PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- February 3, 2017
- Guitar Anatomy
Electric guitars vary a bit from jazz boxes to humbucking shredders, but electric is electric and there’s plenty of common parts. The things they have in common with their acoustic guitar counterpart is a body and neck. The rest is up to however you like it tricked out. Electric guitars have been around since the early-to-mid 20th century. Les Paul and Leo Fender introduced us to a revolutionary moment in the world of guitar and music in general. Where big body acoustic guitars and jazz boxes with “f” holes had been the norm, suddenly an electric pickup with copper and magnets gave the guitar a whole new purpose. Let’s look at the typical parts of an electric guitar.
The Head Stock
Every guitar, except the headless Steinberger guitars, has a headstock. This piece of the guitar can be found at the top of the neck where the strings wrap around the tuners or tuning pegs. There are all sorts of tuning ears or pegs, from auto-trim locking tuners like the Planet Waves ones to self-tuning motorized tuners like Gibson has recently introduced, to the normal winding tuners found on any average guitar.
Some tuners lock to help with keeping the guitar in tune, especially when using a whammy bar. Besides the tuners, there are string trees on the headstock. String trees are there to hold the strings with a little tension before the nut or bridge. Beyond that, there’s the nut or bridge where the strings cross at the top of the neck. Some of the nuts are locking, like the ones on a Charvel or Ibanez. Locking the strings down at the nut helps to bring the guitar back to perfect tune after a whammy bar or tremolo arm move. Let’s move on to the other parts of an electric guitar.
Any electric guitar neck is going to have somewhere between 22 and 24 frets. The fretboard itself can be ebony, rosewood, maple, or about any other hardwood. Most guitar necks have a truss rod running through the center of the neck. The truss rod can be adjusted to flatten or put contour to the neck so as to set the height of the strings and affect the playability of the guitar. From season to season, the wood can move, which means an adjustment of the truss rod to avoid unwanted buzzes or bad string action.
The frets themselves are steel and come in gauges from small to jumbo sizes. They are filed and crowned to aid the string crossing the fret at just the right spot so the intonation of the guitar is good. In other words, it plays in tune. The nut, as mentioned above, is also part of the neck. An electric guitar neck can bolt on with 3 or 4 bolts or it can be a solid piece of wood from the body all the way through. There are different makes for this and sustain is the goal. A solid piece body and neck together supposedly offers more sustain than a bolt-on neck. You can decide. Don’t forget about the fret markers. The dots along the top of the neck and markers on the fretboard are there to help you be on the right fret.
The body is one of the most obvious to recognize parts of an electric guitar. First off, they can be hollow or solid. From Les Paul’s heavy solid bodies to a Fender solid body to a hollow-body with “f” holes in either and all other brands of guitar. Usually, even in the hollow-body guitars with “f” holes, there’s a solid block to support the tension on the top of the guitar. But, a hollow-body guitar sounds uniquely different from a solid body guitar for sure.
Gretsch makes some of the most beautiful hollow-body guitars, as does Gibson and many others. The hollow chamber creates a very warm and smooth tone loved by everyone from blues players to jazz guitarists. The body will likely have a pick guard to keep you from scratching the guitar with your pick. There are strap pins to attach your strap to. Fortunately, some of these are locking so you don’t drop your guitar due to a faulty strap. The body also has a bridge like the nut where the strings cross and suspend over the neck and frets.
The bridge and saddle on the top of the guitar body are some of the many parts of an electric guitar that can look different from model to model. They all have saddles that are adjustable, so you can set the intonation or string length to get the guitar in perfect tune. On some, the strings go through the body from the back and on others the strings slide in from the back of the bridge.
On the Floyd Rose bridges with fine tuners, the strings are usually tightened in with an allen or hex wrench. Some bridges are floating so you can use a whammy or tremolo bar and others fixed to the body with springs located in the back of the guitar to a claw. Still others are stationary bridges fixed to the top of the guitar like a Les Paul. Then of course there’s the wrap around version of the Bigsby Tremolo. The bridge is placed in precisely the spot to make the guitar play in perfect tune and the adjustable saddle gives you the ability to fudge the strings a little up or back to accomplish precision tuning.
The Electronic Parts of an Electric Guitar
The pickup(s) of any electric guitar can be located at the bridge, neck or anywhere in between. The closer to the bridge, the brighter the sound versus the closer to the neck, the warmer or darker the sound. Most electric guitars have 2-3 pickups. There are single coil pickups and what we call “humbucking pickups.” Humbuckers look like two pickups put together or they are typically wider than a single coil. A Fender Stratocaster can have both but is most known for three single coil pickups whereas a Gibson Les Paul most likely will have two humbuckers.
There are many kinds and brands of pickups. They all offer a little different tone or boost in signal. The pickups are wired into the body with a harness that connects to the volume and tone pots as well as to the switch selector so the pickups can be controlled or manipulated to help you create the tone you’re going for. The switch selector can be three to five positions and give up combinations of the pickups. Each position of the switch offers a unique tone. At the bottom of the guitar body is the input jack. That’s where you plug the cord in and to the guitar amp.
That’s about it for the parts of an electric guitar. You could get into the volume pots and tone pots. 250K or 500K with or without capacitors etc. There are many possibilities but the end result is great tone.
When it comes to playing guitar, you’ll need a combination of knowledge and passion. (Talent doesn’t hurt either.) Understanding the parts of an electric guitar will help you to create and to forge new sounds. Likewise, guitar lessons teach you how to play the music you want to play. Pro Lessons offers online guitar lessons for players of every skill level. Learn how to play from our group of experts and get on your way to music stardom. Find out how by clicking the banner below.