You are most likely reading this article because you are a beginning guitarist. Welcome to the guitar world! As a
People who make guitars, called Luthiers, created acoustic guitars so that they can be played and not need any amplification to be heard. However, electric guitars need an amplified in order to produce a loud enough sound that can be heard clearly.
What is a guitar?
If we’re really going to start at the beginning, you have to understand what a guitar actually is. In this article, I’m going to use the term ‘guitar’ as an umbrella term for acoustic guitars, bass guitars, and electric guitars.
A guitar is a device that amplifies the sound of a string’s vibration. That’s all a guitar does- it amplifies the sound of a vibrating string either through an acoustic guitar’s sound box or an electric guitar’s pickups.
Despite guitars having different shapes and sizes, all guitars share a set of characteristics. Completely understanding the anatomy of a guitar will help you to better understand how you can make music on your instrument.
Acoustic and electric guitars both have the same basic approach to the basic construction of the instrument; they both have similar string tension and neck construction. While the basic construction of the guitars are similar, there is a radical different in the tone production that each guitar produces.
For just a quick summary, I made a chart for you. This chart shows you what the common parts of a guitar are, which are shared between acoustic and electric guitars. I also showed you the parts of a guitar that are specific to only acoustic and only electric.
|Sounding Board (Guitar Top)
|Fretboard (also called Fingerboard)
|Whammy Bar (also called Bar)
|Position Marker (also called dot)
After understanding what the different parts of a guitar are, you also need to understand what each of these parts do. This will help you to better understand how to better take care of
- Back: is the part of the body that holds the two sides in place. The back is typically made of two or three pieces of wood.
- Body: On an acoustic guitar, the body has an amplifying sound chamber that allows the acoustic guitar to produce sound. The body of a guitar (both acoustic and electric) provides an anchor for the neck and the bridge, which creates a playing surface for the right hand.
- Bridge: The area that’s on top of the guitar where the strings meet, or are connected to the face of the guitar.
- End pin: A metal post where the read end of the strap connects. On acoustic-electric guitars (acoustic guitars that come installed with built-in electronics) the pin often serves as the output jack where you plug the guitar in.
- Fingerboard/Fretboard: A flat piece of wood that sits on top of the neck, where you place your left-hand fingers in order to produce chords and notes. The fingerboard is also called the fretboard, because the frets are embedded on this piece of wood. It’s common for fretboards have inlays (AKA position markers) on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets.
- Frets: Thin metal bars or wires that run perpendicular to the strings. The frets shorten the vibrating length of each strings, which enables the instrument to produce different pitches. It’s common for guitars to come with medium frets, which means that you have to press the string down in order to hear a sound.
Jumbo frets are taller so that you don’t have to press down as hard on the string to produce a sound.
- Head stock: The section that holds the tuning machines and also provides a place for the manufacturer to display their logo.
- Input jack: This is the entry point of the cable that leads the electric guitar (or acoustic electric) to the guitar’s amplifier or another device, like a pedal.
- Neck: Is the long narrow part of the guitar that’s connected to the body and the head stock. It can be made from several pieces of wood that have been cut and glued together or a single piece of wood. It’s common for acoustic guitars to be glued to the body, while on electric guitars the neck is bolted on.
- Nut: A stiff nylon (can also be another type of synthetic substance) that stops the strings from vibrating beyond the length of the neck. The strings then pass the grooves on their way to the tuners in the head stock. The nut is one of the two points which the vibrating area of the string ends; the other end is the bridge.
- Pick guard: Is the flat piece of plastic that’s located on the face of the guitar’s body. The pick guard stops the body of the guitar from being scratched from your pick while you are playing.
- Pickup switch: This is the switch that’s located on the body of electric guitars. Changing pickups allows the guitar to produce different tones.
- Pickups: These are only found on electric guitars. A pickup is a magnet that is wrapped in wires on the face of an electric guitar, placed right underneath the strings. The pickup detects the vibration of the strings and sends this impulse to the amplifier in order to be modified. A guitar has between one and four pickups, the most common number of pickups being two.
