Whether you’ve been tinkering with your trusty old acoustic guitar or a newly acquired guitar that you are looking to learn, it’s always helpful to know the anatomy of your instrument itself and what purpose each part serves. With this easy guide to all the parts of an acoustic guitar, we’ll cover everything you need to know!
The guitar originated somewhere around Spain and dates back to the 16th century. Interestingly, it was originally a 4 stringed instrument, as opposed to the modern guitar which has 6 strings. The instrument and how it’s built have gone through quite a few evolutions since then. As of now, there are 2 main types of modern guitar; the acoustic guitar (hollow bodies, nylon, or steel string), and the electric guitar (solid bodies, plugged in).
The acoustic guitar, as the name suggests, is an acoustic instrument. It essentially means, it works without electricity. While you pluck the strings, the vibration resonates throughout the body and amplifies the sound. But each little part of the instrument plays a special role in creating and facilitating that sound. So scroll down to read all about the many parts of an acoustic guitar!
The Parts Of An Acoustic Guitar Explained: All You Need To Know
Today we are going to familiarize you with all the various components of the acoustic guitar – This type of guitar consists of two main parts – the body, which is the biggest part of the guitar which usually sits on your lap and rests against your body; and the neck, which is the thin, long part which emerges from the body. These two sections have several other parts that make them up.
The headstock is right at the top of the neck and just as the name suggests, is the ‘head’ of the guitar. The headstock houses the tuning pegs and also usually the logo of the guitar company, and holds it all together. It can be of different shapes and sizes depending on what guitar you have and also the company and model, for example, classical guitars have ‘slotted’ headstocks’ (lighter and with grooves) and ‘solid’ headstocks (heavier, no grooves) are seen on a steel-string acoustic guitar.
You can nowadays see companies make their own variations to the standard design of the guitar.
The tuning pegs call the shots! The tuning pegs rest on the headstock, and there are usually six of them. Each string has a unique tuning peg of its own, and the strings are connected from the bridge on the body, all the way up through the neck into the tuning pegs. Your guitar is tuned to a certain frequency/note and to tune a guitar, rotating it in a certain direction tightens(sharpens the note) it, and rotating it the opposite way loosens (flattens the note) it.
It’s always a good idea to turn the tuning pegs very slowly as you tune your strings. As you go higher in pitch with the tuning, you can feel your tuning peg get tighter, increasing the tension. But if you keep tightening too fast or a little more than necessary, the string might just break!
Capstan (String Post)
A capstan (also known as a string post) is the hole connected to the tuning pegs, through which your strings pass through. It rotates as you tune the string, thus increasing or decreasing the pitch.
Imagine if your strings are connected straight from the bridge to the tuning pegs and you pluck a string? That’s gonna result in the strings vibrating unevenly and sounds going all over the place, and would cause tuning issues, buzzing sounds, and a lot more. That’s where this tiny but useful nut comes into play.
The nut is usually the most ignored element in a guitar, but it serves a number of purposes. By connecting the neck and the headstock, the nut decides the spacing of the guitar strings from each other and it holds the strings in place while the strings vibrate. It has six tiny spaces for the six strings to rest. And not only does it plays a major role in the tuning stability of your guitar, but its material may also contribute very subtly to your guitar tone.
This is where all the magic happens! Your dominant hand (usually the right hand) works closer to the soundhole of the guitar (on the body), while the other hand holds down shapes, notes, on the neck. The neck is where all your melody and harmony are decided. The guitar neck as the name suggests is the thin, long part that emerges from the body all the way to the headstock. It consists of the fretboard, frets, headstock and the strings themselves. It also has a truss rod which is usually a steel rod that runs on the inside of the neck, and it controls its tension and relief, as the strings are tightened.
Guitar necks too, come in different sizes and widths. The classical/nylon string guitar usually has a wider neck, while steel-string acoustic guitars have a slimmer neck, which makes strumming or fingerpicking easier.
Pro tip: When purchasing a new guitar, look out for any kind of highs or lows on the neck- bends. It must be straight and smooth.
A lot of people end up confusing the fretboard for the neck of the guitar – but let me clear that up. A fretboard is a wooden piece that is mounted onto the front of the neck and contains frets which are small divisions of metal that you get to see along the fretboard. Your fingers press against the fretboard. Right at the top of the fretboard is the nut, and your strings run along all the way to the headstock, from the bridge.
The type of wood used in the making of the fretboard is super important in deciding the kind of tone your guitar produces. The quality of the fretboard wood is something you need to look out for while purchasing a new guitar. There are usually 3 main types of wood used to make guitar fretboards. Ebony, Rosewood, and Maple – each giving its own flavor to your sound!
