Guitar Anatomy

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The Body, Neck, and Head

The guitar is divided into three main sections: the body, the neck, and the head. Each section plays a specific role in the sound and look of the instrument.

The body is the largest part of a guitar and has the most effect on the tone. An electric guitar body is made from a solid piece of wood or several pieces of solid wood glued together. Hollow body electric and acoustic bodies are made from thin sheets of wood glued together with internal wood bracing. All of the electronics needed for producing and adjusting the output signal to the amp are housed in the body. Some acoustics have built in pre-amps and an equalizer installed in the top. Many guitar bodies have a beautiful finish and/or artwork and designs.

The neck is used to stretch out the strings and shorten their length as the guitar is played. Shortening a string creates a higher pitch when the string is struck. Therefore, the notes a guitar can produce are determined by the number of frets on the neck.

Located at the end of the neck is the head or headstock. The head usually contains the name and/or logo of the guitar's manufacturer as well as the keys (known as machines) for tuning the strings.

Parts of the Guitar

Parts of the Body

A guitar bridge Bridge - The bridge anchors the strings to the body. Two large bolts screwed into the body hold the bridge in place and provide support to withstand the pressure of the strings once they're in tune. These bolts also help transfer the vibration of the strings into the wood to give the instrument a more natural tone. The two most common bridges are the standard and the locking.

The standard comes in two varieties - adjustable and non-adjustable. The Flying V pictured has an adjustable standard bridge commonly found on electric guitars. Adjustable bridges allow you to fine tune the guitar's intonation. Acoustic guitars have non-adjustable bridges.

Some older standard bridges have a tremolo bar. This allowed the guitar player to bend the strings at the bridge to achieve some interesting sounds. The locking bridge took the idea of the tremolo further. Using the tremolo caused the guitar to go out of tune. So a locking bridge and nut system were devised to help keep the guitar in tune. Fine tuners where added to the bridge to adjust the tuning after the nut and bridge where locked. An Allen wrench is required to change strings.

Guitar pickups Pickups - Pickups are tiny microphones anchored into the body between the neck and the bridge. There are two configurations - single coil and humbucker. Each has unique sound. Many guitars come with a combination of the two and allow the player to configure them in a variety of ways to create unique tones.

Guitar knobs Volume Knob - The volume knob increases or decreases the sound level before the signal is sent to the amp. This allows the player to set the loudness of the amp then adjust it from the guitar.

Tone Knob - The tone knob is sort of like an EQ. It affects the "brightness" of the tone. When this knob is turned all the way up notes have a sharp bright tone. When it's turned completely down notes have a warmer, darker tone.

Guitar swithes Selector Switch - On guitars with more than one pickup the selector switch allows the player to choose which pickups are on and which are off in preset configurations. Selector switches come in 3-way and 5-way varieties. Some guitars provide an on/off switch for each pickup allowing for the maximum number of pickup combinations.

On/Off Switch - The on/off switch turns all pickups on or off at once (not on all guitars).

Jack - The jack accepts a cable which is also plugged into the amp. Only a guitar cable should be used.

Strap pegs - Strap pegs provide a simple hooking mechanism for attaching a strap to the guitar. By placing the strap over one shoulder the player is able to play standing up. Although not shown in the image, strap pegs are standard on electric guitars. One is almost always located on the side of the body behind the bridge. The other one is usually on the side of the body above the neck.

Parts of the Neck

The Guitar fretboard Fingerboard - The flat side of the neck that lies beneath the strings is called the fingerboard. The fingerboard contains the frets and inlays.

Frets - Frets provide a means of shortening the length of the strings while allowing them to vibrate. When a string is pressed against the fingerboard the fret immediately in front of where the string is being pressed acts as a temporary nut.

Inlays - Inlays are dots or designs embedded into the fingerboard at specific frets that act as a reference. For example, the twelfth fret usually has two inlays to signify an octave of the open string. It is also common to find single inlays at the fifth, seventh, and ninth frets. Aside from being a reference inlays are often decorative as well.

Guitar nut Nut - The nut lies at the end of the fingerboard just before the head. The nut holds the strings so they can by played open (without pressing the string to the neck behind a fret). It also works with the bridge to hold the strings in position. Nuts are made from many different materials including graphite, plastic, or brass.

Parts of the Head

Guitar machine head or tuning heads Machines - The strings are fastened to the head of the guitar at the machines. Each machine has a peg with a hole in the side that a string is passed through. The string is then wound taught around the peg by turning the flat key that sits at a 90 degree angle from the peg. The machines use a simple gear mechanism that lets the player adjust the tension of the strings for tuning.

Truss Rod Plate - Many guitars have a small plastic plate on the head located just behind the nut. Under this plate lies the truss rod adjustment. The truss rod is a long metal rod through the center of the neck used for adjusting the bow in the neck. The neck is bowed so the frets are not all the same height. If the frets are all the same height the notes will buzz loudly instead of sounding musical. Truss rods should only be manipulated by someone who knows what they are doing.

Accessories

Besides the guitar itself there are many additional items a guitar player needs. These include:

  • Strings
  • Amp
  • Picks
  • Cables
  • Cases
  • Effects

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