Do you know your guitar like the back of your hand?
Here’s the thing:
Guitar has many parts you might not even know of.
So, if you want to learn more about your guitar and its features, let’s dive into Guitar Anatomy 101.
Anatomy is defined as the study of the structure of organisms and their parts.
In short, we’ll be talking about the structure of the guitar, its components, and its functions.
Parts of a Guitar
You don’t need to memorize each and every part, but at least learn the important ones.
Guitars ordinarily have three major components: headstock, neck, and body.
We’ll go one by one on each part of the guitar and its function.
Here’s the thing:
I will only be including fundamental elements. So, there may be some pieces I might miss.
Acoustic Guitar Anatomy
Here is the diagram for the guitar anatomy of an acoustic guitar.
Electric Guitar Anatomy
Here is the layout for the electric guitar parts.
If you’ve noticed, there’s not much of a difference between the two.
Generally, the contrast separating these guitars is how they produce their sound.
To be more specific, the soundboard of an acoustic and the electric pickups of an electric.
Guitar Anatomy: Headstock
This part is typically called “head.”
But, in technical terms, the “headstock” is the correct version.
Basically this is where you’ll see the tuning heads, and the end of the string.
At times, this is where you can adjust the truss rod.
Here’s the thing:
Headstock also has two construction forms: straight and angled.
Their advantages are quite debatable. Luthiers from both styles stated some benefits in sound, sustain, and staying in tune.
Here’s the kicker:
Based on the mechanical advantage of a “pulley,” shouldn’t the angled one have more relaxed tension for the headstock and tuning heads?
In the end, straight vs. angled is controversial.
Perhaps, this is more of a question of what looks better?
Here are some of the head designs of different brands.
I like the design of Fender Guitars (leftmost).
You might not notice, but their headstock looks like an eighth or quarter note. Looks admirable and perfect for a musical instrument.
Don’t you agree?
The head is where you will see the tuning pegs.
Also, it has many names for it: Tuning heads, tuning machines, machine heads, guitar tuners, pegs, gears, machines, cranks, knobs, tensioners, and tighteners.
Of course, they have one essential purpose:
Tighten or loosen the strings to correct and hold the tune of your guitar.
Nut Nut (Who’s There?)
Bones, plastics, or sometimes metal is what makes the nut of the guitar. Also, it connects the strings from the fretboard to the tuners.
The nut refers to a fret 0 at times.
The main objective of this component is to maintain precise string alignment.
Guitar Anatomy: Neck
Now, for the second main part of guitar anatomy.
The neck holds the fretboard and frets.
Most necks are made from maple or mahogany.
In terms of sound, there’s not much, if not subtle, difference.
So, when choosing between the two, it’s better to look for something more comfortable for you.
In terms of feel, there’s one more you should know about the neck.
That’s the neck’s finish. It contributes to aesthetics but, more importantly, to your convenience.
There’s hand-rubbed, matte, satin, and glossy finish.
For me, a matte or hand-rubbed neck finish is more comfortable. It’s definitely easier to move around the neck compared to a glossy finish.
And another important thing you need to know:
Action. An action of the guitar is the distance of the strings to the fretboard at the 12th fret. So, if you’re a beginner you should find a guitar that has a low action.
With it, you don’t have to exert too much effort when pressing the strings.
The neck is where the fretboard sits and where the fun and frustration occurs. Also, the fingerboard is the other term for the fretboard.
The most important thing about the fretboard is how comfortable it is for you.
You can use this image if you’re interested in memorizing all the notes on the guitar.
Of course, you don’t have to. But once you get to music theory, you’ll probably have to memorize it.
Here’s the weird thing:
Frets may be both the wires or space between the bars. It will depend on how you use them in a sentence.
On youtube tutorials, you’ll hear a lot of, “…put your index finger on the 3rd fret…”
If you simply said fret(s), it means the fret bars, lines, or wires.
So, if you tell a specific numbered fret, such as the third fret, it will mean the space between frets behind the third fret.
When you use fret as a verb, it merely means the act of pressing down a string behind a particular fret bar.
You can avoid fret buzz by pressing the string down closer to the fret, or literally behind the fret.
It might not be much, but this knowledge will help you a lot if you’re just starting on a guitar.
For the fret numbers, it begins after the nut (fret 0) until it reaches the body.
On an acoustic guitar, frets usually go up to 20. While on an electric guitar, it may have 21, 22, or 24 frets.
