Few other instruments have been as well documented as the guitar. Thousands of books, endless catalogs of tabs and sheet music, countless hours of video and audio instruction, all of it available to be consumed by the aspiring guitarist.
At times, it can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help!
It’s easy to overlook the humble book in the modern world. Flashy instructional videos and digital learning materials are exceptional, but there is still an incredible wealth of information waiting for any guitarist willing to pickup a book or two.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents:
- I. Helping You Find The Right Guitar Books
- II. Best Beginner Guitar Books
- III. Intermediate Guitar Books
- IV. Advanced Guitar Books
- V. What’s YOUR Favorite Guitar Book?
Helping You Find The Right Guitar Books
Guitar books differ in many respects from other forms of instructional material. Where video lessons tend to address very specific subjects, like a certain song, lick, or technique, books tend to have a somewhat broader approach.
A good guitar book is one that can act as a reference and as a challenge. It’s something that inspires you to play and improve yourself and might throw you some difficulty along the way. The right book encourages you to mature as a musician and a guitarist.
Below we’ll take a look at several guitar books. We’ll begin by examining books that focus mostly on beginner level content before slowly ramping up into more intermediate and advanced books.
We’ve selected books that cover the guitar in terms of technique, overall musicianship, and even the philosophy of the instrument and music in general.
Best Beginner Guitar Books
Justin Guitar’s Beginner Course
For absolute beginners looking for guidance, JustinGuitar’s Beginner Course provides some of the easiest to access instructional material you’ll find anywhere.
Written with elegant simplicity, author Justin Sandercore not only introduces the basics of playing guitar, but also discusses topics like how to choose a decent guitar and amplifier as a beginner, how to hold the instrument comfortably, how to read basic tabs and chord diagrams, and other topics often skimmed over by exercise focused books.
After covering essentials like how to tune, the book gives readers a very quick guide to concepts like common power chords. This makes it an exceptionally fun book that can inspire a lot of creativity very quickly in a new guitarist.
In addition to the book, two instructional CDs are included which provide audio for many of the lessons in the book.
Hal Leonard Guitar Method
If you’re looking for a definitive guide to techniques and exercises to begin playing the guitar, the Hal Leonard Guitar Method series might well be as close as you come.
This series has a somewhat venerated reputation among guitar teachers and new players. Countless guitars – both electric and acoustic – have been broken in with the exercises and methods laid out in this book.
These books focus almost entirely on various exercises. They have been designed to instruct all ages and skill levels. While it veers heavily towards beginners, the discipline and attention to technique commanded by the series could do just about any player some good.
The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer
Packed full of comprehensive diagrams and easy to understand instructions, The Guitar Handbook is a favorite among beginners.
In The Guitar Handbook, author Ralph Denyer tackles concepts ranging from the most basic beginner’s chords and techniques up to more advanced concepts. The book is extremely inclusive of genres and guitars of all sorts. It forms an ideal jumping off point whether you’re hoping to play rock, blues, jazz, folk, or anything in between.
With a mixture of techniques and styles, the book is exceptional for its well-rounded focus on the guitar in general. It never hones in too microscopically on any one genre or style.
Full of chord diagrams, technique reference photos and descriptions, and even a bit of guitar history, The Guitar Handbook is great for beginners or more advanced players alike. It serves as a great introduction to various techniques and styles.
Even after digesting all of its lessons, it serves as an excellent reference. However, even advanced players will find some tricky ideas hiding in the back pages of The Guitar Handbook. Worthy of a place on any guitarists’ shelf!
Although Zen Guitar contains no guitar instructions proper, it seeks to inform us on more of a philosophical or even spiritual side of guitar playing.
While for the more practically minded this might not sound like something worthwhile, Zen Guitar has provided thousands of guitarists with inspiration to practice and reach new levels on their instrument. It provides a source of inspiration and a unique perspective on practice, music, and the guitar itself.
If you find yourself needing some extra motivation to practice, perform, or branch out into new territory, this is the book to read.
Intermediate Guitar Books
Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask (Guitar Method) by Tom Kolb
This book on music theory by Tom Kolb is another part of the Guitar Method series we looked at above. Unlike the Hal Leonard Guitar Method, this book focuses exclusively on music theory. There is much less discussion of technique.
However, if you want to understand what goes into chord construction, progressions, intervals, keys, scales, harmony, and dozens of other music theory concepts, this is an excellent book to help you get there.
It not only explains these concepts in the rote music school fashion, but applies them all directly to the guitar. Every page gives us the guitarists’ perspective on music theory. The book gives reader’s an excellent sense of what is important in music theory on a practical level for the practicing guitarist and how the instrument works on a theoretical level.
Creative Guitar 1: Cutting Edge Techniques & Creative Guitar 2: Advanced Techniques by Guthrie Govan
This two-part series covers a variety of techniques, most of them focused primarily on the electric guitar. Written by accomplished technical guitar virtuoso, Guthrie Govan, the series provides a road map to developing the techniques that have made Guthrie’s style so distinctive and versatile.
