If you've set out on learning how to play the acoustic guitar, you need to be familiar with the instrument.
Even though it is called acoustic guitar anatomy, you don't need a doctorate to learn the parts of a guitar.
We'll go through everything in a second, but first, let's have a little test to see whether you can name the parts of an acoustic guitar.
Interactive quiz: Acoustic guitar parts
If you scored high, great job!
If not, let's go through each part of an acoustic guitar.
Parts of the guitar
Acoustic guitars are made up of several distinct parts. Here are the most important ones you need to be familiar with.
The headstock is a piece of wood at the end of the guitar neck, which houses the tuners. On an acoustic guitar, the headstock is usually roughly rectangular, with 3 tuners on each side. This piece can be straight or angled, a choice that impacts the amount of tension put on the strings at the nut.
It is often the only part of the guitar visible to the audience which is branded with the name of the manufacturer. Even without the printing of the name, the headstock is an opportunity for brands to create a distinctive visual identity: the shape and/or color of the headstock is a unique design trademark for many brands.
Also known as tuning machines or tuning pegs, tuners are on the headstock and hold the strings at the end of the guitar neck. The strings are threaded through a piece known as a capstan and tightened by turning the tuning knob. As the string is tightened, it winds around the capstan, shortening in length and raising in pitch as a result.
A thin piece of material, known as the nut, holds the strings in place at the end of the neck. Grooves are notched into the nut at regular intervals to keep the strings at their proper distance from each other. The nut also works with the saddle to set the height of the strings over the fretboard.
Despite its size, the material the nut is made of does have some impact on the tone and resonance of the guitar, as well as impacting how well the guitar stays in tune. Many luthiers view bone as the best nut material, and it is used in many high-end guitars.
The neck protrudes from the guitar body and carries the fretboard and headstock. It is supported by a long metal piece called a truss rod, which runs inside it.
Over time a great variety of neck shapes and sizes has developed, allowing players to find a shape that best suits their fretting hand and playing style. The choice of wood for this piece also has an impact on tone and sustain.
The fretboard is the front-most piece of the neck, which the player's fingers press the strings towards. It is usually made from a different piece of wood than the rest of the neck, specially selected for its impact on tone and playability. Maple, rosewood, and ebony are the most popular woods for this piece.
Frets are raised metal pieces spanning the width of the fretboard. When a player presses a string onto a fret, the string's vibrating length is shortened, changing its pitch accordingly.
Each fret will create a sound one semitone or half-step higher than the last. In order to create this effect, the interval between each fret decreases incrementally as it approaches the bridge.
As the size of frets vary, and the playing style must change accordingly. Jumbo frets are tall and wide, making it unnecessary for the player to press the string firmly into the fretboard. In fact, pressing too firmly with jumbo frets can cause intonation problems. Medium frets, to the contrary, require much more fretboard contact from the string in order to sound.
Fret markers are dots or custom marks inlaid between the frets at specific intervals, as a visual aid for players. They typically indicate frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 and 15. The 12th fret, which sounds an octave above the open string, is usually differentiated by a unique marker. This is often just two dots rather than one, though other designs are used.
Many materials can be used for these markers, including clay, plastic or wood. It's even possible to buy stickers to use as a substitute for inlays. Mother of Pearl is among the more premium inlay materials.
The body of the guitar is the chambered part of the instrument. It is the main body, where the sound resonates.
The body can be split into 3 parts:
- Upper bout
- Lower bout
The sound hole helps to produce the highly resonant sound of the acoustic guitar. When the strings of the guitar vibrate from being plucked, they create a force which vibrates the entire surface of the guitar, also known as a soundboard.
By putting a hole in the front of the acoustic guitar, luthiers allow the soundboard to vibrate more freely, and thus produce more sound. It also helps to direct the sound formed inside the guitar's hollow body forward, towards the audience.
Most luthiers decorate the area around the soundboard, designing aesthetic circular patterns to adorn the body of the guitar. On older guitars this design was often floral, hence the name "rosette".
Today more subtle, "modern" designs are more common, and many builders differentiate themselves with this element, similar to how the headstock shape can form a visual identity.
Players who strike the strings with a "pick" or plectrum will often find themselves hitting the body of the guitar at the end of their stroke. In order to prevent this from scratching and denting the soundboard, pickguards of various materials are often installed next to the sound hole.
This pickguard is generally made to be as thin as possible, because anything touching the soundboard of the guitar will decrease its resonance to some extent.
The bridge is a raised piece, usually made of wood, which grounds the strings to the guitar's body. It not only supports them but also serves to transmit their vibrations to the soundboard. Without this conductor, the vibration of the strings alone is not enough to generate significant volume.
The strings are secured to the bridge by bridge pins. Acoustic guitar bridges usually include holes for the ends of the strings, which the bridge pins will plug.
It is essential that the bridge pin fit snugly, or the tension created by turning the tuning knob is likely to pull the string out of the bridge. Tone and sustain can be affected by the material of the bridge pin.
Metal and brass are used by some musicians and luthiers to bring out more brightness, while wood and bone can contribute to the guitar's sustain.
Mounted on the bridge, the saddle is a piece similar to the nut at the end of the neck, It holds the strings in place and determines the height of the strings, or "action".
The saddle is often positioned at a slight angle, rather than running parallel to the nut. This is done to improve intonation.
And that is pretty much it, acoustic guitar anatomy 101.
Seeing the guitar as separate sections is a simple way to get familiar with how a guitar is made. Of course, building a guitar is a complicated, delicate, precise process. Everything needs to fall into place perfectly, and thus, create an instrument that can play music.
A work of art.