Anyone that regularly visits a guitar store will have, at some point, experienced somebody playing those opening notes of Stairway to Heaven. It always seems to be the go-to riff for every musician when they are trying out a new guitar. But if you’ve ever looked into the rules of guitar shops or have heard from social media, you will know that Stairway to Heaven is actually forbidden in a guitar store.
Now, this might sound really strange because it is a very iconic and recognizable song that everyone knows. In this guide, we’re looking at the real reason for the ban in guitar stores around the world of the intro, also known as the forbidden riff.
Why Is Stairway to Heaven the Forbidden Riff?
The Stairway to Heaven known as the “forbidden riff” started years ago as an ongoing joke initially seen in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World. It was initially intended to poke fun at the infamous riff as it is one of the most overplayed songs in guitar stores for when people are trying out new instruments.
A Bit of Background
Before we get into the inside joke side of it, let’s get some background information about the song itself. Stairway to Heaven was originally performed by the English band Led Zeppelin and was released in 1971. It’s still known today as one of the best rock songs ever and paved the way towards the progressive rock era.
What many musicians will know Stairway to Heaven for is the intro and well as the solo electric guitar parts throughout the piece. During the intro, listeners experience the most iconic riffs ever to be played on the guitar. It was this that resulted in the riff being part of all guitar players learning journeys.
Now that every guitar player in the world wants to learn Stairway to Heaven’s opening riff, it’s easy to see why it’s become so overplayed. It got to the point where you couldn’t walk into guitar stores without hearing it. Of course, it’s a great piece of music. But hearing it over and over again quickly became old.
So whenever a newbie or beginner comes into a guitar store these days and starts playing the riff from Stairway to Heaven, it’s sure to impress no one. Jokes will be made, and that person will definitely be labeled as the guy who played the forbidden riff.
But Is It Actually Banned in Guitar Stores?
The answer to this question is no. The cases of someone being thrown out of a guitar store for playing Stairway to Heaven are rare. People are becoming more aware of the joke, but it still hasn’t stopped them from playing it. It’s merely a running joke perpetrated by a 90’s comedy film.
Originally the joke was part of Wayne’s World, which was released in 1992. The movie was an instant hit, showing two fans of rock music taking their passion onto public access television in the form of ‘Wayne’s World.’
In one scene from the movie, the main character played the hilarious Mike Myers started to play the opening riff from the song Stairway to Heaven while in a guitar store. He was immediately stopped by the guitar store’s manager, who told him that the song was banned. You can watch the clip here. This is what started as a joke and is still going on all these years later, despite being over 25 years old.
Why Has the Joke Lasted so Long?
How has a Wayne’s World joke from 1992 based on Stairway to Heaven lasted this long? There are a few reasons which we are going to explore below:
- Social media and meme culture have made it so that everyone knows about this taboo song by now. It’s something that guitar players have embraced, and many people end up going into stores to play it on purpose to be funny.
- The reemergence of the song may also be a contributor to the joke lasting so many years. Recently both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, the writers of Stairway to Heaven, were sued over copyright infringement. The most iconic riff from the beginning of the song was claimed to have been plagiarised – a fact which got the guitar community talking.
Stairway to Heaven and Other Overplayed Songs
Stairway to Heaven isn’t the only song on the list of overplayed riffs used in guitar stores. There’s plenty of other options people choose to play when trying out guitars, all of which are just as overplayed.
Playing any or all of the following songs in guitar stores will automatically make you the butt of most people’s jokes and could lead to a few sniggers too:
- Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple
- Wonderwall by Oasis
- Sweet Child ‘O Mine by Guns N’Roses
- Rock You Like a Hurricane by The Scorpions
- Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne
- Blackbird by The Beatles
- Iron Man by Black Sabbath
- Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
Other Rules of Etiquette in Guitar Stores
No matter what guitar stores you go into, there are specific rules of etiquette you have to abide by. Playing Stairway to Heaven is one of them, but there are other things you should remember for next time.
