Applied Guitar Theory logo

Guitar Anatomy: Learn the parts of a guitar

In this post we take a look at the anatomy of the guitar. If you’re going to learn an instrument, it’s a good idea to become familiar with it. Although guitars share a lot of the same parts, there are variations that make them unique and impact not just the aesthetics of the instrument, but also the tone and how the instrument plays. So let’s get to it and learn the parts of the guitar.

3 Main Parts of the Guitar

Looking at the overall anatomy of a guitar, there are three main parts:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Body
Diagram of the 3 main parts of a guitar, head, neck and body

While there are some strange guitar designs out there, the vast majority will contain these three parts. Each main part is made up of various other parts such as pickups, knobs, tuning machines etc. The diagram below highlights some of these.

Diagram showing the parts of the electric guitar

Let’s take a deeper look at each, working from the guitar head down to the body.

Anatomy of the Guitar Head

Guitar headstock

The head of the guitar is the uppermost part of the guitar and includes the tuning machines, nut, string retainers and on electric guitars, the trust rod cover.

Tuning Machines

The tuning machines include the tuning knobs and posts. These are the parts in which the strings wrap and are used for tuning the guitar. The arrangement of the tuning machines will depend on the guitar, but common arrangements are 3 tuning machines per side of the headstock or 6 in-line. Earnie Ball has an unconventional 4 tuners on one side and 2 on the other.

Tuning machines also come in different types, for instance locking and non-locking tuners. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Grover locking tuners. I find they work really well and simplify string changes.

Nut

The nut is the part of the guitar in which the strings pass through on and sits between the neck and tuning posts. Nuts come in several different materials, including graphite, bone, and plastic. Graphite nuts are self-lubricating and can help prevent binding of the strings within the nut, which is quite common on guitars with tuners on both sides of the headstock.

Truss Rod Cover

The truss rod cover typically is just a piece of plastic that covers access to the truss rod. The truss rod allows you to adjust the relief, or bow, in the neck. Learn about neck relief in this setup guide from Guitar Niche: How to Setup a Guitar.

String Retainers

String retainers are basically just guides for the strings that sit between the nut and tuning machines. They help keep the strings seated in the nut, which can impact the sustain of strings when played open.

Anatomy of the Guitar Neck

The guitar neck consists of the neck, fretboard, frets, and fretboard inlays. In some instances, the fretboard may not contain any inlays, as you commonly see with classical guitars.

Guitar fretboard

Neck

The neck of the guitar is the part that contains the fretboard and connects to the body of the guitar. Necks can be made of different types of wood with maple and mahogany being two of the most common. The type of wood used for the neck can affect the characteristics of the tone that comes from the guitar as well.

Another aspect of the guitar neck that is of importance is the shape of the neck. This impacts the comfort and playability of the neck. For a full breakdown of neck shapes, check out Guitar Neck Shapes Explained: The Ultimate Guide.

Fretboard

The fretboard, or fingerboard, is the topmost layer of the neck and what your fingers contact when playing the guitar. The fretboard can be a made of a variety of woods, which can greatly impact the feel and tone of the guitar. Two of the most common woods for fretboards are maple and rosewood. Maple fretboards tend to sound snappier and produce for defined notes while rosewood tends to sound softer and warmer.

Check out this video for a comparison and see if you can hear the difference: Maple vs. Rosewood

Similar to neck shapes, fretboards come in different radiuses, which again can impact feel and playability. If you didn’t check it out already, see Guitar Neck Shapes Explained: The Ultimate Guide for a review of the different fretboard radiuses.

Fretboard Inlays

Fretboard inlays provide a guide to make it easier to find your place on the fretboard. Standard inlays are located on frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, and 24 (if you have a 24 fret guitar). If the guitar has dotted inlays, the 12th fret typically contains two inlays side by side to indicate the octave.

Inlays are most often made of some type of plastic, though this can vary.

