There are a lot of things that have changed the world we live in. Some for the better, some not so. But nothing, and I mean nothing, changed it like the advent and development of the electric guitar and the electric bass guitar.
Young people all over Europe, North America, and just about everywhere answered the call and picked up their guitars. Today, for those that weren’t a part of it, you can read all about it. For those that were, it’s time to remember an age when everything seemed to change.
And taking an in-depth look at the best guitar books will help us do that…
What Are We Looking For?
We will look at books about guitars and a little about those that played them. And in some cases, who set fire to them and others who smashed them to pieces.
We will read books that talk about Loud. Guitars didn’t do that; someone else did. We will talk briefly about him later. But it was the Loud that made the guitars better and gave us what we have today. So, let’s get straight into it.
Top 8 Best Guitar Books in 2023
1 2,000 Guitars
If you are a guitar enthusiast, this book is going to be with you for a long time. It introduces you to a descriptive list of 2000 guitars. And it doesn’t just include all those brands and models you are familiar with, although they are included. You will see various models of those big-name guitars you may have never seen before.
Not Just The Guitars You Know
You will find in this book guitars and bass guitars you will not have seen before. Manufacturers you may never have heard of. And there are some that you might call “interesting” designs. Three hundred and twenty pages of great facts. If you know someone who loves their guitars or you love them yourself, this book is an encyclopedia of the guitar.
Easy To Reference
The majority of this book is about the various guitars, but bass guitars are included as a featured item. And so they should be. The guitars are arranged in alphabetical order in major sections by the manufacturer, so anything is easy to find.
The major sections are further subdivided to document acoustic guitars, solid and semi-solid instruments, as well as bass guitars. All enhanced with quality photos.
The Go-To Guide
From the very early days through to Leo Fender, Les Paul, and beyond, this book documents both popular and historical guitars. It is well-designed and organized with great pictures. As I said, a must-have for any guitar enthusiast. It is only produced as a hardback volume.
- An extensive pictorial record of the guitar.
- A well-organized reference book.
- Hardback only.
2 Guitar: The World’s Most Seductive Instrument
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know your single-coil from your humbucker. Or your Strat from your Les Paul, the second great thing about this book is the photos. There are over two hundred photos of various guitars perfectly produced.
Just looking at them will make you want to reach over, grab one and make some noise. The first great thing we shall come to later.
A Great Present
Another book that is for the enthusiast more than the historian, this gives a pictorial record of the greatest guitars there have ever been. If you know someone who loves guitars, even if they don’t play one, this is the perfect gift.
The Famous in Pictures
Some musicians gave names to their instruments. I am thinking of George Harrison and his “Rocky” Strat that remained one of his most famous guitars throughout his career. Or possibly Willie Nelson’s Martin that he named “Trigger.”
Each page features a special guitar, a famous instrument. But this is a book that gets your attention even before you have opened its glorious pages.
The First Great Thing
The book has a design that is all of its own. When you pick it up, the faux leather jacket feels like a guitar case. It slips out of its cover to reveal the embossed headstock of a vintage D’Angelico. It feels expensive, and when you open it up, every one of the 216 pages is full of great photos.
For the enthusiast, just about the best coffee table book, you could have. Each guitar has notes on who has owned it and a history of that particular instrument that places it in context. It is available in Hardback and on Kindle.
- Great photos of some of the great guitars.
- Historical notes and bios of each instrument.
Was there a man who contributed more to the guitar world than Leo Fender? Les Paul addicts would say yes, but most would say Leo was King. His guitars shaped a generation and were in many ways the first of their kind. Certainly for the solid body they were.
It’s all changed now, of course. It changed post-1965, but that is another story. But pre-1965, he was the man, and the Telecaster and Strat were the guitars to have.
This is a Fender Collection
Do you want a book about everything Fender? For those that love the Fender name, this is the book to own. It is not the first edition by this author. But he has added to it and improved the quality of what is included.
It now stands as a reference book for just about everything Fender has done with strings. But more than that includes the amps and cabinets as well. We are just talking about guitars, though.
If You Can’t Own a Vintage Fender?
As most of us can’t, then this is probably the next best thing. From their very first effort in 1946, this book takes you on a journey.
This is a collection of more Fender guitars than you probably thought ever existed. There are, in fact, over 250 of them. Models, colors, styles, they are all included and photographed from the rarest to the greatest.
The History of the Company
The author traces the history and influence of the Fender guitar company through the release of their guitars. And that includes notes on the Fender Marauder.
That was shelved by CBS after they bought the company in 1965 and never released to the public. It is believed there were six out on the streets somewhere. Guess what… he’s got one in this book. As I say, everything Fender.
Some Collectors Guitars
The author has painstakingly identified each guitar and its models and had them photographed. This, of course, includes those in collectors’ cabinets. There are, therefore, some rather rare photos of even rarer guitars.
For those that were around in the early to mid-60s, it is a trip in nostalgia. Who remembers looking through the shop window at the first Fender they had ever seen? This is a book that brings it all back to life.
And the content and the historical anecdotes make you understand why pre-65 Leo was King. If you like your Fender guitars, just buy it. Certainly one of the best guitar books around. Hardback only.