Never Underestimate the Employees
People that choose to work in music shops will most likely be musicians themselves, or at least fans of the industry. If you need advice when visiting guitar stores, then seek out a salesperson. That’s their job!
Employees at guitar stores will more than likely keep up on the latest trends from the music industry. They can have years of experience behind them and will know the right equipment for you to use as well as solutions to common problems. These are the people to go to for all the newest gear, gadgets and instruments, so never be afraid to pick one out and talk to them.
Don’t Start Blasting Amps In the Main Store
There’s nothing more unappealing to other customers hearing someone whaling away on a terrible guitar that they don’t know how to play. You never want to be that person. That person is annoying and should never be allowed in guitar stores again.
If you need to try out a guitar or some different amps, you can ask about one of the private rooms available at the shop. In private, you are free to blast Stairway to Heaven as much as you like, getting a feel for the sound of the gear you are trying out. Some shops have soundproof rooms too, which means you can really take it up a notch.
Sometimes there are no private rooms available, but you will still be able to try things out. The key is to ask someone first. Chances are if you ask one of the employees, they will be more than happy to let you try out the kit. Just don’t go playing Stairway to Heaven or one of the other banned songs.
Make Sure the Amp Is Turned Down
Have you ever been in a music shop browsing their selection of guitars and then been disturbed by a loud pop? That noise happens when someone plugs or unplugs a guitar from an amp without going through the proper steps. That is also the sound of someone breaking another of the shop’s rules.
The loud popping noise can easily be avoided by turning the volume down on the amp while you plug and unplug the guitar. Amps also have a standby mode that can be used for this purpose as well. Once the guitar is safely plugged in, turn the amp back on or slowly begin to increase the volume. In this way, you’ll never be the annoying amp popper.
Remember Where You Are
We love that you have so much talent for playing guitar, or maybe you have a great singing voice. But not everyone wants to hear it. There are a whole host of people visiting the shop to pick up simple items like strings or picks. They certainly don’t want to be an audience for your one-person show of Stairway to Heaven.
Don’t get us wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing an instrument when you’re in the shop. What is frowned upon is playing to get people to listen to you or to show off. Why not try getting some gigs or making YouTube videos instead? This will be your legitimate audience, who will be much more appreciative of your gifts than passive customers trying to go about their day.
Many newbies to the guitar won’t know about the shops with the humidity-controlled rooms. These are spaces specially dedicated to guitar players that keep acoustics in optimal condition. Anything played within the rooms will sound bright and have a sound filled with reverb.
If there are signs on the doors to keep them closed, pay attention. Whenever you enter these rooms, it’s essential to shut the door behind you so that the humidity and temperature can continue to be regulated. Plus, using these rooms and closing the door behind you allows you to play in a beautiful acoustic environment where you can jam to your heart’s content.
Put Things Back
Don’t ever be the person that leaves the expensive Fender guitar propped up precariously against a stool. We’ve all seen it happen, and in most cases, the guitar falls over. Take the time to put the instruments back correctly if you have been sampling them during your visit. It only takes a second or two and shows your respect for the instruments as well as for the shop as well.
And Remember, No Stairway to Heaven
If Stairway to Heaven is the only song you know, and you really want to try out a guitar, then we can forgive you. It’s a cool riff, and it can be seen as a rite of passage to play it in your local shop. Our tip would be to do it once, get it out of your system, and then don’t do it again for at least a few years.
Those who choose Stairway to Heaven as their go-to piece a second time will more than likely have a lot of backlash coming their way from other musicians.
What Is the Forbidden Riff?
The forbidden riff is the intro to Stairway to Heaven that guitar shop employees and long-time customers know never to play.
There you have it. The main reason why Stairway to Heaven is ‘banned’ in many guitar stores is because of a movie released years ago. The reality is that the song isn’t forbidden to play, it’s just very overplayed by people trying out guitars. You’re not going to get kicked out of any guitar stores if you begin playing this iconic song.