Buyers Guides

7 Best Guitar Books (2023) That Deliver Results For All Abilities

The best guitar books were the YouTube channels of the 90s. A good instructional or reference book could contain years of knowledge over hundreds of pages, and it would still cost less than a single private guitar lesson.

Whether you want to be the next Frank Zappa or Misha Mansoor, you’ll have to start with a strong foundation of the basics and gradually work your way to the top. Guitar books can be a great reference or instructional resource to help you achieve that (we also have a guide on how to read tab if you need it!)

In our eyes, a good guitar book should be clear, concise, and easy-to-follow. It should be meticulously structured by an experienced instructor. The lessons should gradually tackle theory and practice without placing the cart before the horse. We’ve considered the following points to shortlist the best guitar books for self teaching as well as general theory:

  • They are exactly as advertised
  • They cover all the topics in a well-structured format
  • Simple explanations of complex topics like music theory
  • They use photographs, tabs, tables, etc.

On that note, let’s look at the top three recommendations and dive into the reviews.

Editor's Choice
The Guitar Handbook

The Guitar Handbook

Features: Great pictures, Player profiles, Guide to guitar brands 

Benefits: Excellent gift for guitarists, Extremely well written, Suitable for players of all abilities 

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Best Value
Guitar All-in-One For Dummies

Guitar All-in-One For Dummies

Features: 7 Books in 1, Easy to read format, Clear pictures and diagrams

Benefits: Familiar "For Dummies" layout, Beginner - Advanced level topics, Teaches multiple ways to learn tasks

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Best Budget
Teach Yourself to Play Guitar

Teach Yourself to Play Guitar

Features: Photos and illustrations, Short and succinct, Shows tablature

Benefits: Well organized, Covers multiple styles, Quick, yet comprehensive instruction

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Best Guitar Books: Our Top 3

Guitar All-in-One for Dummies (2nd Edition) is Our Top Pick for those who need a compendium on guitar technique, styles, theory, and improvisation. The “…for Dummies” series has a reputation for breaking down complex and convoluted topics in a simple and easy to follow fashion. It is a set of six books that covers every significant aspect of theory and technique. If you want a “buy once, cry once” collection – this one is money well spent.

We recommend Teach Yourself to Play Guitar by David M. Brewster as the Best Budget Option. It currently ranks as Amazon’s #1 best seller in the Guitar category with 5k+ glowing testimonials. At under $10, you won’t find a better way to dip your toes in the water. The book is for beginners and covers the essentials concisely without compromising on quality. It is an excellent resource for students without any music-reading background.

Lastly, we’ve picked The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denver as the KGR Editor’s Choice. This is an iconic book in the history of guitar instruction. Some call it the “Guitar Bible” and others call it a Coffee Table Encyclopedia. Either way, it has dominated the bestselling lists since the 90s, and for all the right reasons. The publishers have updated the content to ensure that it will be relevant for guitar students and enthusiasts today.

Best Guitar Books: Individual Reviews

Top Pick

A 6-book compilation of excellent for-Dummies-style guitar instruction.

The "for Dummies" books are world renowned for their simple layout and fool proof learning strategises, and this 6 book compendium is no different. It contains everything you need to progress from day 1 beginner to accomplished guitarist.

  • Publisher: For Dummies, 2nd Edition
  • Paperback: 640 Pages (All 7 Books)
  • Available on Amazon Paperback and Kindle
  • A 7 Big Compendium to cover all bases
  • Ideal for all levels of skill and expertise

The Hal Leonard Corporation is synonymous with high end instructional material, particularly with their “XYZ for Dummies” series. With Guitar All-in-One for Dummies, they’ve successfully created a non-intimidating guide on the topic that works for guitarists at every level. What you get is –

  • Blues Guitar For Dummies
  • Rock Guitar For Dummies
  • Classical Guitar For Dummies
  • Guitar Theory For Dummies
  • Guitar Exercises For Dummies

As we’ve found with so many of their titles, Guitar All-in-One for Dummies was organized into parts that grouped a bunch of chapters covering a topic in simple language without losing the necessary detail. Unfortunately, the latest version didn’t come with the “dummies man” comic between sections, but it didn’t detract from the actual information by any stretch.

From the basic open chords to advanced chords, from bread and butter pentatonics to more complex modal theory, this collection was a truly comprehensive resource for guitar students and enthusiasts. It’s worth noting that if you aren’t interested in all six titles, you can buy them individually as well.

These books were written by a trio of well-respected guitar instructors – Desi Serna, Mark Phillips, and Jon Chappell. The sections on playing styles were well written, and the book also included maintenance and setup advice. Buying the book also gave us access to a number of online audio tracks and instruction videos.

