Updated date:

The Parts of an Acoustic Guitar and Their Functions

Author:
You know it by its looks. But do you know what each part does?

You know it by its looks. But do you know what each part does?

Dissecting the Acoustic

Let's face it. Guitars are the coolest instrument. Sure, drums are cool. Bass rocks too. But there's something about a real guitar that just says suave. So now you want to learn how to play. Well that's fantastic. But while you're doing that, it's just as important to know your guitar like the back of your hand. What are the parts of a guitar? What are their functions? If you can't explain to someone what a bridge or pickguard is, they most likely won't take you seriously as a real guitarist.

So this Hub is here to help. In this article we'll dissect the acoustic guitar bit by bit, and at the end, we'll throw in a little quiz to see how well you did. In no time at all, you'll be able to explain all the parts of an acoustic, and have that solid knowledge to go along with that itch to play. So here we go. From the head down:

The guitar head is like a real head. Without it, your guitar is basically useless and unplayable.

The guitar head is like a real head. Without it, your guitar is basically useless and unplayable.

The Head Stock

The head stock of the guitar is (depending on the guitar) usually a rectangular piece that holds your tuning keys. (See next capsule) Here, the strings of your guitar wind around the pegheads, which are the golden, button-looking objects on the picture to your right. These keep your strings tight and in place, so that when you move the pegheads, tuning is possible. Without the head, your guitar is basically useless. The head is also the most abused part of a guitar. For beginners, bumping and hitting the head against things is something to watch out for. Also, the head stock often carries the brand logo at the top. For instance, this one says "Fender", a famous and very respected brand of guitar.

Tuning keys. A vital component of your guitar. If damaged or used improperly, the guitar will not be tuned, and your playing will suffer.

Tuning keys. A vital component of your guitar. If damaged or used improperly, the guitar will not be tuned, and your playing will suffer.

Tuning Keys

Also known as machine heads, pegheads, and tuning machines, these little contraptions bring life to the sound of your guitar. If you look in the picture above, the tuning keys are the golden objects protruding out and also holding your strings to the head stock. By tightening or loosening the tuning keys on your guitar, you can manipulate the sound of a certain string. This is called tuning. Tuning a guitar can be tricky, especially for beginners, because tuning by ear is difficult. Also keep in mind that your string is at the mercy of your tuning key. So don't tighten it too much, or you run the risk of breaking that poor string in half.

The nut. It doesn't look like a nut, but it plays an important role in the placement of your strings. It is the horizontal white bar, just below your headstock.

The nut. It doesn't look like a nut, but it plays an important role in the placement of your strings. It is the horizontal white bar, just below your headstock.

The Nut

The nut of the guitar is directly below the headstock, kind of like a bow tie. The nut plays a crucial role in the placement of your strings. Every nut has vertical grooves in its surface. These grooves serve one purpose: to keep your strings in place.

Although the strings may be attached to your pegheads, they still need to be held in place so that when played, they can vibrate in a tight and controlled manner. If the string weren't securely in place, the string would move a lot more than you would want, which would result in a sound you would not want.

The nut is often a part of the guitar people don't know even existed, because of its slim and subtle placement. But now you know.

A guitar nut, naked and bare.

A guitar nut, naked and bare.

The fretboard is the long, wooden section of guitar on your guitar neck that holds your frets.

The fretboard is the long, wooden section of guitar on your guitar neck that holds your frets.

The Fretboard

A lot of people mistake the fretboard and the neck of the guitar as the same thing. This is not the case. The fretboard is the long wooden section of your guitar that holds your strings and your frets (see next capsules). Although the fretboard is on the neck, it is not the actual neck. The fretboard is there for one main purpose: to allow the placement of your fingers on the strings so that you can play. The frets of the guitar must also be on the fretboard (hence the name) and these are the next thing on the list of the acoustic guitar's anatomy:

These are the silver bars running across your fretboard. They play a key role in your playing abilities.

These are the silver bars running across your fretboard. They play a key role in your playing abilities.

The Frets

In the picture to your right, the frets are the silver bars running across your fretboard (see capsule above) and they have a large amount of power over the main sound of your songs.

As you can see, the fretboard contains several frets, often having less space between them the farther you go down towards the body of the guitar. Frets do one thing: they shorten the vibrating length of that string from the point where you press down with your finger, to the bridge, thus controlling the pitch and sound of the string you play. Basically, by pressing your fingers in between certain frets, and playing that string, you will come out with a different sound. Each space in between the fret (along with the string running down that section) has its own musical note. Learning the notes is the hard part. For now, just know that the frets basically control the pitch of the string you play, depending which space you press your fingers down on.

