The Top 10 Guitar Documentaries

There are tons of “Best of” documentary lists about about guitarists.

But I wanted to make a list of documentaries purely about the guitar.

With this focus, I found these guitar goodies.

And #1 is such a gem — I had never heard of it before researching this project.

Enjoy!

1) Guitar

Guitar (1991) is hands down the best documentary on the guitar I’ve ever seen.

Think of it as a heartfelt love letter from famous guitarists to their beloved instrument.

Jeffrey “Skunk” Baxter of Fleetwood Mac and the Doobie Brothers hosts, taking us on a journey through interviews with nearly 30 guitar legends.

Each one shares their unique relationship with the guitar, making it an intimate and riveting watch.

Highlights include Brian Setzer, Steve Lukather, David Gilmour, and a young Thomas McRockland, to name a few.

The documentary even features a 500-man jam session of “Johnny B. Goode” that’s pure magic. That scene (at the end of the doc) alone is worth a watch. Some guitarists are out-of-tune but it’s cool to see such a big jam.

Available for free on YouTube, this doc is a treasure for any music lover. Baxter’s enthusiasm and the legends’ passion for the guitar make this a must-watch. I rank it #1 in my list of Best Guitar Documentaries, with a personal rating of 97/100.

I love this doc so much that I dedicated an entire web page to it with a free link to watch it and highlights by time stamp: https://dailydoc.com/guitar/ . That page is where I’ll keep updates to free links to watch the doc (right now I have two).

2) The Story of the Guitar

The above is not the official trailer. It’s just a clip I found of decent quality and no ad. But try the 3 links below for the full documentary episodes.

“The Story of the Guitar” is a 2008 docuseries unraveling the guitar’s journey from ancient times to modern rock stardom.

It’s presented by Alan Yentob in 3 parts of 1 hour each:

  • S1.E1 “In the Beginning…” (release date: Oct 5, 2008)
  • S1.E2 “Out of the Frying Pan…” (Oct 12, 2008)
  • S1.E3 “This Time It’s Personal…” (Oct 19, 2008)

It covers everything from the evolution of its design to its influence across various music genres.

It features interviews with legendary guitarists and stunning performances including:

  • Pete Townshend (The Who guitarist)
  • Iggy Pop (punk rock icon)
  • David Gilmour (Pink Floyd guitarist)
  • Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits guitarist)
  • The Edge (U2 guitarist)
  • Jack Black (actor and musician)
  • Slash (Guns N’ Roses guitarist)
  • B.B. King (blues legend)
  • Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath guitarist)
  • Steve Vai (virtuoso guitarist)

It captures the essence of why the guitar is such a pivotal part of musical history.

Whether you’re a musician or just a fan of music history, this doc hits all the right notes.

Watch “The Story of The Guitar” for free on YouTube here in these 3 parts:

3) James May: The Reassembler: Electric Guitar (2016)

James May, the lovable gearhead from “Top Gear,” dives into the guts of a 1984 Japanese Fender Stratocaster replica in “The Reassembler: Electric Guitar.”

May meticulously pieces together this iconic instrument, revealing the intricate dance of wires, wood, and metal.

A lot of it is basic to guitar gear heads. But for beginners like me, it’s useful to see what exactly makes a guitar electric versus acoustic (like how the pickups work).

He also shows how the tremolo works.

A lot of viewers say they started building guitars from scratch after watching this

The 45-minute video is Season 1, Episode 3 of the “Reassembler” docuseries and aired APril 6, 2016.

May’s dry humor and genuine curiosity make this more than a tech show—it’s a love letter to the art of craftsmanship.

It’s surprisingly soothing and educational. It’s perfect for both guitar enthusiasts and anyone who loves seeing things come together.

Watch “The Reassembler: The Electric Guitar” for free on YouTube here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBeLyCtKpGo.

You can also buy the entire series on Amazon.