Pickups produce a different sound depending upon where they are placed on the body. When placed towards the neck, pickups have a brighter tone and tend to produce harmonics clearer. When placed towards the bridge, pickups will produce a darker sound and tend to
Pickups come in three different options, each producing a different sound:
- Single-coil pickup: Is composed of a single coil of wires that have been wrapped around a magnet. Single-coil pickups will ‘pick up’ noise from other electronic devices. A common report with single-coil pickups is that they produce a faint droning tone. This type of pick-up is commonly used by folk and country guitarists.
- Piezoelectric pickup: These pickups are not magnetic, to they will not pick up any electromagnetic noise that other electronic devices produce. The Piezoelectric pickups are used only in acoustic-electric guitars.
- Humbucker pickup: This type of pickup use two of the same opposing coils, which operate in an opposing magnetic field in order to create a pickup that does not produce a humming sound. They reduce the ‘hum’ noise while supporting the sound produced. The only downfall is the humbucker pickups produce a darker tone, which makes them the preference in heavy metal and rock music.
- Position markers (also called Position inlays): These are marks on the fretboard, which provides for an easier time for spotting different frets on the fretboard. The standard placement of position markers are: one dot in the horizontal middle of the fretboard at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th frets, two dots at the 12th fret, and one dot at the 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st fret.
Sometimes, on higher end guitars, the dots are replaced with inlays just for cosmetic purposes.
- Saddle: The saddle is a piece of plastic or bone that is used to rest the strings on, for acoustic guitars. Having a smooth saddle prevents the guitar from creating a buzzing noise.
- Sides: Separate curved wooden pieces on the guitar’s body that join the top to the back.
- Sound hole: Is the hole in the body of an acoustic or acoustic electric guitar. This is where the sound waves that are made by the strings resonate in the body.
- Strap pin: Metal post where the front, or top, end of the strap connects. Not all acoustic guitars have a strap pin. If your guitar seems to be missing one, try tying the top of the strap around the head stock.
- Strings: The six metal (acoustic guitars that sport steel-strings) or nylon (for classical guitars) wires that when are taut, produce notes of the guitar. While the strings are not strictly part of the physical guitar’s composition (since you can attach and remove the strings at will), they are a part of the makeup of the whole system.
The guitar’s entire structure and design is based around making the strings produce a certain sound quality.
- Tone knob: This is used to adjust the tone of the pickups. Sometimes, electric guitars have different tone controls to adjust different pickups.
- Top: The top is also known as the face of the guitar. On an acoustic guitar, this piece is also the sound board, which produces almost all of an acoustic guitar’s qualities.
- Truss rod: Is the steel rod that runs along the neck and goes into the body of the guitar. Electric guitars and steel string acoustic guitars have truss rods, because they are needed to fight against the pull the strings have on the neck; basically, truss rods are just a reinforcement for the neck. Nylon string guitars do not need truss rods.
- Tuning machines (aka Tuning pegs): These are geared mechanisms that lower and raise the tension of the strings, which draws them to different pitches. The string wrap tightly around a post that sticks out through the top of the guitar, or face, of the head stock.
The post passes to the back of the head stock, where the gears connect to a tuning key. A tuning key can also be called tuning pegs, tuners, and/or tuning gears.
- Volume Knob: This is used to correct the volume of playing. On some electric guitars, different pickups have different volume controls.
Before we talk about the differences between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, here is a visual guide that will help you to better understand the anatomy of your guitar.
How does a guitar work?
The strings of the guitar are attached at each end of the guitar. The strings are attached to the guitar’s tuners, which allows the tension of each string to vary. The guitar’s tuners allow each string to be tuned to the desired pitch. At the other end of the guitar’s body, the strings attach to the bridge (also called the tailpiece).
Between these two anchor points, the strings pass over two points. One point is the nut (which is located at the end of the neck) and the other point is the saddle (which is where the string come with contact with the bridge).
The distance between these two points is called the scale length of the guitar. It’s common for bridges/saddles to be adjustable in order to allow for string length compensation.
Acoustic guitars work the same way. The strings are attached at the end of the body, through holes in the bridge and the top, with bridge pins. With most acoustic guitars, the saddle of the acoustic is not adjustable. The saddle is made from the same material as the nut, which is often bone or plastic.