An example of how placing fingers down between certain frets will produce different sounds.

An example of how placing fingers down between certain frets will produce different sounds.

The Neck

The neck of your guitar. It's pretty self explanatory. The neck basically is the section of the guitar that holds your fretboard, strings, and headstock. The section at the bottom connects into the guitar. As you can see, the neck is quite different from the fretboard, as it pretty much contains the fretboard, as well as several other parts.

The guitar neck. As you can see, the neck covers far more than just the fretboard; it has a whole section that actually attaches to the body.

The guitar neck. As you can see, the neck covers far more than just the fretboard; it has a whole section that actually attaches to the body.

Position markers are the circles on your fretboard, in between the frets. They mark certain frets, for easy reference.

Position markers are the circles on your fretboard, in between the frets. They mark certain frets, for easy reference.

The Position Markers

The position markers are little dots in between certain frets on your fretboard. What these little guys do, is give you an easy reference to what fret you are playing at. These dots are also called inlays and are positioned at certain points. For instance, the most popular schematics for these position markers involves single inlays on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th fret, double inlays(two dots instead of one) on the 12th fret, single inlays on the 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st, and if present, double inlays on the 24th fret.

They're basically there for reference, so you can have a little helping hand in knowing what frets you're about to play. Useful, huh?

The guitar strings. If you don't know what these bad boys do, then perhaps you should read the capsule to the left. (Or pick a whole different instrument)

The guitar strings. If you don't know what these bad boys do, then perhaps you should read the capsule to the left. (Or pick a whole different instrument)

The Strings

Oh, the strings. The beautiful heart of the guitar, the part that makes your songs and melodies and arpeggios and chords come to life. Strings are needed to play the guitar, and are used at two different points: on the fretboard, where your fingers press down on strings to change the pitch and sound, and also over the soundhole, where the strings can either be strummed, plucked, or fingerpicked. Strings must be tuned properly for the desired sound, and must be well maintained. There are two types of strings:

Nylon: Nylon strings are found on classical guitars, the types that are played in Spanish flamenco or other similar styles. These have a softer, breezier sound to them.

Steel: Steel strings can be found on acoustic guitars. They have a more crisp and harder sound to them. Steel strings, like nylon strings, can break, so be careful and take good care of them.

The Body

It's curvacious. It screams sexy. It's...a guitar. The body of the guitar is the squashed hourglass shaped piece of the guitar that holds several other parts essential to your playing. There are many types of body styles for acoustics, and these can be seen in silhouette form down below. The bodies come in different sizes, and choosing a size that fits you is just as important as anything else.

The different body styles of the acoustic guitar.

The different body styles of the acoustic guitar.

The soundhole is where the acoustics happen. It's best to play just over the soundhole on the guitar, for maximum sound.

The soundhole is where the acoustics happen. It's best to play just over the soundhole on the guitar, for maximum sound.

The Soundhole

The soundhole on a guitar is a trademark feature of an acoustic. Electric guitars do not have soundholes, unless they are both an acoustic/electric guitar. The soundhole on a guitar provides you one thing: acoustics. This is where sound reverberates into the soundhole and amplifies that specific note/notes. When playing, it's best to play just over the soundhole, for a maximum, clean sound. Consider it a speaker for your guitar. Or the mouth that she talks from.

The pickguard's main purpose is to protect that beautiful guitar finish from scratches resulting from the use of a pick during play.

The pickguard's main purpose is to protect that beautiful guitar finish from scratches resulting from the use of a pick during play.

The Pickguard

The pickguard is a protective slab of material (often made from various plastics) that rests next to your soundhole. This protective layer is to shield that beautiful guitar finish from scratches. What scratches you might ask? Well, the name speaks for itself. Using a pick requires strumming and this can result in unwanted scratches from the pick making direct contact with the finished wood on the surface of the guitar. The pickguard is there to prevent those scratches, and keep your baby looking fresh day in and day out. Pretty nifty if you ask me.

The bridge of an acoustic guitar. A safe haven for strings, and they're final destination down the long road of your guitar.

The bridge of an acoustic guitar. A safe haven for strings, and they're final destination down the long road of your guitar.

The Bridge

The bridge of your guitar can be considered the final destination of your strings down your acoustic. Here, the strings run over the saddle, (see next capsule for description) and run into the string pegs, where they finally settle into their resting place. The bridge is the black material seen in the picture to the right, and is set to hold the pegs and saddle in place. Think of it like a stylish floor mat. Sure, the pegs and saddle could be placed on the actual wood of the guitar, but how would that look? Horrible. If you needed an answer to that.

The saddle. Think of it as the nut's long lost brother.

The saddle. Think of it as the nut's long lost brother.

The Saddle

The saddle plays the same role as the nut. If you need a refresher on the nut, head to the top of the page. What the saddle does is, just as the nut holds the string in place at the top of the guitar, the saddle does the same at the bottom. In the saddle are six grooves for the strings to nestle snugly inside on their way to the string pegs, where they will end their long trip. The saddle is there for string support, and to keep them tight so the sounds you play are strong and crisp. If you need direction, the saddle is the white strip of material in the picture to the right.

String pegs hold your string into place into the body of the guitar. If one comes loose, so does your string.

String pegs hold your string into place into the body of the guitar. If one comes loose, so does your string.

The String Pegs

Also called bridge pins, string pegs are similar to your tuning keys. These little guys hold your strings into the bridge of the guitar, and keep them there. If a string peg were to ever come loose, so would your string, and the note you were playing would take a dive straight into the murky waters of off-key horror. String pegs keep the strings tight over the saddle, and is their final resting place on the long journey down the neck and into the body. Replacing string pegs is fairly easy, but be careful not to make the string too lose. When replacing them, make sure you are holding the other end of the string tight, because the tension is what keeps these strings from falling out.

Ready for an Anatomy Quiz?

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. What part of the guitar controls your tuning?
    • Tuners
    • Machine Heads
    • Tuning Keys
    • All of the above
  2. True or False: The nut holds your strings into place at the bridge of the guitar.
    • True
    • False
  3. What part of the guitar amplifies your sound?
    • The fretboard
    • The soundhole
    • The saddle
    • The soundbox
  4. True or False: The neck and the fretboard are the same thing.
    • True
    • False
  5. A ______ guard protects your guitar finish from scratches.
    • scratch
    • finger
    • pick
    • guitar
  6. Frets are located on the fretboard. What are the dots located in between the frets called?
    • Inlays
    • Fret Points
    • Position Markers
    • Both 1 and 3
  7. True or False: The nut and the saddle serve the same purpose.
    • True
    • False
  8. If a tuning peg is tightened too much, what can happen?
    • The sound pitch can crack the body
    • Ears will bleed
    • The string can break
    • The tuning peg can snap
  9. What does the bridge do?
    • Holds the tuning pegs in place
    • Allows the strings to move
    • Holds the bridge pins and saddle in place
    • Amplifies sound for the soundhole

Scoring

For each answer you selected, add up the indicated number of points for each of the possible results. Your final result is the possibility with the greatest number of points at the end.

  1. What part of the guitar controls your tuning?
    • Tuners
      • Guitar Expert: -1
      • Need Some Training: +1
    • Machine Heads
      • Guitar Expert: -1
      • Need Some Training: +1
    • Tuning Keys
      • Guitar Expert: -1
      • Need Some Training: +1
    • All of the above
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
  2. True or False: The nut holds your strings into place at the bridge of the guitar.
    • True
      • Guitar Expert: -1
      • Need Some Training: +1
    • False
      • Guitar Expert: +1
      • Need Some Training: -1
  3. What part of the guitar amplifies your sound?
    • The fretboard
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • The soundhole
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
    • The saddle
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • The soundbox
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
  4. True or False: The neck and the fretboard are the same thing.
    • True
      • Guitar Expert: -3
      • Need Some Training: +3
    • False
      • Guitar Expert: +3
      • Need Some Training: -3
  5. A ______ guard protects your guitar finish from scratches.
    • scratch
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • finger
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • pick
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
    • guitar
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
  6. Frets are located on the fretboard. What are the dots located in between the frets called?
    • Inlays
      • Guitar Expert: +1
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • Fret Points
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • Position Markers
      • Guitar Expert: +1
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • Both 1 and 3
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
  7. True or False: The nut and the saddle serve the same purpose.
    • True
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
    • False
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
  8. If a tuning peg is tightened too much, what can happen?
    • The sound pitch can crack the body
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • Ears will bleed
      • Guitar Expert: -5
      • Need Some Training: +5
    • The string can break
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
    • The tuning peg can snap
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
  9. What does the bridge do?
    • Holds the tuning pegs in place
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • Allows the strings to move
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2
    • Holds the bridge pins and saddle in place
      • Guitar Expert: +2
      • Need Some Training: -2
    • Amplifies sound for the soundhole
      • Guitar Expert: -2
      • Need Some Training: +2

This table shows the meaning of each possible result:

Guitar Expert

Congratulations! You've answered enough questions right to know a good deal about your guitar and what the major parts do! You're one step further to knowing all there is to know about the art of the six-string.

