Guitar anatomy isn’t a college subject, so don't let it deter you. When we refer to the anatomy of the guitar, we are referring to what it's made of, how it's made, etc.
Why is it important to know the parts of the guitar? Since knowing how something works is important if you want to master it, so let's have a look at the anatomy of the guitar.
Acoustic guitar anatomy and electric guitar anatomy are similar in many ways, so we will start with a diagram of the anatomy of both the electric and acoustic guitars and explain the details below.
Body of the Guitar: The guitar body provides the resonance that shapes the tone of an acoustic or electric guitar, so it's pretty much the most important part of the guitar. It determines the volume of notes when playing acoustic guitars, and the sustain of notes when playing electric guitars.
The guitar body will usually be wider at the bottom (lower bout), thinnest in the middle, and a bit thicker towards the top of the guitar body (upper bout).
Several constructional aspects affect the tone given off by the body:
- Construction method: layered, one-piece, hollow, solid, etc.
- The shape and size of the body of the guitar
- Wood used: Generally only high-end manufacturers use the best type of wood, but cheaper manufacturers’ guitars sound good as well, since sometimes they are built better. Generally, the denser, heavier the wood, the deeper, richer the sound and sustain will be. The types of wood used for manufacturing the guitar are:
- Alder: Alder is a light, yet dense wood with a porous structure. It provides a balanced tone with a smaller upper mid-range, producing a clean sound with good resonance, providing a good dynamic range.
- Ash: Is usually used in mid priced guitars. Ash guitars are usually good quality, however, the open grain structure of the wood requires a lot of lacquer to be used, which might lower the sustain. Ash comes in 2 varieties, Northern Hard Ash (heavy and dense, nice low frequencies with long sustain), and Swamp Ash (lightweight and porous, nice balance of sound, good resonance across the entire frequency)
- Basswood: is a light wood with a consistent and tight grain pattern. It is very soft, therefore dents easily. Basswood has a warm, soft tone, with a limited dynamic range. It is not as good for playing clean notes, but playing it under distortion provides a nice metal-lead sound.
- Cedar: is one of the most used tonewoods.
- Mahogany: Is a heavy, dense wood, excellent for guitar construction. It gives off mellow, soft, yet thick tones, providing for long sustain with a nice dynamic.
- Nato: is a mahogany substitute used in budget guitars.
- Maple: usually not used for the entire guitar body, and comes in 2 varieties, Eastern Hard Maple (very hard and dense usually used to make necks, and maple syrup) and Western Soft Maple (is much lighter than its sibling, has a bright tone and is usually used as a top
- Rosewood: Is a very dense wood used to make the fretboard, the back and sides of acoustic guitars.
- Poplar: Is an interesting type of wood. Most players think of it as a budget wood, but more expensive guitars can also be found, that are made of Poplar. Its tone resembles that of Alder.
- Spruce: is one of the best tonewoods, but is unfortunately scarce and therefore expensive.
- Walnut: is harder, heavier and denser than Mahogany, providing good sustain. Tonally, it is warmer than maple, with solid low end, while the mid-range is relatively complex, and the top end is a smooth bright.
Bridge: The area on the top of the guitar where the strings meet or are connected to the face. The strings may start at the bridge or they may only be supported by it depending on the guitar. To be able to finely adjust the tone, most electric guitars allow the bridge to be raised or lowered typically by adjusting screws
Saddle: A saddle is a piece of plastic or polished bone that is used for the string to rest on, and is used on most acoustic guitars. The smoothness prevents the guitar from buzzing, and can also be used for very fine-tuning.
Fretboard: Also referred to as fingerboard, the fretboard is found on the face of the neck and is constructed of hardwoods. Most fretboards have inlays (position markers) on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets.
Frets: Are metal wires built vertically onto the guitar neck and fretboard. The number of frets varies by guitar. Strings are pressed down behind a fret to change the note that the string will produce. Most commonly, guitars come with medium frets, where you have to press the string down to the fretboard to be able to hear a sound. Jumbo frets are, in contrast, taller, so you don’t need to press down till the fretboard. The first fret is the one nearest the nut.
