The Parts of an Acoustic Guitar and Their Functions
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 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.
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 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 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:
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.
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 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?
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.