An essential skill for beginners is to understand what all the parts of the guitar are called.
Firstly. because it’s good to know your instrument.
Secondly, over the course of your playing career, you’re going to need to take your six-string to an expert to have it looked at.
If you understand the terminology we cover in this article, when he or she says ‘your truss rod needs adjusting’ you’ll know what they’re talking about.
In this article, we explain the terminology for both acoustic and electric guitar parts, and the parts common to both.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Table of Contents
- Parts of the Guitar
- Electric Guitar Anatomy
- Acoustic Guitar Anatomy
Parts of the Guitar
The body is the main bulk of the instrument. As the main bulk of the guitar, it’s arguably the most important component and plays a large role in the overall tone, especially with acoustics.
The type of wood used affects the sound significantly too, depending on the choice of tonewood and whether it’s solid body or laminate.
Spruce, for example, provides crisp high ends and lots of volume; while mahogany has a warmer, softer tone.
The headstock, as the name implies, is at the top of the instrument.
There are broadly three types of headstock (straight, angled and scarf) that each has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, they all serve one crucial role: to support the tuning pegs.
Manufacturers tend to prefer one or the other. For example, Fender has always favored the straight headstock (used on the Strat and Tele), Gibson favor the angled headstock, (used on the Les Paul and by countless LP imitators) and metal guitars such as those by PRS or Ibanez use the scarf.
Machine Heads / Tuners / Tuning Heads / Tuning Pegs / Gear Heads
As you can see, these go by a few names.
Machine heads are attached to and protrude from the headstock and are used to raise or lower the pitch of the strings (by tightening or loosening) and most importantly, keep the strings from slipping.
There are broadly six types of machine heads, but most modern guitars use sealed or locking tuners (which stop strings slipping so easily).
Their placement varies from guitar to guitar too. Some guitars have are a 3 and 3 combination (3 on the top, 3 on the bottom) such as the Les Paul, others have 6 in a line (like the Strat), and now and again you come across a guitar with a 4 and 2!
One word of caution: Decent tuners that don’t slip are essential if keeping your guitar in tune is a priority. Make sure you check this if buying a used guitar.
The nut is positioned at the end of the fingerboard and controls the spacing of the strings and their height above the fretboard (and the edge). They can be made from a variety of materials, such as bone, graphite, or brass.
The type of nut can also have a direct bearing on the guitar’s action, and ultimately it’s sound.
They sometimes require adjustment, and after a lot of use, should be replaced.
The neck is the long piece of wood that attaches the headstock to the body.
The neck is not to be confused with the fretboard.
The fretboard is a separate piece of wood that is glued to the flat side of the neck.
Necks can be glued to the body – called a set neck (as you find on a Les Paul) – or bolted on (as you find on a Telecaster).
Most acoustic guitars are glued on, but bolted on necks are common on electrics.
Fretboard / Fingerboard
As we explained, the fretboard is a piece of wood glued to the flat side of the neck and is where you access all the musical notes.
Fretboards are commonly made from hardwoods such as rosewood, maple, and ebony, and house the frets and fret markers.
On the fretboard are thin metal strips, usually made from nickel silver alloy wire, running widthways across the face of it.
These metal strips go by the name of ‘fret-wires‘.
The space between these fret-wires is a fret. When we press a string down onto one of these frets (well, just above it), we alter the length of the string.
This alters the pitch at which the string vibrates and that’s how music is made.
The number of frets can range from 19 all the way up to 27 or higher.
Fret markers are the little dots on the face of a fretboard, and sometimes on the side of the neck.
These reference points help you navigate around the fretboard.
Fret numbering usually goes at fret 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12. Fret 12 often has two markers, to indicate that you have reached the octave of the open string. The position markers go all the way up the fretboard.
Often the fretboard will have inlays that also help to navigate the notes of the fretboard (there are broadly six types of inlays).
Some high-end vintage guitars use mother-of-pearl, but often a cheaper material called pearloid is used, especially on Gibson and Les Paul Copies.
The truss rod is a steel rod that is embedded in a specially cut groove on the inside of the neck.
The purpose of the truss rod is twofold:
- to help strengthen the neck against the immense amount of force exerted upon it by the strings
- to adjust the curvature of the neck which is vital for a properly set-up guitar
The truss can be accessed via the top or bottom of the neck, and special tools can be bought to tighten or loosen the truss rod.
