Ultimate Guide To The Guitar

by

Ged Richardson

man under rock

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know what a guitar is.

In case you're from under that rock, hello, and welcome to the world 🙂 You've chosen very well in learning about Guitars - they're the best things on earth! 

So, just to be on the safe side, what's a guitar?

  • Guitar usually have 6 strings (although some don't, like Keith Richards' telecaster guitar with 5 strings)
  • The Guitar's sound is projected either acoustically, using a hollow wooden box or electrically through a guitar amplifier
  • You typically pick or strum the strings with a plectrum, or use your fingers (and fingernails - unless you chew them, like Elliott Smith)
  • Your other hand does the fretting (pressing your fingers to the fretboard)

So where do guitar's come from?

Along with violins, lyres and harps, the guitar is a type of chordophone, a musical instrument that makes sound by vibrating strings across two fixed points. The modern guitar is preceded by a few instruments you've never heard of such as the gittern and the vihuela

The anatomy of a guitar (what all the bits of a guitar are called)

Remember when you took your driving test, the instructor asked you to name some random part of the car (if you haven't taken it yet, you’ve got all this to come!).

He or she would point to something on the car and ask “what’s that called?” You’d say ”erm...the cooler” or something. Knowing the name for parts of your guitar is just as important as knowing the name for bits of your car.

So let’s take a look:

The body

guitar body

The main bulk of the guitar, this is the ‘empty box’ (in the case of an acoustic guitar) or chunk of wood (in the case of most electric guitars).

Guitar bodies come in many shapes and sizes. With acoustic guitars especially, the shape and size of the body has a massive effect on the sound as this is where the sound is generated.

The material used in the body of guitars also varies widely, with laminated to solid wood density for different models


The neck

guitar neck

The protruding piece of wood that is attached to the body at the 12th fret (or thereabouts) is called the neck.

Sitting on top of the neck is ‘the fretboard’ which is often made in a different wood to the neck.

The fretboard, as the name suggests, has a series of ‘frets’ along the length of it, spaced out at intervals going up to in some cases 25 intervals.

The frets are thin metal strips that run perpendicular to the strings that mark each note.


The soundhole

soundhole

The hole in the middle of your guitar’s body is called the ‘soundhole’.

In a similar way that the size and shape of an acoustic guitar’s body effects the sound, the size and shape of the soundhole also has a dramatic effect on the sound.


The bridge

bridge

The bridge as the name suggests is the part of the guitar that sits between the soundhole and where the strings are attached at the base of the guitar.

Bridges come in many shapes and sizes depending on the style of guitar, some what are called ‘fixed’ versus ‘floating’ bridges.

The material used for their construction often varies widely.


The headstock

polished guitar headstock

At the top of the guitar, we have the headstock.

This is the part where the strings are attached and adjusted to tune the guitar using the ‘machine heads’ or 'tuners' (the knobs or levers you use to change the elasticity of each string).

Headstocks come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes.

Our favourite guitar manufacturers

When it comes to buying a new guitar, whether it’s your first or an upgrade, it’s important that you know exactly what you want before you decide to open your wallet.

The problem? There’s too much choice.

So here's a selection of companies that make outstanding guitars.

Many of the guitar brands you'll be familiar, but there'll be plenty that even the most seasoned guitarist hasn't come across. 

How we rank the guitar manufacturers

Range Of Models


Are the guitars high-end only, do they suit a broad spectrum of styles, do they produce electrics only? The more on offer, the higher the score.

Build Quality


How well made are they? Choice of tonewoods, construction styles and electronics all factor in.

Popularity

The new and unique are great, but if a guitar is admired by thousands of players across the world, then it’s passed the true test of quality. However, since some of the brands and manufacturers on this list are much lesser known, don’t judge a guitar by this alone! 

1. Moniker

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

moniker-bodyfulltall_800px

Have you ever wished you could have a custom made guitar so that you could get the perfect tone and have an instrument that feels like an extension of your body?


It’s just a shame how expensive it is - until you check out Moniker.


For less than a $1000 you can design and purchase your very own guitar.


The true beauty of this is that now, it’s not only insanely rich and famous musicians that can enjoy the benefits of custom made guitars, you can too!