Check here for whether other streaming options are added: https://www.justwatch.com/us/tv-show/james-may-the-reassembler

4) John Monteleone: The Chisels Are Calling

Imagine if Willy Wonka ditched the chocolate and decided to make guitars instead. That’s John Monteleone for you, folks – the Stradivari of six-strings, the da Vinci of the dreadnought.

This documentary drops us into Monteleone’s Long Island workshop faster than a Jimmy Page riff.

You half expect to see elves scurrying around, but nope, it’s just John, his chisels, and enough precision tools to make NASA jealous.

We follow John as he crafts his “Four Seasons” guitars – each one themed after a season, because why make just one masterpiece when you can make four?

Winter is all ice-blue and crystalline inlays. Summer? It’s basically a beach party in guitar form.

These aren’t just instruments; they’re wearable art pieces that happen to sound like the voice of God on a good hair day.

He spends more time on a single curve than most of us do on our tax returns.

But it’s not all wood and wire.

We get glimpses of Monteleone the man – a guy who probably dreams in dovetail joints and wakes up humming perfect fifths.

His clients? Oh, just a few nobodies like Mark Knopfler, Ben Harper and David Grisman.

You can watch John Monteleone: The Chisels Are Calling for rent on Amazon, Apple TV and Fandango. Check out https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/john-monteleone-the-chisels-are-calling for the latest streaming options.

5) Martin Guitars: A Short History

“Martin Guitars: A Journey Through Time” takes you through the legacy of Martin Guitars, the unrivaled king of acoustic instruments.

Directed by musician Mary Spender, the 2022 doc centers around a factory tour led by Jason Ahner, Martin’s Archives Museum Manager.

We kick off in Germany in the early 1800’s with Johann George Martin and then to 1833 with Christian Frederick Martin coming to New York.

One of the standout innovations is the 1843 X-bracing technique on a guitar for Madame Nigoni. That revolutionized acoustic guitars with a sturdier build and richer sound.

Ahner showcases the oldest known Martin guitar from 1834, highlighting its early design labels and violin-like influence.

The ukulele boom is covered as is the 1929 OM-28, built for banjo player Perry Bechtel. It featured a longer neck and new body shape. That marks the first modern acoustic guitar.

This Golden Era also introduced the iconic Dreadnought model. That became a favorite among country and bluegrass musicians.

Joan Baez’s guitar, complete with her setlist taped to the side, and Les Paul’s first “good” guitar, a 1929 018K, highlight Martin’s impact on music.

Watch Martin Guitars: A Short History” for free on YouTube by clicking the video embed above.

I also share more notes on this documentary here: https://dailydoc.com/martin-guitars-a-short-history-documentary/

6) It Might Get Loud

This doc brings together three generations of electric guitar players: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2, and Jack White of The White Stripes.

The doc (directed by Davis Guggenheim at 97 min.) showcases some impressive guitar work.

We see Jimmy Page demonstrating the iconic riff from “Whole Lotta Love.

The Edge breaks down the layered effects that create U2’s signature sound in songs like “I Will Follow”.

And Jack White constructs a makeshift one-string guitar using a plank, wire, and a Coca-Cola bottle.

There are moments of technical discussion.

The Edge opens up about his extensive use of effects pedals, explaining how he achieves his distinctive tone.

Page talks about his innovative recording techniques, like placing microphones at different distances from the amplifier.

White emphasizes his preference for vintage equipment and the value of working within limitations.

The actual interactions between the three guitarists, including their jam session on The Band’s “The Weight,” are relatively limited.

And for guitar enthusiasts hoping for an in-depth technical exploration, the film might feel lacking.

Watch “It Might Get Loud” by renting it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Fandango or Microsoft.com ($3.59 to $3.99 last I checked). The latest streaming options are here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/it-might-get-loud

7) Ampire: The Sound of Music

It’s all about the amp in this doc.

It’s like a 90-minute jam session where your cool uncle decided to spill all the juicy backstage gossip about guitar amps.

It’s the “Behind the Music” of those mysterious boxes that turn bedroom noodling into stadium-shaking riffs.

