Many guitar players learn their first riffs via Stairway to Heaven. The guitar intro of the song is so beautiful that musicians love playing and listening to it. But why is Stairway to Heaven banned in guitar stores?
Stairway to Heaven is not actually banned in guitar stores. The sign is a joke from the 1992 movie Wayne’s World. There is no federal law in any state that prohibits you from playing Stairway to Heaven in any guitar store. However, music stores may not like to hear you play it because it is overplayed.
Since then, the story was passed on through the years that some people believe it to be true. The truth is that the song is one of the favorite pieces that guitar learners want to play. The notes are catchy, and the guitar intro is a masterpiece.
Read on to learn more about the real story. Why did people start saying that guitar stores ban guitar buyers from playing Stairway to Heaven? Get to know too many other ‘forbidden’ songs in guitar stores.
Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?
No state law prohibits you from playing Stairway to Heaven in guitar stores. You will not go to jail for it.
Yet, music stores may not want you playing the song because they may have heard it a thousand times already.
The story of Stairway to Heaven being banned in guitar stores started with a gag in one of the scenes in the movie, “Wayne’s World.”
History of Stairway to Heaven
Led Zeppelin, the English rock band, first recorded Stairway to Heaven in 1971. Vocalist Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page composed the song for their album. Since then, the song gained unprecedented popularity raking awards in the US, UK, and Australia.
Australia’s Triple J voted the song at #10 on Hottest 100 of All Time. Guitar World, US has ranked the song #1 on 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.
People voted the song #3 on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Rock Songs in 2000. The song also made it at #31 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time .
Stairway to Heaven became an anthem for artists in 1973 as the song gained more popularity and topped radio polls and sales worldwide. Through the years, millions of guitarists worldwide have always included the song in their repertoires.
The song is the favorite go-to riff of every musician wanting to buy a new guitar. It was an unwritten rule that a great guitar player should know the song by heart.
Up to the present, Stairway to Heaven is still a top-ranked song. Respondents voted the song to the top in a recent annual survey in 2020.
Stairway to Heaven starts with a guitar riff that goes slow and soft and builds volume and tempo. Plant’s powerful voice and the ensuing hard rock tempo complete the mesmerizing crescendo until the song’s last line, which is sung a cappella.
Music stores may have their ears full with many musicians playing the song every time they buy a guitar. Some of the renditions may be painful to the ears. Thus, one can understand the joke.
How the Forbidden Story of Stairway to Heaven Started?
The story started when the movie, Wayne’s World, hit the theaters more than three decades ago. In the movie, there is a scene where Wayne goes into a music store to try out a guitar.
He starts plucking the guitar, but the clerk stops him after a few notes and points to a sign that read: “NO Stairway to Heaven.” Wayne then turned around and uttered: “No, Stairway! Denied.”
The joke started becoming even more popular as enterprising Netizens posted the segment on social media and YouTube. You may want to watch the segment here.
The gag gained so much popularity among music stores due to its familiar scenario. Clerks in these stores were bombarded with guitar buyers playing Stairway to Heaven when testing new guitars.
The song was, and still is, one of the most popular pieces in learning lessons for new musicians.
Reportedly, one music store even offered a 15% discount to customers who could play Stairway, provided that they play the song till the end – without any error.  The stairway is an iconic masterpiece, but hearing it over and over must have piqued some store clerks.
Another true story about vocalist Plant once giving a $10,000 donation to the KBOO radio station in Portland, Oregon. The disc jockey solicited donations during a pledge drive by promising that the station would never play Stairway to Heaven. 
When people asked Plant why he did so, he allegedly replied that he had heard the song before. Apparently, the song’s vocalist himself has received the joke well.
A few reports revealed that some guitar stores had posted a list of guitar riffs that they requested customers not to play.
This post may have been done to humor customers, or other stores may have been serious about their requests. No one would ever know if the employees did not reveal the truth.
Why Did the Stairway Joke Lasted Long?
First, the song is truly iconic. Every guitar player wishes to learn how to play the riffs perfectly. The overwhelming votes evidence this fact the song gets every time it gets nominated.
On the lighter side, some musicians enjoy playing a prank in guitar stores just for fun. Hence the gag kept being passed on throughout the years.
The song’s re-emergence also occurred when a claimant sued Plant and Page for alleged copyright infringement of Stairway to Heaven. They eventually won the case, but the attention pushed the song to the limelight once again.
The explosion of Internet technology has helped revive the Stairway to Heaven joke through videos on various platforms.