Some cheap guitars have sharp-edged frets. That’s something you should totally avoid.
It doesn’t cause callus; instead, it causes scratches to your fingers.
Of course there are also guitars that are good enough even for their price. So, if you’re looking for an affordable quality guitar, you can!
Another part of the fretboard is the position markers or inlays. Its purpose is both for playing and aesthetics.
If you buy an expensive guitar, you’ll probably have nice looking inlays (more than just a dot).
The primary use of it is to assist you in playing. It is strategically on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th (2 markers).
You can use it as a visual aid since the markers will tell you which fret you’re on when you look down on your guitar’s neck.
Some inlays will also be on top to assist you better (no need to bend to see).
Strings are the most renewable part of the guitar.
For your first few weeks, the strings will hurt you a lot.
But, after you get used to it?
You’ll love the feel of the strings at the tip of your fingers.
Every string has a different note.
To remember it quickly, use this phrase:
“Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie.”
Also, the string numbering starts from the bottom (thinnest string).
You should remember these numbers and notes because you’ll encounter them a lot.
For example, if you are studying a chord, you will hear a lot of:
“Put your index finger on 1st string, third fret…”
“With your middle finger, press on the D string, 2nd fret…”
There’s also the chord diagram that you should learn.
Don’t worry; it’s easy to understand.
I have an article on how to read a chord diagram if you’re interested.
Some extra tip for you:
Why? Old strings will probably sound weird and might not stay in tune. Worst of all, they might snap unexpectedly.
Not all guitars have truss rods, but for an expensive guitar, this is something you have to consider.
The truss rod is like the spine of the guitar anatomy. Or perhaps braces?
I think braces are the closest analogy.
After you’ve had your guitar for quite some time, your guitar might have some damages. It is especially true if you travel a lot.
An example of the bad things that could happen is the curving of the neck.
One cause is the tension of the strings continually pulling, different string gauges, or different tuning.
The other is the atmospheric changes, hence the traveling.
It might also occur when you first get your guitar. Due to atmospheric differences between your province versus the place where you ordered it.
Simply put, this phenomenon is inevitable.
If the neck bends, the intonation of the guitar will be all over the place. The guitar will also have wrong action and unusual fret buzz, which is uncomfortable to play.
That’s where the truss rod comes in.
The primary purpose of this component is to fix the curvature (relief) of the neck.
So, if you’ve noticed that the neck has arched? You can quickly fix it by adjusting the truss rod.
It is easy to adjust, but if you’re inexperienced and unsure? (Especially if you’re using an expensive guitar.) I would suggest that you should let a luthier do it.
Dual-Action Truss Rod
Nowadays, modern guitars have a dual-action truss rod.
With this, it can warp the neck in two directions, which is why it’s also called two way or double expanding truss rod.
It can add relief or decrease relief, which is more convenient than a regular truss rod.
Thus, if you’re looking for a guitar, you might want to look for the “dual-action truss rod” feature.
The truss rod does NOT adjust the action of the guitar. This idea is something that’s usually misunderstood by beginners.
It merely CORRECTS the action (one of many), not add or decrease.
Guitar Anatomy: Body
[How does the guitar make a sound?]
The body is the last main part of the guitar anatomy where the magic happens.
I’ll make it simple:
When you pluck or strum the strings, it creates a vibration or sound waves. The sound waves transfer from the bridge to the top or soundboard of the guitar.
In the case of an acoustic guitar, the sound wave also resonates and amplifies in the hollow body. Which then produces the sound through the soundhole.
For electric guitar, it uses two or more pickups to “pick up” the vibration and turn it into electrical signals.
Those weak electrical signals are sent to an amplifier, which, well, amplifies the signal. The amp finally sends it to a speaker.
Awesome sounding music.
There’s also the finish that you need to know about the guitar body.
The finish can be satin, matte, or glossy. There are other finish types, but these are the most common.
All of them look awesome, but then again, it will depend on your preference.
If you plan to paint your guitar, I’d suggest against it.
I mean, you can, but you gotta be careful, and be smart about it. Because some paints can dampen the sound quality of your guitar.
Top, Back & Sides
Let’s get to the top, or the soundboard. (Pun intended)
Most of the wood construction you’ll see on an acoustic guitar is Spruce or Mahogany.
They both sound great; it will just depend on the whole package and on what you’re looking for.
Back & sides of the guitar usually go together, which is also an essential variable for the resulting sound.
The top, back & sides can either be laminated or solid.
