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Parts of an Electric Guitar

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Alan has played guitar since 1995 . . . mostly acoustic Fenders.

Anatomy of a guitar

Anatomy of a guitar

Parts of a Guitar

Learning to play the electric guitar might seem a little difficult at first. While many people plan to study the guitar, they often get discouraged by the steep learning curve involved in the beginning. Getting to know the basic parts of the instrument can definitely help speed things along. Knowing the general layout will also make it possible for an aspiring guitarist to communicate with other musicians using proper terminology.

Imagine trying to take guitar lessons without knowing the basic parts of the instrument. This could most certainly cause delays in learning, as some time will be wasted by the instructor explaining the anatomy of the guitar.

The headstock

The headstock

The Headstock

Using the labeled photo as a reference, the top part of a guitar is known as the headstock. The headstock will often display the name of the manufacturer, and possibly the guitar model.

The headstock is also outfitted with six pegs that can be turned with thumb adjusters, commonly known as tuners. The guitar strings are wound tightly around the pegs to hold them in place. The tuners can be adjusted to tighten or loosen each string. This makes it possible to tune individual strings to a certain note.

Just below the headstock is the nut. The nut is normally made of nylon or plastic and has six small grooves where the strings rest. The nut not only assures uniform spacing between the strings, but it also holds them at the proper distance above the fretboard.

The neck and fretboard

The neck and fretboard

The Neck and Fretboard

The neck of the guitar extends from the body, with the headstock at the end. The fretboard is located on the front of the neck, just below the nut. The most popular wood species used on fretboards is rosewood. Maple is also a suitable species for fretboards. These woods, known as tonewoods, are favored because of their tonal traits and playability.

The frets are metal wires inlaid slightly into the fretboard. These frets cross the width of the fretboard at specific intervals from top to bottom. Certain frets are often marked with fret markers as a visual indicator for the guitarist. While fret markers are usually just dots embedded in the fretboard, some high-end guitars may feature very decorative markers.

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To fret a string, a guitarist holds down the string between two frets. The string will rest on the fret closer to the body of the guitar. This action shortens the working length of the string, changing the note it plays.

Close-up of adjustment knobs on the body

Close-up of adjustment knobs on the body

The Body

The body of an electric guitar is usually made of solid wood, although hollow body electric guitars are not uncommon. The bodies of most electric guitars are painted with heavy-duty, high gloss paint.

Strings

The strings stretch across the front of the guitar body and over the pickups before reaching the bridge. The pickups turn the string vibrations into an electric signal that can be amplified and distorted. The quality of sounds coming out of any electric guitar rely on the performance of the pickups.

Bridge

The bridge is mounted to the body and acts as an anchor point for the strings. Most electric guitar bridges feature a small, adjustable saddle for each string. A string saddle is basically just a little metal piece with a groove to hold the string in place. The height of each string off of the fretboard can be adjusted with these saddles. The bridge basically holds the strings firmly in place so that they can be stretched and tuned using the tuners on the headstock.

Many electric guitars will have a tremolo bridge. This type of bridge is spring-loaded and features a tremolo bar, often called a whammy bar. Using the whammy bar, this type of bridge can be moved slightly by the guitarist. This changes the pitch of the notes being played, creating an impressive effect on the sound.

Pickguard

A pickguard may be attached to the front of the body, just below the strings. The pickguard, usually a thin sheet of plastic, protects the body from wear and scratches. Often times the electronic components of a guitar will be located underneath the pickguard.

Adjustment Knobs

All electric guitars will feature adjustment knobs for volume and tone. The number and types of knobs will depend on the specific guitar layout. Guitars with multiple pickups will also have a switch for different pickup combinations. Most electric guitars should have a quarter-inch output jack used for connecting the instrument to an amplifier.

Building a Foundation of Knowledge

Although the parts of an electric guitar are few, they are all equally important to any aspiring guitarist. Knowing the anatomy of the instrument provides a strong foundation to build upon in the future.

Test Your Guitar Knowledge

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Where are the tuners on a guitar located?
    • On the pickguard.
    • Under the bridge.
    • On the headstock.
  2. Where is the neck of a guitar located?
    • Between the headstock and body.
    • On the moon.
    • On the pickups.
  3. Where are the pickups on an electric guitar located?
    • Behind the glowing eyes.
    • On the body, under the strings.
    • Around the tuners.
  4. What are the inlaid wires on the fretboard?
    • The strings.
    • The frets.
    • The pickguard.
  5. If a guitar has a pickguard, where would it be located?
    • On the left.
    • On the right.
    • On the body.

Answer Key

  1. On the headstock.
  2. Between the headstock and body.
  3. On the body, under the strings.
  4. The frets.
  5. On the body.

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