Understanding The Parts Of A Guitar

When you start playing guitar, it’s unlikely you’re going to know exactly what every part of it is or what it does. There are a lot of different parts on a guitar, some obvious, some simple, some weird… Eventually, you’ll need to figure out exactly what they are what they do.

Whether looking to upgrade, repair or set up your guitar, this guide will help you to understand what your guitar is made up of…

Acoustic Guitar

  1. Body: The biggest, main part of the guitar is the hollowed out piece of wood which will rest on your body as you play, and houses the sound hole, the resonance chamber, the bridge and the strings. In general, your strumming will take place over the body as well. As with the neck, the type of wood and its design will impact how the guitar sounds. If your guitar is poorly made, it is much more likely to have a weak tone in comparison to a guitar with a well-made body.
  2. Sound Hole: The sound hole is where the sound of an acoustic guitar comes from, as it is the entrance to the resonance chamber. Different guitars have different designs, but in general the sound hole is a simple circle underneath the strings in the middle of the body. You may lose your pick.
  3. Neck: You know what a neck is: the longest part of the guitar, which connects the head to the body. Within the neck, are the strings, fretboard and frets. The neck is really important for the sound of your guitar and the way you can play it. While a thicker neck will be harder to play (as it is harder to get your hand around), it will give a more full bodied sound. Furthermore, if your neck is made of poor quality wood, it could warp and change the tone, shape and action of your guitar. This could make the strings further from the neck and a lot harder to press down on.
  4. Strings: The strings of a guitar are what determine the sound you make. You can’t really put electric guitar strings on an acoustic, so you’ll need to know whether your acoustic needs to be strung with metal, or nylon (which would be the case if you have a classical guitar). Thicker strings create a very different, fuller sound but you should probably put a lot of thought into your strings as it can heavily impact the tone and style of your playing. Take a look at our guide to changing strings.
  5. Frets: Frets are the metal strips that determine the note you’re playing, and are organised across the guitar neck. They start off thicker at the top of the neck to create a lower note, before reaching a much thinner size as they produce higher notes. The frets on a good guitar will be smooth and rounded in order to avoid a buzzing sound when they are pressed down upon.
  6. Fret Markers: These are small (normally) circles on the fretboard, designed to let you know where you are on the board. In general, a marker will be on frets 5, 7, 9 and 12, with the 12th marker displaying two dots in order to show that you’re up an octave from the open version of the string.
  7. Head: Right at the top of your guitar you’ll see the weirdly shaped head. This is one of the places where the strings are connected to the guitar, by being wrapped around the tuning pegs. Sometimes all six of the tuners will be on the same side of the head, but typically an acoustic will have three tuning pegs on each side (or six on each side on a 12-string). The head can impact the tone of the guitar and the amount of sustain each string can create based on its shape and angle.
  8. Tuning Pegs: The tuning pegs are pretty self-explanatory. They are pegs, used for tuning. Spin them round and they’ll change the pitch of each string up and down, reaching the desired tuning. Normally, a new guitar will have tuning pegs on them already, but you can replace them yourself to get higher quality pegs (and therefore keep your guitar in tune easier). You could even replace them with pegs from another instrument, such as a banjo, which will make them more sensitive.
  9. Nut: The nut is one of the lesser known features of the guitar, as it isn’t all that exciting. It’s a small piece of material situated between the neck and the head of the guitar, with slots for the strings to feed through. It is used to transit the vibrations of the strings, and can impact the tone.
  10. Bridge: The bridge is what keeps the strings of the guitar attached to the body. Like the nut, this is the other area of the guitar through which the vibration is passed, creating the tone of your guitar.
  11. Bridge Pins: As you’ll have seen if you’ve used our string changing guide, the bridge pins keep the strings in the bridge. Obviously, they exist because it is necessary to keep the strings connected tightly, because if they weren’t, then you’d just get a dull thud every time you tried to pluck a string. They’re pretty hard to get used to when changing strings, but luckily, they are one of the least likely things to impact the sound of your guitar (as long as you put them in correctly).