The string’s vibration on an acoustic guitar causes the top of the of the guitar to vibrate too. The vibrations move the air inside of the guitar’s body (also called sound box) which is what causes the sound to become louder.
The pitch of any string can be altered by fretting it against the fingerboard by using your finger. An electric guitar’s sound is produce through an electric amplified.
Electronic pickups (amps) sense the vibration of a string and convert it into a small electric current. This electric current travels down your electric guitar’s cable to an amplifier (also called an amp) where the small current it turned into a bigger current.
A body of a guitar is usually wider at the bottom, thinnest in the middle, and thicker at the top of the guitar. The body of a guitar provides the resonance that shapes the tone of a guitar, which means that the body is the more important part of the guitar.
The body determines the volume of notes while playing acoustic guitars, while determining the sustain of notes in electric guitars.
When constructing a guitar, there are several aspects of a guitar’s build that affects the tone of the instrument:
- Construction method: whether the body of the guitar has been layered, hollow, solid, one-piece, etc
- The size and shape of the body of the guitar
- The type of wood used
It’s typical to see only high-end manufactures to use high quality wood. However, it’s also common to have cheaper manufacturers to have an impeccable sound, because they are sometimes built better. The denser and heavier the wood is, the richer and deeper the sustain and the sound is.
Below, you will find a list of the types of wood that are used to manufacturer guitars:
- Alder: Alder is a light, dense wood with a porous construction. This wood provides a balanced tone with a clean sound that has good resonance, providing a decent dynamic range.
- Ash: This wood is usually used in the construction of guitars around the mid-range pricing. Guitars made from this wood are usually good quality, but the open grain structure of the wood requires that massive amounts of lacquer to be used. This lowers the sustain of guitars.
- Basswood: Basswood is a light wood that has a consistent, tight grain. This wood is very soft, which means that the guitar dents very easily. Basswood has a warm and soft tone, with a very limited dynamic range. If you are looking for a guitar that’s going to play clean notes, I would suggest that you look for a guitar that has been built with a different wood.
- Cedar: Most commonly used tone wood.
- Mahogany: Is a wood that’s very dense and heavy, which makes it one of the best woods to use for guitar construction. Mahogany gives off mellow tones that are often described as ‘thick’, providing guitars with long sustains with incredible dynamic ranges.
- Nato: Is a wood that’s used to substitute for mahogany. Commonly found in cheaper guitars.
- Maple: Comes in two different varieties: Easter Hard Maple and Western Soft Maple. Maple is not used to construct an entire body of a guitar. Eastern Hard Maple is very hard and dense; it’s commonly used to make necks. Western Soft Maple is much lighter than Eastern Hard Maple and provides guitars with a bright tone, which is why it’s commonly used for guitar tops.
- Rosewood: A very dense wood that’s commonly used to make fretboard, back, and sides of acoustic guitars.
- Poplar: It’s a poplar misconception that Poplar is a budget wood. Expensive guitars are also made from this wood, because it’s tone resembles the same tone that Alder produces.
- Spruce: is one of the best tone woods, but isn’t used very often because it’s difficult to find, which makes it expensive.
- Walnut: Is a wood that’s harder, heavier, and denser than Mahogany. Walnut provides guitars with good sustain, warm tone, with a smooth and bright top end.
Electric Guitar: The Basics
Now that you understand that basic anatomy of a guitar, it’s time we talk about the details that make an electric guitar different than an acoustic guitar. Between electric guitars and acoustic guitars, electric guitars are much more complex. There are more working parts that go into an electric guitar in comparison to acoustics.
We’re going to break down and talk about the anatomy of a guitar and what each part does.
The body of an electric guitar is what holds all of the pieces of a guitar together. The body is also what sets the ‘mood’ of a guitar. The shape and color of a guitar’s body is what mainly defines the appearance of an instrument. You are more than likely not going to see a heavy metal guitarist playing a hot pink guitar with feminine detailing.
Also, the body of a guitar is also what sets the actual tone for the instrument; different woods make the guitar produce different sounds. While to a beginning or even intermediate guitarist, the sound difference that different woods produce isn’t very obvious, guitar manufacturers use specific woods on a guitar for specific reasons.
When looking a guitar, the neck is the long piece of wood that extends out from the body of the guitar. The neck is used on a guitar in order to provide space for the guitar scale.
