It’s very useful to know the parts of the guitar before you buy one, orstart taking guitar lessons online or in person.
A typical story is when someone goes to the music store and asks about a guitar they like the look or sound of. The clerk then responds with interesting facts about parts of the guitar that you would have had no idea existed like the heel, radius, or volute.
Or perhaps you go to your guitar class and your teacher mentions something about putting your arm on the upper bout.
In either case, you’ll want to know about the parts so you can have an informed conversation about the guitar.
It is also very important to know how the parts of the guitar work so you can identify if your guitar has a problem and then find trained personnel to fix it.
Together we are going to go through the anatomy of the guitar and all its parts.
All types of guitars - whether classical, acoustic, or electric - have the same general parts and these are the head, neck, and body. These are named like the parts of a human body.
The head of the guitar is where the tuning pegs are and is where we tune our guitar and where the strings are wound. There are some differences between the heads of each type of guitar.
The head of each classical guitar is very unique since makers use the headstock as their signature. Take a look at these samples.
Let's take a look now at the sub parts of the guitar head.
The tuning machines serve to accommodate the strings, hold them, and tune them. Currently there are many very elegant and modern machines - made up of buttons, gears, and rollers - that help us to precisely tune, whether up or down.
The rollers are where the string is tied, these can be of different colors and materials, they can be white, black or metal. They are called rollers because the strings roll over them as they rotate to tighten or loosen the string tension.
The buttons attach to the stem and provide an easy way to turn the gears of the tuning machines. They can be made of many materials: Mother of Pearl, Black Bovine Horn, Synthetic Stone, Plastic, Madra, or an other number of materials.
The parts of the acoustic guitar are the pegs and tuning posts. Unlike the classical guitar, the gears are not exposed, and are often hidden inside a gear box.
Pegs are the buttons where we move the string to tune the acoustic guitar. Just as in the classical guitar there are also different types of very elegant machinery made of many materials.
The tuning posts are where we tie the strings. It functions just like the roller on the classical tuning machines and is used to increase or decrease string tension. It is made of a resitant metal so that it isn't damaged by the metal strings.
The head of the electric guitar has nearly the same parts as the acoustic guitar, only here it is common to see the different machinery. There are two common types of arrangement, there can be 6 tuners in a line or 3 on each side of the head.
The pegs are the buttons where we move gears to tune the guitar. There are also different types of machinery for electric guitars.
The tuning posts are where we tie the strings. Since electric strings carry less tension, it's more common to see chrome plated tuning posts on the electric guitar.
The function of these is to provide a little extra pressure to ensure that the string remains firmly seated within the tuning post, especially when the head stock in angled or when the tuners are further away when all 6 tuners are in a line.
The truss rod of a guitar is an adjustable metal rod that sits in the middle of the neck below the fingerboard. Its function is to allow adjustment of the curvature of the neck and help to stabilize it against the force of the strings. This can help comfort when playing or it can make it harder to play as the strings can be very high. The truss rod is usually accessible through the head of an electric guitar.
The neck part of the guitar is where we find the nut, fretboard, frets, fret marks, truss rod, volute, and heel. The neck is where we change the pitch of the strings by pressing the strings onto the frets with the fingers.
Generally, the neck is the same on all types of guitar with two exceptions. First, the classical guitar fretboard is flat, where the acoustic and electric guitar fretboards have a radius, or curve to them. Second, the electric and acoustic guitars have a truss rod in the neck, and the classical does not.
The volute is not found on every guitar. It is found on many guitars with an angled head that are cut from the same piece of wood as the neck without a joint. Angling the head creates a weak point in the guitar due to the angle of the grain. So guitar makers added a volute, which adds 'volume' or mass to the point where the neck and head meet. It helps eliminate the weak point, and you should expect to have one on a guitar with an angled head - especially if it is the same piece of wood as the neck.
The nut is a small piece made of a very resistant material that supports the strings and helps us to seat the strings well before it reaches the machinery. It also helps us to conduct sound into the instrument from the string. The nut can be made of different materials such as ebony, graphite, ivory, bone or plastic.
The nut must be at the right height and the grooves at the right depth to seat the strings properly. If the grooves are deep or the nut too low the string will buzz. If they are too high, it can cause tuning issues and make it more difficult to play. Here are some nut examples for the 3 types of guitar.
