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Guitar Books: Two Books on How to Play Guitar That Will Change Your Life

Updated on June 2, 2011
Gibson SG 1974
Gibson SG 1974 | Source

The Guitar Player: Two Books You Must Have

There are a plethora of instructional guitar books out there for the aspiring guitar player and it can be a little overwhelming when deciding which are going to be the most useful in your quest for guitar mastery. I’ve been playing guitar for 22 years and over that time have road tested a lot of books and videos. I have selected just two books to review that have proven exceptionally useful in both developing technique and in understanding the guitar and how to plummet its depths in terms of musical possibilities as an instrument of choice.

The guitar is one of the easiest instruments to learn and one of the hardest to master. Within a few days most people can get some satisfaction banging out the chords D, G and A, but to walk into a jam, plug in and do something that makes the hairs on people’s arms stand up takes devotion and a solid understanding of the instrument and music. The books I have chosen to recommend are equally relevant to guitar players of any style through blues, rock, pop, jazz, country, metal, funk- whatever gets your juices flowing. They are also useful for beginners up to all but the most seriously advanced players.

  1. The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer

A lot of players regard this as the bible for guitar players and it frequently gets 4 and 5 out of 5 star ratings on places like Amazon. It’s really an encyclopedia of the world of guitar and covers an incredible range of topics beginning with a profile on over 20 of the world’s most influential guitar players. It is a complete guide to the guitar, starting with understanding the construction of different types of guitars, profiles on the world’s most legendary guitars such as the Les Paul and Stratocaster to hardware and circuitry, effects pedals, maintenance, repairs and customizing your own equipment. It also goes into amp technology and recording methods.

The bulk of the book is focused on how to play the guitar and starts with simple chord fingerings and progressions accompanied by colored diagrams. The book progresses deeper into the guitar world vault with useful information on analyzing and transposing songs, scales, harmonics, chord substitution, improvisation….In the back is a very logical, well laid out chord dictionary that includes 800 different fingerings.

I have a dog-eared first edition of this book going all the way back to 1989 (first published in 1982) and it's funny to look at how dated the section on recording is with everything going onto tape- we take for granted the ease of recording nowadays with computers and programs like Cubase and free software like Audacity. The digital age has made decent home recording possible for all musicians. All this and many other sections of the book have been updated and made relevant for the 21st century guitar player. The old version was a little patchy on scales and lead patterns but I suspect this has been improved too. I've referred to it countless times to help me out; from learning how to adjust the action of my guitar and fix the intonation to checking the fingering for C#m7-5 in Strawberry Fields Forever by John Lennon.

2. Fretboard Logic – Reasoning Behind The Guitars Unique Tuning by Bill Edwards

This three volume series was a total revelation to me – the Holy Grail to understanding the hidden organization of the fretboard. Bill’s clear explanation of the unique tuning system of the guitar and how it translates to the fretboard will have you in a total ‘eureka’ moment – the penny drops.

The great use of diagrams and step by step approach leads to a very useful, logical and comprehensive understanding, built on the five basic chord forms known as the C-A-G-E-D system.

The guitarist progresses through chords forms, scale forms and lead patterns that instantly open a door way, leading to a better understanding of the fretboard. This allows for better composition, rhythm playing and soloing. For the first time I found improvising easy and natural after acquainting myself with Bill’s approach to the fretboard. It’s a road map that provides a fun ride while ensuring that you will never be lost again in your musical travels.

Bill Edwards is a music teacher with decades of experience as well as a performing musician and it shows in his writing. He really cares about the student of guitar and their journey – he has worked hard to make what can easily become a frustrating and confusing experience an exciting adventure with endless rewards. The book has become popular amongst guitar teachers who recognize the genius of his approach. Bill has been burnt by corporations in the past and chose to self-publish his series, so it hasn't received the marketing push that a big publisher would have given it - consequently it isn't as well known as it should be. At the price offered on Amazon, which includes the instructional DVD, it's ridiculously good value.

The three volumes cover chord construction, scales and modes, arpeggios, styles of music, technique, music theory, as well as useful exercises. Bill has a sense of humor too which goes a long way when climbing the musical mountain via guitar. If you dedicate the necessary time to using this book as a guide and practice‘till your fingers hurt, your reward will be to use the knowledge acquired to ride the mountain you climbed, carving it up using the guitar as a sonic surfboard.

As mentioned, there are a huge number of guitar instruction books out there and many of them will only serve to make the journey of learning and hopefully mastering guitar an unnecessarily discouraging one. Often the guitar books available fail to present material in an organized, logical structure or present chords and scales without helping the student understand the reasoning behind them in terms of fretboard organization.

In tandem, 'The Guitar Handbook' and 'Fretboard Logic' provide enough tools for the guitarist to thrive. Left on a deserted island with these two books plus guitar, (including accessories such as strings, pedals, amp, ipod, generator etc. if desired) you couldn’t help but leave a year or so later without being a solid guitar player with a strong understanding of the guitar and an ability to play it with command- so long as your desire to play was genuine.


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      5 years ago

      Hi shimla. Could you tell me what book you used as reference in your blog please. I'd love to get a copy of it.


    • shimla profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott M 

      9 years ago

      Hi Drewza - go with the Fretboard Logic series by Bill Edwards - he gives you the pots and pans, the spatulas and mixing bowls, the colander, sharp knives, all the ingredients- then tells you how they work together....all you gotta bring is the flame and you my friend will be cookin’ up some spicy tunes on guitar in no time at all- that’s a promise!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for the info Shimla - very informative. As a basic guitar player with a fairly good handle on chords, which book do you recommend for the player that needs to move forward, over the "I can only play chords" barrier?


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