2Old-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.

John’s website

3The Flatpicker’s Guide to Old-Time Music, Tim May and Dan Miller


An excellent, step-by-step book for learning old-time backup guitar.

4Jere 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.

Updated Guitar Tab

5Old-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.

Old-Time Country Backup Guitar on Amazon

6Texas Style Backup Guitar

Lots of great information about the Texas style of oldtime backup guitar.


7YouTube Playlists

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.

Backup Guitar

Old-Time Guitar Backup Learn from the Masters

Old-Time Backup Guitar

8Dittyville on YouTube

Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones have several video lessons on their YouTube channel with Carl playing great, straight-ahead backup guitar.

Dittyville on YouTube

9Tater 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.

Oldtime Chord Charts

10Phil’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.

11Hickory Jack Old-Time Backup Guitar

Just six oldtime tunes here, but with good backup guitar played at different tempos over mostly crooked tunes.

Hickory Jack Old-Time Backup Guitar

12Lars 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.

Lars Dahl backup guitar videos on Krakra.eu

13Depression Era Country Guitar, Joseph Weidlich

Weidlich’s newest book investigates the developments in backup guitar in the late 20s and early 30s as the style began to become more complex. With separate chapters dedicated to different musical ideas for oldtime guitar backup, the book outlines an entire toolkit that players can learn and use as they see fit.

Depression Era Country Guitar

Read our book review here


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