2. Seagull

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele

Possibly the ‘greenest’ guitar manufacturer in the world at this point, this Canadian guitar maker uses reclaimed wood and supports their local community by refusing to outsource anything.


That's quite a rarity these days.


They also put a lot of thought into their instruments, such as solid spruce tops and using much thinner headstocks on their guitars to help them stay in tune for longer.  


The thin headstock keeps the strings in a straighter line than conventional headstocks.


Pretty neat, eh!



3. Yamaha

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

yamaha-f-series

Japanese company Yamaha are well known for doing a bit of everything. They produce a lot of musical instruments and gear beyond guitars.


They have a great selection of guitars for beginners to choose from, especially in the acoustic range. They deliver decent instruments at an affordable cost.


A Yamaha F-series, for example, is a great first choice for a beginner looking to learn how to play acoustic guitar.


It’s no frills, but sounds great when well maintained.


4. Epiphone

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele

Epiphone started life as one of Gibson’s main competitors. 


Now, they’re actually owned by Gibson and produce a range of lower budget guitars that many musicians look down on.


However, this is an elitist attitude, as Epiphone have produced some excellent guitars which are accessible in terms of price and are great for getting started with on your musical journey.


As an added bonus, they’re also the only company in the world which can use Gibson’s designs for their own guitars, so a Epiphone can punch far above what you’d expect in terms of quality.



5. Taylor

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele

If acoustic guitars are your thing, Taylor have some of the best designs available on the market.


In fact, they are one of the top two brands around, the only thing is, nobody’s quite sure if they took the top spot or not!


They’re very well known for the Baby acoustic guitar, an ideal model for travellers or kids.


Whilst it is a great guitar, it seems that their others are being sadly overlooked in recent years.



6. Martin

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

martin-gpcpa5k-performing-artist-series

Remember how we said Taylor was one of the top two brands of acoustic guitars? Martin is the other one.


They’re world leaders in the industry, and owning a Martin is the dream of many intermediates who’ve started to take a serious view of their music.


When most people picture an acoustic guitar, it looks like the Dreadnought style invented by these guys. Their influence is one of the strongest and longest.


Oh to own a Martin, no home should be without one. Check out how they sound below...



7. Gretsch

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

gretsch-g9200-roundneck-boxcar

If you’ve wanted a hollow-body, semi hollow-body or resonator guitar, Gretsch is the best place to start, and will likely be the place you end your search too.


Whilst other brands do made decent guitars with similar designs, the level of knowledge and skill Gretsch brings to the table is unbeatable.


The consummate rock n roll guitar, famously played by Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, even Neil Young, Gretsch guitar's are an iconic brand unto themselves.


Playing their boxcar resonator (image right) is like actually being transported back in time to the dust bowl.



8. Jackson

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

jackson-slathxmgq3-6-soloist-electric

Perhaps you growled a little at the mention of Ibanez being the best manufacturer of metal guitars?


If so, then you’re probably a fan of Jackson guitars.


They’re the pre-eminent American company for metal guitars, and they’ve built this reputation for quality over a very long time, being the only real choice for a good period of their history for a serious head banger.


Interestingly, they also do a bang tidy job of making guitars that play beautiful rockabilly.



9. Greenfield

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele

Remember back in 2006 when Andy Mckee (see video below) became a youtube sensation with his unique fingerstyle / percussion guitar playing?


He was almost as famous for his weird ‘harp guitar’ as he was for the beautiful music he played.


If you’re looking to bag yourself something similar, Greenfield Guitars is the place to go.


Every guitar is built on commission, and are truly individual with a high degree of consultation between the maker and yourself.



10. Sabre

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

sabre-wra7ith

A brand new British guitar company founded in 2009 by Christian Howes producing custom and bespoke electric guitars.


Despite their short history, they have already began to compete with much more established brands.


They were awarded the Editor’s Pick award by Premier Guitar’s magazine in 2011, and they are also the only UK company in history to receive 2 five-star reviews with no negatives back to back from Total Guitar magazine, as well as receiving the best buy award in the same issues.


Unfortunately, they aren’t very well know but that looks set to change.


11. Dean

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

dean-mas-tyrantx-splt-electric-guitar

Dean Guitars produce electric, acoustic and bass guitars.


If you’ve ever wanted a guitar with a little more stage presence, these guys are definitely worth checking out.


