The electric guitar is a complex instrument that features several components. Every part of the electric guitar is important for its functionality and largely determines the sound and feel of the instrument. No part of the electric guitar is insignificant.
The anatomy of the electric guitar includes the headstock, tuners, neck, fretboard, nut, frets and fret markers, body, bridge, saddles, tremolo arm, pickups, selector switch, tone control, volume control, input jack, truss rod, internal wiring, scratch plate, strap buttons, and the heel.
Understanding the various components of the electric guitar is vital to learning the instrument and how to play it well. Every electric guitarist should know all of the parts of their instrument and what they do. Let’s take some time to examine the most important components of the modern electric guitar.
The Anatomy Of The Electric Guitar
Before we dive deep into each major component of the guitar, it is best to identify where each component on the guitar is.
This diagram depicts the locations of the various guitar parts, excluding those that are internal and those that are not clearly visible from the front of the instrument.
Bear in mind that not all electric guitar models look the same, function the same, or have the exact same components, but this diagram will help you to understand the general locations and names of the most common guitar components, as well as the universal components that every electric guitar has, even if they look different on different guitar models.
Now that we can see where the various important guitar components are, let’s take the time to explore them all on a deeper level.
The Headstock (1)
Let’s begin at the very top of the instrument with the headstock. The headstock of the electric guitar is the part of the instrument that houses the tuners and machine heads that keep the strings attached and tensioned at the top end of the instrument.
The headstock of the electric guitar is integral to the form of the instrument, as well as the overall tuning stability and sound of the instrument.
The shape of the headstock and the angle of the headstock determines how the strings attach to the guitar, as well as the angles at which they are affixed to the instrument. This, in turn, determines how well the guitar stays in tune and the responsiveness of the strings.
The headstock of the electric guitar is far more important to the way the instrument feels and sounds than most guitarists realize.
This aspect of the instrument is vital for tone and tuning, but it also determines the overall aesthetics of the instrument and is a defining feature for every guitar brand. Most brands have a unique headstock that sets them apart from every other electric guitar, making them instantly recognizable.
The Tuners (2)
The tuners are mounted to the headstock of the electric guitar and are a name given to the individual mounting and tuning mechanism for the strings.
Most electric guitars have individual tuners per string, and these tuners contain gears, shafts, knobs, screws, washers, and nuts. Each component of every tuner is integral to the functionality of the guitar. Good tuners will keep a guitar in tune well, while poor tuners are always detrimental to the stability of the instrument.
The tuners are usually held in place by screws and a nut, and they have a shaft through which the strings are threaded and around which the strings are wound to keep them tightly in place and in tune to the desired pitch.
These components also feature a knob that allows the tuners to be turned, increasing or decreasing or decreasing the tension on the string, which changes the pitch of the strings.
There are several different types of guitar tuners, and they each have their own characteristics, but they all serve the same basic function.
The Neck (3)
The neck is the shaft in between the body and the headstock of the guitar. The neck of the instrument is arguably among the most critical components of every electric guitar.
The neck houses the fretboard, the nut, and the frets, all of which are integral to the functionality ad playability of the guitar.
There are various electric guitar neck types, sizes, and profiles, but they all perform the same function within the overall instrument.
The neck provides a place for the guitarist to hold onto and a place for them to play the instrument by pressing the strings against the frets of the guitar.
The wood that the neck is made from affects the tone of the instrument, and the construction of the neck directly impacts the feel and playability of the individual guitar.
The Fretboard (4)
The fretboard is a strip of wood attached to the front of the guitar neck. This section of wood technically forms part of the overall neck but is almost always a separate piece of wood that is glued or fixed to the front side of the neck.
The fretboard is so-called because it is where the guitar frets are installed. This wood is typically very hard wood or wood that has been treated to become very hard. This hardness enables the strings to be pressed against the fretboard and frets to produce clear notes.
The fretboard of the guitar determines how the instrument feels to play, the way the strings can be used and played, and even the overall tone of the guitar.
Every guitar player has their own fretboard preferences, as the fretboard drastically impacts the way the instrument feels in hand. Without a good fretboard, a guitar is not easily playable and will not sound good, either.
The fretboard is the part of the guitar that requires the most attention, oiling, and cleaning, especially when compared to the other wooden components of the instrument.
The Nut (5)
The nut is a small component of the electric guitar that most players take for granted. This is a small slotted piece of plastic, bone, or synthetic material that is situated at the top of the neck and fretboard, just before the transition to the headstock.
The electric guitar nut is slotted to accommodate each string on the instrument. The thickness and placement o these slots determine the string spacing on the guitar, and the material that the nut is made from determines how the string resonates.
This, in turn, determines how the strings sound, how long they last, what they feel like to play, and how accurately they stay in tune.
There are several varieties of electric guitar nut types, including the materials that the nut is made from. The material of the nut is a vital characteristic of the guitar, and how the nut is constructed is critical to the functionality of the instrument overall.
The Frets (6)
The frets of the electric guitar are installed within the fretboard of the guitar and are where the guitarist places their fingers to press the strings in order to change the notes that are played.
The frets of the guitar are usually made from steel or nickel but can be made from other materials as well. The frets determine how the strings sound when played, and they determine how the instrument feels to play.
There are different types of frets available for electric guitars, including those that are taller, shorted, wider, thinner, and made from different materials.
Frets are always positioned in the same place on a guitar, based on equal temperament tuning, which keeps the strings equally in tune all along the fretboard of the instrument.
Good frets make a guitar sound good and feel good to play, and bad frets can ruin an instrument altogether. Frets must be replaced if they wear down, and they must be well cared for with regular cleaning and polishing to maintain optimal functionality.
The Fret Markers (7)
The fret markers on an electric guitar are not always the same, and some electric guitars do not have them at all, but those that do, are very useful.
Fret markers can take the place of small dots on the top side of the neck, dots or shapes within the fret spaces on the guitar fretboard, or as full intricate inlays within the fretboard of the guitar.
Fret markers are decorative and can improve the aesthetics of the guitar, but their main purpose is to provide the guitarist with a reference point while playing, to ensure that they can keep accurate placement on the guitar and find notes and note placements as easily as possible.
The Body (8)
The body of the electric guitar is another integral aspect of the instrument. This is the largest part of the guitar and houses several other components that are critical to the functionality and sound of the instrument.
The electric guitar body can be varied depending on the brand and type of guitar. The shape of an electric guitar body is usually different depending on the company that produced it and forms much of the practical functionality of the instrument.
The shape of the body determines how heavy the instrument is and how the hardware can be installed in it, as well as how accessible the guitar fretboard is on the higher end of the instrument.
The body of the electric guitar is where the pickups, switches, dials, controls, bridge, saddles, internal springs and wiring, input jack, scratch plate, and other components of the guitar are installed.
The wood that the body is made from largely determines the sound of the instrument and the way it feels to play.
Every guitarist has their own guitar body preferences, as the body is the main aesthetic feature of any electric guitar.
The Bridge (9)
The bridge is the point at the opposite end of the guitar to the headstock, where the other end of the guitar strings is attached. Every guitar has a bridge, but most electric guitar types have different bridges based on the way the guitar is designed to function.
The bridge is where the guitar strings attach to the body and form the anchor point for the strings to keep them in place, keep tight, and keep in tune.
Most electric guitars have a bridge made from some form of steel, and this is so that the strings do not easily wear through the bridge.
The bridge itself contains other elements of the guitar, including the saddles, and the bridge can take the form of a bridge and a tailpiece, changing the way the guitar is constructed and changing the way it feels and sounds.
Every bridge type has the same basic function, but they all have features that change the way the instrument feels and plays. The features of the different types of guitar bridges determine the functionality of the instrument and how much additional hardware the guitar requires, such as locking nuts or tremolo arms.
Saddles are a component of the guitar bridge but are considered to be an aspect of the guitar on their own. These small, moveable parts o the bridge are vital to the guitar and change the way the instrument is tuned and how stable it is.
Most electric guitars have moveable saddles, but some have fixed saddles. All electric guitar saddles perform the same function.
The saddle or saddles on the electric guitar determine the string height and the intonation of the guitar. The intonation of the instrument is how well the strings remain in tune across the entire fretboard, and the height or action of the strings determines what the instrument feels like to play and how well the guitar stays in tune.
High action and poor intonation mean a guitar that is unplayable. Adjusting the saddles on the guitar corrects these issues and ensures that the guitar functions at optimal levels.
The Tremolo Arm (11)
Not every guitar is equipped with a tremolo arm, as the type of bridge the guitar is equipped with determines the addition of the tremolo arm, and many guitar players who do have a guitar with this component remove it due to lack of use.
However, the tremolo arm is very useful for guitarists who have learned to use it well and for guitars that have this feature in the first place.
The tremolo arm is a metal bar that is connected to the bridge of the instrument and allows the guitarist to manipulate the angle of the bridge within the body of the guitar by pressing or pulling the bar in order to lengthen or shorten the strings, which changes the pitch of the guitar strings while playing, causing a tremolo effect.
The functionality of the tremolo arm and the extent of its effect is determined by the type of bridge system that is installed in the guitar. Some bridge systems allow the tremolo arm to move the strings drastically, while some only enable a small effect from the tremolo arm.
The Pickups (12)
Every electric guitar has some form of pickup arrangement, as pickups are required to transmit the sound of the strings to a sound source to enable the instrument to be heard.
Guitar pickups are very simple devices, yet they are very effective for what they do. Electric guitars have different pickup arrays depending on the individual instrument, the preferences of the player, and the music that the guitar is designed to play.
Some guitars have multiple pickups, some have only one, and some have highly configurable pickups with multiple different settings.
Pickups are a vital component of the electric guitar and contribute the most to the way the instrument sounds and how it responds when played. Different pickup types have different characteristics, sound different, respond differently, and can be configured in different ways as well.