Headstock: The headstock lies at the end of the guitar neck. Its major role I to support the tuners, thus is the place where the strings are tuned. Many guitar brands have developed distinctive headstock shapes, so the headstock can be a very beautiful part of the guitar.
Neck: The long narrow part of the guitar located between the body and the headstock. It can be constructed of a single piece of wood, or several pieces of wood cut and glued together. The fretboard is attached to the upper side of the neck. Most acoustic guitar necks are glued to the body (referred to as set neck), others are bolted on (usually on electric guitars).
Nut: Is the point on the guitar neck, often referred to as fret 0, where the strings touch the neck and pass through into the tuners on the headstock. Its main function is to maintain proper string spacing. The nut and saddle are usually made of similar material on acoustic guitars. Electric guitars commonly use plastic, synthetics, and sometimes metal nuts.
Pick Guard: Is a flat piece of plastic on the face of the guitar body. It prevents the body from being scratched by your plectrum during play. Some elect guitars have raised pickguards, which direct your plectrum out and away from the volume and tone knobs.
Pickup Switch: A switch on the body of electric guitars, which is used to select different pickups.
Pickups: Only found on electric guitars, a pickup is actually a magnet wrapped in wires (electromagnet) on the face of an electric guitar, directly underneath the strings. The vibration of the strings interferes with the magnetic field of the pickup. This impulse is sent to the amplifier to be modified. So the pickup, in every sense of the word, literally "picks up" the vibration of the strings. A guitar usually has between 1 and 4 pickups, 2 being the most common.
Pickups sound different depending on where they are on the body. Pickups towards the neck have a brighter tone and will express harmonics more clearly. Pickups toward the bridge sound darker and dampen harmonics.
Single-coil pickups will pick up "noise" from other electric devices, commonly heard as a faint droning 50 or 60 Hz tone. Humbuckers reduce this noise while reinforcing the musical signal, but this makes a darker tone. Humbuckers are usually, while single-coil pickups are usually, and piezoelectric pickups might be preferred for acoustic guitars, and likely the only option for acoustic classical guitars.
Pickups come in three varieties, each sounding different:
- Single-coil pickup: Is composed of a single coil of wires wrapped around a magnet. They will pick up low frequency electromagnetic noise from other electric devices. Single –coil pickups are preferred by country and folk music guitarists.
- Humbucker pickup: Uses two identical opposing coils, operating in an opposing magnetic field to create a pickup with no hum (hence the name). Humbuckers reduce external interference from other electric devices, but this generates a darker tone. Himbuckers are preferred for heavy rock and metal.
- Piezoelectric pickup: Used in electro-acoustic guitars. They are not magnetic, so they will not pick up electromagnetic noise from other devices.
Soundhole: A hole on the body of the acoustic, or electro-acoustic guitar, where the sound waves made by the strings and resonated in the body, exits the body. Acoustic guitars have round sound holes.
Truss Rod: Is a steel rod that runs along the neck into the body of the guitar. Steel-string acoustic and electric guitars have truss rods, since it’s needed to counteract the pull of the strings on the neck, reinforcing the neck. Truss rods also allow the curvature of the neck to be adjusted. Nylon string guitars do not require truss rods.
Tuning Pegs: The pegs are located at the headstock. Turning the tuning peg rotates gears, which tighten or loosen the winding of string, therefore increase or decrease its pitch.
Pickup Switch: Most electric guitars have a switch that changes which pickups are being used. Changing pickups allows different tones to be produced since the tonality of pickups alters based on how far they are from the neck.
Volume Knob: Used to adjust the volume of playing. Electric guitars sometimes have different volume controls for the different pickups.
Tone Knob: Used to adjust the tone of the pickups. Electric guitars sometimes have different tone controls for the different pickups. It's actually a low pass filter, which helps boost or restrain a certain range of frequency.
Position Markers/Inlays: Are marks on the fretboard, which allows for easy and quick mapping of the fretboard. The basic standard of position markers is one dot in the horizontal middle of the fretboard at the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets, 2 dots at the 12th fret, and on dot at the 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st frets. These dots are often replaced by designer inlays for aesthetic purposes, but their role is the same.
Input Jack: Is the entry point of the cable leading from the electric, or electro-acoustic guitar to the amplifier, or other similar devices (pedal, PC, etc.).