There’s no where near as many resources out there for oldtime backup guitar players. That’s a shame because it’s such an important part of contemporary oldtime (it wasn’t common until about a century ago) and can add so much when done well. That said, here are some great places to get going.
1Old-Time Backup Guitar: Learn from the Masters, John Schwab
If you’re only going to get one book on oldtime backup guitar, then I would say this should be it. John Schwab is one of the best oldtime backup guitar players around, a great guy, and a great teacher. In the book, John covers the fundamentals of backup guitar from instruments and picks to the balance of attack and chord shapes. The majority of the book is then filled with tablature transcriptions from classic 20s and 30s guitar players Edgar Boaz, Asa Martin, Roy Harvey, Luches Kessinger, and others. The book also includes a CD with 28 of the original recordings slowed down and at full speed so you can clearly hear what those guys (sorry, no Moonshine Kate here!) were up to. The combination of book and CD makes learning from this set especially effective.
2The Flatpicker’s Guide to Old-Time Music, Tim May and Dan Miller
An excellent, step-by-step book for learning old-time backup guitar.
3Jere Canote Guitar Tablature
Chords, bass runs, and links to sound files for around 350 of oldtime tunes as played by Jere Canote. An unbelievable accomplishment and collection. If you want a solid oldtime backup guitar part for many tunes, this is a great place to start. It also contains some introductory material for getting started on oldtime backup guitar.
4Old-Time Country Guitar Backup Basics, Joseph Weidlich
Joseph Weidlich also wrote a book on oldtime backup guitar based on models from the 1920s and 30s. Weidlich’s approach is more abstract than Schwab’s, focusing primarily on many different variations of bass runs to connect chords. The 178 examples, many of which are just a few measures long, are clearly explained and allow the guitar player to build a repertoire of paths from one chord to another. If you want to know how it was done in that era, then go with Schwab. But if you want to learn the components and create your own style, then Weidlich’s book (or Miller and May’s) would be a better place to start.
5Texas Style Backup Guitar
Lots of great information about the Texas style of oldtime backup guitar.
YouTube is one of the best places to find great examples of oldtime backup guitar, but you gotta find ’em. Here’s a colorful mixture of some greats.
7Dittyville on YouTube
Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones have several video lessons on their YouTube channel with Carl playing great, straight-ahead backup guitar.
8Tater Joes Chord Charts
Once again Mark Wardenberg has done a great service for the oldtime community. Here’s a PDF with all kinds of chords to common tunes.
9Phil’s String Band Backup Guitar Notebook
Here’s a text described as an “[e]ffective, practical backup techniques for oldtime fiddle, bluegrass, square, and other dance playing on the acoustic guitar” by Phil Williams. The text covers the role of backup guitar, chords, functional harmony, how to play without a capo in any key, bass runs, and gives a selection of full example tunes and guitar backup.
10Hickory Jack Old-Time Backup Guitar
Just six oldtime tunes here, but with good backup guitar played at different tempos over mostly crooked tunes.
11Lars Dahl on Krakra.eu
Frankfurt, Germany-based oldtime guitar player Lars Dahl has recently begun putting up some wonderful, straightforward video lessons for players. The videos are coming in slowly, but what he’s got up there is very helpful to new players. Check ’em out.