They’ve got a lot of style, but that’s not where their talents end.


Their guitars really shine in the hands of a shredder, and the tonal qualities perfectly match their aggressive designs.



12. ESP 

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

esp-ltd-ec-256-black

Plenty of rock and metal legends have chosen ESP axes for a reason.


The tone is meticulous, the aesthetics striking and the hardware precise.


These don’t just match your average guitar’s fat and chunky sound with the distortion cranked up, they can practically sing and will easily keep up with you as a musician no matter how hard you push your skills, or your instruments.


Like many manufacturers, you can also have made to order guitars or go for one of their iconic line up of stocked guitars.



13. Encore

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

encore-ebp-kc3t-black-electric-guitar-outfit

Your first thought on seeing one of these guitars might be to roll your eyes and laugh, but think back to when you first started playing.


If you weren’t from a musical family, chances are you had to make do with a cheap model.


Sure, they aren’t the greatest, but they’re cheap and have a “good enough” quality that lets a wide eyed beginner embark on their musical journey in confidence.


They also sell “beginner kits”, which include cases, music stands, plectrums and tuners as well as producing smaller bodied guitars for children.



14. Vintage

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

Vintage Guitars V100 Electric Guitar

You wanted a stylish guitar, something you could play at a gig and feel confident you looked as cool as you sounded.


Turns out you didn’t have a couple thousand dollars to spend on a brand new Gibson, so you did what any right minded musician would do.


You looked around, and hey turns out that this Vintage stuff seems pretty damn good considering it cost nearly ten times less!


Here's the Vintage appalingly named 'Lemon Drop' guitar.


Sounds ok though.



15. Gibson

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

gibson-les-paul

Even non-musicians will know this one, and for good reason. It’s one of the largest guitar manufacturers on the planet, and is the owner of many other brands.


Their guitars vary a lot in quality, with the American made models being noticeably superior but also more expensive than those made to spec in factories.


Gibson’s biggest claim to fame is the Les Paul, which has gone through several redesigns, inspired countless copycats and been played by some of the most famous guitarists in history.


They’re a solid brand with good designs, not super expensive and have solid wood and electronic choices along with a clear attention to detail in the workshop.



16. Farida

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

farida

They make decent guitars, and cater best to the vague and fuzzy “intermediate” crowd.


What stands out about them is their 12 string guitars, which make a strong stand against other more expensive models from heavyweights like Taylor.



17. Hagstrom

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

hagstrom-pass-blk-pat-smear-electric

Swedish guitar maker Hagstrom make high quality guitars, with some unusual design ideas that make them stand out from the endless hordes of Strat and Tele copies.


Strangely, they aren’t as well known as other brands and yet they are able to sell top quality instruments far cheaper than the big names in the industry.


Check out their Pat Smear Signature model here:


18. Ibanez

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

Quik Lok Guitar Seat

Starting as a small Japanese company that made decent copies of more established American guitars, they eventually grew into their own entity and firmly staked a claim to being the makers of guitars at a budget price.


One of their most notable contributions to the guitar world is their 7 and 8 strings, which they have made into a very accessible instrument and not just the purview of well-off musicians.


Ibanez also have a reputation for making some great short scale guitars.


19. Lowden

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele

For that authentic Irish jig, Lowden Guitars are the answer.


Their very first guitar was something only its makers could love (bent over nails for frets? Hell yes!).


But since that day they have gone on to make some of the most finely crafted and elegant acoustic guitars to ever come out of Ireland.


Find out more



20. Furch

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

furch-25-sr

A Czech company that take an ambitious view of what an acoustic guitar can do.


Removable fretboards for the travelling musician, acoustic bass guitars, 9 and 12 strings, you name it. 


Even their standard shaped guitars give giants like Martin and Taylor a run for their money.


The kicker? They’re insanely underpriced for the sky high quality and curious inventiveness that goes into making them.


Find out more



21. BlackMachine

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

blackmachine-b6a

Sadly it’s not always possible to order a guitar from BlackMachine as this “company” is in fact just a single luthier working out of the UK.


However, a few of his guitars are floating around on the internet, and the “one of a kind” guitar experience will ensure that not only will the instrument be an asset to your music due to their high level of craftsmanship, but it’ll probably end up with its own groupies too.