The fingerboard is the long piece of wood where we put our fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The fretboard is not the neck of the guitar, but sits atop the neck. The neck is made of at least 2 different pieces of wood. The 'neck' is the piece of wood on the side where we put our thumb. The fingerboard is the hardwood where we put our fingers to depress the strings.
The fingerboard is responsible for producing the musical notes when pressing the strings onto the frets of the guitar with your fingers.
There are different types of wood that are used for the fretboard and these are Ebony, Maple and Rosewood. Depending on what type of fretboard you have on your guitar the sound will be warmer or brighter.
The fretboard is always a very hard, dense wood. This helps it resist scratching and wear from the strings, and to better transfer vibrations of the string into the guitar body.
The frets are the metal bars that we see along the fingerboard. We commonly call the entire space between one bar and another the fret, even though technically the fret is just the wire.
The function of the fret is to divide the fingerboard to change the pitch of the string by shortening the length of the string that vibrates. The frets are placed to tune each string in an equal tempered manner. If the frets are placed wrong, the guitar will sound out of tune.
There are different types of fret thickness if you want to know more about the different types of frets check out this blog.
Fret markers are used to help the player find the correct fret. These are usually placed on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 12th, 15th, 17th, and 19th frets.The 12th fret commonly has two dots instead of one to mark the octave.
Fun fact: These fret markers are not random. They correspond to whole number ratios of the string length. You can play harmonics at these locations.
For example, the 12th fret is ½ the string length, the 7th fret is ⅓ the string length, and the 5th fret is ¼ the string length.
The neck of the guitar is the back where we place our thumb. There are different types of necks on different types of guitars.
Without going into too much detail, the configuration of the neck affects how it feels when you play. Necks may have different thicknesses and curves on the back. It’s common for classical guitar necks to be flatter, and acoustic and electric necks to be more curved - and these come in a variety of shapes, such as the A, C, and U guitar neck shapes. The width of the neck can also vary. Try a bunch of shapes and widths to see which you like most.
The finish of the neck will also change the feel. Some players feel that a glossy finish feels sticky, where a matte or natural finish feels better when sliding or shifting. On the other hand, thicker finishes may offer more protection.
Yes, we called this piece the neck, as we did the entire space between the guitar head and body. Some guitarists call this the ‘back of the neck’ to make it more clear. Luthiers may call it the 'handle'.
The truss rod is an adjustable rod that runs along the inside of the neck.
This bar is presented in electric and acoustic guitars, but not classical ones. Classical guitar nylon strings have less string tension than the electric or acoustic steel strings and don’t require the truss rod to counteract the strings.
Initially, truss rods did not allow adjustment, they simply served as reinforcement. As they evolved, they started to allow for adjustment.
Nowadays adjustable truss rods are the norm. Each manufacturer uses one type or another according to their preferences. There are three types: single action truss rod, double action truss rod, and fixed truss rod.
Single action truss rods allow the neck to be adjusted in one direction (counteracting the tension of the strings) and eliminate any forward bowing caused by the strings. Basically they allow the mast to be adjusted by subtracting curvature when they are tightened and leaving more curvature as they are loosened. The limitation in these rods is if you want to add curvature. If the rod is loose, making it more loose won’t add any curve.
Double action truss rods allow you to control both the curvature of the neck and the relief - which is the angle of the neck to the body and the resulting distance of the fretboard to the strings. This is because there are two rods, and the adjusting rod can be both shortened and lengthened.
The two-way trusses allow the same benefits and can even force the mast to gain curvature. Read more about truss rods here.
The guitar heel is the part of the guitar that joins the neck of the guitar to the body.
In the classical guitar, is an 'L' or heel shaped piece of wood that reinforces the joint between the neck and the side of the guitar.
In electric and acoustic guitars you may see different types of heels.
There are three types of heel:
The bolted heel uses bolts and a metal plate to reinforce the joint between the neck and the body.
The glued heel is a block of wood that is glued to the neck and body.
The spanish heel is more commonly seen on classical guitars. It is also a type of glued heel, but has a ridge that makes it look like an archway on a gothic cathedral.
The body of the guitar is where the sound is produced. We are going to look at the classical guitar together with the acoustic since they have a lot in common. We will look at the electric guitar separately since it is rather different. First, take a look at the parts.
