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Anatomy of a Guitar - The Beginner's Guide

Last Updated: November 24, 2022 / by Helen Baker

Let’s face it. Guitars are pretty awesome. There is just something about it that screams cool.

There are several parts that you will find on both an acoustic and electric guitar, whereas other parts are more specific. At the end, they all play a vital role in making beautiful music.So, please join us in a lesson of the guitar’s anatomy.

Acoustic and Electric Guitars' Common Parts

The body

The body of the guitar is the squashed hourglass shaped piece. There are many types of body styles, as well as sizes to choose from.

Headstock and tuning keys

The headstock is the rectangular piece on top of the guitar that holds the tuning keys. Let’s think of it as the brain of your guitar. 

On the headstock, the strings wind around golden or silver objects that look like small buttons. These are called the tuning keys and they keep the strings in place.

Your guitar will be useless without its brain because the tuning keys bring life to the sounds of your guitar.

The tuning keys look like little taps, that can be tightened or loosened to change the sound of the strings. This process is called tuning.

The nut

This is the horizontal white bar, just below the headstock and it plays an important role in the placement of the strings.

On the surface of every nut, you will find vertical grooves that keep the strings in place. Although the strings attach to the tuning keys, the nut helps the strings to vibrate in a controlled and tight manner.

Fretboard, frets and position markers

The fretboard is the long section of the guitar which allows for the placement of your fingers on the strings. This enables you to press the notes/chords that you want to play.

On the fretboard, you will see thin silver bars running across, which are known as the frets. Each space between the frets – along with a string – has its own musical note. 

With time you will learn how different finger positions deliver different notes. This is done with the frets by shortening the vibrating length of the strings. In other words: each fret delivers a different sound.

As you develop your skills, you will eventually utilize  the complete range of your fretboard. And to make this a little easier, you will find dots on certain frets. These dots are position markers, which are basically there to lend you a helping hand - an easy reference of where you are between the frets.

The neck

Many people mistake the neck of the guitar and the fretboard as the same thing. 

When you turn your guitar around, you will see that there is a whole section that connects everything together. It stretches from the headstock and attaches to the body. Just like our neck attaches our head to our body, the neck of the guitar holds the headstock, fretboard and strings together.

Bridge and saddle

On the bottom half of the guitar’s body, you will find the bridge. The bridge can be seen as the final destination of the strings. Think of it as a stylish floor mat for your strings. The strings run over the saddle, onto the bridge of the guitar.

The saddle looks very similar to the nut and serves the same purpose; to keep the strings within the vertical grooves, and in place.

Dissecting the acoustic guitar even further

On an acoustic guitar, the strings run over the saddle and are attached to the bridge pins. This is also known as string pegs. If one of these pins were to come loose, so would the string.

Strings must be tuned properly for the desired sound and must be well maintained. But there are two types of string to choose from, that can also influence the sound. This includes nylon and steel. 

Nylon string has a softer, breezier sound and classical guitarists prefer to work with it.  Steel strings have a more clear and crisp sound, which sounds good on an acoustic guitar.

Another and important difference of the acoustic guitar  is the soundhole. And like the name suggests, it is the hole - in the body of the guitar where the sound comes from. Think of it as the mouth, or the speaker of the guitar. The sound reverberates into the soundhole and amplifies the notes that are played, known as the acoustics.

What about the electric guitar?

Like we have mentioned before, the strings need to be anchored on both sides or it will just flop around without a purpose.

On an electric guitar, the strings are secured by the tuning keys on the headstock and run onto the bridge, through or over the tailpiece. The tailpiece is situated behind the bridge and serves the same purpose as bridge pins.

With the acoustic guitar, there is a soundhole that makes it possible to hear the sound. But electric guitars need pickups so that you can hear the strings vibrate.

Most electric guitar pickups are electromagnetic. So when the strings vibrate, it disturbs the magnetic field in the guitar. This disturbance is transferred to the amplifier via an electrical signal by connecting a guitar lead to the jack socket at the bottom of the guitar.

The sound of an electric guitar depends on technology and in order to deliver the best quality of sound, you will use the volume and tone controls. These knobs on the body of your guitar, enables you to adjust the volume and brightness of the guitar’s signal.

By now, you will have a pretty decent knowledge about the guitar’s anatomy. And with understanding this magnificent craftsmanship, we have an opportunity to play a very personal extension of ourselves; to make music and be happy with arguably the coolest instrument of all - the guitar.

About the Author: Helen Baker

I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.

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