Director Sam Kaufmann corrals a who’s who of axe-slingers – we’re talking Alex Lifeson, Pat Metheny, and Rick Nielsen, plus folks from REM to RUSH, The Doors to Aerosmith.

It’s like a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reunion, but with more talk about capacitors.
From Frank Sinatra’s crooning to Rob Zombie’s screaming, this flick traces the amp’s journey from sidekick to star.

It’s 83 minutes of pure guitar geekery that’ll have you air-guitaring through your living room and googling “How much is a 1959 Marshall plexi?”

Trust me, you can’t afford it.

Watch “Ampire: The Sound of Music” for free on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdP2CPrIlAc

8) The Joy of the Guitar Riff

“The Joy of the Guitar Riff” is a 2014 documentary that chronicles the evolution of guitar riffs over 60 years, from Chuck Berry’s 1950s innovations to the White Stripes’ modern interpretations.

Director Sam Bridger assembles an impressive roster of guitar legends, including Ritchie Blackmore, Dave Davies, and Tony Iommi, to dissect the mechanics and history of this crucial rock music element.

The film features archive footage of pioneers like Chuck Berry and Link Wray, alongside fresh interviews with icons such as Brian May, Johnny Marr, and Joan Jett.

It explores how artists like Black Sabbath and Hank Marvin shaped the sound of rock guitar, while also highlighting contributions from lesser-known influencers.

Narrated by Lauren Laverne, this hour-long documentary delves into the technical aspects of riff creation, examining how new techniques and technologies transformed guitar playing.

It covers a wide range of styles, from blues-rock to metal, showcasing the versatility of the guitar riff.

Watch “The Joy of the Guitar Riff” in full for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWFL-QvMK-8

9) How It’s Made: Guitar Strings

Ever wonder how those soulful guitar notes come to life?

This short documentary (“How It’s Made” TV series) delves into the process of guitar string production.

Here are the key steps of the process they walk you through:

  • It starts with the steel core wire, examined under a zoom stereomicroscope and magnified 100 times for flaws.
  • Next, a digital micrometer measures the core wire’s diameter to ensure precise sizing.
  • The core wire undergoes tension and twist tests.
  • The Instron testing machine stretches the wire until it breaks, measuring load and distance to gauge tension capacity.
  • The torsion tester rapidly spins the core wire until it breaks, testing strength and elasticity.
  • Next, they show the ball end sorting machine. Hollow pistons select and sort ball ends by size, ensuring uniformity.
  • These ball ends are aligned with the core wire by a clamping guide, and the wire is twisted into a loop around each ball end )For wound strings, bronze wrap wire is looped around the core wire by an electrically powered winder).
  • Computerized sensors monitor the winding speed and tension, ensuring precision. The wrapped strings are bundled into groups of 144.
  • Nylon strings follow a similar process. Silver-plated copper wrap wire binds to the nylon core, guided by a carriage system run by an electric motor.
  • The strings are then coiled, bagged with a gas-neutralizing barrier to prevent corrosion, and prepared for packaging.

The Guitar Strings segment is just under 5 minutes (at the 11 minute to 15:51 mark).

It’s a good primer on how guitar strings are made

Watch “How Guitar Strings Are Made” for free on YouTube by clicking the video embed above or here: https://youtu.be/voTc2o5RLJI?feature=shared&t=659 (note: this link is in the middle of a larger segment on multiple topics (Escalator Handrails, Wigs, etc.).

10) History of Guitar Strings (with Ernie Ball)

Guitar string pioneer Ernie Ball’s grandson Brian Ball sits down to walk through:

  • 0:27 The History of Guitar Strings
  • 1:36 Ernie Ball Origin Story
  • 5:36 Ernie Ball Aesthetic
  • 7:04 String Making Process
  • 11:42 String Tech
  • 15:53 Quality Control
  • 16:50 Ernie Ball Straps
  • 18:10 The Ball Family Legacy

Grandson Brian clearly knows his stuff. Sometimes nepotism is the right move!

Watch “History of Guitar Strings” for free on YouTube by clicking the video embed above or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajyuaTp9DYs

Thanks for reading!

-Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc