Guitar tabs have become a popular way for guitarists to learn to play songs quickly. Tabs are easier to read than sheet music and you can jump right in and play, especially if you already know how the guitar or bass lines sound. While it's easy to find tabs to purchase, free guitar tabs pose a number of problems. From the legalities of copying professionally created tabs to the reliability of fan-generated tabs, it can be tough to find good quality tabs at no cost. If you're looking for free guitar tabs, here are a few good places to start your search.
Free Tab Websites
The Internet age has proven a real boon for music lovers, and guitarists are no exception. Being able to use a computer keyboard has taken a lot of the tedium out of tabbing, and it has also made those tabs readily available through numerous websites. Since these tabs have been created by guitarists, the quality will vary not only from site to site, but also from user to user within each site. Take the time to explore each site and try various authors to get a feel for the quality of their contributions.
By far the most comprehensive archive of guitar tabs online, Ultimate Guitar serves up thousands of tabs in a number of genres, for both lead and bass guitar. All of the tabs are free to use, and are accompanied by a variety of lessons and instructional videos for beginners. The site can be difficult to navigate however, since the tabs aren't organized by genre for easy browsing. Instead, search by band or artist name, or by song title, to find what you're looking for. You may notice that there are duplicate listings for certain songs - this is because the same title may have been tabbed by different users. Ultimate Guitar allows others to rate submitted tabs, so it's simple to find those that have been rated highly by fellow guitarists.
For another large collection of tabs, visit Songsterr. This site is an amalgamation of smaller sites including the once-popular but now-defunct GuitarMasta.com. Tabs at Songsterr are organized in a variety of ways, including by skill level, by instrument, and by title or artist. Once you select a tab to play, it loads in a widget that will automatically scroll along with the song. You can control some aspects of the scrolling, including the speed at which the song plays. There are also options to play the song in a loop and give yourself a count-in before the song begins.
As the name implies, E-Chords focuses mostly on chords but also boasts a large variety of tablature for guitar and bass. Click on "Guitar Tabs" under the free content menu on the left to begin browsing what they have to offer. You can then search by artist, title, album, or lyrics. Search results can be filtered further by instrument and difficulty. When you find a tab you want to play, you can choose the size and color of the tabs, or opt to have the song scroll automatically as you play.
Legalities of Guitar Tabs
If you purchase an official collection of guitar tabs, that work is approved by the creators of the music and is legally available to you as the end user. Tabs that are found for free online can often be illegally obtained, however. This is because some users will share the official, licensed works rather than their own interpretations of the music. Scoring and sharing your own tabs is perfectly legal, even if the tablature is based on a copyrighted piece of music. What isn't legal is copying the official tablature and sharing it with others.
If you find a site that is offering free guitar tabs and want to make sure that what you're using is legal, check the site's terms and conditions. If they make a point of stating that they only accept user-generated content and will remove any tabs that have been found to be infringing on a copyright, the site is likely safe to use. If you cannot find any statement on the legality of the site's content, steer clear and find a better place to source your tabs.
Sharing Your Own Tabs
If you're a tabber, any of the sites above will give you the opportunity to share your work once you register as a member. Keep in mind that some websites reserve the right to approve your tabs before posting them online in order to ensure the overall quality of the user experience.