Electric Guitar

  1. Body: The biggest, main part of the electric guitar is the solid wood body, which will rest on your own body as you play. The body is perhaps slightly less important on an electric than an acoustic, but it’ll still have a big impact on the tone of your playing. You can also get a semi-hollow bodied guitars which reduce feedback and make the guitar slightly more playable without an amp.
  2. Neck: The neck on electric guitar is much the same as an acoustic, connecting the head to the body. Within the neck, are the strings, fretboard and frets, as well as something specific to an electric guitar, called a truss rod that keeps the neck in the same shape so it doesn’t bend. The neck is really important for the sound of your guitar and the way you can play it. While a thicker neck will be harder to play (as it is harder to get your hand around), it will give a more full bodied sound.
  3. Truss Rod: This keeps the curve of your guitar neck consistent so the sound it creates doesn’t degrade. Most guitars have a nut that can be adjusted with a screwdriver in order to adjust the tension (and thus shape) of the neck.
  4. Frets: Frets are the metal strips that determine the note you’re playing, and are organised across the guitar neck. They start off thicker at the top of the neck to create a lower note, before reaching a much thinner size as they produce higher notes. The frets on a good guitar will be smooth and rounded in order to avoid a buzzing sound when they are pressed down upon.
  5. Fret Markers: These are small (normally) circles on the fretboard, designed to let you know where you are on the board. In general, a marker will be on frets 5, 7, 9 and 12, with the 12th marker displaying two dots in order to show that you’re up an octave from the open version of the string.
  6. Strings: The strings of a guitar are what determine the sound you make. You’ll need electric guitar strings, but the type of string is up to you. Have a look at our guide for best electric guitar strings. Thicker strings create a very different, fuller sound but you should probably put a lot of thought into your strings as it can heavily impact the tone and style of your playing. However, you should make sure your guitar can handle the type of strings you want as ones that are too thick or tense may just not work with the neck of your guitar.
  7. Head: Right at the top of your guitar you’ll see the weirdly shaped head. This is one of the places where the strings are connected to the guitar, by being wrapped around the tuning pegs. Most of the time, your electric guitar will have all of its pegs on the same side, but certain guitars such as Gibson SG’s will have three on each (or a different formulation if you have extra strings).
  8. Tuning Pegs: The tuning pegs are pretty self-explanatory. They are pegs, used for tuning. Spin them round and they’ll change the pitch of each string up and down, reaching the desired tuning. Normally, a new guitar will have tuning pegs on them already, but you can replace them yourself to get higher quality pegs (and therefore keep your guitar in tune easier). You could even replace them with pegs from another instrument, such as a banjo, which will make them more sensitive.
  9. Bridge: The bridge is what keeps the strings of the guitar attached to the body. Like the nut, this is the other area of the guitar through which the vibration is passed, creating the tone of your guitar. It does also function as the place where intonation is set on an electric guitar, via a moving part called a saddle. You can move this with a screw to make sure the tuning is accurate all the way up the neck. Intonation problems can mean a guitar could sound in tune on the first fret, but by the time you reach the 20th fret, you could be out of tune.
  10. Nut: The nut is one of the lesser known features of the guitar, as it isn’t all that exciting. It’s a small piece of material situated between the neck and the head of the guitar, with slots for the strings to feed through. It is used to transit the vibrations of the strings, and can impact the tone.
  11. Pickup: Pickups are probably the main difference between an acoustic and an electric guitar (though an electro-acoustic will have them). They literally pick up the sound of the guitar through the vibrations of the string, convert it into an electrical signal which is sent down the lead and into the amp. Many different pickups exist on an electric guitar, from the one on the bridge (fuller) the one on the neck (thinner) and a combination of both. They all have a very different sound.
  12. Pickup Selector: The pickups can be swapped between with ease using the pickup selector. You simply flip the switch to turn certain pickups on or off and thus change the sound coming from the guitar.
  13. Tone Wheel: This wheel turns the amount of treble coming through the guitar up or down. If you bring the treble up, the sound of your guitar is going to be thinner but lighter and brighter; turning the treble down will give a darker thickness, but could sound muddy.
  14. Volume Wheel: The volume wheel works in the same way as the tone wheel, but changes (surprisingly) the volume instead. This will only work when the guitar is playing through an amp.
  15. Jack Output: The hole in the side or bottom of the body is used to insert the jack lead, and thus direct the electrical signal created by the string vibrations into the amp, which makes your guitar make a sound. Make sure this isn’t loose as it could lead to a weak, temperamental connection. Similarly, the quality of the lead will impact the strength of your connection.

Other Features

  •   Whammy Bar: Most guitars will be equipped with a whammy bar. This can be moved to bend the pitch of notes you’re playing and form a number of special effects, such as dive bombs.
  •   Tuner: Occasionally, guitars will have built in tuners. Acoustic guitars in particular, may have a tuner on the side of its body and can be used to tune the guitar accurately.
  •   Strap: Both the strap and the button in which you put the strap are important on electric guitars. Acoustic guitars often don’t have them, but guitar designed to be played standing up will have a button that you can connect a strap of your choice.

Leave a Comment