairway to Heaven”.

Since the release of Wayne’s World, this joke has been perpetuated by guitar stores all over the world, who have placed their own “No Stairway to Heaven” signs up in their stores as a nod to the classic comedy film.

The Iconic Intro

The iconic opening riff to Stairway to Heaven is such a well-known musical passage, and it’s quite often one of the first things people learn on the guitar. You don’t have to be an advanced guitarist to play this great-sounding riff.

The opening part of the song is in the key of A minor, and it features a chromatic descending bass line. This means that the lowest note goes down step by step, in semitones. It’s fun and satisfying to play the guitar.

If you want to play this iconic riff, then you can follow the tabs below to learn it.





Other Overplayed Guitar Songs

Some guitar stores have a list of popular overplayed songs that are banned. Although this is normally considered a joke, and playing these songs or riffs won’t actually get you kicked out of the store, they are nonetheless overplayed by beginner guitar players for similar reasons to Stairway to Heaven.

These other overplayed guitar riffs have a lot in common with Stairway, in that they are hugely popular, catchy, and easy for beginners to play. As previously mentioned, Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple is an obvious example of this.

In addition to the Deep Purple classic, more recent riffs such as Seven Nation Army by White Stripes would fall into this category. Along with Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, Wonderwall by Oasis, and Ironman by Black Sabbath.


Stairway to Heaven, and the other songs mentioned above, are overplayed for a reason. The reason is that they’re so awesome! Just because something is popular and overplayed, doesn’t make it a bad piece of music. Quite the contrary!

After all, these “banned” songs are an inside joke. In reality, you can play whatever you want at a guitar store without the worry of getting kicked out. Play your favorite songs to play, regardless of their difficulty or popularity.

Happy Playing!

Passionately invested in the music world for over 20 years, Jake studied music for 14 years at the Royal Conservatory Of Toronto. He has a degree from Champlain College & Bishop’s University in Business & Music. He is the owner of Fly Away Music & Media Studio in Montreal since 2014, with over 500 happy artists recorded, mixed and mastered.

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