A simple guide to the parts on a guitar
To the beginner, music is a bewildering world with its own, confusing language, or so it seems. The truth is, like everything else, once you know a few names for things, and what they do, it’s all surprisingly simple.
The guitar is great example- if you’re starting to play, you might not know a tailpiece from a strap button. Here’s a simple guide, which should make things a whole lot easier, with explanations of what everything is, and does.
The body, I suppose, could be described as the ‘big curvy bit’ of a guitar, which rests against your body when you play, and sits underneath the strings where you typically strum them. On acoustic guitars, the body is hollow, and on electric guitars they can be hollow, semi-hollow or solid.
The other major component of a guitar, the neck, unsurprisingly, is the long thin bit that you grip with your left hand, so that you can press down the strings when playing.
This is the area of the neck that is directly underneath the strings. It is shaped and marked so that strings can be depressed at certain points to get certain notes.
There are countless materials used for fingerboards, but common woods are maple and rosewood.
Frets are the raised bits of wire the run across the fingerboard’s width. In essence they enable strings to be ‘shortened’ by pressing it down behind them, but to lengths that correspond to exact half notes.
This means that the player does not have to find the exact spot of a note when playing, as with fretless instruments such as a violin.
These are decorative markers that are set into the fretboard. These could be simple, dot markers to indicate the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th frets, or complex, decorative designs.
At the end of a neck, you’ll find a headstock. The headstock is the bit at the end of the guitar where all of the strings end. It is home to the bits you use to tune your guitar, which are called…
Tuners/ Tuning Pegs/ Machine heads
These are the bits that you twist to tune your guitar. The flat, ‘key’ part is attached to a peg, on which the string is wound. Tightening it or loosening it changes the tension in the strings, and changes the pitch as a result.
At the point that the neck joins the headstock, the strings run through a slotted piece of wood, plastic or sometimes other materials. This is called the nut.
Effectively, the nut defines where the playable part of a string (the bit that vibrates when you strum it) ends. Or starts, depending on how you look at it…
There’s no mystery here- these are the metal studs you attach a strap to. Simple.
The bridge on a guitar is the bit that supports the strings as they travel over the guitar body. It functions as the component that transfers the vibrations of the strings into the body, which, in the case of an acoustic guitar, amplifies them.
On many electric guitars, the height of the bridge can be adjusted, which in turn, changes the distance between the strings and the fingerboard- known as the playing action.
Saddles are the opposite of the nut. They define where the playable bit of a string ends. On an electric guitar, it’s common for these to be individual to each string, so that they can be adjusted individually if needed.
On an acoustic guitar, the saddle tends to be a single, notched piece of material, similar in many ways to a nut.
The strings need to be anchored at both ends, otherwise they’d just sort of flop around. At the headstock, the strings are secured on the tuners.
On an electric guitar, the strings can be secured by running them through the body (like many Fender guitars), on the bridge, or on Gibson guitars with Tune-o-matic style bridges, via a tailpiece, which sits behind the bridge.
Pickups are the bit on an electric or electro-acoustic guitar that ‘hears’ the strings vibrating, so that they can be amplified.
Typical electric guitar pickups are electromagnetic. Without getting bogged down in technicality, they have coils of wire and magnets at their core, and when the strings vibrate above them, it disturbs the magnetic field in the pickup. This is transferred as an electrical signal to an amplifier.
Acoustic guitars can have magnetic pickups, but microphone style, sound-hole pickups (which work just like a mini microphone inside the guitar), and piezo style pickups (which physically attach under the guitar saddle, or to the body and pick up vibrations) are also common.
Pickup selector switch
Electric guitars often have more than one pickup. This is because the strings have a different tone at different positions, so multiple pickups can allow for different tones. In addition, different pickup types (single coil versus twin coiled humbuckers, for example) have different tones, too.
A selector switch allows the player to switch between these.
Volume and Tone Controls
These are the knobs on a guitar body, usually close to the pickups. Wiring configurations can vary (sometimes individual pickups will have separate controls, sometimes not, for example), but put simply, volume knobs control the level of signal coming from the pickups, and tone controls adjust how bright that signal is.
This is the socket that you plug a guitar lead into (also known as a jack cable)
So there we are – a whistle-stop tour of the parts of a guitar. You can also view a full range of guitars on our website.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.