Frets

The frets are the rounded metal strips embedded in the fretboard. Frets can vary in size and shape, from small to jumbo. Each variation impacts how the fret feels and plays. To learn more about frets, check out this article: Guitar Fret Wire – The Ultimate Luthier’s Guide.

Anatomy of the Guitar Body

The last section of the guitar is the body. The body of a guitar can come in all sorts of styles from single cutaway to double cutaway, etc. It can also be made of many types of woods, such as ash, mahogany, basswood and many more. Each type of wood has its own characteristics and will affect the weight and tone of the guitar.

Les Paul guitar body

Pickups

There are three main types of pickups: single coil, humbucker and P90, each with their own characteristics. The humbuckers provide a bit fatter tone while single coils and P90s are a bit thinner.

For a comparison of the three types, check out this video: HUMBUCKER vs P90 vs SINGLE COIL – Can You Hear The Difference?

The pickup closest to the neck is referred to as the neck pickup, while the pickup closest to the bridge is referred to as the bridge pickup. Generally speaking, the bridge pickup will sound a little brighter and trebly, whereas the neck pickup will sound softer and warmer.

Pickup Switch

For guitars that have multiple pickups, there’s usually a pickup switch on the guitar that allows you to select which pickup is capturing the vibration of the strings. Pickup switches are typically either 3-way switches (Les Paul for example) or 5-way switches (Stratocaster).

Volume Knob

The volume knob controls the amount of signal sent from the pickups to the amplifier, hence controlling the volume. Depending on the guitar, there may be separate volume knobs for each pickup or a single knob that controls all pickups.

However, they do much more than control volume and can offer a wide range of tones if used properly with your amplifier. For a thorough breakdown of all the gloriousness of the volume knob, check out The Volume Knob – The Guitar’s Best Kept Secret. You’ll never view the volume knob the same again.

Tone Knob

The tone knob helps control some of the high frequencies, or treble, coming out of the guitar. I think it’s more useful on single coil pickups that tend to be a bit brighter sounding, though sometimes I find myself using it with a Les Paul when using the bridge pickup.

Bridge

The bridge is where the strings are supported on the body of the guitar. This is where the vibrations of the strings are transferred to the guitar body. On the bridge are the saddles, which help control the length of the string to allow you to set the intonation for the guitar.

Bridges come in several variations, from hardtail to non-floating tremolo to floating tremolo, each with their own characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.

Tailpiece

The tailpiece sits behind the bridge and anchors the strings to the guitar. Tremolo bridges don’t require a tailpiece as the strings anchor to the bridge itself.

Pickguard

Some guitars will have a pickguard that sits below the strings. Some are large and flat and sit flat up against the body of the guitar while others are raised up off the body, like the Les Paul for instance. The pickguard helps keep the finish from getting scratched up. Aside from its practical purpose, some people prefer the aesthetics of a pickguard.

Input Jack

The input jack is where you plug in the instrument cable to connect the guitar to pedalboard or amplifier, etc. The input is typically located on the side of the body, but the top of the body is another common location for it.

Strap Button

Strap buttons are where the guitar strap is connected to the guitar. Like everything else, there are a wide variety of strap buttons and some that include strap locks to prevent the strap from sliding of the button. For most electric guitars the strap buttons are located on the sides of the guitar, but in some cases you may find one located on the back of the guitar close to the neck.

Sound Hole (Acoustic Guitars)

The sound hole is the large hole that sits under the strings on an acoustic guitar. The sound hole allows for the vibrations to resonate within the body of the guitar, producing an amplified sound coming out of the guitar. Sound holes can vary in size and in exact location, both of which impact the sound of the guitar.

Wrap Up

While there are a lot of variations in guitars and guitar parts, the parts listed here cover the basics of a standard guitar. I recommend you follow the links to the resources for a more in-depth view of some of the parts and how they work. Personally, I find it quite interesting and in many cases can give you more control over the tone and playability of the guitar.

AGT book of scales cover

Get notified of new lessons!

Get The Book of Scales when you sign up for lesson updates.