Mark Hanson is considered to be amongst the top instructors today in the fingerstyle domain. He regularly holds fingerstyle workshops and has authored over 30 books and videos, all on the same subject - fingerstyle guitar. He has also interviewed several fingerstyle authorities such as Leo Kottke and James Taylor.
This book is considered by many as the leading fingerstyle instruction book. There are several very good reasons for the high number of votes Mark's books receive; and WHY you should buy this book.
1. Travis picking (alternate bass with melody) is the foundation of fingerstyle guitar. Nearly every fingerstyle guitarist from Rev. Gary Davis to Muddy Waters to Robert Johnson to Leo Kottke and Chet Atkins has used the Travis picking method. This book is the bible of Travis picking.
2. The book requires no knowledge of the instrument. I couldn't switch chords comfortably when I received this book. In fact I only knew the C and G chords. With some patience and determination I learnt more than 30 chords by the time I was at the end of the book, and obviously I also learnt to switch between them effortlessly.
3. Mark lays out very logical examples throughout the book to ensure you are progressing the right way. There is a practice song after every chapter to make certain you are comfortable maintaining the rhythm and will face no difficulty if you encounter a similar pattern in any other song outside of the book. The instruction is very clear and there is absolutely no ambiguity even for a novice. It's almost like the author is holding your hand throughout. I am no dazzling guitarist (read no natural flair) and had no teachers while I was using this book. I waded through it without any major hold-ups. There is also a CD included where Mark plays the pieces at both half and full speeds. If you have heard `Dust in the Wind' by Kansas; after only a week with this book you'll be able to play that song, albeit not at performance speed.
4. The book has a sequel; the Art of Solo Fingerpicking. The sequel is for intermediate/advanced fingerpickers only. The sequel ensures you get to learn the most complex fingerpicking techniques, including breaking out of pattern playing (i.e. Travis Picking). Once you have mastered both the books playing fingerstyle guitar in any genre (blues, jazz, classical, country, folk etc.) will be unchallenging. Of course this is not easy and will take time; but the results will leave you fulfilled.
5. Mark is a wonderful person. I had a query regarding the use of thumbpicks and fingernails and shot him a mail. He immediately replied back and addressed the query in detail. It's nice to know you can repose faith in the author/instructor and he is there to tackle any issues you have. Further, he runs a website accentonmusic.com which carries articles on fingernails, amplification of acoustic guitars, contemporary music, newsletters, etc. all of which are really useful. There are tons of resources on the web, but only so few are reliable. Also, it's tough to judge an author by a single book. Every book of Mark is really enjoyable and he has a truckload of material to offer. I was a big zero with music theory and Mark has promised to write a book on that (he's graduated in Music). Can't wait to get hold of it.
6. I own as many as 8 other `bestselling' fingerstyle books for beginners and intermediates and a few videos too. Only one book comes anywhere close - Beginning Fingerstyle Blues - by Arnie Berle. Even that one does not specify how many fingers to use, right hand position, thumbpicks or not etc. You will certainly require answers to these once you take the plunge. Fortunately Mark's book takes good care of the reader here. His passion for fingerstyle is contagious.
When you buy an instruction book, the most important investment you make is your time. You don't want to follow an instruction book devotedly for 6 months only to realise there is a better book out there; it leaves you in self-doubt and may hinder your progress. You will never be in a quandary with this book. Very few books have information pouring out of every page. Such books are priceless and will stand the test of time. The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking is one such book. Written in 1986, it works wonders even today - nearly 20 years later.
If fingerstyle guitar eludes you, buy or borrow this book. I promise you will be grinning ear to ear after carrying out the instructions. It's easy, many have done it, and so can you!
Very highly recommended!