The Basics: Parts of the Guitar

By Alex Bruce for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

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Something all beginner guitar players need to do fairly early on is to get to know the parts of the guitar.

This means learning the names and functions of all the various bits, bobs, switches, and knobs on your instrument.

Not only will this teach you how to better use and control your guitar, but also it’s essential language and knowledge when checking out new instruments to buy or getting repairs done.

It’s all part of growing from aspiring guitarist to guitarist, period. Here’s a handy list to get you started.

Headstock

This is the name for the generalized area at the guitar’s top end, where the strings run to, and very often where the guitar manufacturer’s name is often printed. The headstock’s main function is to house the tuning pegs (see below).

Tuning pegs

Also called ‘machine heads,’ these are the pegs protruding from the headstock. Their function is to tune the strings to get and keep the guitar in tune. Each peg corresponds to a string. It can be turned one way to tighten the string and the other way to loosen it.

Nut

The nut is the little piece right before the headstock. It’s very often (though not always) wooden and light-colored but is always recognizable because it contains little grooves through which the strings run before they reach the headstock and tuning pegs. The nut keeps the strings aligned and separated.

Neck

The neck is the generalized name for the long thin area of the guitar, between the main guitar body and the headstock. Often, guitarists use the term ‘neck’ more readily for the back of this neck area (that you grip while playing) rather than the front, which tends to be given another name.

Fretboard (and frets)

This is specifically the front face of the ‘neck.’ The fretboard is distinctive in that it’s separated by the frets (the little vertical bars dividing it into sections), and the strings run along it.

Pickups

These are the little items underneath the strings on an electric guitar, roughly where your hand hits the strings. They control which region of the string’s length the sound is ‘picked-up-from’ before being transmitted to the amplifier. Depending on which region of the string’s length this is, the resulting sound changes from softer to twangier.

Pickup Selector Switch

A little switch you can toggle to control specifically which pickup (or combination of pickups) is being used at any one time. The switch’s location, appearance, and number of options to toggle through can vary depending on the guitar type, but you’ll see it — it’s a switch, and there’s nothing else like it on the guitar. If you flick through its possible positions, you’ll notice the sound change.

Pick Guard / Scratchplate

The scratchplate is the attached section beneath the big sound hole on an acoustic or around the pickups below the strings on an electric. Its purpose is to avoid your strumming hand damaging the guitar’s wood itself when playing hard.

Bridge

What the bridge looks like can vary depending on the guitar type. but it’s always towards the bottom of the guitar, where the strings originate and feed through (before running along the length of the guitar). The bridge is responsible for keeping the strings in place and controlling the strings’ tension.

Volume / Tone Controls

Sometimes referred to as ‘pots’ or ‘knobs,’ these are the dials on an electric guitar with which you can control the volume and the tone (i.e., that soft to twangy spectrum again) of the sound you produce. They’re usually on the body, somewhere below the strings and out of the way of your strumming hand.

Whammy Bar / Tremolo Arm

The whammy bar creates a shimmering effect on some electric guitars as you play by moving the bridge and strings to alter the sound. The whammy bar is usually a stick-like metal bar protruding from the bridge area at the bottom of the guitar.

Jack Input

This is the hole into which you plug your cable if amplifying an electric (or electro-acoustic) guitar. It’s very often metal, silver or gold in color, and on the bottom corner or side of the main body of the guitar.

With this terminology under your belt, you’ll better know how your guitar functions. You’ll be able to change the strings more efficiently or clean your instrument better. This overall knowledge will make you more of a professional guitarist. Even if you are only taking beginner guitar lessons or still working out your first guitar scales, knowing these parts of your instrument will lend to your overall understanding of the guitar.

~ By Alex Bruce for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer