Before you get too far ahead of yourself, it is probably a good idea to understand the names of the major components of a guitar. I use these terms in just about all of my articles, gear guides and blog posts, so the sooner you understand basic guitar anatomy, the better off you’ll be in learning and loving to play guitar.
While acoustic and electric guitars share many of the same components, they also both have parts that are unique to their type. This article is meant to give you an introduction into each of them…..so here goes!
Guitar Anatomy Terms and Definitions
Headstock – The upper-most guitar component, usually made from the same material as the guitar neck. The headstock’s main purpose is to secure the tuning machines. It is also where the guitar maker’s logo is placed.
Tuning Machines – Inventive gear mechanisms that control the tension in the guitar strings. As the strings increase in tension, they wrap around the posts on the face of the headstock. These devices are also referred to as tuners, tuning pegs and tuning keys.
Truss Rod Cover – The cover is not nearly as important as the item beneath, which is the truss rod. A guitar truss rod is a long steel bar that runs down the length of the neck and its purpose is to control and stabilize the lengthwise curvature of the neck. Adjustments to the truss rod are often required when a player changes the gauge of strings used, but these adjustments are best left with an experienced guitar technician at your local music store.
Nut – One of the two key points of a guitar that secures the strings when they are played and stops them from vibrating any further up the length of the guitar into the tuning machines. Usually made of stiff nylon with small grooves, one for each guitar string. Some more exotic guitar nuts are made from metal, graphite and even bone!
Neck – The long piece of wood that connects the headstock to the body. Much of the stress produced by the high-tensioned strings is absorbed by the guitar neck.
Fretboard – Sometimes referred to as a fingerboard, this plank of wood is usually glued to the neck and it’s what your fingers press the strings against when playing the guitar.
Frets – Thin metal wires that are pressed into the fretboard to shorten the vibrating length of a guitar string. When you push the string down onto the fretboard, it is actually the fret that acts like a nut to stop the string from vibrating any further. Pressing your finger adjacent to different frets is what produces different pitches, or notes, on a guitar.
Position Inlays – These visual indicators do not have any impact on the sound a guitar makes, but they are extremely useful in helping a guitar player to fret the string at the correct place along the fretboard to play the desired note or chord. Most guitar makers inlay round dots, but some use more exotic geometric or artistic shapes.
Strap Pin – Metal posts that allow a guitar player to connect a strap, a required accessory when playing guitar while standing upright. On acoustic-electric guitars, the strap pin at the bridge end of the guitar often doubles as the input jack for an instrument cable.
Pickup Selector Switch (Electric Only) – A mechanical switch that allows the guitar player to choose which pickup is active. Many guitars feature switches that allow for a single pickup to be selected or multiple pickups in parallel at the same time. Neck pickups generally deliver a warmer and rounder tone and are often used for rhythm playing while the bridge pickups are known for their crisp and bright tones and are often used for lead playing or solos. But don’t let these “rules” hold back your creativity…..most guitarists find interesting uses for different pickups know matter which part they play in a band or when playing by themselves.
Rosette (Acoustic Only) – A purely decorative inlay around the sound hole of an acoustic guitar.
Sound Hole (Acoustic Only) – When a guitar string is played, and the string vibrations transfer to the body of a guitar, the resulting beautiful sounds escape through the sound hole.
Binding – Usually made from plastic or sometimes wood, bindings serve to protect the exposed edges of the guitar’s body, sides and back from incidental damage and exposure to moisture.
Pick Guard – Pretty self-explanatory one here. Pick guards are often made of plastic and are meant to protect the more critical wooden top soundboard from damage resulting from aggressive picking and strumming.
Pickups (Electric Only) – The magical magnets wound with fine copper wire that convert string vibrations into the electrical signal that you hear when plugged into an amplifier. And to be technically correct, electric-acoustic guitars also contain a type of pickup inside the guitar body, but they are a bit different than those used for electric guitars.
Bridge – The other key anchor point of a guitar that secures the saddles which stops the strings from vibrating any further down the guitars body. On acoustic guitars, bridges are generally made of wood and electric guitar bridges are made of metal.
Saddle – The small devices that are housed in the bridge and actually come into direct contact with the strings. Acoustic guitar saddles are usually made from a single piece while electric guitars often use individual saddles for each string to allow for more precise intonation control.
String Pegs (Acoustic Only) – Small tapered plugs that secure each string into the bridge. To change strings, these plugs are removed from the bridge after the string tension has been reduced.
Tailpiece (Electric Only) – A solid piece of metal on some electric guitars that holds the ball ends of the strings.
Volume / Tone Controls (Electric Only) – Often considered the most under-utilized tool in a guitar player’s sonic arsenal. The volume and tone knobs, formally known as potentiometers (“pots” for short), allow you to control the resistance that is applied to the electrical circuit in your guitar. The volume control is pretty self-explanatory, but is critical in knowing about its ability to also affect the amount of distortion that is produced by the guitar. In other words, you don’t always have to make changes to the controls on your amp or pedals, sometimes the volume knob will do the trick. The tone control knobs generally reduce high frequency treble sounds as the knob is turned down from its maximum setting. Lots of interesting tones can be produced simply by adjusting these knobs, so go crazy and see what kind of sounds you can make.