This tightening and loosening will alter the curvature of the neck.
The scratchplate (or ‘pick guard’) is a piece of plastic glued to the body to help protect from pick scrapes.
Scrapes, over time, can damage the finish of your beloved instrument.
On some electrics, the scratchplate is used to cover exposed electrics of the instrument and to help house and protect the pickups.
On electrics, the plate is attached to the body by a number of small screws.
Bridge & Saddle
Towards the bottom of the guitar, there is the bridge that your strings rest on and the saddle which allows fine adjustments to their placement.
This is where the height of the strings can be adjusted.
Acoustic bridges are usually wooden, with a plastic saddle that can easily be removed.
Some acoustics may use a bone saddle.
The bridge and saddle of electrics are usually made of metal.
The strings sit in their own individual saddles, which can be adjusted independently of the other strings.
End Pin / Strap Button / Attachment Button
The small metal knob that you attach your guitar strap to (if you use one) has a few names: end pin, strap button, or attachment button.
Electric Guitar Anatomy
We’ll now look at components found only on electrics.
A pickup is a magnet wrapped in copper wire that picks up the vibration of a plucked string through the disturbance in the electromagnetic field.
This is known as magnetic flux.
This disturbance is converted to an electrical current through the copper wire, then sent to an amplifier so it can be heard.
A pickup’s location determines the characteristics of the tone.
For example, if we choose to select the pickup closest to the bridge we will get a brighter tone, due to the relative tension of the strings above the pickup at that point.
If we choose the pickup closer to the neck, we will hear a much warmer tone, due to the difference in the tension of the strings at that point.
The pickup selector switch lets you choose which pickups to play through according to the tone you’re going after.
Volume & Tone Controls
Volume and tone controls are connected to the pickups, and twisting them up or down will either increase or decrease the volume, or overall tonal color of your ax.
The tone controls can take your sound from bright and clear, to dark and muddy.
The control knobs are attached to pots (short for potentiometer) and are situated in the hollow cavity inside the guitar’s body. Pots are a type of variable resistor and used to control the resistance or flow of electricity in an electric guitar.
There are many types of guitar pot, the most popular being the 500K (commonly used with humbuckers) and 250K (mostly used with single-coil pickups).
Bridge and Tailpiece
The bridge supports the strings and transmits the vibrations of the strings to the pickups.
There are broadly two types of bridge:
- fixed, or ‘hard-tail’ bridges like you find on the Fender Telecaster
- tremolo bridges (the sort that has a whammy bar) found on guitars like the Stratocaster.
The tailpiece is what the strings attach to. The bridge and tailpiece are mostly separate units, but in some cases (e.g. on the Telecaster) they are combined into one.
The whammy bar is a protruding bit of metal that’s attached to the bridge of some electric guitars (commonly found on Strats).
When pressed down, it lowers the pitch of the stings by reducing the tension and when rapidly pushed and released, it produces a vibrato effect.
Sometimes it’s referred to as a vibrato bar, or even a tremolo bar (Fender caused this confusion when they released the Strat by calling the whammy bar a ‘tremolo bar’ when in actual fact it’s a vibrato effect)
Since it’s birth in the ’50s, plenty of whammy bar techniques have emerged with some pretty comical names such as ‘the scoop and doop’ and ‘lizard down the throat’, used predominantly in heavy metal.
Acoustic Guitar Anatomy
We’ll now look at the components found only on acoustics.
The soundboard or ‘top’ is the top piece of wood on an acoustic.
They play a critical role in determining the tone and the projection quality of an instrument.
When a string is plucked it causes the soundboard to reverberate across its surface. Different materials used for the soundboard produce different tones and volume.
The soundhole is the circular hole found on the soundboard. Its primary function is to help project sound.
Sound reverberates across the soundboard, into the guitar, before bouncing to the outside.
Bridge pins are six small, round balls found on the bridge that anchor the strings in place.
They may be one of the smaller components found on an acoustic guitar, but their importance cannot be understated.
Without pins to hold the string in place, an acoustic would be unplayable.
We hope you enjoyed our anatomy of a guitar article. We’re adding and improving it all the time as we discover new things to add, so be sure to check back from time to time.