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The electric guitar is one of the most intoxicating instruments in all of music. In many ways, it’s also one of the most accessible instruments for beginners to learn. At the same time, the electric guitar can be one of the most complex stringed instruments to master and understand.
A big component of mastering the electric guitar? Knowing all of its parts. Trust us, there are a lot of them—and in your quest for rock and roll glory, it’s a good idea to get familiar with even the smallest components of the instrument.
The Parts of an Electric Guitar
We have a hunch that you’ve already scrolled ahead to get a sneak peek—and if so, you might be overwhelmed. While the electric guitar has a lot of parts, they’re not nearly as intimidating as they might seem. Let’s get started!
Electric Guitar Strings
OK, duh. You probably know that electric guitars come with (or need) strings. But newer players are often shocked by how often they need to replace their strings, especially since they’re usually made of metals such as chromium, steel, and nickel. Spoiler: They don’t last forever. Guitarists usually get around 90 days out of a set of strings. On the bright side, even high-end electric guitar strings usually won’t cost you more than $15.
Electric Guitar Pickups
I half-jokingly refer to electric guitar pickups as a middleman. Your pickups are placed directly under your strings, usually in the middle of the guitar’s body. When you strum the instrument, your pickups send a small electrical current down the guitar cable and into an amplifier.
Electric Guitar Bridge
The bridge isn’t the biggest piece of the guitar, but it’s arguably one of the most important. It serves two purposes. First, it anchors the strings to your guitar. Pricier guitar bridges not only come with features that make it easier to replace your guitar strings, but they’re often made of materials that can improve the sound of your instrument.
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Electric Guitar Neck
The neck is one of the focal points of the entire guitar. It’s where you’ll find your fretboard, frets, headstock, tuners, and nut mounted to the instrument. Without it, you won’t be able to play much of anything with your guitar.
Electric Guitar Body
Want electronics in your guitar? You’ll find them in the body of your instrument. While this is an obvious place to house the components that make your guitar loud, the tonewoods used also make an impact on the sound you get from the instrument. Metal players often like basswoods because of their durability and versatility, while jazz guitarists tend to lean toward warmer woods like mahogany.
Electric Guitar Pickguard
Pickguards are underappreciated by many guitarists. Their main purpose? To protect your guitar from nicks and scratches, especially those caused by your playing. While some players actually prefer the way their instruments look when they’re dinged up, this doesn’t exactly bode well for the longevity of your electric guitar.
Electric Guitar Tuning Pegs
The basic function of the tuning pegs is to, well, tune your strings to the correct pitches. There are endless styles of tuning pegs on the market, all of which promise to hold pitches for long periods of time under intense playing. Much like electric guitar strings, you’ll often find musicians tinkering with their instruments by swapping out tuning pegs regularly.
Electric Guitar Headstock
The headstock on any stringed instrument serves one purpose. It’s where you mount the tuning pegs and strings to the far end of your guitar. While they all do just one thing, you’ll find headstocks in a variety of shapes and styles.
Electric Guitar Nuts
The nut serves two purposes for your electric guitar. First, it ensures that each of the six strings is installed properly on the instrument. The nut also determines the height (or action) of your guitar strings. You’ll occasionally meet guitarists who actually prefer their strings to be fairly far away from the fretboard. However, you’ll also hear the term “low action,” which means the strings are as close to the fretboard as they can be while still being playable..
Electric Guitar Frets
Ever wonder what the metal pieces running along your fretboard are? Those are your frets, and they operate much like the keys of a piano. Let’s use the bottom E string as an example. If you place your finger on the second fret of that string, you’ll hear a G when you strum. On your A string, you’ll hear the note B when you place your finger on the second fret.
Electric Guitar Fretboard
The fretboard (or fingerboard) is a small piece of material (usually rosewood or ebony) that houses your frets. Much like other components of your instrument, the material your fretboard is made of could impact the overall sound of the instrument. Additionally, you’ll see in the image above that some guitars use the fretboard to add a little bit of flair.
Electric Guitar String Guide
Is your guitar making too much of a “buzzing” sound? Are some strings ringing out more than others? Enter the string guide, which helps you control the sustain, resonance, and buzzing noises that come from your guitar by applying additional pressure to the strings.
Electric Guitar Jack
At the risk of covering something you already know, we think it’s important to review how your guitar jack allows you to connect your instrument to an amplifier via a guitar cable. While you won’t need to repair the jack nearly as often as you’d replace a set of strings, you will notice that the quality of sound you get out of your jack will deteriorate over time.
Electric Guitar Tone Knob
Although some electric guitars are designed for specific types of music, the tone knob allows musicians to play different music styles with just one or two guitars. Jazz guitarists tend to set their tone knobs to 9 or 10, while metal players opt for lower frequencies to “muddy” the sound.
Electric Guitar Volume Knob
Believe it or not, the goal of an electric guitar player isn’t solely to blow out your eardrums. The volume knob allows a guitarist to dial in the right amount of output that the instrument sends to an amplifier or PA system.
Electric Guitar Pickup Selector Switch
Electric guitars usually have a variety of pickups installed on the body. Each pickup serves a different purpose, and while you could use them all, the pickup selector enables you to dial in the right sound for the song you’re playing. As you can see in the image above, you can toggle between a “rhythm” setting that’s optimal for strumming chords, while the “treble” setting might give you a better sound for playing solos.
Electric Guitar Neck Joint
The neck joint of a guitar serves the same purpose as your neck joints: It connects the neck to the guitar’s body. More expensive electric guitars are occasionally constructed as a single piece of wood, which doesn’t require a neck joint. However, most guitars that us mortals play use a metal slab or series of bolts to connect the neck and the body.
Electric Guitar Position Markers
Before we get into this, let’s talk about some “bad” news: The position markers on your electric guitar don’t tell you how to play specific chords. They do, however, give you a reference point for where you are along the fretboard. While these may seem frivolous, even the top electric guitar players rely on them while playing on a dark or dimly lit stage. Want to add a little flair to your fretboard? Check out these stick-on position markers.
Electric Guitar Strap Pin
The guitar strap pin serves one important purpose for anyone who wants to play in front of a large crowd: It allows you to attach a guitar strap. Most electric guitars come with these pre-installed.
The Beginning of Your Electric Guitar Journey
Most people can pick up an electric guitar and learn some basic chords. What separates casual players from true experts, however, is an expert-level knowledge of the instrument—and understanding the purpose of each part of the guitar is a gigantic step towards mastering it. Of course, if you ever forget anything you’ve read here, there’s no shame in bookmarking this guide to refer to later down the road.
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