Learning to play the guitar from beginner guitar books is still huge in 2020, 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 every day.
For this reason, I thought I would buy, read, review and compare a couple of these books and see how they perform.
The ones I ordered were not at random, rather chosen from the top seller lists of online bookstores.
This means that these sought after books should be the best beginner guitar books out there...
Or the ones with the best marketing 😀
I am a guitar teacher of 15 years and a tech junkie, and I prefer to steer people towards online video lessons. I believe that with the multimedia technologies of the 21st century, video guitar lessons are the most efficient way of teaching yourself guitar. 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.
Best beginner guitar books in 2020
Now the moment you've been waiting for, here are my reviews of the most popular guitar learning books.
They are in no particular order in the list, but I will give you my recommendation on which one is best afterward.
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 the 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:
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:
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 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:
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 factors, I do not recommend this book at all.
It focuses on acoustic guitar, so those of you specifically looking to learn the electric, 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:
Guitar Aerobics by Troy Nelson
Guitar Aerobics was first published in 2007. It is a unique kind of guitar book, as it gives you 1 exercise to carry out for every single day of the year. The exercises start out with basic drills, and progress into harder licks.
What kind of exercises can you expect? Each day of the week, you get a different type of exercise to keep things varied and interesting: Monday: Alternate picking, Tuesday: String skipping, Wednesday: String bending, Thursday: Arpeggios, Friday: Sweep picking, Saturday: Legato, Sunday: Rhythm.
This book isn't specifically for beginner guitar players, as it isn't a course book. Nevertheless, it makes for a great supplementary book to a beginner's guitar studies.
The exercises in Guitar Aerobics start out with beginner drills, and progress to harder and harder licks after a few hundred days 🙂 Yes, a few hundred days. Remember, the book provides 1 exercise a day. It pushed your limits each and every day in baby steps, and after 365 days, you will definitely be a better guitar player than you are today.
You have to spend time with each exercise though, you can't just rush through things. You won't be able to play all of the exercises up to speed on day 1, so you should revisit them again and again until you get them perfected.
The book urges you to use the metronome and increase your BPM as you can.
The reason I like the concept behind this guitar book is that it forces the student to pick up the guitar every single day. The only way to progress at the guitar is to practice regularly, and by its nature, this 1 exercise per day book sets out to do just that.
The book has an audio file for each exercise, as well as backing tracks to play along with. These can be accessed through the Hal Leonard publishing company's website.
Customer reviews of this book are overwhelmingly positive, with an average 4.2-star rating after hundreds of reviews.
If you're interested in seeing a few pages of the Guitar Aerobics book, here you go:
Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Kolb
If you've been learning to play guitar for a while, you will have undoubtedly heard references to music theory bits that you didn't understand.
This is a book meant to fill these holes in your knowledge. The full title is Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask by the way, it was originally published in 2005.
Learning music theory is not important for beginner guitarists, but after reaching an intermediate level, learning about music theory really helps in putting it all together. It covers pretty much everything a guitarist needs to know with respect to music theory.
The book starts out with the fretboard, key signatures, intervals, and continues on to teach about scales, chords construction, key centers. Towards the end, it teaches modes and modal harmony, chord substitution and reharmonization as well.
What I really liked about the book is that it has quizzes to get you to test your knowledge. Also, there are about 100 audio tracks demonstrating what is being taught, which is very important in learning music.
After garnering hundreds of reviews, it scores an average of 4.3 stars, which is impressive from a book about theory. Other books covering the subject don't score so high since music theory is sometimes presented in a boring tone.
If you think you are ready to dive into the world of guitar theory, here are a few pages from Music Theory for Guitarists:
Teach Yourself Visually by Charles Kim
This book is not one of the most popular ones on Amazon, but I wanted to include it in this list of the best guitar books because it is one of the better ones out there.
This one is sort of like the Guitar for Dummies book. It touches on just about everything guitar related, from basic chords and techniques, all the way to how to purchase an amp. The author wanted to squeeze every bit of info into this book, so some chapters are a bit short.
The newest edition of Teach Yourself Visually also includes a CD with 100 tracks. This, of course, doesn't really cut it nowadays, when everything is online. I don't even have a CD player anymore...
This is a nice book to have on your shelf, in case you need to refer to something quickly. It's not suitable for outright learning guitar from as a sole resource though.
Customer reviews of this book are positive, with an average 4-star rating.
Here are a few pages from the Teach Youself Visually Book, but if you hop over to Amazon, you can view many more pages from the book:
What should a be covered by a guitar book for beginners?
During my 15+ years of teaching private students, I've developed a very specific program that I teach to people who are new to the guitar.
I've found through trial and error that this works in familiarizing my students thoroughly with the guitar and keeps them motivated at the same time.
If you are a beginner, here are the subjects you should be looking for when choosing a guitar book:
- General guitar anatomy (acoustic vs electric, parts of the guitar, strings, tuning)
- Holding the guitar properly
- First simple 3 string chords and simple strumming
- Simple yet popular songs to strum
- Simple melodies of famous songs on 2 strings, then 4 strings, then 6 strings
- Full beginner chords (A, Am, C, D, E, Em, F, G)
- Chord changing through learning songs
- Keys & why specific chords sound good in a chord progression
- More songs
Additionally, there are a few things I focus on with my students:
- Emphasis on learning real songs as soon as possible
- Sprinkling in light guitar music theory when applicable
- Practicing rhythm and timing
So this is the subject matter that should be covered by a book written for beginner guitarists.
If a beginner book doesn't cover these subjects, then it will leave gaps in your knowledge, or not offer enough motivation to keep on practicing.
If the book has more subjects, that's great, it means that it was written not just for beginners, more advanced guitarists as well.
If you are looking for a guitar teaching book aimed at children, the ones in this list will not do. Here is a good post on guitar books for kids though: https://guitareuroshop.com/lesson-reviews/guitar-books-for-kids/
My conclusion after reading the top 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.
As a complementary book, the Guitar Aerobics book can be very useful in keeping you practicing every day.
If you want me to make a video review of these guitar books as well, let me know in the comments section below.
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 sites, check it out if you are considering video lessons.