Other ‘Forbidden Riffs’ in Guitar Stores
- Sweet Child ‘O Mine by Guns and Roses
- Iron Man by Black Sabbath
- Wonderwall by Oasis
- Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Enter Sandman by Metallica
- Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple
- Beat It by Michael Jackson
- Rock You Like a Hurricane by Scorpions
Recommended Guitar Songs for New Players
These songs are popular as well but are not overplayed. Hence, musicians can use them in testing new guitars:
The Guitar Man by Bread
The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel
Again, why is Stairway to Heaven banned in guitar stores? Guitar stores did not ban Stairway to Heaven from being played. In fact, no law prohibits you from playing Stairway to Heaven in stores.
Nonetheless, guitar stores may not welcome you when you pluck the famous riffs due to the simple reason that it is overplayed.
The forbidden story of the song started in 1992. The movie “Wayne’s World” featured a scene where a store clerk pointed to a sign that says, “No Stairway to Heaven” when Wayne started playing the guitar.
The scene became a running gag among guitar players until the story gained traction, and people began to believe it was true.
Having clarified the misconception, let’s now discuss some tips for playing Stairway to Heaven in music stores.
Tips for Playing Stairway to Heaven in Music Stores
Here are a couple of tips you may want to observe when in music stores:
1. Know the Rules in the Music Store
You may want to look around a bit and find out if there are posted rules that you have to follow. You could also ask the store personnel directly.
While the Stairway story of being banned in stores is a joke, there are actually guitar stores like that in Oregon that may have some rules regarding playing the song.
Thus, do not embarrass yourself by showing how well you can play Stairway. Take note that the song is overplayed. Customers may not want to hear it repeatedly.
If you are a newbie, the worst you can do is break people’s eardrums by playing a bad version of the song.
2. Be Ready with Other Songs to Play
There are many other guitar songs you can play when testing a new guitar. Aside from the Guitar Man and the Boxer, you can also play any of these songs:
- Dust in the Wind by Kansas
- Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran
- Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
- I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
- Heart of Gold by Neil Young
- Fire and Rain by James Taylor
- Crystal Snow by BTS
- Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan
- Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi
- Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx
3. Play the Song Correctly If You Want to Do So
If you still insist on playing Stairway to Heaven when buying your new guitar, you have to do it correctly. Be considerate of other people who may have heard the song a thousand times. Let your rendition show how much you respect and appreciate the song.
Choose another less-known song when unsure of your guitar-playing skills. People may not know the notes of the less popular song.
4. There Is No Hard Ban in Playing Stairway to Heaven
You’ll not go to jail if you happen to play Stairway to Heaven in guitar stores or anywhere. The US is still a democratic country. Thus, you can play whatever you want to play.
But you have to be considerate of others because some people may have heard the song on repeat. It is ethical to play it inside the guitar store’s music booth – if there is one. After all, respecting other people is a mark of a decent human being.
5. Get the Cue
Get the cue and stop when you notice eye-rolls, cringes, and stares when you start playing Stairway. These non-verbal cues denote that they would rather hear you play another song.
You may want to switch to another song. Refer to the list mentioned above and play in peace. But, if you truly want to play Stairway, nobody can stop you. Just do it correctly.
6. Know that Stairway to Heaven Is a Classic
Make no mistake about it. The song is a classic. No one can deny that the song is one of the best songs of all time. Nevertheless, being exposed to the same music numerous times is like eating the most delicious dish every meal.
No matter how tasty the dish is, you would never eat it every meal. You can imagine how it is for the music store employees – listening to the same song ad nauseam. Hence, please do not get mad when you notice their annoyance.
7. Learn How to Play Stairway to Heaven Correctly
Every guitar player should learn this iconic song. You can learn the song first using a metronome. You could break the song into parts to make it easier. Serious learners were able to learn it within a week. Nevertheless, it takes years to play the song flawlessly.
You could practice playing with someone’s guitar before buying your own. Knowing how to play the song before entering a guitar store is a plus point for you. You now have earned the right to play the song from start to finish.
Conclusion – Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?
The Stairway to Heaven ban started when a movie, Wayne’s World, featured a joke banning the song in a guitar store.
The running gag became popular that it was passed on through the years. However, there is no rule in any state that prohibits you from playing “Stairway to Heaven” in music stores. Some guitar stores, though, may not welcome you playing the song because it is overplayed.
Surely, the majority of guitar players run the riffs to test the guitars for sale. When you happen to see a sign for forbidden riffs, you have to make sure from a store employee if it is a store policy or just a joke.
Don’t let this Stairway to Heaven gag prevent you from learning how to play the song. It is a classic and multi-awarded song that deserves your accolade.