Components of the Guitar

Body

The body of the guitar is comprised of the Top, Back and Sides minus the neck. On an acoustic guitar the body provides amplification while on a solid body electric, the body is largely a stylistic concern. While electric guitar construction techniques and individual wood types do play a role in the tone of an electric guitar, remember that Ned Steinberger produced his famous electric guitars with no real body to speak of, that relied nearly entirely on the electronics to shape the sound.

Top

The Top of an acoustic guitar is the key component of its sound. A solid top acoustic guitar will sound better than a laminate top guitar 9 times out of 10.

The 2 most popular woods for acoustic guitar Tops are Spruce and Cedar. Generally speaking, Spruce produces a bright sound and Cedar produces a warmer sound by comparison. Spruce is most often preferred by guitarists who use picks (flat-pickers) and Cedar is most often preferred by players who use their fingers (finger-pickers).

When speaking of the top on a solid body electric guitar, it is most often in reference to a carved top of quilted or flamed maple that is glued to the top of the solid back of the guitar. A Maple top with a Mahogany body is classic pairing of complimentary tonewoods. The Maple top, whether flamed or not, will add high end bite to the rich dark tone that Mahogany produces. This is done for both cosmetic and tonal purposes, and guitars with highly quilted or flamed tops can fetch thousands of dollars on the boutique guitar market.

Sides

The Sides of an acoustic guitar may be solid or laminated. As stated before on this site, solid wood is preferable to laminates on an acoustic guitar. When speaking of the sides on a solid body electric guitar it is usually in reference to the angle of the cut or bevel.

Back

The Back of an acoustic guitar is often prized for the exotic wood employed in its construction. On normal acoustic it is just another component of the guitar, having about as much tonal importance as the Sides. It is the Top, remember, that is responsible for the lionís share of an acoustic guitarís tone.

Neck

The neck of the guitar connects the headstock to the body. A stable neck is essential in a good guitar. A neck can be glued or bolted onto a body, or it may even run all the way through the body in the case of neck-through-body construction. The neck of an acoustic guitar is usually glued to the body but some companies like Taylor bolt the neck onto the body.

Truss Rod

The truss rod is a steel bar inside of the neck that is anchored at each end. It may be tightened or loosened to straighten or bow the neck. It is used to offset the tension created when the guitar is stringed.

Headstock

The Headstock is most often where a company brands their guitar. Many famous guitars are recognizable from their headstocks as well as their paint jobs or electronic configurations.

Tuners

Tuners are used to tighten and loosen the strings and are most often located on the headstock. Certain tremolo guitars have tuners at the tail rather than the headstock because they lock the strings in place at the Nut (top of the neck) to help keep the strings in tune.

Fretboard

The fretboard is glued to the top of the neck. A guitar fretboard usually has 21, 22 or 24 frets. Most acoustic guitars arenít intended to be played high on the neck so there arenít as many frets because they arenít needed. Some Parlor acoustic guitar fretboards only have 18 or 19 frets.

Frets

A fret (tang) is piece of wire that is hammered into the fretboard so that a specific note is played when a string is held against it. Each frets is a musical intervals of one half step. Move one fret up the neck and you've moved one half step. Move twelve frets and youíve moved one octave. A 24 fret neck is a 2 octave neck.

Nut

The nut is the thin strip at the top of the neck, right below the headstock, that holds the strings above the frets on the fretboard. The nut is traditionally made of bone. Today graphite or plastic is often used.

Pickups (Optional)

There are basically two types of guitar pickups: the Single Coil and the Double Coil a.k.a. the Humbucker. One could argue that the Single Coil pickup is best represented by the Fender Stratocaster and the Humbucker pickup by the Gibson Les Paul.

Traditionally, Single Coil pickups produce a hum (electronic noise) when plugged into an amplifier. Their tone is (generally speaking) thinner than a Humbucker. Humbuckers have a full, fat tone and produce no hum when plugged into an amp. Humbuckers are well suited to heavy, distorted sound because of their superior output and hum canceling characteristics. The Humbucker (Double Coil) pickup was created when someone, somewhere, sometime, discovered that when you place two Single Coil pickups next to each other, the hum cancels out, hence the name Hum-bucker. Each of these two styles of pickup has distinct tonal qualities that make it attractive, and each is available in wide output ranges.

Bridge

The Bridge is where the strings pass over at the tail of the guitar. Acoustic guitars utilize a one-piece bone or plastic bridge that is staggered for proper intonation set into a wooden tailpiece. The position of the bridge is vital in the intonation of the guitar.

Saddles

Saddles are almost never present on an acoustic guitar. The Saddles are the individual (hopefully moveable) parts on which the strings actually rest on the bridge of an electric guitar. These are extremely important in intonating your electric guitar.

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