Do you know your head from your output jack? Whether you’re playing acoustic or electric, knowing the parts of a guitar will help you communicate about your instrument and learn to be a better player. Get ready to dive in to this guitar guide and make a vow never to mix up your neck and your fingerboard again!
Let’s start at the top, or the head, of your guitar. You’ll find your tuning keys attached to the head of your guitar. These can be turned to loosen or tighten each string and adjust the pitch. Many guitar makers also include their brand on the guitar’s headstock.
The head of your guitar meets the neck at a small piece called the nut. In upscale guitars, the nut may be made of ivory, but most guitar makers will substitute hard plastic. The nut has six grooves for the strings to rest in, which hold them in place.
Image by FreeGuitarSource.com
The neck of your guitar is the long, narrow piece of wood that runs from the head of your guitar down to the body. The flat piece of wood on top of the neck, where the strings rest, is called the fingerboard. The two terms are often confused because some guitarists use “neck” and “fingerboard” interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Now that you know, don’t make that mistake!
The wire insets that mark the fingerboard are called frets. Frets indicate the position where a string must be pressed down to produce a specific pitch.
You may also see dots or other shapes laid into the fingerboard under the strings. These are position markers and they help you keep track of which fret you are playing. It is common to see position markers at the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, and fifteenth frets of your guitar.
The main piece of your guitar is called its body. On an acoustic guitar, the body is hollow to amplify the sound of picking or strumming the strings. Electric guitars have solid bodies, so they tend to be heavier.
The pick guard rests on the body of the guitar, near the soundhole on an acoustic or the pickups on an electric. The pick guard protects your guitar from getting scratched by your pick and from fingermarks.
The bridge is the piece where your guitar’s strings are attached to the body. On many acoustic guitars, the strings are held in place on the bridge with small bridge pins. On many electric guitars, the strings are threaded through the back of the guitar’s body and an internal mechanism holds the string in place on the bridge.
Acoustic vs. Electric Guitars
You may have noticed that there are a certain parts of a guitar that an electric guitar has that an acoustic guitar does not have, and vice versa. The main way that acoustic and electric guitars are different is in the way that sound is amplified.
Acoustic guitars have hollow bodies and an opening under the strings called the soundhole. When you play an acoustic guitar, the sound from the strings reverberates inside the soundhole. This reverberation amplifies the sound of the acoustic guitar, and you will notice as you play different acoustic guitars that volume and tone quality can vary greatly depending on the size of the guitar’s body, the type of wood used, and the size and positioning of the soundhole.
The acoustic guitar also has a raised wooden piece under the bridge known as the saddle. The height of the saddle affects the action, or playability, of your guitar. If the saddle is too tall, the strings will rest further from the fingerboard, making your guitar much harder to play. If the saddle is too low, the strings may rest too close to the fingerboard to produce a good tone. If you suspect that the saddle is too tall or too short on your guitar, visit a local guitar shop and let them know you are concerned about the action on your guitar.
Electric guitars are amplified by electric pickups. The pickups are metal pieces you will find on the body of the guitar in about the same place as a soundhole on an acoustic guitar would be. Pickups turn the vibrations of your strings into electric currents, which are then played through the speakers of your amplifier. The output jack is where you plug in your cable from your guitar to your amp.
Different guitar models and brands often rely on the type and number of pickups to distinguish the tone and sound of their guitars. You will notice a small switch on your electric guitar near the pickups. This is the pickup selector switch, and it lets you choose which pickup on your guitar you would like to use to pick up the sound vibrations. Experiment with this switch to see which of your pickups produces the best tone for your style of playing. You should be able to get a variety of sounds out of the pickups on your guitar.
Types of Guitar Pickups
If you are playing on a Fender Stratocaster or Squire, your guitar likely has single coil pickups. These pickups are comprised of a single coil of wire and two small, horseshoe-shaped magnets. Single coil pickups tend to have a bright, twangy sound, but they also can produce a lot of feedback and noise. The single coil electric guitar pickup was used in the first Fender guitars and is still used today in modern Stratocasters.
The Stratocaster has three pickups and a five position pickup selector switch. The first, third, and fifth positions on the pickup selector switch allow you to use the first, second, or third pickups exclusively. The second and fourth positions on the selector switch allow you to blend the sounds of the first and second pickups or the second and third pickups together.
Another type of guitar pickup, P90 pickups were introduced to the public on Gibson’s Les Paul Gold Top guitar in 1952. Basically, the P90 is a single coil pickup with a wider coil. The wider coil is able to pick up a wider range of sound vibrations from the strings, resulting in a fuller, less bright sound.
However, Gibson’s greatest contribution to the electric guitar is the humbucker pickup. Humbucker pickups use two wire coils in opposition, to pick up a clearer tone and “buck” the “hum” of traditional single coil pickups. Humbucker pickups will cause less feedback and noise and produce a rich, warm tone.
Parts of the Acoustic Guitar
For more information on acoustic guitars, TakeLessons Teacher Jason M. recently visited our offices to record a video for you. Watch as he goes over the parts of an acoustic guitar, and check out other videos in the series for more great guitar tips and tricks!
Now that you’re more familiar with the parts of a guitar, you can learn even more about how to play your guitar and get the kinds of sound that you want. One of the most fun things about playing guitar is experimenting with your sound to find out what you like. Go to a guitar shop and play different guitars to see what you like. Above all, have fun and rock on!
For guitarists who want to see big improvements in their playing, nothing beats studying with a qualified guitar teacher. TakeLessons offers private, one-on-one lessons with the best teachers. Our teachers tailor your lessons to your needs, so you learn exactly what you want to. Search for your perfect teacher today or read more of our guitar resource articles.
–Megan L. TakeLessons Staff Member, Blogger, and Proud Lover of a 1984 Fender Strat