3 Books Every Intermediate Guitarist Should Own

I love guitar books. I have about 50 of them lined up on in a bookcase in my teaching studio. I acquired them over the last 12 years, and I have twice that amount sitting in my Amazon wish list. I’ve only worked through roughly a third of the books I own, browsed and benefited from another third, and the rest remain in an ever-expanding queue awaiting my perusal.

These days, I make occasional purchases not for myself but to improve my teaching abilities and recommendations to students. This inevitably gets new books in my hands that I wish to a deity that I could have seen when I was younger. If you consider yourself an intermediate guitarist, starting to get a little more serious with the instrument, I encourage you to explore the following three great books.

These don’t need to be read in any specific order. There’s a little bit of overlap in theory and fretboard shapes, but I think they complement each other perfectly.

101 Guitar Tips: Stuff All the Pros Know and Use
I actually bought this book in time to glean a wealth of advice from it. I consider it the ultimate gap-filler in an intermediate or advanced guitarist’s knowledge and abilities. It contains a hodge-podge of advice applicable to all areas of advancing via guitar into the world of professional musicianship. There are little tips on warmups, gear, recording, maintenance, basic and advanced techniques every guitarist ought to know, essential theory jargon and concepts, and introductions to a number of different playing styles.

This is not a wildly popular book, but I think it’s the best one I ever bought. I’ve used and remembered for years countless (or… 101) handy tips and tactics I first read here.

Guitar Fretboard Workbook
This, on the other hand, is a wildly popular book. It’s one of the most popular guitar books on Amazon, and for good reason. The fretboard shapes and navigation which are the guitar’s greatest hurdle and greatest advantage are explained clearly in 80 quick pages. It took me years to get all this down, but it doesn’t have to take that long. (Mastery of the fretboard will of course require a long-term commitment, but understanding where you’re going is a much simpler task when it’s put forth so succinctly as in this book.)

Having spent so many years studying songs and theory and scales and chords on the guitar, this book is of little use to my playing now. But it’s quite beneficial as a teaching aid; I regularly make copies of the exercises for my students to help them better understand the songs and concepts they’re learning.

Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask
This is an excellent theory method book, complete with quizzes and worksheets. If you’re getting into music theory at all, whether by interest or necessity, I strongly urge you to take a look at this book.

As with the fretboard, I learned all this stuff a bit painstakingly over many years. I absolutely loved it, but it wasn’t a very efficient process. I learned music theory from fellow users on internet forums, poorly-written websites, and poorly-written books. All the info was there, and I figured it out eventually, but it could have been so much easier. This book gets that job done. The writing, diagrams, and exercises are all top notch.

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  • Jason


    I learned music theory by playing piano. Would you still recommend the “Music Theory for Guitarists” book for someone who also knows how to play piano?

    Thanks. I love your site!


    • Joe

      Hi Jason,

      Most definitely. If you remember all your music theory from piano, then many of the concepts in this book will be nothing new. The real advantage is that it shows you how to apply those concepts to the guitar. You’re not dealing with a linear layout of notes anymore; it’s more of a matrix on the guitar. Just as there are many mental/visual shortcuts on the piano (C major scale is easier than Eb major scale), there’s an entirely different set of shortcuts on the guitar. A book like this, and especially the Guitar Fretboard Workbook will show you many of them.


  • Gabriel Garcia

    Hi, I hope comment bar is still active but I was wonder if whether or not getting the Music Theory for Guitarists book because i was looking into buying the berklee press book a modern method for guitar by William Leavitt. And I also have experience with theory by playing other instruments. Thanks, Gabe

    • I have a few of Leavitt’s books, and they’re great, but I’ve never worked through his Modern Method. I’ve had a few students who’ve used it and been frustrated by how demanding it is from the start. So if you have a little experience and you want to get serious about building your skills to a professional level via reading lots of music, that’s the way to go. As far as I know, you’ll get some theory from it, but it’s not really a dedicated theory book, so Tom Kolb’s book would be better if you want to focus on that.

  • Gabriel Garcia


  • Myles English

    William Leavitt’s books are great, but they are quite intense and involve a lot of reading. This book which I did some of the design work for takes those same principles that he teaches, but presents it in a more visual way (which I’m sure most guitarist will appreciate). It also has a much more gradual slope.

    This one’s good too http://www.amazon.ca/Guitar-Scales-Practical-Understanding-Fretboard/dp/1495902277

  • Taylor McCoy

    Thank you for these, I’m so discouraged by how little help it is to find things out from the internet and not being able to afford a teacher who will sit down with me and walk me through it. Especially since I’m not a novice anymore, my primary problem is finding ways to get to the advanced level. I really appreciate the article.

  • Lee Kingcombe

    Hiya Joe, just found your site today and have enjoyed nosing around. I just placed an order for the 3 books and look forward to getting stuck into them. Cheers

  • Paul

    I see that Hal Leonard has several Guitar Theory books. Why is the one you mention better than “Theory” books 1,2, and 3? I’m a beginner. I know a few cords, and can pluck out a few songs, and do know how to read music but used in piano and clarinet (linear) method.

  • Hacking the CAGED System looks set to become a classic too, and definitely worth a look for anyone who’s stuck with the CAGED system and looking for an alternative.