22. Fender

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele


Fender have had a huge hand in shaping the guitar as we know it today, and some of their innovations have become integral to the industry of guitar making as a whole.







What’s more, they own several of the other brands in one way or another, as such it’s very easy to see the influence of Fender in some of the most iconic guitars around the world.


They’re best known for the Stratocaster and Telecaster, and these have become more than just a model of guitar.


They’ve dominated the design of guitars in the same way that all cars have seats and a steering wheel.


No surprise they're in the list really.


Find out more



23. Charvel

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

fender-tele

Back to a more established name, Charvel still might not seem like one of the heavy rollers on the playground, but don’t let that fool you.


They were the guys that inspired Jackson Guitars to start their business, and have been a huge part of the guitar industry.


Their guitars are so popular that they’re one of the most prolifically faked instruments around.


Today, the original founder, Wayne Charvel, and his son produce guitars under the name Wayne Guitars.


24. Rickenbacker

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

rickenbacker-mapleglow

What list would be complete without mentioning Rickenbacker?


If you weren’t aware of this already, they produced the world’s very first electric guitar, and they’re still going strong today.


They were one of the defining elements of the 1960’s and 70’s British music scene, and they had an indirect hand in creating the “Marshall sound” you’ll hear endless talk about when discussing amps. 


They also made a mean solid-bodied 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, which Tom Petty used on the track 'Here Comes My Girl' from his Damn The Torpedo's album (Tom is holding the 12 stringer on the album cover).



25. Matsumoku

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

matsumoku-westone-w40-acoustic-nec

When it comes to archtop guitars, Matsumoku have the stage.


Their guitars are a favourite of jazz players around the world. Their history is intermingled with other guitar manufacturers, producing various bits and pieces, in addition to entire guitars, for other luthiers.


They also sell their own brand of guitars under the name Westone, but their handiwork is everywhere under all sorts of names, including some of the big names on this list.



26. Washburn

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

washburn-wd10-series-wd10sce-acoustic

If it wasn’t for these guys, electro/acoustic guitars would still be lingering in the wings waiting for their moment to shine.


Until their designs, electro/acoustics were an unplayable mass of feedback. Now, they’re more or less standard for playing in larger venues for those who don’t use pure electrics.


However, this isn’t where their expertise ends. They have acoustics that cover everything from beginners to experts, and their electric guitars also stand out as being thoughtfully made.


They also have a long history, and have more experience in building guitars than many other manufacturers combined.



27. AXL

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

axl-badwater-dual-pickup-1216-electric

High achievers with high minded designs, they take a lot of care when choosing the hardware for their guitars.


Visually, AXL guitars have a bold theme that fits very well with their sound.


They have won numerous awards in recent years, and they are proud of their handmade, top of the range guitars for a reason.

Find out more



28. Manzer

Range Of Models

Build Quality

Popularity

manzer

Despite being creators of numerous exceptionally high quality acoustic guitars, both custom and standard models, Manzer guitars are predominantly known for their insane “pikasso” guitar.


If it’s not the world’s strangest guitar, it’s definitely one of them.


However, don’t let this put you off. They aren’t gimmicky, instead focusing most of their effort on producing exquisite instruments for serious musicians.



Ways To Learn Guitar

There are many ways to learn guitar these days. Yet many people still struggle with how to begin.

Is that you?

Ok let's look at 15 great ways to get started with learning guitar. Each one is a SLAM DUNK in it's own right. You're probably thinking is there really 15 ways to learn guitar?

Short answer: Yup, there is.

To help you navigate them all I have grouped them into two sections:

  • How to learn guitar by yourself
  • How to learn guitar with other people

There is no right and wrong way, and as we’ll see you can create a nice mix of the two to really fast track your learning.

So let’s crack on....

​How to learn guitar by yourself

1. Learn guitar by ear

Before we had the internet, computers, even guitar books, you only had two options when it came to learning guitar:

1. If you were lucky someone might show you how to play something.

2. The other option was just simply to listen and work it out for yourself.

Sounds pretty crazy right, but many great guitarists learnt this way. With all today’s gizmos it’s hard to imagine doing this, but listening and working out a piece of music yourself is really good for you.

Take Johnny Cash for example. He learnt guitar by ear, and it never did him any harm! Here are some good tips on how to learn to play ear.

