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
Guitar All-in-One For Dummies

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 top-notch instructional material, as is the “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 always, each “Dummies” book is organized in parts that group a bunch of chapters covering a topic in simple language with requisite detail. Unfortunately, the new versions (after 2012) phased out the occasional “dummies man” comic between sections. What a pity.

From the basic open chords to advanced chords, from bread and butter pentatonics to more erudite modal theory, this collection is a be all and end all resource for guitar students and enthusiasts. However, if you aren’t interested in all six titles, you can buy them individually as well.

These books have been written by a trio of well-respected guitar instructors – Desi Serna, Mark Phillips, and Jon Chappell. The sections on playing styles are well written and the book also includes maintenance and setup advice. The purchase also gives you access to online audio tracks and instruction videos.

By the time you are through the 640 pages, you’ll know how to change strings, build finger independence, read notation, play chords, and everything else under the sun that relates to a guitar. Heck, it may even inspire you to write your own book.

Verdict: Overall, Hal Leonard’s Guitar All-in-One for Dummies is as all-encompassing as an instructional/reference guitar book could be. Frankly, if this won’t turn you into a virtuoso, then it is on you.

Editor's Choice
The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denver

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. Those who own this book will know exactly why. In this 256 page “Guitar Bible”, he exhibits skill par excellence in creating a classic text filled with style and substance.

The Guitar Handbook compiles everything you can imagine about the acoustic and electric guitar. 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, we’re yet to find a book that can dethrone this classic.

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

The publishers have added full-color photographs and updated the sections on the guitar models, guitarists, and amplifiers. Moreover, the last section is a chord library that will come in handy when you want to expand your vocabulary.

The book has detailed sections on construction, electronics, and how to set-up a guitar. It also includes sections on the various styles of music and twenty innovative techniques of legendary guitar players. The content is painstakingly well structured and precise. You’ll be reading this one over and over. 

Verdict: Ralph Denver’s The Guitar Handbook is a lot more than mere instruction. It will resonate with people who detailed descriptions of the history, evolution, and styles. It’s one of those books you “collect” because you’ll be reading this one over and over. 

Best Budget
Teach Yourself to Play Guitar by David M. Brewster

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 manages to do just that with Teach Yourself to Play Guitar. It made it to our list because it is written specifically for rank novices. While other books attempt to do this as well, David manages to articulate his instruction better than the rest.

It can be laborious and intimidating to sift through tablature and note reading if you’re just into the guitar to spice up a campfire or your weekend. Brewster acknowledges that with ultra-simple lessons and explanations accompanied by informal guitar tabs – the same ones you see online. Additionally, the book has beat notation to build accurate rhythm, which is a clever add-on.

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

The explanation of chords, theory, and scales is not as elaborate as others on our list, but it is nevertheless sufficient. The best part about this Teach Yourself edition is the focus on the fundamentals of guitar playing. Their style of explanation is practical and uncomplicated. For that reason, this is also a good choice for adult beginners.

You may find this book a little listless if you are a theory junky who wants to learn about drop voicing and advanced jazz theory. But then again, the description clearly states 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 in no time, making it one of the best guitar books for self teaching.

Also Consider
Guitar Book for Adult Beginners by Damon Ferrante

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 no lightweight. 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 ability to whet passionate hobbyists.

The book includes systematic lessons designed for adults and provides videos to complement the learning. We’ve felt that it was perfectly paced for casual and novice players who want to pick up the guitar as a pastime. It doesn’t bombard you with advanced concepts and keeps the instruction simple and engaging.

By the end of it, you will have a solid understanding of chords, commonly used scales, rudimentary music theory and fundamental guitar technique. The lessons and videos also include instructions on how to play/cover famous songs like Scarborough Fair, House of the Rising Sun, and many others. It also includes sections on general advice to improve your playing, how to practice, and suggested listening.

Please note that this book is specifically written for adult beginners. It doesn’t teach notation or how to read music. It is best for someone who is passionate about the guitar but doesn’t intend to make a career out of it. Intermediate or advanced guitarists will have little to no benefit from this. This is ideally suited 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 music background. The focus is on learning the basics and preparing you to play your first few songs within a few months. We recommend it for those who enjoy a laidback pace of learning.

Also Consider
Idiot's Guides: Guitar Theory by David Hodge

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 Guitar Theory as our favorite among the existing titles based on the fact that is it meticulous and relatable.

Other than the 4-year-olds on YouTube who can play Michael Hedges covers blindfolded, everyone finds Music theory intimidating. And, Idiot’s Guides: Guitar Theory does a stellar job at breaking down one of the most feared topics for us mere mortals. It does this by chopping theory up in bite sized chunks that are easy to grasp.

As you develop a basic understanding, the book gradually builds upon the previous concepts. The approach is rather simple – step-by-step instruction with very basic terminology to ensure comprehension. 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
Guitar Aerobics: A 52 Week, One Lick Per Day Workout by Troy Nelson

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 “Guitar Aerobics” for students who are past the hurdles of basic theory and power chords. Players who are 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 worthy of consideration. 

First off, this isn’t the usual fare of major scales and jangly strumming. Guitar Aerobics is aimed at guitarists looking to build chops and a repertoire of licks for metal, funk, blues, and rock. It teaches you the ins and outs of intermediate-to-advanced techniques like sweep picking, economy picking, string skipping, and others.

Each exercise is articulated in popular tab and staff notation in an incremental degree of complexity. All the licks are accompanied by audio tracks (365 of them!). They serve as a reference point to compare how clean and accurate you sound compared to a professional guitarist. Additionally, there are plenty of play-along tracks in various genres/styles at eight metronome settings to improvise over.

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).

If you want to focus on the fundamentals of rhythm playing instead of licks, you can check out the equally stimulating Rhythm Guitar 365. Either way, if you have the dedication to practice regularly, these books can act as a workbook to gradually build your technique and chops.

Verdict: We recommend Guitar Aerobics for guitarists who 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. We recommend this for intermediate guitarists who want to improve their solos, improvising, and phrasing.

Also Consider
The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music

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. 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 can stir up a soul from the most banal and mechanical rut.

The Music Lesson is a fantastic take on how to integrate your love for music with your 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.

This is not a run of the mill guitar instruction book with chord charts and scales. It is a stirring narration of events that will enhance and engender your conviction, creativity, and musicality as you search for soul in song.

Calling Wooten a Grammy Award winner feels like belittling his philosophical, musical, and spiritual genius. He is among the best educators and thinkers of our time and every book he writes is a parable of wisdom. When you are done with it, you can get the second part – The Spirit of Music: The Lesson Continues.

And, when you are done with that, start praying he finishes the next one soon. Whether you play the guitar or not, whether you turn into a virtuoso or quit before Christmas, The Music Lesson has something to teach you that will translate into a better understanding of any art form you pursue.

Verdict: Wooten’s book is centered around expression and intentions – how to approach music – rather than straight up lessons with tabs. The 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)

A majority of our list has covered books that teach you tangible things like chords and scales. However, 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 flounder. 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 back in the 90s. And, if you’re a bit like us, you’ll agree that books offer continuity and a palpable feeling that haphazard YouTube videos fail to deliver. And then, there’s the scent of freshly printed pages…

We hope our guide was of use to you (you can also check out our guide for more theory focused books). We depend on you spreading the word about KillerGuitarRigs in order to keep making these free guides and resources, so feel free to share this article with your friends.

Andrew Bell

I don't think I'll ever stick to one instrument - but the great thing about life is you don't have to.

Andrew Bell has 42 posts and counting. See all posts by Andrew Bell