One of the most often forgotten parts of playing the guitar is having a firm understanding of guitar anatomy. As a musician for over 20 years, I see what happens when players don’t know what they’re guitar is made of.
Often, having a better understanding of the parts of a guitar will help the musician better understand how to play their instrument.
Acoustic Guitar Anatomy
In this section, we’ll talk about the anatomy of an acoustic guitar and how this affects the volume and tone of the instrument. Compared to electric guitars, much of the parts of an acoustic guitar are the same.
The next section will discuss more the unique parts of a guitar in regards to the electric guitar.
The head or headstock of the guitar is the top part where the strings are attached to the tuning pegs. The head itself doesn’t have much effect on the guitar, but the shape may affect how well it stays in tune.
If the head forces each string to bend out of a straight line a lot, it may lose its pitch easier.
The tuning pegs or tuning gears are an important and often forgotten part of the guitar. Geared tuners are best because they hold a better pitch.
The strings on the acoustic guitars are steel strings. Don’t get confused with a classical guitar that uses nylon strings.
There are some 3/4 size acoustic guitars for kids that use a combination of steel and nylon strings. But by and large, acoustic and electric guitars use steel strings.
There are typically six of these strings meant going from lowest to highest. The strings stretch attached at the tuning pegs, go down the neck and body of the guitar, and attach over the bridge and saddle.
Under traditional tuning, the string names are E, A, D, G, B, and high E.
The nut is the part on the neck that holds the strings over the fretboard. It’s vital the nut does this job or the strings won’t sound correct at all.
Most nuts are made from bone or synthetic bone. Cheaper ones are made from plastic and need to be replaced when worn down.
This is where the most difficult part of playing the guitar rests. The fretboard is made of hardwood and is where you need to press down on the strings to create new notes and chords.
The neck of the guitar is often where the most warping occurs. It holds the fretboard and the tension from the strings. Eyeing up the neck will show if the wood is bending forwards or backward, therefore it’s important to use a tough wood.
The frets are the little metal rods put on the fretboard to tell where each string needs to be pressed down to play a specific note. Each fret needs to be high enough to stop the string, but not so high the string buzzes off the next fret.
Frets are known to fall off but are fairly easy to replace.
The truss rod is a rod inside the guitar neck. It adds or releases tension adjusted how high or low the strings are to the fretboard.
This is just inside the soundhole where the neck attaches to the guitar body.
Amateurs shouldn’t adjust the truss rod. Leave it to a more experienced player.
The sound hole is the circle where the sound comes out of the body of the guitar. This should avoid being blocked wherever possible.
Electric guitars don’t have soundholes.
The body of the guitar is the large part where you hold the guitar. Inside the body is where the air vibrates and fills the sound.
The design and material of the guitar’s body is essential in how it sounds.
The guitar top wood is most responsible for the power and clarity of the sound. It’s often made of spruce or another hardwood.
The back and sides of the guitar are most responsible for the tone quality and resonance of the guitar. This wood is often made from a softer and more porous wood to offset the strong top, but not always.
The pickguard is an ornamental protective layer near the soundhole. It’s supposed to prevent scratching from the player when they strum their guitar.
The bridge is quite important in the anatomy of guitars. It’s responsible for transferring the vibrations from each string and passing it into the body of the guitar.
As the body material vibrates with each string vibration, the air inside vibrates as sound. This is what creates the sound and tone of the guitar.
The sound is then projected out of the soundhole.
Without a functioning bridge, your guitar will never sound right.
Electric Guitar Anatomy
This section will talk about the electric guitar and its anatomy. Much of the parts of an electric guitar are similar to acoustic guitars, so this section will focus on the parts which are different.
Most important are the pickups in an electric guitar. These are essentially small magnets that emit a magnetic field around each string at different parts of the guitar.
As the string vibrates, the pickups…well, pick up the sound and send it to an electric piece that converts the sound. These are often visible as little circular discs embedded on the guitar body.
The whammy bar (made famous in rock music and Guitar Hero) is a bar on the end of the guitar body. It takes the sound information from the pickups and makes it warble.
This is largely for special effects and not as prevalent as Guitar Hero makes it out to be.
There are often tone and volume controls on the electric guitar as well.
The tone control allows you to alter the sound as it’s sent out. Often, this may also involve changes that pickups are used.
The position of the pickups under each string affects the quality of the sound too.
The volume control does exactly what it says it does. Controls the volume of the sound as it leaves the guitars.
The output jack is where you plug in your amplifier. Acoustic/electric combination guitars also have this, but strictly acoustic ones don’t.
These are traditionally kept near the bottom of the guitar body.
Now you know a little more about electric and acoustic guitars and their anatomy. It’s helpful to know what each part does and how it fits into the greater guitar playing.
Keep this in mind as you play and you’ll be surprised how it can help you improve.