The soundboard of classical and acoustic guitars is extremely important since nearly all its sound depends on it. Luthiers create the soundboard with different specifications and bracing patterns depending on the sound qualities they wish to achieve.
The top of the guitars must be rigid enough to support the tension of the strings and flexible enough to allow the vibrations that produce sound.
After years of trial and error, luthiers came to the conclusion that the best woods for the construction of guitars were Cedar or Spruce. Although, you will find other woods used today.
Lately, there are many newer forms of construction, such as soundboards that use carbon fiber on the soundbars, lattice bracing, or nomex used in double top construction.
Each soundboard is unique and a complete work of engineering since each harmonic bar or braces that are placed on the soundboard is going to be reflected in the sound.
Many guitar makers finely sand the braces after they are installed to adjust the sound quality and resonances the guitar makes.
If you don't know how the inside of the soundboard looks, here I leave you some images.
The soundhole of the guitar is a hole in the center of the soundboard of the guitar body.
Through the soundhole is where the air enters and leaves the body, allowing the guitar top to vibrate and resonate and project sound.
Rosettes for classical or acoustic Guitars are circular decorative motifs, made mainly of wood, that are placed around the opening of the Soundboards. While the Rosette is certainly decorative, it also has a practical function: with its many wooden rings, it tends to prevent developing cracks in the opening from spreading to the rest of the top.
The guitar bridge along with the saddle are the pieces where the strings are tied and the vibrations of the strings are transferred directly to the soundboard. When it comes to the design of bridges and saddles, although there are variations, most bridges and saddles remain the same basic design.
The material of the bridge is normally wood, wood gives a lot of warmth to the sound of the instrument, they are also made with other materials such as plastic or like in electric guitars that are made of metal, but if you are looking for quality, the best option is wood.
The most used woods are Ebony and Rosewood due to their good sound transmission. The variety of materials has increased more and more, especially if you want to innovate and maintain an aesthetic with the other parts of the guitar.
The saddles can be made of different materials. In the beginning they were made of ivory, these days they are regularly made of cow bone, ebony, graphite or plastic.
The pick guard or scratch plate of the guitar serves to protect the soundboard from being scratched or damaged by a pick or plectrum. Bumpers can be made from many materials, including mother-of-pearl, plastic, metal, acrylic, and exotic woods. They are very thin so as not to reduce the vibration of the soundboard.
On classical guitars or flamenco guitars you may see golpeadors (from the spanish word golpe 'to strike or tap'), which are also known as tap plates. These were originally made from pearl, or wood. Currently they can be made of many materials, including clear vinyl, plastic, or acrylic.
The guitar ribs or sides are the two pieces that laterally close the acoustic body. They are usually made with the same wood as the back to create a similar look.
Acoustically, they fulfill the function of sound diffusers or reflectors. They influence the timbre or sound quality, and account for maybe 10-15% of the sound production.
Throughout history, a wide variety of woods have been used for guitar ribs, from exotic Ebony to Cocobolo, the well-appreciated Brazilian Rosewood, Indian Rosewood and Cypress in the Guitar.
The guitar back is the piece or pieces of wood that close the harmonic body from the back. The back as well as the sides act as reflectors or diffusers of the sound produced by the soundboard and this affects the timbre.
This part of the guitar is usually made of the same wood as the sides, in order to create symmetry and harmony to the instrument.
In general, this part of the guitar is not given much importance in terms of its influence on the sound, but it has been shown that it is more important than is believed, influencing the sound by almost 15 to 20%. Most choose the back for its beauty and appearance, because it has a smaller impact on the sound.
Armrests on guitars are a recent invention that serve several functions.
The main purpose is that it helps us not to touch the soundboard with our arms and muffle the sound. It may be imperceptible for many, but for serious guitarists we notice the difference.
Another function is that it is more comfortable to put your arm on an armrest, because it eliminates the hard corner where the soundboard meets the sides. The material of these is normally wood.
The monitor or sound port is another very recent invention of classical and acoustic guitars. It allows the player to hear themselves better when playing with an orchestra or in an ensemble. It does not making the guitar sound louder. Although many say that it produces more sound, while other argue less sound is projected toward the audience.
