You just got your new Martin X Series LX1 Guitar. Sure, you spent a lot, but hell, it’s a Martin. Duh! But now you need some help to make it sing. That’s where a guitar book can give you what you need. Ideally, it’ll lead you by the hand from simple scales to fun licks that you can actually recognize. “Hey! I’m playing the guitar”, you scream.
Even if you’re an experienced player, a guitar book is a handy reference for the chords you don’t know or rarely play. As Eric Clapton once said, “But the guitar, when you think about it, is the most versatile, really. I mean you can pick it up and take it with you wherever you go.” That’s why it’s essential to keep learning and honing your craft.
Guitar books are like potato chips. You can’t have just one. That’s why we’re sure you love our roundup of our favorites. We leaned toward the beginner flavor, but even a pro can benefit from having any of these on their shelves or in the studio. Check out our picks for the best guitar books.
Guitar Reading Workbook
The Guitar Reading Workbook looks intimidating, especially if you page to the exercise solutions. Learning to read music is a must-do if you want to take your music talents to the next level. You’re in good company if you haven’t tackled it yet. The Beatles didn’t know how to read music either at first.
The book discusses both tabs and notation which makes it easier to transition if you’ve been using the former. It covers a wide range of topics including scales and arpeggios. The approach the author takes is logically and accessible with plenty of examples and exercises to make it stick. The only downside is that there are no songs included in it.
Best for learning how to read music
Hal Leonard Guitar Method, Complete Edition
The Hal Leonard Guitar Method, Complete Edition walks you through from the absolute beginner to the seasoned musician with this three-book set. The strength of this edition lies with the illustrations of chords along with the accompanying music. It’s an excellent way to learn right from the start. The set will take you to an intermediate level.
The music selections are the usual ones that everyone knows with some blues thrown in for good measure. We liked the fact that it’s spiral bound too. The audio files are a welcome bonus to make sure you’re playing it right.
Best for teaching yourself music from beginner to more advanced
Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask
The Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask tackles a subject that every serious musician should endeavor to learn. The author handles the subject in a way that is easy to understand even for the absolute beginner. Many guitar books skim over the subject, but this one provides an excellent treatment.
And it really isn’t as hard as it sounds. You’ll likely find that it’s easy once the penny drops, but it’ll take some work to get there. Music is, after all, its own language. This book also has accompanying audio files for learning the pieces with the Kindle edition.
Best for learning music theory
Guitar Aerobics: A 52-Week, One-lick-per-day Workout Program for Developing, Improving and Maintaining Guitar Technique
You can think of the Guitar Aerobics: A 52-Week, One-lick-per-day Workout Program for Developing, Improving and Maintaining Guitar Technique as a workout plan for your hands. It’s not an instruction book per se like the others we’ve reviewed. It’s more of a bridge to the next level when you want to take the next step with your guitar playing.
The 52-week part is an excellent way to motivate you to practice. The selection of licks is great too with several genres covered well. It provides info for setting your metronome to get the beat right too. They are challenging, especially when you play them at the recommended speed. The wide selection will give you plenty of choices even if you skip a genre.
Best for improving accuracy and speed
Teach Yourself to Play Guitar: A Quick and Easy Introduction for Beginners
Sure, the Teach Yourself to Play Guitar: A Quick and Easy Introduction for Beginners book is for those brand new to the hobby. But experienced players will love the chord chart that comes with it. It includes the basic major and minor ones along with the more uncommon ones for a great reference. Some of the riffs are a bit obscure, but it doesn’t detract much from its value.
This book emphasizes tabs with the accompanying music notation. It’s not a long book and one that a beginner will likely outgrow at some point. However, it provides a good introduction to get you playing songs you’ll recognize fast. It does a fine job of explaining everything the newbie needs to know including how to position yourself. Build those good habits early!
Best for the absolute beginner
Guitar All-In-One For Dummies
The Guitar All-In-One For Dummies covers just about everything a beginner needs to know from how to buy a guitar to how to replace strings. It’s an excellent introduction for delving into the world of guitars that go beyond just playing one. It comes with a CD with the paperback edition. You can also view videos and listen to audio files online.
The instruction covers both electric and acoustic guitars. The music part is thorough but progresses pretty quickly. It covers a few genres so that you can get the specific information you want whether you’re playing the blues or going classical. The best thing about it is that it is an all-in-one reference that even experienced players will appreciate.
Best as an all-around reference
Guitar Chords: Easy-to-Use, Easy-to-Carry, One Chord on Every Page
The Guitar Chords: Easy-to-Use, Easy-to-Carry, One Chord on Every Page does one thing extremely well: it is spiral bound. It’s more of a reference than anything else, but one that musicians of all levels will appreciate. It covers the gamut of chords with not just one but two variations of each one. Of course, many have more than that, but it’s good information just the same.
The book won’t teach you how to play the guitar. However, it will explain how to play chords and what all the notation means in a clear, concise manner. The illustrations are well-done and make it simple to use. It might not be a book you use every day, but you’ll be glad it’s around when you do.
Best for a chord reference book
The Ultimate Scale Book
The Ultimate Scale Book is a must-have and a must-do for every guitarist. It does an excellent job of setting the stage and explaining what they are. Individuals who want to understand the basis of music will appreciate the attention to detail that it offers. It’s designed as a book to use during practice in a compact size that is spiral bound.
It’s not as accessible to the absolute beginner as it is to someone who has some experience under their belt. It covers a wide range of scales from the classic blues to the E minor pentatonic—and everything in between. The downside is that the diagrams are on the small side which can make them a bit tough to read from a distance.
Best for learning scales
Neoclassical Speed Strategies for Guitar
The Neoclassical Speed Strategies for Guitar is another book we’d recommend more for the seasoned player. This one provides an excellent introduction into fingerpicking with helpful illustrations of exactly how to position yourself for the quickest and most efficient playing. It includes lots of helpful examples and exercises to make it easier to master.
You can download audio and video files if you need additional instruction on doing it. The only downside is that we’d love more music! On the positive side, even experienced musicians can learn from it. It’s a great choice for self-taught guitarists who need a nudge to improve their technique.
Best for building picking speed.
Ernie Ball How to Play Guitar Phase 1 Book
The Ernie Ball How to Play Guitar Phase 1 Book does one thing very well—it teaches proper technique from the get-go. A lot of beginner books touch on hand position and posture. This one helps those new to the hobby start off right by building good habits in their playing style. It tosses in some humor along the way to make it fun too.
It’ll walk you through the basics of using tabs, the easiest way to get playing fast. It also discusses notes and chords to provide a great introduction to reading music. It includes a healthy selection of songs and scales to motivate you to practice too. Parts are basic and easy to pick up with some more difficult bits to challenge the beginner.
Best for beginner to learn proper technique
Guitar books are a helpful way to create a routine to improve your playing. They also act as a reference when you need to look up a chord or do scales as part of your practice routine. All of our selections bring something unique to the table. And since they’re pretty cheap, go ahead and treat yourself to one—or many!