By the time we got through the 640 pages, we’d relearned know how to change strings, build finger independence, read notation, play chords, and pretty much anything else that you can think of that relates to a guitar.

Verdict: Overall, Hal Leonard’s Guitar All-in-One for Dummies is as all-encompassing as an instructional/reference guitar book could be. It covers pretty much every mainstream area of guitar playing, and even some more obscures stuff, too. It’s not all theory, which we loved, and the fact that it included some setup and maintenance material was a real bonus.

Editor's Choice

A must-have resource for guitar players at any level.

This is one of the longest running major titles in guitar learning, and the reaons for its long staning success is the quality of the information within. It covers everything you need to know, whether you're a beginner getting started, or an experienced player looking to hone your skills.

  • Publisher: Knopf 
  • Paperback: 256 Pages
  • Available on Amazon Paperback
  • The OG: A Classic & Comprehensive Resource
  • Suitable for all levels of skill and expertise

For better or worse, Ralph Denver is known for his comprehensive book rather than a five-year stint as the vocalist/guitarist of Blonde on Blonde. Once you’ve read this book, you’ll understand why, though. We found that this 256 page “Guitar Bible”, was a phenomenal resource that was fantastically written and contained pretty much everything we wanted to see in a guitar book.

This was the go-to book for guitar students in the 90s and little has changed since (other than the updated content). Nearly three decades later, everything in the book was still absolutely relevant to today’s player.

We recommend this as a “must-have resource” not just for learning the guitar, but also as an almanac of information about guitarists, styles, equipment, and a chord library. While the old version (1st Edition) is great, this new version has been updated to reflect the changes in technology in the past two decades, and we think that the updates have made a big difference.

The publishers have added full-color photographs and updated the sections on the guitar models, guitarists, and amplifiers. In the last section, we found a comprehensive chord library that we found extremely handy, and we’re sure we will reference regularly in future.

The book had detailed sections on construction, electronics, and how to set-up a guitar. It also included sections on the various styles of music and twenty innovative techniques of legendary guitar players. The content was painstakingly well structured and extremely precise. We think you’ll be reading this one over and over. 

Verdict: Ralph Denver’s The Guitar Handbook is a lot more than just instruction. It will resonate with people who love detailed descriptions of the history, evolution, and styles of guitars and the music made with them. This is a must have for any guitarist, no matter what their ability level is.

Best Budget

Straightforward instructions for students with no music background.

Many people shy away from learning guitar because of a fear of music theory. With this book you're getting an in depth guide on how to play guitar with absolutely no music reading or theory required.

Product Highlights:

  • Publisher: Steeplechase Arts
  • Paperback: 111 Pages
  • Available on Amazon Paperback & Kindle
  • A good option for Beginners and Hobbyists
  • Too basic for intermediate and advanced students

The self teaching guitar book market is flooded with options and it takes something special for a book to stand out. David M. Brewster managed to do just that with Teach Yourself to Play Guitar. It made it to our list because it is written specifically for novice players. While other books attempt to do this as well, we thought that David managed to articulate his instruction better than the rest.

Some players are perfectly content with learning a few songs to play around a campfire and might not have any interest in becoming a better guitarist, and that’s perfectly fine, and in fact, this book leant into that type of play. It was full of ultra-simple lessons and explanations accompanied by informal guitar tabs – the same ones you see online. Additionally, the book had beat notation to help build accurate rhythm, which was a clever add-on.

Teach Yourself to Play Guitar neatly organized everything a novice needs to learn in an easy to follow design. The content included fretboard basics, guitar tablature, open chords, how to play rhythm, and many other aspects that we think will help you make quick progress.

The explanation of chords, theory, and scales was not as elaborate as some of the other books on our list, but as we mentioned, is still sufficient. The best part about this Teach Yourself edition was the focus on the fundamentals of guitar playing. Their style of explanation was practical and uncomplicated. For that reason, we think that this is an especially good choice for adult beginners.

You may find this book lacks substance if you are a theory junky who wants to learn about drop voicing and advanced jazz theory. But then again, the description clearly stated that it is best for beginner to intermediate level guitarists. If that is you, this book will get you playing your first few songs in no time.

Verdict: Teach Yourself To Play Guitar works for those who have no interest in learning music notation and/or no experience with learning music. It is a basic but practical guide that will get you playing your first few songs extremely quickly making it one of the best guitar books for self teaching.

Also Consider

Simple and straightforward instruction for casual beginners and enthusiasts.

It's well established that adults and children learn differently, so if you'd like a book that's tailored to mature learners, this is the one for you. It covers chords, techniques, and lessons on how to play famous songs.