Guitar necks may appear different in order to compensate for player comfort, but the main variations that differ with guitar necks are what wood the neck is made from, what kind of finish the wood has, and how thick the neck is. Guitars with thinner necks are made to provide people with smaller hands more comfort.
Different types of finishes that are offered on guitar necks provide players different levels of ease when moving your hand up and down the neck.
Using different types of wood to create the neck serves no purpose really- it’s mainly just for cosmetic purposes. As long as the wood is strong enough to withstand the pressure that the tension of the strings, it doesn’t really make much different what wood the neck is made from.
The truss rod is a metal rod that is actually set into the neck itself. The truss rod has the ability to be adjusted to bend either upward or downward, which forces the neck to bend in the same direction. This is used to fight against any bowing of the neck or to provide relief away from the pressure of the strings.
However, the adjustment of the truss rod is more commonly used to stop buzzing of the strings when they are too close to the frets of the guitar.
The fingerboard (also called the fretboard) is a thin piece of wood that is placed at the top of the neck. This provides a surface for the strings to press up against.
As for the frets, they are thin metal bars that lay across the fretboard; the frets are placed in certain positions that fit with the scale of the guitar. Having frets on a guitar makes playing the guitar much easier in comparison to playing a fretless guitar.
The head stock and tuners
On the end of the neck that’s not attached to the body, is the head stock. The shape of the head stock is going to change based on the manufacturer, but it’s easy to locate the head stock because that is where most manufacturers place their logo. Head stocks often serve as a type of birth mark for the guitar, making each line of guitars produced different.
However, head stocks aren’t just all about cosmetic purposes. Head stocks are the base for the tuning pegs, which are used for tuning the strings. Tuning pegs are a small peg that are located at the end of the guitar, with strings attached to them. When turned, the tuning pegs either add or subtract tension from the strings, which changes the pitch at which strings play.
The bridge and the saddles
At the opposite end of the guitar, the bridge is the opposite part to the tuners. While the tuners are what changes the pitch of the strings, the bridge stays static. The bridge holds the strings in place with bridge pins.
On some models of electric guitars, tremolo systems have been installed into the instrument. This is in order to allow the player to achieve a tremolo effect; by placing pressure to the bridge via a ‘whammy bar’, the player will temporarily add extra tension to the guitar strings, resulting in a tremolo.
The saddle sits right in front of the bridge. The purpose of the strings is to start the scale length of the guitar. In order to maintain tension on the strings, they must be positioned between two objects; the saddle serves as one point of tension. While it’s not for all guitars, the saddles may be adjustable, which will help to better tune the intonation (the string’s pitch).
Below, we have an image of an electric guitar’s bridge and saddle.
Like I mentioned above, the strings of a guitar have to have tension over two points. The saddle serves as one point of tension and the nut serves as the other. The nut sits at the end of the fretboard, where the neck transforms into the head stock.
The nut is a small rectangle of material that have grooves in it, which is where the strings sits. The material that the nut is placed in makes a difference in the tone that the guitar produces. On cheaper guitars, manufacturers tend to use plastic for their nuts; high end guitars are either ebony or bone.
In electric guitars and acoustic electric guitars, there are several electronic components that work together to allow for the sound of the guitar to be captured and promoted through an audio jack, rather than depending on an external microphone to produce large volumes of sound. The electronics that work together to produce an electric guitar’s sound system include:
- Output jack
- Magnetic pickup (this captures the sound that the strings produce)
- Tone controls
- Volume controls
There are some guitars that have much more to its electronic system than this, but this is the basic sound system that all electric guitars have. Some of extra electronics that may be featured in an expensive guitar are:
- Built in tuning tools
- Extra pickups
- Greater control over the tone dials
Electric guitars are also a pick guard (also called a scratch plate) that is typically a piece of plastic that is attached to the body of the guitar, placed directly underneath the strings. The pick guard is to protect the finish of the guitar from being scuffed or scratched from the player’s strumming hand while playing down strokes.
Did you know that there are different body styles for electric guitars, just as there are for acoustic guitars?