Here’s the thing:
Solid wood construction has a better sound, but it’s more expensive.
Layered or laminated, on the other hand, has an adequate quality but cheaper.
For a beginner on a budget, I would suggest the latter. It’s better to test the waters first.
Some guitars may also have strap pins. Mostly expensive guitars, and rarely for cheaper guitars.
If you plan to play your guitar while standing up and do some shredding?
You have to make sure you also have a strap lock.
We don’t want your guitar to just fall on the floor.
That will hurt a lot for you and the guitar.
The bridge is one of the crucial elements of a guitar.
For one, it holds the saddle and strings in place.
Secondly, it transmits the vibration to the soundboard and the hollow part of the body.
Also, saddles help with the delivery of the sound.
Without the bridge and saddle, the guitar will probably sound weird.
Let’s not forget about the bridge pins or string peg that keeps a tight grip on the strings of an acoustic guitar.
The pins may be plastic, bone, or metal.
Theoretically, a denser material should have better sound and sustain.
This is true for saddles and nut as well.
To be honest, this is controversial to this day.
A little extra:
If you plan to change the bridge pins, make sure it is not bad quality. (Or make sure it’s secure in place)
Why? Because it’s dangerous if it abruptly pops out.
Love at First Sight: Guitar Aesthetics
The first noticeable design you may see is the pickguard or scratchplate. (Pickplate for electric guitars)
Pickguard increases a guitar’s coolness, but it’s more than that. This element helps the guitar to be safe.
To be more specific, it enables you to avoid scratching the guitar with your pick.
Unfortunately, not all guitars have this.
So, let me ask you:
Do you want to scratch your guitar? Accidental or not?
Of course not, right?
If you’re a professional, you probably won’t have to worry about it since you can easily control your picking.
For an electric guitar, the pick plate is to protect, but it also holds the electronics of the guitar.
There’s another aesthetic design that has a remarkable advantage.
Fortunately, most, if not all, electric guitars already have this.
The cutaway is the missing part of the guitar that lets you reach higher frets.
For acoustic guitars, it does affect the sound, but it’s not even that noticeable.
Rosette and Bindings
The rosette and bindings are more focused to make the guitar look more appealing.
If you look at different guitars, you will notice that most guitars have different designs.
More expensive guitars have a more expressive rosette and bindings compared to cheaper ones.
So, if looks are a big deal for you, these are two variables you need to consider.
Guitar Bracing Theory
With the advancement of science and technology, you don’t need to worry about awful guitar bracing.
Here’s the thing:
The primary purpose of bracing is to support the stability of the guitar.
It also contributes to the sound quality of the guitar.
Martin, for example, developed “X-bracing,” and according to their research, the X-bracing produces a richer sound.
I’d say bracing is vital for the guitar’s structure.
As for the sound support, I’m not saying only X-bracing or Scalloped bracing is the way to go.
Because in the end, it will depend on the guitar as a whole. Bracing is but one factor amongst many.
Electronics: Guitar Pickups
Acoustic guitars may or may not have pickups, while electric must have pickups.
By the way, if acoustic has pickups, it will technically be an acoustic-electric guitar.
Acoustic guitar pickups can be magnetic or piezoelectric. Magnetic pickups work like an electric guitar pickup.
Piezoelectric pickup is installed under the bridge of the guitar.
I’ve heard different pickups on an acoustic-electric, and they don’t sound that epic. The amazing ones are on the expensive side.
If you’re going get a cheap pickup for your acoustic, it’s better just to use a microphone. The sound quality will be tenfolds better.
For the next best thing:
Electric guitar pickups have a lot of elements, apart from the pickups themselves.
There’s the pickup selector, in which you can choose between the neck pickup and bridge pickup.
There’s also the volume knob and tone knobs to manipulate the sound. Lastly, the output jack socket for the amplifier and speaker.
Some of the components are also in an acoustic guitar.
I have a favorite acoustic-electric guitar that has amazing built-in effects.
To be more precise, Yamaha named it TransAcoustic guitar. They have a reverb and chorus effects even without an effects pedal.
I have reviewed the Yamaha TransAcoustic LL-TA. You should check it out!
Final Words of Advice
Every part of the guitar is essential and has a purpose.
Imagine, it also went through an evolution (years of research) to get to this point.
Here’s the thing:
You don’t have to memorize all the stuff in guitar anatomy. But now that you’ve learned a little bit of it, that’s already great.
It will surely be of help to you in the coming days on your guitar journey.