Frets are metal divisions you find running along your fretboard – and they determine the pitch of every note you pluck. Frets are mounted within the fretboard and you can see it slightly protrude outwards. The space between one metal division to another is one fret.
When you place a finger between each fret, it always gives you a different note. As you go higher up the fretboard, the pitch increases by one semitone (half a note) and also, the distances between the frets get smaller and smaller.
You might’ve seen electric guitar players ripping out solos, looking like absolute rockstars, and chances are that they’re playing these solos right down the fretboard, around the 17th fret and above. You don’t see the same with an acoustic guitar player, playing solos. In this case, it’s usually below the 15th fret, where you get a much sweeter sound.
Most acoustic guitars generally have 20 frets, while electric guitars have anywhere between 22-24 frets. Fretless guitars exist too! Even though they’re quite rare, and the players who can do justice to them, rarer still. You also don’t find frets on other stringed instruments like the violin, cello, double bass, etc.
- Fret Markers
Fret markers are circular dots you see on the fretboard at certain frets, to give you an easy visual aid while playing the instrument to kind of indicate what fret you’re on. On an acoustic guitar, you usually find a single fret marker on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th and 17th frets and two fret markers on the 12th fret which indicates an octave.
If you’re in the middle of an improv solo and you get a little too carried away and have no clue in the world where you are on the guitar, don’t fret! Fret markers are will help you reorient yourself to where you are on the fretboard. You generally don’t find fret markers on a classical guitar because classical guitar players are mostly trained to play without looking at their fretboard, but rather to look at the music sheet.
Do the strings need any description at all? Well, your guitar is not gonna play if it ain’t got no strings. They are, quite simply, the heart and soul of a guitar.
Strings are used at two points on the guitar – the fretboard and the soundhole. The fretboard is where you hold down the strings and change pitch, creating the magic of melody and harmony. On the other hand, around the soundhole is where you pluck, fingerpick, strum, and create your rhythm and groove.
One end of the guitar strings is connected to the tuning pegs, and the other end is connected to the bridge. A classical guitar is made up of nylon strings which are thicker than acoustic guitar strings and have a much mellow, warmer tone in comparison. Typically, acoustic guitars are made up of steel strings and have a much higher, crisper sound. Both these guitars cater to certain styles of music.
The modern guitar is tuned to E, A, D, G, B, E starting from the thicker to the thinnest string. This is the standard tuning. There are of course other alternate tunings as well, which gives the guitar player a different sound.
Fun tip: If you’re a beginner guitar player and you have learned your standard shapes and chords, change up your tuning to D, A, D, G, A, D and try it out. Your standard shapes won’t work here but play around with it. You’ll see some magic. There are a bunch of lovely open tunings like DADGAD which gives your playing a different flavor altogether.
The body is the biggest section of the guitar, which is usually hollow, and rests against your body while you play it. And if you’re a performer standing far from the audience, the body is what catches their eye at the first glance! There is a lot of variety with regards to the guitar body, in brands, shapes, and sizes.
The body of the guitar is where your sound comes from and it shapes the sound of the guitar, it decides the volume and how long a note resonates. The guitar body is essentially 3 parts, from the top. The upper bout, waist and the lower bout. The bigger the box, the bigger the sound! Even the finish of your guitar matters. It protects your guitar body and also affects the sound. Some guitars have a glossy finish, some have satin, which does not look as shiny, and also exposes your wood to wear and tear. Glossy finishes protect the guitar when it comes to long term use.
You can see some insane guitar players use the body of the guitar to get a little percussive. Tapping beats, while they hold down notes or chords. So there you go – you can be a one-man band, and Andy McKee is the biggest example of this (do check him out). Overall, the body is one of the most important parts of an acoustic guitar.
- Upper Bout
The curved areas on the top and bottom of the body are called the bout. It is the top section of the body of the guitar which is curved and includes the soundhole, consisting of the waist up to the top, out of which the waist of the guitar rests on your leg if you’re sitting and playing. The style and shape of the upper bout vary depending on the type and make of the guitar.
- Lower Bout
The lower bout is the larger section of the guitar body, which is usually below the waist and the soundhole of your guitar. Your strumming or plucking arm generally rests on the lower bout of the guitar.
While the sound of the guitar is what it’s all about, it’s always nice to make things a little beautiful too- isn’t it? Just like its sweet-sounding name, the rosette is one of the prettiest and eye-catching elements of a guitar. It is a ring around the soundhole that is usually decorated or has an intricate design. Rosettes historically have been a component designed to protect the wood around the soundhole from cracking or splitting because of the tension. However, nowadays Rosettes serve a little more of a decorative purpose and this is where the guitar maker gets a little flamboyant. Check out some of Santana’s acoustic guitars for some stunning and aesthetic rosette designs.
