Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores? The Forbidden Riff

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Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is one of the most famous songs from the British rock band. But, despite its worldwide success, why is Stairway to Heaven Banned in guitar stores? Why is Stairway to Heaven the forbidden riff? And did you know that there was once a copyright battle for this song? Let’s find out.

History of the “Forbidden Riff”

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was released in 1971 and quickly became one of the most iconic rock songs. As a matter of fact, it’s so popular that it is the biggest selling single in rock history, with about 15,000 copies sold every year. In 2004, the song appeared on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at the 31st spot.

Fun fact: The world-famous guitar solo of Stairway to Heaven was improvised.

But beyond the song’s success, it is marred with allegations of copyright infringement. In 2014, Spirit accused Led Zepellin of ripping the opening guitar intro – yes, the 50-seconds of the song. The long legal battle finally favored Led Zepellin in 2020.

Can you hear the difference or similarity? We’ll let you decide.


Pop Culture: “No Stairway, Denied!”

So, you might be thinking, “If Stairway to Heaven is so popular and successful, why can’t I play it in guitar stores?” Well, you can blame pop culture for it.

In the movie Wayne’s World, the lead character, Wayne, played by Mike Myers, grabbed a guitar and was about to play the opening riff to “Stairway to Heaven.” However, the shop attendant stopped him and pointed to a sign that said “NO STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.”


After reading the sign, Wayne turns to the audience and says, “No Stairway, Denied.” Wayne’s three-word statement grew common among guitar aficionados and guitar shops.

So, Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?

No, Stairway to Heaven is not banned in guitar stores. Wayne’s catchy “No Stairway, Denied” statement stuck with a lot of people, including guitar shops. You might even see “No Stairway to Heaven” signs, but it’s more of an ode to the movie. And, no, playing the song in guitar stores is not illegal. People just choose not to play Stairway to Heaven because, well, it’s overplayed and out of courtesy.

Other Overplayed Song Riffs in Guitar Stores

In addition to Stairway to Heaven, you should also avoid the following songs when trying a new guitar in the shop.

1. Wonderwall by Oasis

Oasis released “Wonderwall” in 1995. After its release, the song topped the charts in New Zealand and Australia and was top 10 in 13 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

2. Sweet Child ‘O Mine by Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses released “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” in 1988 and quickly topped the Billboard Top 100 in the U.S. Surprisingly, it was the only Guns N’ Roses song to land the top spot of the Billboard charts.

3. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

The success of “Smells like Teen Spirit” came in 1991 and 1992 when the song topped music charts in several countries. Listeners gave it the name “anthem for apathetic kids.”

4. Enter Sandman by Metallica

Enter Sandman reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. With more than 1 million copies sold in the U.S., the song achieved platinum certification.

5. Seven Nation Army by White Stripes

Seven Nation Army is popular with guitar aficionados. The song won the title “Best Rock Song” in the 46th Grammy Awards.

What Songs Should You Play in Guitar Stores?

Although Stairway to Heaven and other overplayed songs that we’ve mentioned are not technically banned, it’s still an excellent etiquette to avoid them as possible – the guitar shop attendants will thank you! So, what should you play?

You can always freestyle. If you’re a beginner, you can always ask the attendant to play you some chords – don’t underestimate the person assisting you! Maybe you’ve learned a new chord progression, or you’ve written a new song.

Etiquette in Guitar Stores

In addition to avoiding playing Stairway to Heaven and overplayed riffs, you should also be mindful of how you behave in a guitar store.

1. Turn Down the Amp

There are probably other guitar shoppers in the store. Keep your amp down to allow other customers to shop in peace. Plus, if you are a beginner, you may not be as good as you think.

2. Return the Guitar

If you leave the guitar propped on a stool, there is a chance it may fall over. After testing a guitar, take it back correctly to protect it from damages. It will only take a few seconds to do so.

3. Close the Doors

Guitars stay in humidity-controlled rooms. These rooms keep the guitars in optimal condition, and the sound from the guitar will sound bright. When you enter the guitar room, shut the door behind you.

4. Ask but Don’t Underestimate

Most guitar store attendants enjoy and love music. They may be musicians or people who love music and can play the guitar. When buying your first guitar, the attendants can help you pick the right model. The employees can also inform you on what is trending in the music industry and help you choose the best riff to test out a guitar.


And, there you have it. Stairway to Heaven is not really banned. Guitarists avoid the song as a courtesy to the shop attendants and because it’s already overplayed. If you ever see a “No Stairway to Heaven” sign in your local guitar store, make sure to ask first! You’ll never know if they are dead serious about the policy or just poking fun at the classic Wayne’s World movie.


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