There’s a good deal of recommendations for books on technique and theory. But, why would they appeal to someone who still hasn’t found the conviction to pick up their first electric guitar?
In this post, we’ll take a trip off the beaten path. I’ll share five “killer” books that are bound to stir something in you. They are compelling, persuasive, artful, and downright magnificent.
If you are on the fence about learning the guitar, any of these titles will remind you that you are procrastinating the inevitable.
Through fascinating anecdotes or compelling narratives, they remind you why the guitar is not just an instrument. It is an icon. A disruptive, defiant, and unapologetic symbol of creative, social, and intellectual revolution.
On that ‘note’, before the eminence fades, let’s dive right into the top five books that will absolutely make you want to pick up the guitar.
Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within
Kenny Werner’s book navigates the psychological and emotional aspects of music (or any art). It addresses the modern ‘fear-paradigm’ that corrupts a person’s quest for true mastery.
Every musician stands at a crossroad when music can be an earnest pursuit – a labor of love – or an unexamined dream riddle with unrealistic expectations and fears. Werner gives his take on how to make it a mindful process driven by joy, passion, and hard work.
It’s a very different account from the usual fare of mechanical mastery, music theory, or historic accounts of music and musicians. It speaks to the heart and mind of the reader, proclaiming that ‘true mastery’ is developing a relationship with music on the shoulders of awareness.
I would call it food for thought, although medicine is a better choice of word. Be warned though, the material is rife with practical insights with a generous sprinkling of metaphorical and Zen principles.
If you want something direct and straight-talkin’, this isn’t the book for you. But then again, the spiritual undercurrent of the text is precisely what makes it inspirational.
Chronicles – Bob Dylan
This isn’t just a book for Boy Dylan fan, it’s memoir of one of the world’s most talented and elusive celebrities. A man who sidestepped giving himself away in interviews for decades. A man who didn’t even bother to attend his own Nobel Prize award ceremony.
In Chronicles, we finally get a chance to witness the grace of what some call the world’s most ‘solitary and gifted’ songwriter. If you’ve heard any of his lyrics, you know the man can write. The book is all about Dylan’s reflections about his years in New York.
It is a picturesque depiction of the existential crisis he faced, his method to madness as a songwriter, the price he paid for his iconoclasm, and the struggles of a man trying to reconcile creative and personal pursuits outside known dogmas.
Imagine being Bob Dylan. Thirty eight studio albums aren’t enough. Then you get the Pulitzer Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom (and its French equivalent), and Nobel Prize in Literature. He clearly needed to write a memoir – Chronicles: Volume 1 – to sit atop the New York Times Bestseller list.
Now, if that isn’t enough to inspire to pick up this book, nothing will be. The book critics won’t call it “one of the best autobiographies by a musician”, nor would I. Dylan would be the first one to call them out. That’s the man – the true punk rocker – he just doesn’t kotow.
Ultimate Star Guitars: Guitars that Rocked the World – Dave Hunter
Dave Hunter has 14 titles to his credit that range from Guitar Amps & Effects for Dummies to The British Amp Invasion. He’s written essays for the US Library of Congress and articles for Guitar Player, Vintage Guitar, and Premier Guitar, among others.
From Neil Young’s “Old Back” Gibson Les Paul (’53) to B.B. King’s “Lucille”, Dave has ‘hunted’ down the storied history of the most momentous electric guitars in music history. This is a visual feast for guitar or music history aficionados.
The book, available with a hardcover and illustrations, is a repository of artists like Kurt Cobain, Prince, and Eddie Van Halen. It features several studio and candid shots of the legends, their guitar rigs, and memorabilia from gigs and tours. He even details all the mods made by owners and the reasons behind them.
There is a ‘coffee table book’ vibe to the book because the emphasis is on the visuals. I would have personally liked more of an expanded history of the instruments. Either way, I was gifted this 300+ page book as a Christmas present, and I’ve spent many wistful evenings rubbernecking it. I highly recommend it to anyone who has a morbid curiosity and a love for guitar trivia.
Guitar: The World’s Most Seductive Instrument – David Schiller
The book’s agenda is reflected in the name, which also makes it a shoo-in for our list. Luckily, the book is a mind-blowing celebration of the guitar in every size, shape, and form. It elevates the guitar beyond an instrument into an art form with pictures to pore over for days.
Guitar: The World’s Most Seductive Instrument features jaw-dropping images over 200 stunning guitar models, all in full-color and immaculate detail. The size is a little smaller than a coffee table book but the photography, text, and overall quality of the book is fantastic.
From hand-carved archtops to dobros, the book is a photo-fest of the historic guitars of the 20th century. It depicts, with pictures, many influential moments from the first Charlie Christian pickup (in a 1938 Gibson) to Brian May’s “The Old Lady” that featured a tremolo made from a vintage motorcycle spare parts.
The unique images of the 1981 Hamer with five necks, a Linda Manzer Pikasso II, a double-neck Landola Espana, are a scintillating treat. Overall, this book ranks among the most beautiful visual representation of the instrument, one that every guitar lover (or otherwise) can appreciate.
Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar
The electric guitar is a pretty young thing that came to the party late but kicked the door in none the less. In less than a century, it has reshuffled the pecking order. From young punks to doe eye crooners, it has contributed as much to fluttering hearts as it has to political uprisings.
Whether for racial equality or unapologetic hedonism, the book details the ethos of every major twentieth century event wherein the guitar enacted the role of an agent for change. In this 90-year timeline, Brad Tolinski and Alan Di Perna cover music, culture, history, race, politics, and technology in the context of the electric guitar.
Both Tolinski and Di Perna are esteemed music journalists who offer insights on the innovations and musicians who shaped the instrument’s future. The book also features interviews with guitar makers and musicians such as Val Halen, Les Paul, and Keith Richards among others.
Play It Loudwalks you through the history of the instrument that became a cultural symbol of upheaval, freedom, and unapologetic creative expression. The narrative is comprehensive, the narration is compelling, and the subject is an instrument that changed the world. If you are up for some crazy anecdotes and colorful vignettes, this book is the ultimate page-turner.
Whether you are looking for a watershed in music history or the autobiography of a lionized celebrity, I’ve shared five smooth-talking books that make a compelling case for the guitar.
You can use them for inspiration, motivation, or just for some good company over a quiet cup of coffee. Either way, they are all worth having on your bookshelf.
main image courtesy of Nenad Stojkovic on Flickr.