A soundhole is an opening you find on the body of a guitar, and a standard soundhole is circular in shape. Contrary to popular opinion, the sound of your guitar is not generated from your soundhole, but it acts as an amplifier of the strings you pluck or strum and the sounds it produces. The vibration of your strings resonates through the soundholes. You won’t find soundholes on electric guitars, and also on some acoustic guitars too, depending on the maker, and the specific sound they were going for.
In some acoustic guitars, you can find pickups attached inside the soundhole. This is to amplify your sound further. Just like electric guitars, the acoustic guitar pickup takes your sound and converts it into a signal, which is then amplified.
You can also see some acoustic guitar players cover the soundhole while playing live. A soundhole cover dampens the overall sound, but also, they do this to cut off any kind of feedback that happens when you increase your volume levels.
A pickguard is a piece of plastic (or any other material) that is placed next to the soundhole to protect your beautiful guitar from any sort of scratches or cracks, while you use the pick to strum. Also, this section of your guitar is the part that is subject to most smudges. That is why the pickguard is placed strategically in the area most prone to scratches and damage. I’d also say it’s the second most decorative part of the guitar, after the rosette. They are available in many materials, thicknesses and designs.
Just like how we spoke about the nut earlier in the article, the saddle plays pretty much the same role. It is a white strip attached to the bridge, which holds the strings in place. The saddle (or bone saddle), just like the nut, has six tiny spaces on which the six strings rest. On an acoustic guitar, the saddle is usually 2’’ or 3’’.
The nut holds the strings together towards the top portion of the guitar, (headstock) while the saddle holds it together at the bottom (bridge). That’s why the saddle and the nut are big reasons why your guitar would sound tight and beautiful! The saddle affects the tone, intonation, and action of your guitar. If there is any misalignment between the six spaces, it too would result in weird buzzing noises, issues with intonation, and the detuning of your guitar. It just goes to show that even the tiniest of elements like these, play such a big role in shaping your beautiful guitar!
The material of your saddle affects the tone of your guitar in a huge way, much more than the nut. In high-end guitars, bone is the material used for the saddle, which gives your sound a lot of presence. Plastic is the most common material that you see nowadays being used for making a saddle. Fossilized Ivory is the most expensive material you see nowadays being used because it is hard to source.
The Bridge is one of the vital elements of a guitar. It is the final resting place of the guitar strings which starts all the way from the headstock. It is the anchor for your strings. The bridge is a wooden piece on the lower bout of the guitar which is usually black or dark brown in color, and it holds the saddle and the bridge pins in place. The string tension is higher on an acoustic steel-string guitar as compared to a nylon string guitar. A bridge is generally made of strong materials such as Ebony or Rosewood.
Quick tip: If you’re ever keeping a guitar unused for a long time, please loosen the strings and keep them. Otherwise, your instrument is in danger of facing issues like the bridge lifting from the body which is gonna give you major issues in the future.
This is where the strings finally meet the bridge from the headstock all the way down to the bottom. Bridge Pins are usually made of wood or synthetics. It holds your strings firmly down at the bridge, just like how the tuning pegs play the same role on the top of the guitar. Bridge Pins are usually seen used in steel-string guitars and are rarely seen on classical/nylon string guitars. In nylon guitars, the strings are tied to the bridge.
While playing a newly set up acoustic guitar, if you hear just one specific string going terribly flat, there’s a chance that it could be your bridge pin loosening up. It needs to be tightly set in place.
That covers all the parts of a guitar. I hope that by the end of this article, you’ve gained a deeper understanding of all the components of the acoustic guitar. While musicians can still get by without having 100% technical knowledge about the anatomy of their instrument, knowing how your guitar works will help you gain a deeper appreciation of everything that goes into producing that beautiful sound. Having intimate knowledge about the various parts of your guitar will also help you maintain it better and have it repaired whenever you notice something going off.
So enjoy your instrument, maintain it well, and keep strumming on this beautiful musical journey. Happy learning!
My name is Chris and I’ve had a passion for music and guitars for as long as I can remember. I started this website with some of my friends who are musicians, music teachers, gear heads, and music enthusiasts so we could provide high-quality guitar and music-related content.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old and am an avid collector. Amps, pedals, guitars, bass, drums, microphones, studio, and recording gear, I love it all.
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. My background is in Electrical Engineering, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University. With my engineering experience, I’ve developed as a designer of guitar amplifiers and effects. A true passion of mine, I’ve designed, built, and repaired a wide range of guitar amps and electronics. Here at the Guitar Lobby, our aim is to share our passion for Music and gear with the rest of the music community.