The Forbidden Riff: Why is Stairway to Heaven BANNED in Guitar Stores?

Why is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores

Why is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?

At first, they may sound like an odd question to ask. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most common questions I’ve ever been asked.

If you’ve ever been to a  guitar store, then there’s no doubt you’ve heard someone playing the opening the Stairway to Heaven on a demo guitar. 

It seems as though the opening to Stairway is the go-to riff to play whenever you pick up a new guitar, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player. 

But if you’ve ever participated in an online guitar forum or Facebook group, then at some point you’ve probably heard someone say that Stairway to Heaven is forbidden in guitar stores. 

This might sound strange considering how iconic and recognizable the song is.

In this post, I’ll be giving a full explanation as to why the intro to Stairway to Heaven is known as the forbidden riff. 

So, why is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores? In short, this is an ongoing joke that was originally seen in the movie Wayne’s World in 1992. It is meant to poke fun at Stairway to Heaven because it is one of the most overplayed songs in guitar stores when people are testing out new guitars.

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What is The “Forbidden Riff?” – Some Background Information

Before we get into the details, here’s some background information to provide a bit of context.

Stairway to Heaven is a rock song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin in 1971. 

It was written and performed by lead guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant. 

Stairway to Heaven is known as one of the greatest rock songs that paved the way for the progressive rock era. 

It is most notably known for its clean intro guitar section and solo on the electric guitar. 

The intro guitar section is one of the most iconic guitar riffs ever written and as a result, it’s an essential riff that all aspiring guitar players eventually learn to play. 

Because of this,  it quickly became “overplayed” to the point where you couldn’t walk into a guitar store without hearing someone playing it while they were testing out a new guitar. 

Sure it’s a great riff and all, but after hearing people play thousands of times, often poorly, it got old. 

Now, whenever people hear newbies play the intro to Stairway to Heaven in guitar stores, it’s far from impressive. It’s quite the opposite, in which people will crack jokes at them for being “that guy”

Is Stairway to Heaven Actually Forbidden in Music Stores?

So, is Stairway to Heaven actually forbidden in music stores?

The answer is obviously no. I highly doubt any guitar store owner would ever kick out a customer simply for playing the intro to Stairway to Heaven. 

I personally still hear people play it in my local Guitar Center almost every time I step foot it. 

People are definitely more self-aware of the joke nowadays, but it still doesn’t stop them from playing it, mainly because they probably can’t play anything else 🙂

But as I mentioned, Stairway to Heaven being banned in guitar stores is simply a running joke in the guitar community. 

“No Stairway! Denied!”

The idea of Stairway to Heaven being banned in guitar stores is originally from the movie Wayne’s World in 1992. This movie was a big-screen spinoff of a Saturday Night Live skit, which you can see below. The movie is a comedy about fans of rock music wanting to take their public access “Wayne’s World” to commercial television. 

There was one scene in particular where the main character, played by Mike Myers, started to play the intro to Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store. He was then stopped by the manager, who stated that the song was banned. 

This is where the famous line “No Stairway! Denied!” first made its way into the guitar community.

This scene is what started the whole joke, which is still ongoing to this day, despite being over 25 years old. 

Why Do People Still Say Stairway to Heaven is Banned in Guitar Shops?

As I mentioned, this joke originally started from the movie Wayne’s World over 25 years ago.

So why do people still say that Stairway to Heaven is forbidden in guitar stores?

You would think that this running joke would be long forgotten by now.

However, there are several reasons why this joke is still relevant today. 

In addition, there has been some recent news and controversy regarding Stairway to Heaven, unrelated to the joke, which could also have something to do with it.

The fact that this song from 1971 is being discussed in the mainstream media could definitely have something to do with the joke’s resurgence. 

Here are a couple possible reasons why people are still saying that Stairway to Heaven is banned in guitar stores.

Stairway to Heaven is Banned in Guitar Stores Because it is Popular

The intro to Stairway is probably one of the most recognizable riffs in the entire world.

Plain and simple.

It wasn’t just any song. It completely revolutionized modern music and pioneered the new era of rock music in the 1970’s.

Even in the year 2000, 30 years after the song was recorded, it was stilled played on the radio over 3,000 times.

Everyone knew Led Zeppelin. They were legends of modern music.

As a result, all guitar players at the time aspired to be like Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin.

And due to how popular Stairway to Heaven was, (and still is) it became a staple that every guitarist needed to learn, almost like a rite of passage.

With that many guitar players

Stairway to Heaven is Banned Because it is Overplayed in Guitar Stores

The main reason why people still believe that Stairway to Heaven is banned in guitar stores is simply how overplayed the song is.

I have spent thousands of hours in my local Guitar Center and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard people playing the intro to Stairway to Heaven.

Whenever someone picks up a guitar to give it a test drive, it is almost always the riff they default to.

While the song is great and all, it’s definitely one of the most overplayed songs of all time.

I can only imagine what it’s like to be a guitar store manager. They probably have to hear that same overplayed riff hundreds of times every single day.

This is probably where the original “No Stairway, Denied” joke was derived from. After all, if I was a manager of a guitar store, I’d probably want to ban Stairway to Heaven too.

Stairway is Banned Because it’s Easy to Learn

One main reason why Stairway to Heaven is so overplayed in guitar stores to the point of being coined the “Forbidden Riff” is simply because of how easy it is to learn.

I’ll admit it, the intro to Stairway to Heaven was the first guitar riff that I ever learned.

It’s a really cool sounding riff that’s very easy to learn and makes you feel good about yourself.

Also, if you play it for someone who isn’t a guitar player, it looks really impressive because it uses finger picking techniques.

