The road toward becoming a better guitarist is paved in… books? It certainly can be, although there are plenty of routes that both beginners and professionals take to improve upon — and bone up on — their craft. The books on this list are about history and technique. They’re books that you’ll pull off the shelf for years to come to look up a vintage guitar you’re curious about or a chord progression or song you’ve been meaning to master. You may find additional inspiration reading the autobiographies of your favorite guitarists, but we decided to leave those off this particular list. If you’re in the market for a good guitar book, read on.
10) The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook by The Beatles (2000)
This best-selling easy-to-use digest contains 194 songs including chord symbols, guitar chord boxes, and complete lyrics written by The Fab Four.
9) Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask (Guitar Method) by Tom Kolb (2005)
This book, which comes with an accompanying CD, presents a complete music theory method and includes quizzes and ear training drills throughout.
An excerpt: “No amount of tuning will suffice if your guitar is not intonated properly. Intonation at the nut is best left to the hands of your local repairman, but bridge intonation in most cases is a do-it-yourself job.”
8) The Hal Leonard Acoustic Guitar Method: A Complete Guide with Step-by-Step Lessons and 45 Great Acoustic Songs by Chad Johnson (2004)
A strong guide for those learning their way around an acoustic guitar, this book will teach you to play popular songs like “Angie,” “Barely Breathing,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Building a Mystery,” “Change the World,” “Dust in the Wind,” “Fast Car,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Jack and Diane,” “Landslide,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Maggie May,” “More Than Words,” “Name,” “You've Got a Friend,” “Yesterday,” and others.
An excerpt: “Although presumably the easiest of guitar techniques, it’s amazing how many guitarists neglect basic chord strumming. A strong command of strumming is probably the most important skill you can develop in acoustic guitar playing, especially if you intend to accompany yourself or someone else singing.”
7) Guitar Aerobics: A 52-Week, One-lick-per-day Workout Program for Developing, Improving, and Maintaining Guitar Technique by Troy Nelson (2007)
This popular book teaches seven guitar techniques — alternate picking, string skipping, string bending, arpeggios, sweep picking, legato, and rhythm — one for each day of the week, with an emphasis on keeping it fun so that the learning process comes naturally.
An excerpt: “Guitar Aerobics is systematically arranged so that each week the musical examples increase in difficulty. If you consider yourself a beginner, you can jump right into Week 1 and feel perfectly comfortable playing the material. Consequently, you’ll have an entire calendar year of material — 365 exercises — to practice!”
6) Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars Updated And Revised Third Edition by George Gruhn and Walter Carter (2010)
This is the definitive source for all collectors of vintage American fretted instruments. In fact, the Gibson Customer Service department frequently turns to Gruhn’s Guide when faced with questions about a guitar’s authenticity or background.
An excerpt: “The Dobro brand name has been identified with resonator guitars since 1929 and is currently owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation. Despite its registered trademark status, the Dobro name has at times been used generically to refer to woodbodied instruments with 1) an aluminum cone or “resonator” mounted so that the cone opens toward the top of the instrument and 2) an 8-armed spider assembly supporting the bridge.”
5) Hot Guitar by Arlen Roth (1996)
This beloved book by Gibson’s own Lessons Editor Arlen Roth collects more than 10 years of wisdom from Roth’s “Hot Guitar” column, written for Guitar Player magazine from 1982 to 1993.
An excerpt: “Quite a few of the artists I’ve worked with have told me that my own personal style might be described as flashy. In this book, we will definitely cover the hotter aspects of playing, not only regarding lead styles, but rhythm techniques, too. What I’ve found after years of experience in the studio and onstage with many different types of artists is that a guitarist can modify his playing and adapt it to the requirements of the particular situation while still revealing his own distinctive musical personality.”
4) Interactive Gibson Bible by Dave Hunter and Walter Carter (2008)
Written by longstanding Gibson correspondent Dave Hunter and guitar historian Walter Carter, this DVD and spiral-bound book set covers the complete range of Gibson guitars. Read excerpts of the book here, here, and here.
An excerpt: “Scorned, laughed at, jeered, chided, and derided. The concept of the solidbody electric guitar was subject to such utter disdain in some corners that it’s almost hard to believe it ever came to be at all. The ridicule and mockery would have been enough to send a less self-confident inventor running for the hills. Given our more than 55 years of perspective, though, we know it just had to be; a world without the solidbody guitar? Moreover, without the Gibson Les Paul? Unthinkable ...”
3) How to Play Guitar: Everything You Need to Know to Play the Guitar by Roger Evans (2001)
This tome, which claims to have taught more than a half-million people to play guitar, debuted in 1979. Refreshingly, it assumes you know nothing about guitar and starts at the very beginning. There’s no flowery prose, just simple, straightforward advice.
An excerpt: “First let us dispel the popular, but completely wrong belief that ‘any guitar will do for learning to play.’ Your first guitar should be carefully chosen to be fairly easy to play and tune. It should also be versatile enough for you to be able to play different kinds of music on it. For this reason, and to avoid the complications and expense of an amplifier, an ‘acoustic’ (un-amplified) guitar is recommended.”
2) Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon by Walter Carter (2003)
Carter, (now of Gruhn Guitars) a writer of the first degree, chronicles Gibson’s first hundred years, from its modest beginnings in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to its changes of ownership and eventual move to Nashville, Tennessee. Mostly though, this is the story of a brand of guitars that changed the world.
An excerpt: “Like Coca-Cola, Levi’s, or Harley Davidson, Gibson has transcended mere brand-name status to become a presence in life. It seems like Gibson has just always been there; and for all practical musical purposes, that’s true.”
1) American Guitars: An Illustrated History, Revised and Updated Edition by Tom Wheeler (1992)
This guide is as marvelously written as it is exceedingly informative. It takes a long look at each of the major and minor American guitar companies — Gibson chief among them — and recounts the story of every guitar to come off their workbenches. Buoyed by scads of historical photos and thoroughly researched copy, this book earns its place at the top of this list.
An excerpt: “Steeped in mystery, hogwash, and pop voodoo, guitars have become period pieces of almost totemic significance — some timeless, others dated as a crew cut; some spiffy as a showroom Bugatti, others funky as a Studebaker up on blocks.”