2. Pick up some guitar books

Learning from guitar books is seen as an old school method of learning guitar, but it's still one of the most underrated (and cheapest).

Why? Because there are literally thousands of guitar books to choose from, for every style of playing and every level.

Books fall into three categories: instruction books, songbooks and reference books.

Instruction books

These books usually follow a curriculum of some sort (like a textbook) and teach you musical theory as well as how to play stuff. They are great if you are fan of structured learning and like to have a well thought out chronological learning journey.

Songbooks

As the name suggests these books just contain songs for you to play and don’t usually contain any theory, other than perhaps a few chord diagrams at the front. Songbooks used to be massively popular in the pre-internet days.

Now it’s so easy to search for a song on the internet. Song books still have their place though and are great for a campfire sing-along (or if you don’t have access to the internet).

Reference books

The main guitar reference books are for chords, scales and modes.

It’s super handy to have a chord book in your gig bag if you need to look up a tricky chord (most are actually rectangular in shape for this purpose). Again, the internet is taken precedence to some extent making it very easy to look up google a chord, but like the song book it’s still great to have reference books to hand.

One of the attractions of playing guitar is to switch off from the hurly burly of everyday life - so removing access to the internet is a good thing.

3. Use free online resources

The internet is full of free online resources. But beware, among the good stuff is a lot of mediocre rubbish and it’s not always that easy to spot the difference.

Still, it’s an absolute boon for the beginner and has a feast of great learning material.

YouTube

The mother of free online videos is of course YouTube. The second largest search engine in the world, owned by Google incidentally, YouTube has a bewildering amount of guitar videos.

Here are some of best YouTube channels for learning guitar:

Some Of The Best YouTube Guitar Channels

Guitar Jamz has a load of songs of all genres for you to learn how to play. An all-star roster of teachers too, including Marty Schwartz, Bret Papa (aka "Papastache"), Tim Pierce, John Konesky (of Tenacious D) and more.

GuitarJamz

Guitar Blog Update is principally for Rock and Metal aficionados, Andrew Wasson of Creative Guitar Studio releases a new video every Sunday focusing on guitar technique. Worth subscribing too and following.

Guitar Blog Update

Guitar Lessons 365 is another good resource for learning songs, this channel is hosted by Carl Brown from GuitarLessons365.com. Includes guitar lessons teaching hundreds of the greatest songs ever written.

Guitar Lessons 365

David Walliman's channel has guitar lessons, gear review, instrumental music and more - this channel mixes things up in a quirky style. Worth talking a look.

David Walliman

Fretjam's channel (like most others) is promoting their own platform in the process, but they also share for free some great content. Particularly good for theory videos. 

Fretjam

Free Guitar Lesson Sites

As good as YouTube is, what it lacks is structure.

In YouTube you can end up bouncing from one video to the next without any real sense of progress.

There are a number of great free guitar lesson sites that offer you free videos AND give you the structure that you need. Some of our favourite websites are:

Some Of The Best Free Guitar Lesson Sites

Justinguitar.com

 JustinGuitar.com is run by Justin Sandercoe who gives away free guitar lessons. Lessons are structured in mini courses and some are very good (as good as anything you might pay for). With accolades from legends like Mark Knopfler and Tommy Emmanuel, it's worth checking out. 

AndyGuitar.com

AndyGuitar.com is a similar idea (in name too!) with well structured free lessons but on a slightly smaller scale. As a free resource his instruction is great (as good as any paid content which we cover below)

Guitar chord / tab online resources

Looking up guitar chords (or tabs) is wildly popular among guitarists, with the chords to pretty much every song being written up somewhere on the internet.

Like YouTube, it can be very hit and miss. There is no guarantee at all that you’ll find a song transcribed in the right key with the right chords etc. In fact, better to err on the side of caution and expect most chord sheets to be partially or wholly wrong and use them just to get an idea of the song, then use your ear to work out the rest.

Some Of The Best Sites For Finding Guitar Chords / Tabs

Our favourite places to find guitar chord / tabs are:

Ultimate Guitar is the grand-daddy of guitar chord search engines with over 800,000 tabs! - for chord, guitar tabs, bass tabs, ukulele chords, guitar pro and power tabs.