The body of the electric guitar has two important roles, aesthetics and resonance. The types of woods that are used will play a decisive role in the nuances and textures that it will bring to the sound.
The body is made up of a block of solid wood with the necessary holes made to place the different components of the guitar, such as pickups, knobs, screws, etc.
The guitar body may have zero, one, or two horns: upper and lower. These are also known as ‘cut outs’.
The lower horn or cutout helps the player access the higher frets. The upper one has no other use than purely looks. However, it does make it easier to access higher frets for players who put their thumb over the neck and fretboard.
Classical and acoustic guitars need a resonating box that amplifies the sound produced by the string, Their bodies act as a speaker amplifying the sound.
In an electric guitar, the soundboard is not necessary because the sound will be produced by the pickup as it is connected to an amplifier. For this reason, the chosen wood and body shape don’t need to project sound, but do need to have a good sound quality. The type of wood used can add texture to the final sound of the electronics.
The pick guard or scratch plate of the guitar serves to protect the body from being scratched or damaged by the pick. Bumpers can be made from many materials, including mother-of-pearl, plastic, metal, acrylic, and exotic woods. The other function is only aesthetic.
However, electric guitar pickguards can be more complex and cover more area than those on acoustic or classical guitars.
The Pickup is the heart of the electric guitar; without it the guitar would not sound. The pickup is what transforms the vibration of the sound of the strings into electrical signals that are sent to an amplifier to raise the loudness of the sound.
Electric guitar pickups, depending on the structure, can be divided into 2 types: single coil pickups, and humbucking pickups, which have 2 coils. The second coil eliminates the 'hum' that you get when using a single coil, hence the name 'humbucker'.
Pickups can also be active, or passive, meaning they require an external power supply or not. Active pickups have high output and low noise and are preferred by players in music that is very loud like hard rock and heavy metal.
Learn about many other different types of guitar pickups here.
The selector or switch is the electronic component that allows the electric guitar to select which pickups will be active and send the signal to the amplifier. If you want to know more about how they work and their different types, see this post.
On electric guitars there are usually three controls. These are
The knobs control the output of the guitar signal. Whether it's volume, tone, or a humbucker switch, having the right settings will help you define your own sound.
The fixed bridge found on classical guitars is also found on electric guitars with different constructions and additional functions: not only does it hold and maintain the tension of the strings, but it can adjust the height and length of the strings.
Vintage bridges usually have three saddles that each support the tension of two strings. There are newer bridges that have individual saddles for each string. These constructions are typical of Telecaster models.
Tune-O-Matic (TOM) bridges add a crosspiece called a tailpiece, which is the one with the holes for the strings to pass through, and is a separate piece from the individual saddles. This type of bridge is typical of the Les Paul or SG models.
Evertune bridges are a type of high-tech fixed bridge that automatically tunes the guitar without the need for power. With some springs, the tension of the strings is permanently maintained, and it is an element widely used, especially in Metal and Hard Rock guitars.
If you want to know more about the bridges of electric guitars visit this blog.
A tremolo arm, also called a tremolo bar, is a long metal post attached to a bridge that extends out of the guitar from one end while remaining fixed at the other. The function of the vibrato or Tremolo Bar is to change the pitch by raising or lowering notes. As the player moves the tremolo arm in and out of the guitar, it moves the bridge up or down, therefore changing the pitch of the strings.
The Strap Button is the metal (or plastic) button that we see that is screwed on electric guitars, this is used to be able to hang the strap to play standing up. Each electric guitar has two, one placed inline with the neck at the base of the guitar body, and the other on the top side of the guitar near the neck.
The output jack is simply where we will connect the cable that goes from the guitar to the amplifier. This cable is the one that transmits the electricl signal that was converted from the vibrations of the strings on the pickups.
That’s a lot of parts! There are even more tiny parts of the guitar that we did not cover, such as soundport covers, screws, acoustic pickups, and more. But those are just details at this point.
Generally, you should now know the three major parts of any guitar: the head, neck, and body. The classical and acoustic guitars are quite similar, while the electric guitar has more parts and differences due to the fact that it produces sound with electronics.
Now you should feel confident to go to the guitar store and know what the seller is talking about. You are better equipped to have a good conversation with your teacher when you are taking guitar lessons, or with other guitarists.