Have you ever run into someone you’ve met a few times but can’t ever remember their name?
Now that you’re embarrassed to ask their name again after so many run-ins, you naturally end up saying “Hey… you…”
It’s the same with guitars.
Are you still calling the saddle ‘that thingee?’
Have you been casually playing long enough that now you’re embarrassed to ask what the correct terminology is?
Naturally, you’ll come to know the basic terms of guitar parts while you’re figuring out your way around playing it. But, we’ll give you a quick start right here, so you can sound like a pro and no longer like an amateur.
Anatomy of a Guitar
Both electric and acoustic guitars have the same fundamental parts. Although these parts may have different styles and shapes, they essentially serve the same purpose. Both electric and acoustic guitars share these characteristics:
Common Guitar Parts
- Machine heads/tuners/tuning pegs/gear heads
- Position markers/dots/inlays
- End pin/Strap button
Electric Guitar Anatomy
An electric guitar is designed to be played plugged-in – it requires amplification to be heard. Electric-specific features will have components that allow amplification, control knobs, and effect changes. Because of its electric design, it can offer a range of sounds and effects, can have multiple types of flashy finishes and cutaways, and they don’t depend on body tonewoods to contribute to acoustic sound.
Parts of an Electric Guitar
- Pickup selector
- Control knob/potentiometer
- Whammy bar/vibrato bar
- Output jack
Acoustic Guitar Anatomy
An acoustic guitar is designed to be heard when played without amplification. It’s a lot bigger than an electric guitar, although, they do come in different sizes and body shapes. The most notable characteristic of an acoustic guitar is its body. It’s longer, deeper, and larger than an electric guitar.
Unlike the electric that has a solid piece body (made from a solid piece of wood), an acoustic has sides, a back, and a top that’s also called the soundboard. Because of this hollow construction, it will also have a soundhole that’s used to reverberate, resonate, and transmit vibrational energy from the strings and soundboard when played. Tonewood selections for the body of a guitar are important to consider since it contributes to acoustic sound.
Parts of an Acoustic Guitar
- Bridge pins
Guitar Strings Labeled
There’s no way around not knowing the names of the strings. To tune your guitar, figure out chords, and eventually change out the strings yourself, you’re going to have to get to know them intimately. Not every string will be the same, that is, they will have different thicknesses. The thickest string will be the very top one closest to you starting with the 6th E string, and they will gradually get smaller in thickness ending with the 1st E string.
String numbers: 6 5 4 3 2 1
String names: E A D G B E
When beginning to play guitar, you’ll most likely start with open chords with the most popular being C-A-G-E-D. When looking at chord diagrams, the dots will indicate where on the fret space you’ll need to place your fingers. The numbers on the dots will indicate which finger to position there. With your thumb rested on the back of the neck, the 1 position will refer to the index finger, 2nd position to the middle finger, and so on.
Fret Numbering & Movement
Frets are numbered from the headstock starting with 1, moving towards the body of the guitar. When playing the guitar you can move your hands horizontally or vertically across the fretboard. The number ‘0’ or the letter “O” is sometimes used to indicate an open string (one that is not fingered).
Guitar Biology 101
Now that you have your basics down, it’s time to master it. With practice and a lot of willingness to get into the nitty-gritty of your guitar, you’ll learn to make your own adjustments, play barre chords, and have the confidence to play and sing along in front of others. Now knowing the correct names and terminology, you’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about, too. Never again will you call a nut “that thingee.”
Guitar Anatomy Infographic
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Simon is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado. When he is not playing the guitar or listening to music he is either eating tacos or snoring too loudly.