As a result, many guitar teachers say that it is the first riff that they teach their students when they’re starting out.

If this is the case, then it makes sense that Stairway to Heaven is overplayed to the point that it’s banned in guitar stores.

Everyone and their mother knows how to play it. Whenever you walk into your local guitar center, even the complete newbies can pick up a guitar and start playing the forbidden riff.

Trust me, there’s a reason why you don’t see more people playing Dragonforce or Eric Johnson in guitar stores instead. Simply put, their songs are significantly harder to play. Therefore, you’ll only see the really skilled players with a lot experience playing these songs.

You’ll see a lot of people playing Stairyway to Heaven in Guitar Stores because any average Joe is capable of it.

Stairway is Banned Because People Embrace the Forbidden Riff Joke 

Nowadays, with meme culture and social media, pretty much everyone knows about the joke. 

However, at this point, people have really just embraced it, which helps keep it relevant. 

People are fully aware that Stairway to Heaven is overplayed in guitar stores.

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So what do they do? They learn the riff anyways, go to their nearest guitar store, and play it anyways to be funny. 

Here is a popular video from YouTuber Tyler Larson, who owns the channel Music is Win.

In this video, he’s playing through a list of overplayed songs on guitar as a joke. 

And people are obviously entertained by it considering this video has over 4.5 million views on it. 

Take a guess at what song tops the list. 

Stairway to Heaven Copyright Case

Recently, there has been some controversy in the news regarding Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.

In the past few years, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were sued by a trustee of Mr. Wolfe for copyright infringement. 

Essentially, the two of them were accused of stealing the opening to Stairway to Heaven from “Taurus,” a song written by Mr. Wolfe from Spirit in 1968.

This case ended up being one of the largest copyright cases in the history of rock music. 

At the time of this post, the copyright claim has not been resolved. There have been many re-hearings in 2016 and scheduled for 2019 as well. 

But the fact that one of the most iconic riffs in history could have been plagiarised definitely raised some concerns in the guitar community and got people talking.

The odd thing is that it’s taken nearly 40 years for this copyright issue to surface. 

While this case doesn’t directly pertain to the “forbidden riff” joke in any way, the fact that the song is being discussed in the news could’ve had an impact on the jokes resurgence.

The more people talk about the song, the more likely they are to remember the joke. 

How to Play the Intro to Stairway to Heaven

Joke or not, Stairway to Heaven is overplayed in guitar stores for a reason.

The intro is one of the most iconic tunes in the world. It sounds amazing and is easy to play, even if you’re a beginner. 

It’s also a fun riff to play since it typically requires a fingerpicking style. 

I feel like even though Stairway to Heaven is banned in guitar stores, it’s still one of the best songs for beginners to learn, almost as a rite of passage.

So, if you’ve read this far and still want to learn how to play the intro to Stairway to Heaven, despite it being a forbidden riff, then you’re in luck. 

Here are the guitar tabs for the intro of Stairway to Heaven.

Want to learn how to play Stairway to Heaven on Guitar? Get 14 days of guitar lessons from Guitar Tricks for free!

You can also follow along with this video. 


Other Overplayed Songs in Guitar Stores

Believe it or not, Stairway to Heaven is not the only song that is banned in guitar stores. 

There are plenty of other songs that are just as overplayed.

And if you really want to be “that guy,” then allow me to enable you.

Just be warned, if you play any, or all, of these songs in your local guitar store, you WILL bear the brunt of all the jokes; especially if you suck at playing them.

With that said, here’s my list of the top 8 overplayed songs in guitar stores, not including Stairway to Heaven. 

  1. Sweet Child ‘O Mine – Guns N’ Roses
  2. Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
  3. Wonderwall – Oasis
  4. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne 
  5. Rock You Like a Hurricane – The Scorpions
  6. Iron Man – Black Sabbath
  7. Blackbird – The Beatles
  8. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

If you want to learn how to play these songs, you can find the tabs by checking out my post on the best free guitar tab websites.

Want to learn how to play all these songs? Get 14 days of guitar lessons from Guitar Tricks for free!

What Should You Play in Guitar Stores Instead of the Forbidden Riff?

If your goal is to show off at your local Guitar Center, then try playing something other than Stairway to Heaven.

Honestly, you could probably play anything other than that and get a better response from the guitar store employees.

I would suggest playing some of your own original music if you can. That’ll show that you’re someone who actually knows how to play the instrument rather some kid who watched a YouTube video teaching you how to play the intro to Stairway.

Another thing you could do is work on your improvisation skills. If you have just a fundamental understanding of the minor pentatonic scale or 12 bar blues, then you can come up with some really unique riffs right on the fly.

Either of these options will give you a lot more brownie points than playing Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store.

But if you can’t do either of these options, I would suggest playing some riffs that are not as well known. Try to stray away from any of the overplayed guitar riffs that I mentioned above if you don’t want to be the bunt of people’s jokes.

Why Stairway to Heaven is Banned in Guitar Stores – Closing Thoughts

And there you have it. The main reason why Stairway to Heaven is banned in guitar stores. The fact of the matter is that the song really isn’t forbidden, it’s just overplayed. 

And as a result, people like to joke and give new players a hard time about it.

It’s one of the most iconic riffs out there and everyone should learn how to play at some point. 

So don’t feel ashamed to play the song when you’re testing out new guitars in a shop. 

Some people might think it’s a against proper guitar store etiquette to play it, but it’s definitely not illegal.

You certainly won’t get kicked out of the store for playing the “forbidden riff”

The worse that could happen is that people give you weird looks or make jokes.

Aside from that, no hard, no foul. Keep rocking on \m/

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