Acoustic electric guitar
An acoustic electric guitar is just an acoustic guitar that comes with electric pickups. The electric pickups are installed in this guitar in order to amplify the sound. With an acoustic electric, you should not compare the sound to any other type of electric guitar; this is because of the acoustic’s hollow body.
If you are looking for an acoustic guitar with the electric projection, check out an acoustic electric guitar!
Want to know what an acoustic electric guitar looks like? We’ve got an image down below for you to check out!
Hollow body electric
When electric guitars were first produced, they were hollow. Fast forward to today’s time and hollow guitars are a very popular choice among jazz guitarists; this is because hollow body electric guitars produce a large, warm sound.
Semi-hollow electric guitar
Semi-hollow electric guitars don’t have as thick of a body as hollow body guitars do. However, both guitars are hollow on the inside. Semi-hollow electric guitars don’t give as much feedback as hollow body guitars do; semi-hollow electric guitars are more popular in rock and roll.
Solid body electric guitar
After some development was put into the hollow body electric, Fender came out with a guitar that was branded as the Telecaster. Later on in time, the Stratocaster was born! The Stratocaster’s body shape is what most people think of when thinking about an electric guitar.
Acoustic Guitars: The Details
Now, we’re going to talk about acoustic guitars, so that after you have finished reading this article, you have a solid understanding of the differences between acoustic and electric guitars, what the parts of each type of guitar are, what these parts look like, and the function of each part of the guitar.
The head stock
The head stock on an acoustic guitar is a rectangular shape that holds the tuning keys and the logo of the manufacturer. On the head stock of an acoustic, you will find that the strings to your guitar are wrapped around the peg heads, which are the objects that look like buttons on the head stock.
The peg heads hold the strings in place and taunt; when you move the tuning keys, you are rotating the peg heads. By rotating the peg heads, you are adjusting the tension on each individual string, which is what tunes the string.
For beginning guitarists, the head stock of the guitar is the part of the guitar that takes the most abuse. A lot of beginning guitarists aren’t used to the length of a guitars’ body, so they tend to bump and hit the head against other objects. Without the head of a guitar, the guitar is completely useless. Make sure to take care of the head of your acoustic guitar!
Tuning pegs, machine heads, tuning keys are the same thing, so don’t get worried if you read the word ‘tuning keys’ if you are doing research! These tiny little keys are what bring your acoustic (and electric) guitar to life! Tuning keys are commonly gold or silver and they hold the strings on your head stock.
Tightening or loosening the tuning pegs causes different levels of tension, which dictates the sound of said string. Doing this is called tuning! As a
Make sure that you keep in mind that it is easy to break your strings, so make sure that you don’t tighten your strings too quickly or too much.
The nut of your acoustic guitar is right below the head stock; the purpose of the nut is to keep your strings in place. Every nut on a guitar, whether it be a banjo, acoustic, bass, or electric, has vertical grooves on its surface and this is to keep the strings in place.
While the strings of your guitar may be attached to the peg heads, they still need something to hold them in place when they are being played; the vibration of the string causes the string to move around and with the nut stops the string from moving around. In order to produce a quality sound from the instrument, the strings need to be held in a controlled and tight manner.
The fingerboard (also called fretboard)
If you happen to be doing more research on a guitar to prepare yourself for a future purchase, you are going to find that people talk about a guitar’s fingerboard or a guitar’s fretboard. These are synonyms for each other, so don’t panic! It’s a common mistake for people to believe that the fretboard and the neck to be the same thing.
However, that’s not true! The fingerboard is the long, wooden section of a guitar the holds the guitar’s frets and strings.
While the fingerboard is on the neck, it’s not actually the neck. The fingerboard has one purpose and one purpose only: to provide your fingers an area to press on the strings to allow you
It’s very easy to identify the frets on a guitar by the silver bars that run across the fingerboard. The further you go down the neck of a guitar, the further you get towards the body, the less space between the frets there is.
The purpose of a fret is to shorten the length of vibration of a string from the point where you press down with your finger; the vibration is sent to the bridge and this is what controls the sound and the pitch of each string you play.
In summary, when you press your fingers between frets and play a string, you will produce a different sound; each space between the fret produces its own musical note, for each individual string. The frets control the pitch of the string that you play and will produce a different sound depending on which space you press your fingers on.
