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Free Guitar Scores Online
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In the online environment, free guitar scores generally can be found and downloaded in either of two ways:

(A) One can search the online catalogs of libraries that have special collections of mostly older, public domain guitar music that has been digitized as a public service. GFA member Robert Coldwell has developed a cross-platform search engine for the 14,000+ public domain scores that are now searchable online. It also allows you to search the specific collections that offer digitized scores. The world-class collections that freely provide digitized guitar scores (facsimiles, usually PDFs) online include the following at this time; links are provided to each collection for those who wish to search them directly:

Boije, 1661 scores

The collection of Carl Oscar Boije af Gennäs (1849-1923) includes printed editions from the early 19th century and manuscripts. Source: Statens Musikbibliotek (The Music Library of Sweden)

GFA Archive, 270 scores

The Guitar Foundation of America Archive at Bierce Library, University of Akron,Ohio. (Note that it is due to be relocated to the International Guitar Research Archive at Calif. State University Northridge in the summer of 2013, at which point its catalogue may have new access points and search interfaces.)

Hudleston Collection of guitar music, over 1,000 scores of solo and chamber music

The Royal Irish Academy of Music, 36-38 Westland Row, Dublin 2, Ireland

Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, guitar items only, 384 scores

The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music at Johns Hopkins University. Source: Johns Hopkins University

Library of Congress - Music for the Nation, guitar items only, 1187 scores

The Music for the Nation catalog includes sheet music deposited for copyright in theU.S. from 1820 to 1885. The guitar related items total 1187 out of 62,500 items. Source: Library of Congress Music for the Nation

Library of Congress - Edison Sheet Music Collection, guitar items only, 51 scores

The Edison Sheet Music Collection appears to be the music library of the recording division of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. and/ or its predecessor, the National Phonograph Co. Its purpose is assumed to be to provide Edison's recording artists with music for recording sessions. Source: Library of Congress Historic Sheet Music Collection, 1800-1922

Rischel & Birket-Smith, 1553 scores

The Rischel & Birket-Smith Collection in the Royal Library of Denmark. All items in this collection have been digitized by the library. Source: Det Kongelige Bibliotek (The Royal Library of Denmark)

Remember that the foregoing are a subset of a larger universe of some 13,000+ cataloged guitar scores, the majority of which are not yet digitized. At least their cataloging information is available online! The latter, held in collections around the globe, are searchable at Mr Coldwell's Digital Guitar Archive search site. 

(B) One can search peer-to-peer sites, and take one's chances. The results can sometimes be both huge and surprising. Some links to peer-to-peer sites are provided at the bottom of our Guitar Music Scores page - a part of the GFA's Guide to Research Resources Online.  If one wishes to search an institutional version of the many peer-to-peer sites, perhaps the best would be:

IMSLP.org, which stands for International Music Score Library Project is the largest site specifically for known or suspected public domain (PD) music scores in the world. Hosted in Canada, it attempts to enable "sharing” of these scores as much as possible while still striking a reasonable balance between three divergent copyright protocols: Canada (where it is hosted, and where any score or recording whose creators died before 1963 is considered public domain), the United States (where 1923 is currently the date before which the work must have been published in order to consider it Public Domain today), and the European Union (where the works of any creator who died before 1943 [or 70 years ago] are now in the Public Domain).

Works for guitar solo include method books (like the Gaspar Sanz Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española of 1674) and scores: historical facsimiles (often lifted from the digitized scores provided by the libraries listed above) and a few contributed modern typeset editions of questionable accuracy and uncertain ”public domain” status.

When a score is available to download, the reader must first acknowledge the IMSLP disclaimer, which stated (in June 2013):

"IMSLP makes no guarantee that the files provided for download, viewing or streaming on IMSLP are public domain in your country and assumes no legal responsibility or liability of any kind for their copyright status. Please obey the copyright laws of your country and consult the copyright statute itself or a qualified IP attorney to verify whether a certain file is in the public domain in your country or if downloading a copy constitutes fair use.”

The site has thousands of pages of guitar music, solos all the way to guitar ensembles, so should be routinely searched by any guitarists who understands the issues and conditions to which IMSLP.org is seeking to respond. Its database design, enabling searching with a broad range of limiters and refinements, is excellent.


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