Another good search engine for finding guitar chords, guitar tabs and lyrics is Chordie; the site also includes facilities for transposition, and for developing personal songbooks.

Soundslice is a relative new-comer and claims to be 'the Internet's finest music learning experience'. It's pretty darn good actually, combining sheet music with audio/video, for fast learning and fun practicing.

Songsterr has guitar, bass and drum tabs & chords with a free online tab player with a decent selection of 500000 tabs. The interface is a bit clunky though.

4. Pay for an online guitar academy

Why would you pay for online resources when there are so many free ones out there? A few reasons actually...

1. First of all, like anything, you get what you pay for. As good as many of YouTube videos and free guitar lesson sites, the people behind these sites usually don’t have the scale or budget to make them super comprehensive, covering all genres at all skill levels. Paid online academies do.

2. Secondly, with paid resources you get the best instructors. Paid online guitar resources are massive sites with huge budgets behind them that attract some of the best instructors out there.

3. Finally, these sites have also had thousands of dollars spend on designing them with the user in mind, so they’re easy to navigate and fast as anything.

But they do cost you mullah, so that’s a big consideration. They tend to be divided into ‘all genre’ academies and genre or ‘style specific’

Some Of The Best Paid Online Guitar Academies (FOR ALL STYLES)

Our favourites are:

guitar tricks

Guitar Tricks is the world's largest online guitar school, with well over 11,000 lessons covering most styles and skill level. If you are looking to invest in your guitar playing, and the monthly fee (around $20) doesn't put you off, you should check out Guitar Tricks (aside: the name is a bit misleading, some people think it's about creating guitar 'tricks' - it isn't at all!). Here is an in depth review I did about Guitar Tricks that is worth reading before you sign up.

And here is a quick walk-through of Guitar Tricks I recorded for you: 


Jamorama positions itself as a social network for musicians 'where you get to watch video lessons, collaborate, make friends and share your joy of learning guitar' according to the their website. Guitar Tricks has a forum (didn't look particularly active) whereas Jamorama is more about socialising with online friends and collaborating.

guitar tricks


Jamplay has fewer lessons at just over 5,000 but what sets it apart is the sheer number of 80+ professional instructors!  It's great if you're a fan of a particular musician who teaches in Jamplay. I'm a big fan of Kaki King who teaches lessons on Jamplay - awesome!

Some Great 'Genre Specific' Paid Online Guitar Academies 

Here are three of our favourite online guitar academies that deal with one particular genre or style:

Site: Study With Adam
Style: Acoustic / Fingerstyle Guitar


If you've seen a wonderful acoustic version of Stevie Wonder's Superstition on YouTube, chances are you've already see internet sensation Adam Rafferty. His online guitar school Study With Adam is a wonderful place to learn acoustic / fingerstyle funky guitar.  

study with adam

Site: Gypsy and Jazz
Style: Gypsy Jazz (acoustic jazz guitar)

If you are a fan of the music of Django Reinhardt then Yaakov Hoter's Gypsy and Jazz school is well worth taking a look at. Learn the basic strumming technique (called 'La Pompe'), arpeggios and a load more. Rather than a monthly subscription you pay per lesson too with is nice.

gypsy and jazz

5. Try a games console

If you’re under the age of 40 there’s a good chance you have a games console kicking about near your TV somewhere. Well, how about ditching Code Of Duty for an axe (an axe is slang for guitar, in case you were worried there for a moment!)?

The market leader in this space is Rocksmith by Ubisoft which is available on most consoles (XBox, Playstation and even PC / Mac).

Rocksmith is a seriously great way to learn guitar as it lets you plug in your guitar (ideally electric guitar, but could be a electro acoustic or acoustic with a pick up).

With your guitar plugged in, you learn to play real guitar solos. If you have a games console already, it’s a cheap and fun option you should check out.

6. Install a guitar app

With the explosion of tablets and smartphones in the last few years, it’s opened the door to guitar based apps. 

Due to the portability of these devices you can be learn guitar pretty much anywhere you can take a guitar - plus they’re pretty cheap as you already have the hardware. The functionality of these apps improve year on year too.

Most notable apps to check out are:

Yousician is a new breed of app that lets you plug your guitar into a device (phone, tablet) with the Yousician app installed and you'll be able to play along to songs. Yousician gives you feedback on accuracy and timing too, using 'gameplay' to keep you motivated, similar to Rocksmith (see above). Allows you to upload your own songs too which is a nice touch. 

yousican

Jamstar is another app that is really fun. Install the app on your device, plug you guitar in to your device and start playing. The app senses your strumming pattern and lets you move on or asks you to repeat the notes - giving you feedback as you play. offering pointers. This form of computer aided learning is quite novel and will only get better in time. Worth checking out. Here's a good review of Jamstar.

jamstar

7. Download some computer software

Let’s not forget our desktop computers in all this.

As good as the apps are above, they have limitations. Desktop software is much, much more powerful than apps or even a games console.

A couple of the most popular programs are:

Guitar Pro lets you compose your own music and transcribe songs yourself as well as read thousands of tabs you can download online.

guitar pro

Riffstation is another very clever desktop application. Search for a song and Riffstation will give you the chords for any song synced with the YouTube video! You can view the chord diagrams in sync with the music for guitar, ukulele and piano. Riffstation uses an chord recognition algorithm to "listen" to the music and figure out the chords for you!

riff station

8. Record yourself

A great way to learn guitar is to record yourself and listen back to your own playing.

Listening to yourself play will benefit you massively. With today’s technology it’s so easy to do.

Most smartphones come with some kind of voice recorder like you see on the right. That will do perfectly.

Of course if you have a Mac you can always use Garage Band for free to record yourself.

Let's look at ways to learn guitar that involve other people...

How to learn guitar with other people (face to face)

As we’ve seen there are lots of ways to learn guitar by yourself.

Many people are more comfortable learning at their own pace with one of the methods above, but many of us benefit from having face to face contact with others when learning guitar.

Having a person there in front of you, whether it’s a teacher or a group of people, helps to hold us accountable. It takes a lot of discipline to learn guitar by yourself - learning with others can keep you going when you want to quit.

9. Learn from a friend

Probably the most common form of learning guitar is from a friend.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, among many others, famously helped each other improve their guitar skills, trading riffs and chord sequences.

You need a friend who is fairly patient, this is true, and you need to match their patience with a desire to learn yourself.

I’ve found learning (or teaching) guitar to a friend is actually a really nice thing to do and helps to bond. Who knows, you may end up creating a band!

Learning from a friend is also free too (most of the time!).

10. Pay a guitar teacher

Most of us appreciate that having lessons is the best way to get started. Not just in guitar, in pretty much any discipline.

How many golfers have gotten bad habits by not having lessons when they started out? Plenty. The same can be said for Guitar.

A few lessons early on can build the right foundations throughout your playing career. If you’re a parent and you’d like your kids to play guitar, you know what to do.

That’s not to say you can’t end up with a rubbish guitar teacher, so make sure you look for someone with ample teaching experience and preferably someone who has recorded stuff you can listen to.

Also consider what style you want to learn. Don’t hire a rock guitarist when the style you’re most fond of is fingerstyle guitar.

A good guitar teacher will hold you to account of the duration of your time together, identify your areas of weakness and help you develop much quicker than by yourself. I was terrified of my first guitar teacher, a Welsh jazz teacher who’d played professionally, he didn’t take any nonsense.

A bit of teacher fear is a good thing - keep you on your toes!

11. Get guitar lessons over Skype

This is relatively new thing of course, but it’s amazing who you can get lessons from over the internet.

Location not being an issue any more, you can learn any style you fancy.

Yes, you may get some delay issues over Skype, and it pays to have a good connection, but with the quality of broadband so good these days (in the UK and most western countries at least) then connection isn’t really an issue.

And yes, it’s preferable to be face to face, but really if you want to learn Gypsy Jazz and one of the the only teachers who gives lessons lives in Israel (true story, his name is Yaakov Hoter) then Skype is awesome.

You can also record the Skype too for viewing later, that’s pretty awesome.

12. Sign up to guitar lessons at a local music school

robin nolan retreat

Another alternative is to find a music school (yes, a physical one) near to where you live. You’ll be surprised how many of these exist. Certainly if you live near a big city there’ll be dozens to choose from.

There are several benefits:

  • Music schools will have courses they run (often leading to accreditation) that are well established programmes of study.
  • You’ll be taught by a guitar teacher (or several teachers) and you’ll have a good mix of individual and group exercises.
  • You’ll meet other students at varying levels of proficiency who you can practice with.
  • Courses often have some element of playing in public too at the end of the course, giving you a huge boost of confidence (and experience playing in public).

If you don’t have a music school in your proximity try finding an evening class in a further education college (or similar).

13. Sign up for a guitar retreat

How about going on a guitar retreat?

You’ve heard of yoga retreats right? Well the same exists for guitar. Cool hey!

The format tends to be a anywhere from a weekend to a whole week of group guitar lessons during the day followed by gigs in the evening.

Many packages include accommodation, meals, even trips to local tourist spots and often include rates for bringing your partner (the locations tend to be tourist spots so the idea is they would be out sight-seeing while you’re jamming).

A massive amount of study in a short space of time, they aren’t cheap, but they are fantastic for speeding up your learning curve. Also a great way to make new friends and have a great experience.

Two of the most are popular are...

martin taylor guitar retreat

Guitar retreat: Martin Taylor Guitar Retreats
Style: Fingerstyle / Jazz Guitar

Legendary jazz and fingerstyle guitarist Martin Taylor puts on regular guitar retreats that by all accounts are fantastic. Held in California, New York, Scotland, Singapore, London and Italy, these multi-day experiences are a great way to travel and improve your guitar playing at the same time.

robin nolan retreat

Guitar retreat: Style: Gypsy Jazz Guitar Breakthrough with Robin Nolan
Style: Gypsy Jazz (Django Reinhardt style) 

Robin Nolan's
Gypsy Jazz Guitar Breakthrough retreats are steadily gaining notoriety. Held twice yearly, alternating between Reykjavik, Iceland and Amsterdam, Holland, they are one of the best ways to fast track your way to learning the style made popular by Django Reinhardt

14. Join a band

How could a beginner join a band? Sounds ridiculous right, but it’s a very good way of learning by absolute immersion.

I did this at the tender age of 16. I joined a band and ‘played’ (in it’s loosest sense) rhythm guitar. I remember playing the chords to the Pixie’s ‘Where is my mind’ and not having a clue what I was doing. “Just put your fingers there” I remember my mate telling me. Can’t have sounded that bad as they didn’t kick me out!

So how do you find a band?

Well, if you’re still at school then see if there’s a school band you could join or form yourself. If you’re a church-goer, see if your local church band need a guitarist. You can hook up with other like minded people on websites like Join My Band in the UK. There will be an equivalent in your part of the world too.

I recently hooked up with a French Gypsy Jazz guitarist on Join My Band who was over in the UK for a year with his family. I wanted to learn the Gypsy Jazz style from someone who knew what they were doing, and he agreed to jam together. After three months my gypsy jazz playing had improved on immeasurably. Thanks Geoffrey!

15. Volunteer to teach someone

OK, so this might not be applicable for the absolute beginner of course, but once you have a few chords under you belt and you know a few songs one of the best things you can do to solidify what you know is teach it to someone else!

I'm not talking about charging money for it (though of course you could). No, the idea is to offer a friend or an acquaintance some lessons for free

The benefit of this? Teaching actually helps us to learn. When we're put on the spot (like you are when you're expected to know something) it becomes apparent very quickly where you weak areas are. 

You can then address your areas of weakness in your own time.

Summary

So there you have 15 ways to learn guitar. There are no doubt other ways to learn guitar that I've missed so please drop me a comment below. 

You could focus on any of these 15 ways and learn guitar, but the key is to create a mix of these learning styles that suits you.

So buy a couple of books in the style that you're interested in (or a general one if you're wanting to learn the absolute basics). Find a friend who you can jam with who doesn't showing you some things. Get a lesson or two to get the basics right, could even be over Skype. Dip in and out of YouTube and learn one or two songs, but for a more structured approach try Justinguitar.com or Andyguitar.com. If money is no object, try a paid academy and really get serious. 

And remember to build a good practice routine too - this is essential. Check out our guides on how to play guitar and learning the 8 basic chords too.

Most of all enjoy - playing guitar is a gift. Treasure it and never stop learning.

Photo by Nitin Jadon / CC 2.0
Photo by Larry Jacobsen / CC 2.0

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