Just to help you out a little bit more, we have an image of an acoustic guitar’s frets down below.
The neck and position markers
The neck is the part of the gutiar that holds the guitar’s head stock, strings, and fingerboard. The bottom of the neck attaches to the body of the guitar and the top of the neck attaches to the fingerboard.
As for the position markesr, they are the little dots that are placed on frest on the fingerboard of the guitar. The purpose of position marker is to give players an easy reference to judge where they are playing their hands.
These dots are called inlays; single inlays are posted at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st fret. Double inlays (two dots instead of one dot) are located on the 12th fret.
Below, we have an image of an acoustic guitar’s neck.
Strings are needed in order to produce melodies, chords, and arpeggios from the guitar. Strings are pressed down by your fingers on the fretboard and this is done in order to produce different sounds and pitches from the instrument. The strings are also used over the sound hole, which is where the strings are either plucked, strummed, or picked with a guitarist’s fingers.
In order to receive a desired pitch or sound, strings must be properly tuned and maintained. For acoustic guitars, there are two different types of strings that are available on the market:
Steel: Steel strings are the most common string to be found on acoustic guitars. This type of string produces a hard, crisp sound. Steel strings and nylon strings break just as equally, so it’s important that you take care of them.
Nylon: Nylon strings are found on classical guitars, which commonly play flamenco and other styles that are similar to flamenco. Nylon strings have a softer sound, which is why they’re a popular choice with classical guitars.
There are so many different body types when it comes to acoustic guitars. The body of an acoustic guitar is shaped like an hourglass; the shape of an acoustic guitar helps to project the sound that’s produced in the sound hole.
The sound hole and pick guard
The sound hole of an acoustic guitar is what separates an acoustic guitar from an electric guitar. Electric guitars produce their sound from an amplifier, where as acoustic guitars produce their sound from the sound holes.
However, the exception to this rule is acoustic electric guitars; acoustic electric guitars have a sound hole, as well as an option to plug in to an amplifier.
In the sound hole, the sound from the strings reverberates into the sound hole and amplifies the sound produced. If you are looking to produce a loud, clean sound, it’s best to play directly over the sound hole.
The pick guard is the black slab of plastic that you see sitting right underneath of the sound hole. This is a protective layer of plastic to prevent the pick or the fingernails of the player from scratching the surface of the guitar. Pick guards are typically a shiny, plastic material.
If your pick guard looks beaten up, you can easily replace it! All you’ll need it a replacement pick guard; it has a sticky back and is applied just like you would apply a sticker.
Want to know what the sound hole or the pick guard look like? Scroll down! It’s the black curved shape that’s right by the sound hole.
The bridge of an acoustic guitar’s job is to hold the strings down on your acoustic. The strings of the guitar run over the saddle of the guitar and are held into the guitar with bridge pins (which are also called string pegs). The bridge is the black rectangular shaped object at the bottom of the guitar. The bridge pin/ string pegs are the white buttons that sit on top of the bridge.
If you know what the nut does, then you understand the role of the saddle on an acoustic guitar. The saddle holds the strings in place at the bottom of the guitar; the saddle is located right on top of the bridge. The saddle has six grooves in it, to hold the strings in and to give the
Unlike electric guitars, acoustic guitars do not have an adjustable saddle. The saddle is typically made from the same material as the nut is, which is either bone or plastic.
The string pegs (also called bridge pins)
String pins act in a similar manner to your tuning pegs. The bridge pins hold in your strings to ensure that a constant amount of tension is held on the strings. If you ever happen to lose your bridge pin, your string is going to come loose and you are not going to be able to produce a pitch from that string.
The string pegs keep the strings in place as they travel over the saddle, travel along the fret board, and are held in by the nut and the tuning pegs.
Replacing a bridge pin isn’t difficult, but I would suggest that you do it when you are replacing your strings. If you seem to struggle with replacing your strings or replacing your string pegs, go to your local guitar shop! They will have someone replace your strings and show you how to do it, so you can do it by yourself in the future!
Not exactly sure what bridge pins look like? They’re the white, circular buttons that you see in the image down below!
And that’s it! That’s a wrap! I hope you have enjoyed learning about the basic terms of that all beginning guitarists should know when first starting out their journey learning guitar.
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