Parts of a Guitar
The main parts of the guitar are common between the electric and the acoustic although each
type of guitar does have some components that are unique.
This is one component where there is a significant difference between the
electric and acoustic guitar. The electric guitar consists of a solid body and in the more expensive examples
this would be a single piece of wood. On lower spec guitars this body might consist of two or even three
laminations with a thin top layer of decorative expensive wood often called the ‘flame top’; (this name comes
from the natural flame type pattern common in maple which has been traditionally used for this thin top
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In an acoustic guitar the body forms the sound box that amplifies the
vibrations of the strings and produces the characteristic tone of the guitar. The sound board is the front panel
of the body and it is vibrated by the strings passing over it. This in turn
vibrates the air inside the body and the sound is then emitted through the Sound Hole.
Arguably strings are the most important part of the guitar. The standard
‘lead’ guitar has 6 strings and the standard ‘bass’ guitar has 4 strings. However 12 string guitars are quite
common and although less common the guitar can be purchased with any number up to 18 strings. These days’ nylon
strings are the most common form of string although steel strings also are used. Catgut strings were used before
nylon strings were the norm and catgut is still used in many professional circles. (Catgut is made from the
intestines of animals, usually goat or sheep but not cat, as the name might suggest). Most of the strings
consist of a single length filament although in bass strings several filaments are wound or coiled to form the
The purpose of the bridge is to transmit vibrations from the strings to the
sound board on an acoustic guitar. Although this part of the guitar is also present on the electric guitar its
purpose here is simply to hold the strings in place over the pickups. (See
This part of the guitar is the long extension from the body of the guitar and
is made up of the frets, the fretboard, tuning keys and headstock. Although most commonly made out of very
strong wood, (it is important it does not distort under the stress of the stretched strings), carbon fibre or
aluminium necks are not uncommon.
Occasionally you might see musicians with double neck guitars. This
effectively provides two guitars in one with different sound qualities. The part of the guitar where the neck
joins the main body is called the ‘heel’. In classical guitars the neck and headstock (see later) are carved
from a single piece of wood called a Spanish Heel.
Frets are mounted on the fret board and consist of metal strips located
precisely so that a particular note is obtained when the musician presses the string over the fret. In a typical
classical guitar, one octave is divided into twelve frets.
The tuning keys stretch the string to the correct tension to produce the
desired note. Traditionally the string would wrap around the body of the tuning key although on modern electric
guitars a gearing mechanism is often used to allow more precise tuning. These keys are set in the headstock
situated at the end of the neck.
Pickups are found on electric guitar and are small transducers that turn the
vibrations of the strings into electrical signals. These signals are then fed to the amplifiers. Two most common
types of pickups are the electro-magnetic and the piezoelectric. The electro magnetic pickup consists of small
magnets housed in a coil of wire; (although the ‘humbucker’ pickup consists of two coils and magnets and were
introduced to try to lesson interference caused by nearby electrical fields). The piezoelectrical pickup has a
special crystal which is distorted by the vibrations from the string and these distortions produce tiny
electrical signals which are fed to the amplifiers.
This is often found on electric guitars and provides a means of ‘stretching’
the strings. The musician can then use this to form a pitch bending or tremolo sound.
Various inlays such as mother of pearl have traditionally been used to create a pleasing look
to the guitar, but on modern electric guitars hand painted lacquer finishes have often been used to create a
unique individual look.
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