In the first book, Cutting Edge Techniques, the focus is on breaking the standard mold of rock guitar playing. Unique approaches to pentatonic patterns, novel soloing ideas, interesting chord progressions, and relevant music theory concepts are explored in-depth.
Guthrie manages to present intermediate and advanced concepts in a plain and simplified manner that does not betray the depth of his mastery. Simultaneously giving a refreshing dose of fundamentals while building a scaffolding towards difficult-to-play concepts, the book is an excellent way to push an intermediate guitarist forward, or ground a more advanced player in things they may have missed.
In the second installment of the series, Advanced Techniques, the focus turns more to advanced guitar concepts, but provides an excellent sequel even for the intermediate player. Guthrie discusses guitar tones and emulation effects, eight-finger tapping, legato, harmonics, sweeping, and other tricky-to-master guitar techniques.
Ted Greene – Chord Chemistry
Ted Greene was a gifted jazz guitarist, but today he is remembered primarily among guitarists familiar with one or more of his books.
Not long after being publishing in 1971, Chord Chemistry became something of an open secret in the guitar world. The book provides an incredibly comprehensive reference guide for hundreds of chords, each of which Ted painstakingly prepared a hand-drawn diagram for.
In addition to the reference material, the book discusses chord construction, voice leading, progressions, and other theory concepts.
While sometimes a bit difficult to navigate, the pages of this book have provided inspiration for countless guitarists. Ted Greene’s incredible understanding of harmony and knack for interesting chord voices resonates down today from guitarists in all styles of music.
The Real Book
If you have any interest in playing jazz guitar, you owe it to yourself to own a copy of The Real Book. Made famous by jazz musicians who would rely on the jazz standards contained within these pages night after night, The Real Book is the definitive reference for jazz standards.
Working through the standards in The Real Book is a right of passage for any aspiring jazz musician. Not only will it test your ability to read charts, but after you’ve worked your way through it, you will be armed with a knowledge of classic jazz standards that will be enough to earn you a well-deserved spot in a jazz jam.
Advanced Guitar Books
Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing, Volumes 1 & 2 by Ted Greene
More from the master Ted Greene, this is an invaluable guide to playing a guitar solo. Although focused and targeted at the jazz guitarist, the harmonic and soloing concepts explored in these books could be applied by guitarists of any genre.
If you’re interested in playing solos at a high level, this is an indispensable guide. Greene explores harmonic relationships across the fret board, discusses the best way to approach progressions, provides licks and examples to play along with, and manages to impart some of his incredible harmonic mastery onto every page.
However, this is not for the faint of heart. You will need a bit of music theory going in, and some explanations may leave you reaching for another reference. For those willing to put in the time, there is gold in these pages.
Advanced Rhythmic Concepts For Guitar
If you truly want to take your playing to the next level, this book offers many mind-bending exercises to do just that. An exploration purely of rhythm, the book introduces advanced polyrhythms, metric modulations, polyrythms inside of polyrhythms, polymetric improvisation, and a variety of other advanced rhythmic exercises.
Tackling concepts usually reserved only for the bravest drummers, this is not a simple book. It requires a deep understanding of rhythms and at least some concept of polyrhythms.
Featuring difficult ideas like metric modulations, even the most advanced player will find stumbling blocks and brand new challenges as they work through the truly unique and high-level material in this book.
The Frank Gambale Technique: The Essential Soloing Theory Course for All Guitarists, Book 1 & 2
In the 1980’s, Frank Gambale’s instructional video Monster Licks & Speed Picking provided a definitive jumping off point for an entire generation of guitarists. Gambale’s unique approach to picking – later termed “economy” picking, – his impossibly clean sweeps, tasty arpeggios, and endless musicality earned him a spot playing with some of the most venerated musicians of his day.
Yet in his instructional material Gambale seems to shine even more. In this latest series, The Frank Gambale Technique, the veteran shred master reveals his incredible understanding of harmony. He takes an in-depth look at chord types, note selection, progressions, and how to create unique and beautiful harmonies in the context of a modern guitar solo.
For the advanced guitarist looking to expand their harmonic vocabulary and take their playing into unusual and sometimes untested waters, the material provided in The Frank Gambale Technique can pay serious dividends.
Over the course of two books, Gambale lays out a comprehensive approach to improvising a guitar solo. While he doesn’t put much emphasis on technique, his older instructional material offers a wealth of information for those seeking to emulate his playing. For those looking for unique ideas for scales, harmonies, and chord progressions, this series has much to offer.
What’s YOUR Favorite Guitar Book?
Don’t be afraid to turn some pages! It’s easy to rely entirely on digital instruction material like videos, power tabs, and other nifty innovations of the modern music world. Yet not that long ago, books were the primary way musicians came across exercises and music theory.
There is still plenty of wonderful and worthwhile knowledge to be found, it just requires you to do a bit of reading! Perhaps more importantly, put what you’ve read to work immediately! Don’t just skim over the exercises, pick up your guitar and play them! It’s through application that you’ll truly learn something.
Did we miss something? If you know of a book that contains some particularly potent pearls of wisdom, let us know in the comment section down below.