- A fascinating pictorial history into the company and its influence on music.
- Extensive research and great photos.
- Hardback only.
4 Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock
Take a very talented photographer, add a great emotional subject matter, and what do you get? Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock.
Lisa Johnson’s photographic book takes us on a rock and roll-themed ride. She certainly has an eye for the emotive and another for detail. And uses both to capture through her lens some of the great shots documenting legendary instruments.
Photos and More
What she has tried to do with this volume is to document using photos and a few anecdotes of the guitars of some of the greats. Each photo comes with some musical history relevant to the instrument and a story or two she has picked up along the way.
But it is more than just a few photos and stories. She has chronicled the feelings of the people who played these instruments. Guitarists, as we all know, can become quite attached to their instruments. This shows through in the book.
Some Big Names
She has managed to gather together a range of over 150 musicians and their instruments across a range of genres. And they cross over an expanse of time and styles.
From B.B. King to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, to Jimmy Page, Black Sabbath, and Metallica. From Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Michael Anthony to Dave Grohl, Suzanna Hoffs, and Nancy Wilson.
There are some interesting comments as well. Peter Frampton writes the Foreword, and the Afterword contributor is Suzi Quatro. This is a great book and makes a great present. It isn’t the cheapest, and it doesn’t come in a Kindle version. Having said that, it should be placed on your favorite bookshelf. It’s where one of the best guitar books deserves to be.
- Great photos of great musicians and their instruments.
- Some nice stories and anecdotes.
- Quite expensive.
5 The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll
This book traces the rivalry that existed at one time between The Fender of Leo Fender and the Gibsons of Les Paul. It was a rivalry that was all too brief in many ways.
The result of it was that it spurred both of them on to create great guitars. Probably the best guitars we have ever seen. However, I have a couple of issues with this book.
The Birth of Loud? Sorry, guitars don’t make loud; amplifiers and cabinets do. And that came at first from one place, Jim Marshall’s shop in Hanwell, West London. End of subject. That was followed by more London-based noise from Orange and HiWatt.
Fender made some decent amps, especially for the studio. But, Loud? Sorry, that was Big Jim Marshall, known as the “Father of Loud.” Secondly, the book intimates that Loud was an American thing. Wrong again, I am afraid. Ask the neighbors in West London when Townshend, Beck, Page, Blackmore, and Hendrix let rip.
Was Anything an American Thing?
The guitars were. Of that, there is no doubt. There were Guild and Gretsch and a few others, but the Telecaster, the Strat, the Les Paul, and the SG had a battle royal. In some ways, it still goes on.
It was a time that myths were born. The book tells the story of inventors and creators. Of people from varied backgrounds who put their minds to work to create legends.
Larger Than Life Itself
The shadow of the electric guitar looms high over the early to mid-60s. It helped to spawn a generation of revolutionaries. Barriers were broken down, and music was at the front. People like Bob Dylan tore the establishment and its structure to bits.
It was the dawning of the age of the teenager. And they marched down the road brandishing their guitars. And if they were lucky, they had either Gibson or Fender written on them. Social outcasts, in many ways who found their release in music.
Single coil or Humbucker
Those two designs told the story. Both sides had their adherents. Some said one was better than the other. Possibly the greatest guitarists of the top 20, and here I am not talking based on the number of effects pedals they use, chose Fender.
Gilmour, Beck, Blackmore, Hendrix, Gallagher, Harrison with his “Rocky,” Knopfler, Townshend (a lot of the time), and going back years Buddy Holly and Hank Marvin.
The Gibson Boys
But on the other side of the coin were the Gibson boys. Jimmy Page (who started on a Telecaster), Tony Iommi, and Duane Allman. Randy Rhoads, Mick Ronson, Paul Kossoff, Peter Green, and Gary Moore.
The book gives an insight into how two companies fought out what was probably an honorable draw in the guitar marketplace. It, probably unknowingly, highlights what a shame it was that such shocking inept management led to disaster for both of them. A fascinating insight that is, in the main, well-written.
- An interesting insight into the rivalry between Fender and Gibson at a time when they were both at their peak.
- It places the guitar at the center of what was a cultural revolution.
- At times a little too much flag-waving.
6 Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll
This is a different type of guitar book. I say this because it includes other instruments of iconic status. But, I thought it was worth including in this list. It is a book that traces the sounds that help to make rock and roll.
It is a book that includes articles and essays by seven respected music journalists. They discuss the development of the music and the instruments and musicians that made it happen. They also talk about the visual impact and some unique effects that contributed.
Some Interesting Inclusions
There are some great artists and instruments included other than the inevitable guitars. Louis Jordan’s saxophone, Keith Moon’s drum kit(what was left of it), and Jerry Lee Lewis’s Baby Grand Piano. All with photos.
But What About The Guitars
There are some guitars that, with one glance, describe an era and style of music, even you might say, history. Some of these are included with commentary on what made the guitar so great and how it was used as a force in music.