Product Highlights:

  • Publisher: Hal Leonard 
  • Paperback: 48 Pages
  • Available on Amazon Paperback & Kindle
  • Ideal for Beginners and Hobbyists
  • Too basic for serious students

When you talk about guitar instructors, Damon Ferrante is one of the biggest names in the business. As a composer, guitarist, and professor of music theory, Ferrante has years of experience with simplifying and explaining musical concepts to beginners. Guitar Book for Adult Beginners is based on Damon’s musicality and his ability to encourage passionate hobbyists.

The book included systematic lessons designed for adults, and provided videos to complement the learning. We felt that it was perfectly paced for casual and novice players who want to pick up the guitar as a hobby, and who aren’t particularly interested in racing to become a virtuoso. It didn’t bombard us with advanced concepts, and kept the instruction simple and engaging.

By the end of the book, we’d covered chords, commonly used scales, rudimentary music theory and fundamental guitar technique. The lessons and videos also included instructions on how to play/cover famous songs like Scarborough Fair, House of the Rising Sun, and many others. It also included sections on general advice to improve your playing, how to practice, and suggested listening.

Please note that this book was specifically written for adult beginners. It doesn’t teach notation or how to read music. We think it’s best for players who are passionate about the guitar but don’t intend to make a career out of it. Intermediate or advanced guitarists won’t get a lot of benefit from this book, as it’s aimed squarely at those looking for recreational learning or people who enjoy a laidback pace of learning.

Verdict: Like the name states, Guitar Book For Adult Beginners is ideally suited for recreational learning, especially for adults without any musical background. The focus is on learning the basics and preparing you to play your first few songs within a few weeks. We recommend it for those who enjoy a laid back pace of learning.

Also Consider

A Great guide broken into manageable chunks for absolute beginners.

This "Idiot's Guide" offers a tongue in cheek approach to learning guitar theory. It's aimed at players of all levels, and does well to make a traditionally boring topic more enjoyable.

Product Highlights:

  • Publisher: Alpha
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Available: Amazon Paperback and Amazon Kindle
  • Good for learning guitar theory and improvisation
  • Ideal for all levels of skill and expertise

Like the “…for Dummies” series, Idiot’s Guides are another popular product line in the how-to segment. In fact, they have 20 different guitar reference and instruction books in this same series. However, we’ve singled out David Hodge’s Idiot’s Guide: Guitar Theory as our favorite among the existing titles based on the fact that is it detailed, yet still, relatable.

Unless you have a particular aptitude for music theory, or, you started learning at a young age, it’s no secret that as a topic, it can be extremely intimidating, so you’ll be pleased to know that Idiot’s Guides: Guitar Theory did a stellar job at breaking down one of the most feared topics for the majority of self taught guitarists. It did this by chopping theory up in bite sized chunks that were easy to grasp.

The book gradually built upon the previous concepts as we progressed through it. The approach was super simple – step-by-step instruction with very basic terminology to ensure comprehension. Using this approach, Hodge has managed to create guitar lessons that stand out from the competition.

Considering it is David Hodge, we aren’t one bit surprised. Hodge has been a writer/editor for Guitar Noise Magazine since 1999. He has played on various records and garnered over 2 million views on his guitar lessons. His vast experience is reflected in the effortless manner in which he breaks down a complex subject.

Idiot’s Guide: Guitar Theory is good for students who want a comprehensive book that focuses purely on theory. It contains 320 pages of well explained concepts and 60+ minutes of play-along tracks. For the price tag it comes at, the quality and content are hard to beat.

Verdict: Idiot’s Guide: Guitar Theory is great if you are new but envision yourself as a serious guitar player within a year or two or learning. It will walk you through the basics and leave you at the doorstep of advanced techniques and music theory. If you want a casual guide to becoming a campfire strummer, you’ll find more value in other options.

Also Consider

An easy to follow structure with clearly defined goals throughout.

With this book, you're getting an actual workout guide. Too many books stick to theory, and how to learn music, and forget that there is a physical element to learning guitar. Follow this guide and you'll strengthen your hands and develop musicle memory that will transform your playing.

It’s time to take a breather from beginner-to-intermediate guitar instruction books.

  • Publisher: Hal Leonard
  • Paperback: 114 pages
  • Available: Amazon Paperback and Amazon Kindle
  • Good for learning guitar theory and improvisation
  • Ideal for all levels of skill and expertise

We’ve selected Hal Leonard’s Guitar Aerobics as an option for students who are past the hurdles of basic theory and power chords, and who are now looking for a guide to improve right/left-hand technique and dexterity. If that is you, the 52-week workout by Troy Nelson is definitely worth taking a look at.