The Pickup Selector Switch (13)
Every electric guitar that has more than one pickup usually has a pickup selector switch of some kind. This can take the form of a three-way toggle switch somewhere on the body of the guitar, or it can take the form of a five-way blade-style selector switch, as on Strat-type guitars.
The pickup selector enables the guitarist to choose which pickup the sound of the guitar is transmitted through, as each pickup on the guitar has a different overall tone.
Five-way switches are usually installed on guitars with three pickups or more and provide multiple pickup combinations.
Many selector switches function in different combinations, so it is important to take the time to learn how the selector switch on your guitar operates in order to fully utilize it while playing and master the versatility of your instrument.
The Tone Control (14)
Most electric guitars have a tone control knob, or multiple tone control knobs, to change the impedance of the pickups, which in turn changes the way the pickups sound.
The tone control allows a pickup to sound very bright and clear or more rounded and muffled. Blending between these two extremes provides a wide range of tonal options for the instrument.
Guitars that have multiple-tone controls have the broadest range of pickup tones available. Using the tone control on an electric guitar is vital for drawing the most versatility from the instrument.
The Volume Control (15)
The volume control dial on an electric guitar is a straightforward control. Some guitars have more than one volume control or even have a volume control per pickup, as well as a master volume control.
These controls typically take the form of dials or knobs and simply turn the volume of the pickups up and down. The transistors used in guitar volume controls act as mild gain control as well, which means that the volume controls can also determine the overall clarity and responsiveness of the guitar while playing.
The Input Jack (16)
The input jack, also known as the output jack depending on where you are in the world, is the connector that allows the guitar to be plugged into an amplifier or other sound source.
This is usually a very simple connection with a ground and live connection known as a TS or Tip Sleeve jack and provides a mono audio connection via a TS instrument cable to a sound source, amplifier, or another audio device.
Every electric guitar needs an input jack to transmit audio, but the placement of this connector varies depending on the instrument model.
The Truss Rod (17)
The truss rod is not a component of the electric guitar that is clearly visible from the outside, but it is a component that is vital to the instrument. The truss rod can only be seen on the outside by the truss rod bolt at the top or base of the guitar neck, which is used to adjust the truss rod as necessary.
This component is a rod that runs through the length of the guitar neck, under the fretboard, and provides a means of straightening or bowing the neck of the guitar as it warps due to environmental changes such as humidity and temperature.
The ability to adjust the angle and relief of the neck is critical to keeping the guitar in playable condition, and without the truss rod, every electric guitar would eventually become unplayable.
The Scratch Plate (18)
The scratch plate on an electric guitar is optional on some models and integral on others. Some Strat-style guitars have the pickups and wiring mounted to the underside of the scratch plate, and others simply have a scratchplate mounted onto the body of the guitar for protection and aesthetics.
Any scratch plate on an electric guitar serves to protect the body and the finish of the guitar from potential damage that may occur while picking, strumming, or moving the instrument. The area under the strings of the guitar is where the instrument is most likely to sustain wear from playing, and the scratch plate prevents this damage.
The Strap Buttons (19)
Strap buttons are a feature on all electric guitars that enable the instrument to be played while standing up, but the addition of a guitar strap.
Strap buttons are mounted to the body of the guitar in two places and allow a strap to be affixed to the instrument, enabling the guitarist to play while standing.
These small guitar components are simple, but they are highly effective for their primary function and make a significant contribution to the versatility and functionality of the instrument.
The Neck Joint/Heel (20)
The neck joint or the heel of the guitar is where the neck of the guitar meets the body of the guitar. This could be joint with a set of screws to hold the neck on, the neck can be set and glued into the body, or the neck may be one piece of wood with the body, in the case of a through-neck design.
This area of the guitar is important as it determines how the guitarist can reach the high notes on the fretboard. If the neck joint or heel of the guitar is too large, these notes become significantly more difficult to play.
A smaller neck joint means less structural integrity and rigidity but more fret accessibility. The design of this part of the guitar is different depending on the manufacturer.
The Internal Wiring (Not Shown)
Another critical component of the guitar that is not visible from the outside is the internal wiring of the instrument. Electric guitars function with a set of wires and electrical components that internally connect the pickups, controls, selectors, and output of the electric guitar, forming a completed circuit that allows the audio signal of the instrument to be transmitted.
Without a good set of internal wiring, the electric guitar will not function, and if anything within the internal circuitry fails, the guitar will cease to function, being unable to send an audio signal to a sound source.
Every component of the electric guitar is critical to the way it functions, the way it sounds, and how it feels to play. There is no component on the electric guitar that is insignificant or unimportant, but every feature is there for a specific reason.
Understanding every component of the guitar will make you a better guitarist, as it will enable you to draw more from the instrument than guitarists who do not understand how the guitar functions. Take the time to learn, identify, and understand these major components, and you will soon notice a difference in the way you use the instrument.