Learning to play the guitar from beginner guitar books is still huge, despite the availability of the more modern form of learning guitar, online video tutorials.
The "learn guitar books" (both acoustic and electric) are here to stay, since thousands of guitar lesson books are being sold everyday, so I thought I would buy, read and compare a couple of these books and see how they perform.
The books I ordered were not at random, but chosen from the top seller lists of online book stores, so these should be the best ones. Or the ones with the best marketing 😀
I am a guitar teacher of 15 years and a technical junkie, so I prefer to steer people towards online video lessons. I believe that with the multimedia technologies of the 21st century, beginner video lessons are the most efficient way of learning guitar from home, and are most advantageous from a pricing point of view as well. I'll add some recommendations for video lessons after the book reviews, in case you want to see that side of learning guitar as well.
Either way, here are my findings after reading through the most popular guitar learning books:
I. Teach Yourself to Play Guitar: A Quick and Easy Introduction for Beginners
This paperback is the best selling learn guitar book on Amazon.com, selling for just below $6 at the moment. It does not include a CD or any form of multimedia.
It is a very short book of only 47 pages, and it covers the very basics of what you would need to learn to start playing guitar. Sort of like a hit-and-run guitar primer.
You could say that the book does what it promises, presents the beginner guitarist with an introduction to the guitar. It is aimed at complete beginners, and stops at the beginner level. It does not include any even remotely complex theoretical lessons.
The book has plenty of diagrams, which will be helpful to beginners. I won't go into detail on the exact contents of the book, you can see that in table of contents in the picture gallery below.
The reviews by other readers are generally positive, with 78% of readers giving it 4 or 5 stars.
After reading through Teach Yourself to Play Guitar, my opinion is that if you are giving a guitar as a gift to someone, this might be an OK book to accompany that. If you wanted to spend a bit more, or are looking for a book for yourself, I would go with the 2nd book reviewed below, the Guitar for Dummies book. It has online video and audio demos, and hearing what you should be playing helps when learning music... 😉
Here are a few pages from this book:
II. Guitar for Dummies by Mark Phillips and Jon Chappell
The 4th edition of Guitar for Dummies (released fresh for 2016) is an almost 400 page monster that will surely have you lighting your guitar aflame before finishing the book
With this new edition, they scrapped the DVD from the previous version, and introduced online video and audio clips, as a supplement to the book's teachings. They didn't take it overboard though, with just 85 videos and 95 audio tracks, but at least it's a step in the right direction. You can't learn music by just reading about it, you need audible tools.
Reading through the Guitar for Dummies book, it is apparent that unlike the Teach Yourself to Play Guitar book above, this one is not meant solely for beginners. It has lots of info and theory, that would be useful for the intermediate level guitarist. Beyond teaching the basics, this book goes into the particulars of different genres as well.
Having been just released, this new edition doesn't have any reviews yet at the time of this writing. The previous 3rd edition had 79% 4 and 5 star reviews from customers. All in all, if you want to stick with learning from a guitar book, this would be my recommendation.
Here are a few pages from this book as well:
III. Hal Leonard Guitar Method by Will Schmid and Greg Koch
This is probably the most famous of all of the guitar learning books, and comes with a price tag of around $13 right now.
This Hal Leonard guitar book is actually a series of 3 books, each around 50 pages, and it comes with 3 supplemental CDs which you can refer to during the chapters. I would recommend this book to younger students (under 20). It is ultra simplistic, which can be nice in some instances, but a bit boring in others.
It also has an overwhelming amount of sheet music in it. These music sheets allow you to practice what is being taught in the given chapter, which is nice, but going through the books, I felt there was a lot left unexplained. This was probably a result of them trying to simplify things as much as possible, but this actually leaves holes in the padawan guitarist's knowledge.
Another negative I found was that this book focuses more on traditional music notation, and places guitar tablature into the background. As a guitar teacher, I believe that tabs are the next best thing to sliced bread, since it makes learning soooo much easier for beginner guitarists. And since learning the guitar is hard, anything that makes it simpler is more than welcome. On the other hand, if you want to learn to read standard music notation, this will be the way to go for you.
The lesson curriculum is not really my style, but all teachers vary. It focuses too soon on too much theory, and I believe in getting my students playing and having fun, thereby develop a love for the instrument quickly, rather than indulging in theoretical studies.
This book has really good reviews, with a whopping 90% of them 4 or 5 stars. Wow!
Here are a few pages from the Hal Leonard book:
IV. How to Play the Guitar by Roger Evans
This book was first published in the 1990s, and used to be one of the most popular learn guitar books. It is selling for around $10 at the moment.
It does not include a CD or any form of multimedia, which is a major turnoff. It also has way too much text, and not enough graphics. Because of these, I do not recommend this book at all.
It focuses on acoustic guitar, so those of you looking to learn the electric specifically, will need to keep on looking.
There is a lot of info in the book though, it covers pretty much every detail of what a guitar student will be looking for (how to buy a guitar, fundamental guitar techniques, music theory basics).
The structure of the lessons are good, it varies between guitar technical stuff and theory as you progress, meaning that you won't get bored of any single topic, and you'll have a chance to try out the theoretical bits one step at a time. It's a shame they never made newer editions of this book with more graphics and supplemental audio-video tools.
The written reviews are pretty positive as well, with 85% of readers giving it 4 or 5 stars.
Reading the written reviews of this beginners guitar book, I get the impression that most people who wrote the reviews are not too far along in the book though. Here is on of the most useful reviews:
...At the end of reading I knew a little bit about a lot of different guitar techniques, but I certainly didn't feel like I knew everything I needed to play guitar well.
I would recommend spending the money on some lessons, when I finally broke down and started taking lessons, I learned more in a week then I did from reading the whole book...
And finally, here are a few page from the Roger Evans book as well:
My conclusion after reading the top beginner guitar books
In conclusion, after reviewing the most popular beginner guitar books on the internet, I still think the book should be the supplement to learning guitar, with the primary learning tool being video lessons.
The world has evolved, and there are much better, easier, beginner friendly methods nowadays, which are much more suitable for learning music. After all, music is an audible art, you need to hear it. And seeing the teacher's hands move along the guitar is nice as well 😉
Of course, you will have to read at some points of your guitar studies (ie.: guitar theory, modal studies, etc.), but that's not beginner stuff anymore. That's why it's nice to have a book as well, to be able to read up on the details of something you're interested in. I recommend the Guitar for Dummies book for this, since it holds a lot of valuable info.
Recommended video lessons
Before buying a guitar book, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you look at some video guitar lessons first. It makes things so much easier than learning from books.
The 2 biggest sites offering high quality, well structured video guitar courses are:
They are very similar, but I recorded a video comparing the two site, check it out if you are considering video lessons.