This book was so much more than simple chords and strumming patterns. Guitar Aerobics was aimed at guitarists looking to build chops and a repertoire of licks for metal, funk, blues, and rock. We found that it covered the ins and outs of intermediate-to-advanced techniques like sweep picking, economy picking, string skipping, and others with ease.

Each exercise was articulated in popular tab and staff notation in an incremental degree of complexity. All the licks were accompanied by audio tracks (365 of them to be exact), and they served as a reference point to compare how clean and accurate we sounded compared to a professional guitarist. Additionally, there were plenty of play-along tracks in various genres/styles at eight metronome settings to improvise over.

The author, Troy Nelson is best known for his role as the former Editor-in-Chief of Guitar One magazine. He has been writing bestselling guitar books since 2005. His series of books ranges from beginner-level (Fretboard Freedom, How to Play the Guitar) to advanced-level (Modern Lead Guitar, One-Man Guitar Jam).

Verdict: We recommend Guitar Aerobics for guitarists who already know the basics of music theory like chords, scales, and modes. With that as a given, this book will teach you intermediate-to-advanced techniques and must-know concepts to build chops/licks. Ultimately, making it. great choice for intermediate guitarists who want to improve their solos, improvising, and phrasing.

Also Consider

A fantastic resource for those who want to look deeper into their musical journey.

A wonderful book that explores how we as musicians can take a broader look at how music and spirituality and inherently connected, and how finding this connection within yourself can unlock your musical potential.

  • Publisher: Berkley
  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Available: Amazon Paperback and Amazon Kindle
  • Good for broadening your approach to learning music
  • Not purely instructional material, ideal for all musicians

You’ll have to watch Victor Wooten’s TEDx Talk to know where we’re coming from when we say that Wooten isn’t just a legendary bass player. He’s a gifted speaker and a musical visionary. His ideas on how to learn and approach music are both based in established best practices, and visionary ideas simultaneously.

We thought that the Music Lesson was a fantastic take on how to integrate our love for music with our pursuit of meaning. This is a great read for anyone who chooses to learn or make a career in any art form. The book is a unique take on how to approach and internalize music through offbeat techniques and inspirational ideas beyond the usual.

As mentioned, this was not a run of the mill guitar instruction book with chord charts and scales. It offered a stirring narration of events that both enhanced and fortified our creativity, and musicality.

If you’re not into the spiritual stuff, this might not be a good choice for you, as it does lean heavily into that side of things, but if you’re looking for a fresh take on traditional guitar lessons, it’s a great choice. Wooten is among the best guitar educators and thinkers of our time, and every book he writes is a parable of wisdom.

Verdict: Wooten’s book is centered around expression and intentions – how to approach music – rather than straight up lessons with tabs. This renowned virtuoso shares his wisdom on learning, living, and making music. It can be ideal for musicians who have technique, chops, and licks but often find their playing to lack soul or “mojo”.

Honorable Mentions (other great guitar books)

The majority of our list covered books that teach you the bare bones basics, things like chords and scales. However, almost every iconic artist has a story about the time they were on the verge of quitting out of sheer frustration. Invariably, they find an inspirational account that acts as a pivotal point in their career.

Sometimes, we can get too caught up in our pursuit of perfection. At times like this, you can feel burnt out and depleted. This is the point where the best of us decide to swim not sink. We’d like to leave you with two books that are ideal for such situations.

These aren’t exactly “10 days to guitar mastery” courses. Instead, they are soulful and insightful accounts that can be an inspiration when you feel like giving up. Or, when you need to kick back and let your aching fingers recover.

A gentle reminder that there are others out there who’ve made many sacrifices and struggled for many years to attain virtuosity. At the very least, you can think of them as light reading – something to listen to as you drive to work or go for a run.

Final Thoughts on the Best Guitar Books

Unlike today, books were the only resource to learn the guitar before the internet came along (besides in person instruction). And, if you’re at all like us, you’ll agree that books offer a sense of authority and a tangible feeling that haphazard YouTube videos fail to deliver.

To recap our favorites, Guitar All-in-One for Dummies (2nd Edition) was Our Top Pick thanks to its easy to follow format. Our best budget option, Teach Yourself to Play Guitar by David M. Brewster is a fantastic book for beginners that should leave with enough change for a fresh set of strings. Finally, our editor’s choice was The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denver, a phenomenal title that really covers everything about the guitar in incredible detail.

Above all else, we recommend that you carve out regular time to practice. If you do decide that you’re looking to get more into the technical side of things, be sure to check out Roundup of the best music theory books.