The Guitar Handbook (1982)

This is the most complete & essential textbook for any guitar player:


Within its contents is everything one needs to know about this instrument to get started.  For instance, here is every guitar chord (below the 12th fret) in the key of D:


The Guitar Handbook begins harmlessly enough with a biography & photo section of many of the most innovative players across the various genres from Django Reinhardt (jazz) to Jimi Hendrix (electric rock) to Stanley Clarke (jazz bass) to Robert Fripp (experimental).

Next is a section on the construction of acoustic, electric, & bass guitars which is helpful for all players to know, or at least be familiar. Finding the right guitar for your style & ability is a combination of ‘feel,’ along with a basic understanding of what a well-built instrument looks like.


My overall preference is for electric-acoustic, which is defined as an acoustic guitar with a built-in pickup and 1/4″ pin jack. The pickup is typically powered by a 9-volt battery, and considerations of the electronics comes down to: 1) the usefulness & reliability of the rudimentary controls, and 2) the ease of battery replacement.


An acoustic-electric allows the player to be ready for any venue at all times, with a compact rig. Well made acoustic-electrics play louder than most Gibson & Fender electrics. The acoustical resonance inside the guitar body tends to overdrive the crude pickup, so the sound output will typically be much hotter than any solid-body electric guitar. It helps to be aware of this, when using the 2 or 3 primitive level controls. Experienced musicians don’t ‘leave it up to the sound guy,’ because they are often not skilled (or sober) enough to help. Listen and use your best judgment for getting a strong signal output, without overdriving & obliterating everything in distortion.


The next (and most intense) section of The Guitar Handbook concerns playing the guitar. This contains everything you need to know to become a guitar Jedi, and it comes with the understanding that if you don’t know all this– you’re nothing.  It starts with reading musical notation & guitar tabulature, then continues into right & left-handed technique, followed by open chords, three-chord theory, barre chords, transposing, tempo, rhythm, time signatures, pitch, scales (major & minor), keys, modes, harmonics, intervals, triads, minor sevenths, added ninths, suspended sixths & polychords.  Harmony & melody are also important, and are briefly discussed, as are alternate & open tunings.


Then we get into improvisation and lead guitar techniques such as bends, hammer-ons & pull-offs, trills, tapping, slides & vibrato.

Note:  As a guitar player, you always need a bag-of-tricks you can go to for padding out the jams as the ‘tip jar’ is passing around. These are your blues & rock licks, ascending & descending runs, double-note licks, arpeggios & octaves, etc… which you must have. Otherwise you stink.

Robert Fripp definitively sums up harmonics here:


After first reading Fripp’s words as a young boy, I admit that I was afraid to touch a guitar string for awhile, due to all these heretofore unknown consequences, of which I had just been made aware– but still didn’t really understand. Today, I’m grateful that I was able to get past all this at some point.


Note that it is impossible to play any early U2 songs without a complete understanding of the Mixolydian mode, and its intimate relationship to the Dorian & Ionian modes.


Don’t even try to play anything by Rush (or Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing”), without dedicated study into the construction of polychords, as this is considered very disrespectful by purists.


The rest of The Guitar Handbook is guitar maintenance, amplification, electronics and sound processing– which are critical subjects for any serious musician. Many don’t have a clue, and most use too many effects with too much amplification and/or other processing. Reverb, equalization & compression are the most basic & helpful sound processing tools– both in-the-studio & live.  Knowledge in speaker placement, sound reinforcement, public address (PA) systems, monitoring, recording, miking up and avoiding feedback are critical skills– each rooted in science & experience.


If you are the guitar player that doesn’t know this stuff (because you so artistic) then it’s time to check your head, because you’re a joke and are nowhere near ready to perform.

Just sayin’