Need Some Training

Looks like you could use some more training. Anatomy can be tough, so if you need a refresher course, re-read this Hub. From the looks of it, you might want to do just that :(

Comments

Donald Axel on December 09, 2019:

What would you call the wooden top of a spanish guitar, the deck? As in violin:

spruce top, or the soundboard, also known as the top plate, table, or belly ...

I think the professional term is deck.

poop on April 13, 2019:

great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sajal Senapati on February 28, 2019:

The information about the guitar are very helpful for the beginner and the description are very critical.

Andy Tate on January 28, 2019:

So well written. Easy to understand description with illustrative pictures.

embp123 on December 01, 2018:

"As you can see, the fretboard contains several frets, often having less space between them the farther you go down towards the body of the guitar."

Excellent article, but I have a minor yet key quibble (which you either know but didn't catch what is misleading here, or you haven't really deeply understood yet. No offense or knee-jerk criticism intended, just probing for learning in myself). To grasp the still very mysterious physical and mathematical underpinnings of music is to understand the fretboard as an approximation of an infinite open-ended series of perfect ratios being finitely mapped onto a linear "over-lay" or compression of key centres (over 2 octaves for the guitar) in which all the keys share/use the same fret spacings without too much loss of intonation (being in tune up and down the fretboard in all keys, with and without a capo). In theory and practically this can never be done perfectly (akin to squaring the circle), so every type of tuning system or fret spacing is a practical fudge in which some ratios are rendered more perfectly than others by a contingent aesthetic choice. Regardless as to this complexity, the spacing of the frets is always exponential, so each fret spacing is approximately 2^1/12 smaller than the previous one (length from bridge to fret, so not fret to fret). My concern is that in missing this one is missing a deep insight into the mysteries of the octave and how we perceive sound in the first place. The mind makes the always exponential sources of perception seem to lie along a line. How it does this is a complete mystery, but for the experience of the octave as the same note, only "higher", which motivates how we "invented" music theory to bring order by placing middle A at 440 Hz (once at a lower frequency, 432?) so that determining any shared set of notes is even possible in the first place.Lately people are confused and think experience is wholly determined by theory, but it is always the other way around ; ). This matters as we are "lost in representations" lately, all appearances of things, who cares about the reality.

elizibeth swan on October 15, 2018:

I am writting a paper in class and this was super helpful. Thank you so much!

Nikesha angel on August 06, 2018:

I am intersted to play guitar

Kenny on July 31, 2018:

Thanks for a quick lesson. I've decided to pickup and learn guitar as a nice little outlet.... Your lesson helps me get on the right track starting with the nuts n bolts - and frets :)

Harsh on June 30, 2018:

Thank you it is very helpfull

rhadex 18 on June 11, 2018:

thank u

Naran on March 26, 2018:

Thanx for perfect information

wow on December 23, 2017:

nice1

Aarohi on September 08, 2017:

Very helpful article..

Thanks bro..

LLMcKay on April 28, 2017:

I have a guitar that is at least 70 years old. There is no mfgr name on it. Where a saddle should be is a large round ornate disk, metal, and has some inner structures. The sound coming from this instrument is heavenly. Does anyone have info on who made it? I will post pics if desired. It belonged to my grandmother who died over 70 years ago. I have searched every conceivable place and cannot find a pic of even one other like it. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Alpana on March 04, 2017:

you should be a teacher! perfectly composed article. every article needs to be like this in considering whatever it is about.

Nick on January 01, 2017:

What is the rubbery washer that is beside the lock washer in the machine heads used for tightening?

Tyler on December 16, 2016:

I'm doing a project on the guitar, and this article helped me so much. Whether I was doing a project or not, this article made the information easy and enjoyable to learn. Thanks!

Manu on December 15, 2016:

Awesome thanks for the information

c on June 14, 2016:

great

Ramz on June 13, 2016:

A good start for a begginer

Melody Lanei from Jacksonville, FL on October 02, 2013:

THIS is great!! Perfectly organized, detailed, easy to read and educational! Great Job!