The electric guitar has come a long way since the 50s, when it was invented. But the basic parts have always remained the same, no matter how many times the guitar’s design has been changed. Today we take a look at how many different parts makeup what we know as the electric guitar.
The Anatomy of The Electric Guitar: Why it is important…
An electric guitar is only as good as the sum of its parts. For example, you can use the best woods to craft a guitar but if you use cheap hardware it would result in a terrible playing guitar.
If there is ever something wrong with your guitar, it is advantageous to know which parts do what. That way, you can explain what you think the problem is when you take it to be repaired.
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Knowing the parts and their purposes will help you diagnose any issues you may be having. It is easy to get frustrated if there is something wrong with your guitar. Especially as a beginner.
Every single piece has it’s purpose and it needs to be cohesive across the instrument. But what are all of these parts? How do they all work together?
Let’s start at the top of the guitar, and move our way all the way down!
The headstock is at the very top/end of your guitar, They headstock is where you’ll find the main parts that hold your guitar in tune. Headstocks come in all shapes and sizes/styles but they all have the same basic makeup and parts.
Tuning machines: Your headstock is where your tuning machines are installed. These are where you insert your strings. The pegs hold the strings by wrapping them around.
Tuning machines come in different brands and styles. Your headstock may also have a string tree near the tuning machines. The string tree is for straight angled headstocks (like Fender) and creates a “break angle” for your strings.
Tuning machines are often blamed for the guitar going out of tune. This is usually not the case, as they are only one part of the system that affects tuning. The Nut is far more important in that aspect.
The Nut: The nut is what your strings pass through on their way to the bridge. The nut is made out of a hard material and sits at the bottom of your headstock.
This is where the most important part of tuning stability comes in. If your nut is not properly cut, the strings can bind in the slots. This will cause all kinds of frustrating tuning problems.
Tuning issues are usually blamed on the tuning machines for being cheap, or broken. But that isn’t usually your tuning problem at all! It’s often a badly cut/seated nut.
It is more likely that an improperly cut nut is causing your strings to bind, than your tuning machines failing. A good way to check this is when you are restringing your guitar. Does the string pass through the nut easily?
If it doesn’t, then you have found your tuning problem. Strings should always sit in their slots with ease, without catching on the nut.
There are good ones like NUbone, Graphtech, and custom Bone nuts. The cheaper hard plastic ones are what you should look out for, if your guitar isn’t holding it’s tuning. The plastic makes the strings more susceptible to binding.
That wraps up all of the important pieces of the headstock. Lets move on to the most important part of any guitar…the neck.
The Neck and Fingerboard
Everyone will have a different preference when it comes to necks and fingerboards. There are many different sizes and shapes, as well as tons of different woods and materials.
Guitar necks are so important because they are where your hands spends the most time. It is imperative to find a comfortable one that suits you. Some people like wide, flat necks. I personally like vintage style necks that are smaller and shorter.
The neck is usually the biggest factor when it comes to choosing the guitar that is right for you. Some are wider than others, some are thicker. It all comes down to preference and ease of playing.
Let’s take a look at the different parts of the guitar neck:
The Fingerboard/ Fretboard: This is where all the magic happens! Fretboards can be made out of different woods like Maple, Ebony, Rosewood, and Laurel.
Fretboards hold your frets in place. That’s their number one job. People prefer different woods over others usually for aesthetic reasons. I prefer a darker colored wood.
The fretboard usually has markers on them to show which fret you are on. These markers act as a guide for you to know which notes you are playing. Fret markers are found on the side of the neck, where you look down from playing position.
Some guitars have fret markers on the fingerboard, facing outward. These fret markers are sometimes very decorative, and we call these inlays. These inlays can be hundreds of different styles, or they could be simple dots.
Most options when it comes to your fretboard come down to what looks good to you. This is all preference and style.
Frets: Frets are the raised metal pieces hammered into your fretboard. Like everything else in the world of guitar, they come in many different sizes and shapes.
Metal guitars generally come with jumbo frets, while vintage inspired guitars come with medium tall frets. These both provide a different “feel” when it comes to playing. Which one you like will come with time and experience
Frets come in two main materials: Nickle and Stainless Steel. The composition of the metal really doesn’t seem to make a difference when playing. Stainless will wear down slower, and require zero maintenance. While Nickle frets will require polishing every few months.
For many guitarists, fret size has no bearing on their play style. They simply do not have a preference. And that is okay!
The Body of The Guitar
The body of the guitar is where the rest of the magic happens. It holds all of the things that make an electric guitar work. These can come in any shape and color.
The body of a guitar is probably the most subjective part of choosing a guitar. Some people prefer classic shapes, while the next person could prefer more extreme “pointy” shapes.
The finish can be natural wood, or it can be painted, Finish is a very personal choice as well. The finish will dictate how you take care of your guitar.
The body styles may all be different, but they contain all of the same parts! The body holds:
- The Pickups
- The bridge
The Pickups: These are what makes the ultimate sound of your guitar. These magnetic devices pick up the vibration of the string and turn the vibrations into audible sound.
There are as many variants of pickups as there are guitars! And they all sound different. Check out our guide if you want to know more about the types of pickups.
Your pickups are wired to controls through the body of the guitar. Pickups provide the basic sound, and the controls fine tune that sound to your liking.
Controls/Knobs: These are how you control the sounds of your pickups. There are many different configurations. But almost every guitar will have a volume knob, a tone knob, and a pickup selector switch.
The volume knob performs it’s namesake. It controls the volume of your guitar when plugged into an amp. Some guitars have a volume for each pickup, and some have a “master” volume that controls everything.
The tone knob changes the frequency output of your guitar. Most guitarists use it in a subtle way to dial out high frequencies. These days, it is often overlooked when playing, but it can have a huge effect on your sound.
The pickup selector also performs it’s namesake. This allows you to change between your bridge pickup and your neck pickup. Most of these switches have a middle position that allows you to use both pickups at once.
The bridge: This is where the strings begin, and ultimately end at the headstock. We started at the top with the tuning machines, and we finally find where the strings terminate.
The bridge secures your strings in the body of the guitar. And you guessed it…there are many types of bridges that all do different things. But today we are sticking to just a standard fixed bridge.
Most bridges are fully adjustable so you can set the height of your strings. They also set the intonation, which affects the overall length of strings and the tuning of the guitar.
While there may be many types of bridges, they all can be found in the same place, towards the bottom of the guitar.
The control cavity/electronics: This is the final destination for your pickups and their wiring. The control cavity is usually on the back of your guitar and covered with a plate.
Inside is where you will find all of the wiring for your knobs, switches, and pickups. The wires are soldered together inside the cavity and carry the audio signal of your guitar into your amplifier.
Experienced guitarists like to tinker with the wiring of their guitar sometimes. If you’re a beginner, it is best not to try and alter the wiring or take anything apart.
The electronics are wired into your input jack, where you plug in your cable. The cable then carries the signal of your guitar to your amp. Now you know the parts of your guitar, top to bottom!
The Anatomy of The Electric Guitar: Finishing Up
Whew! I think that just about covers all the major parts of an electric guitar. As I stated in the beginning, all of these parts work in harmony with each other to make up the guitar.
Now that you know the parts, it is easy to tell if something is wrong with your guitar. This will make getting it repaired much easier for you and the technician that is working on your guitar.
Not getting any sound from your guitar? Well that’s probably the electronics or pickups. Not staying in tune? The problem is usually the nut or the tuning machines.
There may be many different variations of the parts that make up your guitar, but in the end it is all the same concept. Getting to know all of the different parts puts you a step ahead of the game, and closer to being a PRO!