Guitar Reading List

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Here are some books and online resources about learning and playing the guitar. I started trying to play the guitar in my 40s, so this may not be the right collection for you if you are much younger (for example, I’ve included very little material on shredding).


While my ratio of playing guitar vs. buying books about playing the guitar has definitely improved towards the former, I do occasionally buy a book if it fills in gaps in either what I know now or hope to learn.

I’ve put the books in roughly the order I think you should read them, though your opinion may be different.

  • The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer
    This is the master bible: a lot of information about guitars and music theory and even information on how to fix things when they break.
  • Basic Blues Guitar by Darryl Winston
    This short, inexpensive book won’t tell you everything you need to know, but its direct style will give you a better understanding of some of the basic techniques used in the blues.
  • Practical Pentatonics by Askold Buk
    This focuses on the pentatonic scale without a lot of the other theory and technique that a more general book might introduce. Since the pentatonics lie underneath much of rock and blues, it’s a good way of going deep without going too wide. That is, you will learn one thing well, instead of many things not so well.
  • Music Reading for Guitar: The Complete Method by David Oakes
    This is a systematic way of learning both how to read music and how to play music on the guitar. Overall, this is very useful though I have noticed that there are some inadvertent forward references: sometimes you need to know something that is discussed in detail a few pages after it is first used. I still recommend it though.
  • Blues You Can Use by John Ganapes
    This is the best book I have found about learning to play the blues, and there are three follow-on books to augment your education.
  • How to Write Songs on Guitar: A Guitar-Playing and Songwriting Course
    Even if you don’t plan to write songs, this book is an excellent introduction to basic music theory and how all those songs you listen to were constructed. You’ll become a much more attentive listener and also better understand why some things just sound right, or perhaps familiar.
  • The Dictionary of Strum & Picking Patterns by Fred Sokolow
    This book is worth it only for the CD, though it is a great book. As you listen to the CD you’ll recognize parts of hundreds of songs you have heard, and that helps give the new player hope. It might be hard to find, but grab it if you see it.

Online Guitar Resources

  • Adam Schneider’s guitar chord & tablature collection
    Many songs, mostly by folk-rock female singer songwriters. The song formatting is very simple, just plain text, with chords above the words. As I mention below, Chordie has better formatting for some of its songs, and I do think we can do a better job.
  • Chordie
    One of the biggest online collections of guitar tabs. Most of these sites recycle the same transcription for a song, but this one will frequently offer several. Look through them and decide which one is best for you or of the highest quality. The transposition feature of this site is quite good, when you get a song that has been marked up in a way to use it. Sometimes a song will have the formatting screwed up a little bit, so that’s another reason to look through the alternate versions.
  • The On-Line Guitar Archive
    If you can’t find it on Chordie, it is probably here. I’m embarrassed to say that I found this relatively late, but it didn’t tend to come up when I did Google searches for tabs. No excuses anymore, now I know.
  • Richard Lloyd
    Richard LLoyd was the guitarist for the group Television in the 1970s. In this eclectic and richly designed site, Lloyd provides lessons and comments on guitar playing and occasionally life.