You have your guitar - now what? Well, you won’t get far not knowing what I’m talking about in the rest of the lessons, so in this lesson we’re covering fundamentals. Today you’ll learn the anatomy of a guitar. Don’t worry, we will cover both electric and acoustic guitar parts.
You will also know the basics of string numbering and guitar note names by the end of this lesson.
Anatomy of a Guitar: Parts All Guitars Have
Comparing electric and acoustic guitars side-by-side, the similarities are obvious. This is because many parts on the anatomy of an electric guitar and acoustic guitars are the same.
(from top to bottom)
Headstock- The headstock is the top of your guitar. Connect the strings to the tuning pegs here, in most cases.
Tuners/Tuning Pegs- These are the small pieces of metal that stick out of your headstock. Feed your guitar strings through the holes in tuning pegs, then turn the pegs to tighten or loosen the strings for tuning. You may also hear these referred to as “Tuning Machines”.
Nut- The nut is the thin white strip in between your headstock and neck. You will generally see small grooves on the nut. The number of grooves will match the number of strings your guitar has. You want the strings to tighten into these grooves when you string up your guitar.
Neck- The neck of the guitar is the piece in between the body of the guitar and the headstock, connecting the two together.
Fretboard- The fretboard is a sheet of wood that is overlaid on top of the guitar’s neck. The woods from the neck and fretboard work together to produce unique tones.
For example, a maple neck and ebony fretboard will produce a different tone than a mahogany neck and maple fretboard.
Frets- The frets are the metal bars that go across the neck. Many guitarists get confused and think that the space between the bars (where we put our fingers) are the frets, though that is false.
Body- The body of the guitar is the main part of the guitar. It is where most of the action happens. What you find on the body will vary from guitar to guitar, but you can always expect to find a bridge and strings.
Bridge- The bridge is where you connect the other end of your strings to the guitar’s body. There are many bridges and guitar styles out there, but the general concept remains the same. This is where you seat the “ball” of acoustic strings or the small ring found on electric strings.
Strings- Typically made of metals such as nickel, steel or bronze, but also sometimes made out of nylon for classical guitars. Guitar strings are the wires that go across your guitar from headstock to body that you strike with either your finger or guitar pick to produce a sound.
Pickguard- While not all guitars have pickguards, they are not exclusive to electric or acoustics so I stuck them here. Pickguards are the pieces of plastic, usually clear or a different color than the guitar, that protect the finish of your guitar from scratches by your pick while you’re playing. They are typically found under the sound hole or under the pickups.
Strap Pins- Most guitars will have strap pins. These are the small pieces of metal typically found on the bottom of your guitar and near the neck of the guitar. Attach your guitar strap to these pins to be able to play standing up.
Anatomy of The Electric Guitar
Pickups- Pickups are found on the body of the guitar under the strings. They have special magnetic coils inside of them that react to the vibrations of the strings. Pickups can be found in 2 sizes: Single coil (most commonly seen on Fender Stratocasters) and Humbuckers.
Humbuckers basically look like 2 single coils stuck together. Humbuckers produce a “larger” sound and reduce pickup hum.
Pickup selector switch/Potentiometer- Just call it a pickup selector switch or a pickup selector. I only included the term “Potentiometer” so you know what it means if you hear it. The pickup switch is a small metal stick protruding out of your guitar’s body, usually with a little rubber tip on it.
Sometimes you will see labels on either end of the switch that say “Rhythm” or “Lead” - this is commonly seen on Gibson guitars. What these switches do is change which pickup the guitar gets its signal from. This results in several tone variations, especially if you have a different pickup in your bridge than in your neck position.
Input jack- The input jack can typically be found on the back of the guitar near the tuning peg, or sometimes on the front of the guitar, as is the case with most Fender Stratocasters. The input jack is where you plug in your ¼” cable.
To whammy, or not to whammy....
Tremolo/Whammy bar- Made popular by the Floyd Rose Tremolo Bridge these metal bars connect to the guitar’s bridge. By pushing down on them they change the pitch of your notes by adjusting the string tension while playing.
Though whammy bars can create some really cool sounds and are common for many famous rock songs, they are also excellent at knocking your guitar out of tune and breaking strings. Therefore, I generally don’t recommend beginners get too caught up with them.
Volume knobs- Typically a guitar will have at least 1 volume knob. As you can probably guess, these knobs control the volume of the signal being sent from the guitar’s pickups.
Tone knob- Most guitars will have at least one tone knob, sometimes 2 or more. What these do is adjust the amount of bass or treble that is sent through the pickup’s signal. If you see 3 tone knobs on a guitar, run. Kidding, of course. 3 tone knobs are usually to control treble, mid and bass individually.
Back plate- The back plate of an electric guitar covers the bits of the guitar that make it electric! Unscrew the back plate to find the wiring and soldering necessary to make your guitar work. I highly recommend NOT removing the back plate unless you have to.
Anatomy of The Acoustic Guitar
Sound Hole- Unlike electrics, which use pickups to push out their sound, acoustics have a sound hole. The name basically says it all here. It’s the hole where the sound comes out after bouncing around inside the acoustic.
Saddle- This is where the ball of the strings actually sits inside the bridge. Saddles are sometimes referred to as the “bridge nut”.
Bridge pins- Use bridge pins to stick the ball of the guitar string into the saddle. You will see a small groove on one side of the pin. You want to have the string go through that groove so that the peg fits snuggle back into the saddle.
Top sheet- While top sheets have gained popularity on electric guitars, they aren’t found as often as on acoustics. However, all acoustic must have a top sheet, otherwise you wouldn’t have much of a guitar! The top sheet is the layer of wood that is on the top of the guitar’s body.
With acoustics, the top sheet is usually a single sheet of wood. It can often be a different type of wood than the rest of the body to produce unique tones, similar to necks/fretboards.
With electrics, top sheets are placed OVER the top of the body of the guitar, since they are a solid piece of wood. You will often hear terms like “Mahogany body maple top” to refer to the top sheet on an electric.
String Numbers & Names
Now let’s learn the string numbers and note names!
Your standard guitar has 6 strings, numbered from 6 to 1, starting at the low E string.
The “low E” string is the thickest string and the “high E” is the thinnest string. The strings get progressively thinner as they progress.
Additionally, the note names starting at the low E string (moving from the thickest string to thinnest) are E-A-D-G-B-E.
Note: The musical alphabet only uses only the first 7 letters of the alphabet: ABCDEFG. If you'd like to learn where all the notes on the fretboard are, be sure to check out my lesson on: How to Memorize Fretboard Notes in 7 Days!
You now know the anatomy of a guitar for electrics and acoustics. You also know the string numbers and their corresponding open-string notes. This will be key down the road to learning songs from guitar TABs.
If you have any questions, concerns or if you found this article useful- please let me know in the comments below. I love hearing from you all and helping you on your musical journey.
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