How about Chuck Berry’s Gibson ES350 and ES 335? The 335 especially, an iconic guitar that represents the ‘50s era of rock n roll. When you see a cherry red Gibson 335, some may think of Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. But most people will think of “Sweet Little Sixteen” and the rest of those unforgettable songs by Mr. Berry.
An Image Can Speak a Thousand Words
And staying with the image of a guitar and what it represents, how about a 1968 White Fender Stratocaster? Does that speak to you? It should. The image of Jimi Hendrix eating it, setting fire to it, holding it behind his head, and sometimes playing it is immortal.
And John Lennon’s 1958 Rickenbacker 325? I think I am right in saying he had four Rickenbacker 325’s. But it was the 1958 one he bought in 1960 he called “Hamburg” we remember. He still had it when he died. That is the image we see of him, playing that guitar on stage. You could argue that all three are more than “just” guitars. They are works of art.
What This Book Is All About
Some would argue that the electric guitar helped to change the world. You couldn’t disagree with that, but it had an awful lot of help. This book acknowledges that.
- Gives an insight into the instruments that changed the world forever.
- Great photos and commentary.
7 Ultimate Star Guitars: The Guitars That Rocked the World
This is a book that was first brought out in 2010 and has now been updated. It now features well over 100 guitars and the guitarists who played them. And it includes plenty of illustrations to go with the descriptions.
A Book of Favourites
Some books about guitars cover complete ranges and include everything that was ever manufactured. Just what some need as a reference guide, of course, so there is nothing wrong with that. This book, though, is a little different.
What this book does is look at the musicians and their favorite guitars. In some cases, guitars that made worldwide history. In others, some were just known for specific performances. And some that were later sold for a fortune.
They All Have Their Stories
And if they could speak, they could tell a tale or two, I am sure. The authors tell stories about each. The sessions, the important gigs, the tours, and even the modifications that might have been made.
Over 300 pages detail the guitars of Kurt Cobain, Prince, and BB King and his “Lucille.” Eddie Van Halen and “Frankenstrat” and Neil Young and his “Old Black” 53 Les Paul.
They All Have Their Price Tag
Jimi Hendrix’s 68 White Strat that he set fire to at Woodstock was sold in London at Sotheby’s for just over $1.3 million in 1993.
But that pales into total insignificance to what was paid for Dave Gilmour’s Black Stratocaster. That was the guitar that played what many consider the greatest guitar solo ever.
Comfortably Numb closed the “No More Excuses” anti-poverty gig in London’s Hyde Park in 2005. It was a staggering performance that left many of us who witnessed it lost for words. That guitar sold for just under $4million.
But it isn’t just a guitar book about rock music. The book covers everything from Country Artists to the Metal guys. Packed with information, it is one of the best guitar books with a lot of guitar history inside.
- Some interesting insights into the players and their favorite guitars.
- Good Illustrations covering multiple genres.
- Not available on Kindle.
8 The Gibson Les Paul: The Illustrated History of the Guitar That Changed Rock
The arrival of the Gibson Les Paul was not viewed in such good light in its early days. But pickup changes and a few good shows changed all that. Since we first saw it in 1952, it has undergone a few changes.
It survived through the Fender years in the early 60s, Gibson’s business lunacy, and eventual bankruptcy. And it is still played by some of the great players.
An Illustrated History
This book is a huge history of this iconic guitar with some great photos. The outcome of a collaboration between guitarist Les Paul and Gibson has become a prized instrument. They haven’t all been great guitars, and just like Fender, the standards varied over the years. This book tells the story.
Some Great Names
Some of the best players we have seen have used this guitar. It has been at the sharp end of some of the best bands and best performances we have seen.
People like Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Scott Gorham, and Jimmy Page. Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Mick Ronson, Angus Young, and Gary Moore, and so many others. Those were the ones who were recognized as being Les Paul players.
Others As Well
But there have been others. Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, and Mark Knopfler have also used it at times. It is a book filled with everything Les Paul you will want to know. It includes photography of the instruments and stage performance pictures.
A must-have guitar book for Les Paul fanatics, even though the books are very expensive.
- A great read for all Gibson lovers.
- Full of the great guitars and those that played them.
- The book price might put some off.
Want to Learn More About Guitars?
We have you covered. Check out our handy articles on String Thru Body vs Stop Tailpiece, Guitar Fret Wire Sizes, Different Types of Guitars You Should Know, Everything You Need to Know About Guitar Sizes, Amazing Acoustic Guitar Solos You Must Hear, and What Happened to Firefly Guitars for more great guitar information.
Looking for a new guitar? We can help with that, too. Take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Blues Guitars, the Best Classical Guitars, the Best Electric Guitar For Beginners, the Best Jazz Guitars, the Best Hollow And Semi-Hollow Guitars, the Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners, and the Best Resonator Guitar you can buy in 2023.
What are the Best Guitar Books?
Probably all of them. There is so much information, facts, and knowledge stored away that they all have a place on the bookshelf.
But as I doubt I will ever have one of these beauties to gaze at, the next best thing for me would be a photo. Therefore, if I were to choose just one book, I would choose the…
A great book full of great photos by a creative photographer.
Until next time, let the music play.