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Anatomy of the Electric Guitar: A Glossary of Parts
'Guitar speak' can be a little confusing, especially to non-guitarists and beginners. This article describes the various part of the electric guitar and some of the terminology used in describing them.
The 3 main parts of the electric guitar are called the body, the neck, and the headstock.
The body of the guitar is the largest part and where the strumming hand is positioned and can be made of various types of wood. Electric guitar bodies can be solid, hollow, or semi-hollow. Solid-bodies are usually 2-3 shaped pieces of solid wood glued together. Hollow-bodies, like acoustics, have a completely open resonance chambers usually with f-hole shaped openings. Semi-hollowbodies look like hollow bodies from the outside, however, will have a solid block of wood through the center of the resonance chamber. Body shapes can vary widely from the classic ‘Stratocaster’ and ‘Les Paul’ shapes to the radical ’flying v’ and ’explorer’ shapes. The sides that make up the body of a guitar are referred to as the top, back, and sides. The top of the body can be flat or carved (curve shaped). The upper bout and lower bout of the body refer to the head-facing or feet-facing halves of the body, respectively, when in the playing position. The horns of the body are the wooden protrusions found on either side of the neck on a Stratocaster shaped guitar. Guitars may contain a binding made of celluloid, plastics, or wood that outlines the sides of the body, headstock, and sometimes neck.
The neck on a guitar is the long midsection where the fretted hand is positioned and can be a single piece of wood or 2-3 glued pieces. The neck joint is where the neck joins the body. Neck joints are categorized as either bolt-on, set neck (glued in place), or neck-thru style where the neck continues through to the body in a single solid piece. The heel describes the flattened area on the back of the neck that rests right next to the neck joint. The fretboard or fingerboard refers to the wooden face on the top of the neck usually made from maple, rosewood, or ebony. The frets are the wire dividers on the fingerboard. Fretmarkers are placed at set positions on the fingerboard and are commonly made of mother-of-pearl or ink inlays. These inlays are most commonly shaped like round dots or trapezoids. Most electric guitar necks will have an adjustable truss rod running through the center of the neck as a reinforcement and counterbalance to the string tension.
The headstock is the portion at the end of the neck. The shape and markings on the headstock are indicative of the brand of guitar. Guitar brands can be instantly recognized by the signature shape of their headstocks. Furthermore, headstocks will usually have the guitar brand name imprinted or inlayed on the top and have the serial number and other company information on the back. The headstock may have a plastic truss rod plate covering the adjustable end of the neck’s truss rod. The tuners, pegs, gears, and keys all refer to the string winding hardware located on the headstock.
The hardware on an electric guitar refers to the usually metal pieces visible on guitars body and headstock. The bridge is the string stop apparatus on the body of the guitar. Guitar bridges contain a saddle for each individual string and may have a spring mechanism called a tremolo to change the string tension while playing the guitar. The handle used to manipulate the tremolo is known as the tremolo arm or whammy bar. Some guitar bridges will contain fine tuner knobs as well. The strings on some guitars will extend past the bridge and anchor to a tailpiece or pass through to the back of the body in a string-through-body design. The nut refers to the string stop piece located at the junction of the neck and the headstock. Nuts can be made of wood, ivory, bone, or metal. Strap buttons are located on the body and sometimes heel of the guitar and provide tether spots for the guitar strap to hang.
Guitar electronics refer to the pickups and controls. Pickups are wound magnet devices that detect string vibration and sends it to the amplifier to produce sound. They can be a single-coil type or paired as a humbucker type. Pickups can be passive or active if they have a battery powered preamp. Electronic controls are the volume and tone knobs or pots (potentiometers) and the pickup selector switch or toggle switch. The input jack is where you plug the guitar into the amplifier. The electronic components of a guitar are usually set inside of a routed out compartment in the body of the guitar and is often covered with a plastic pickguard or scratch plate on the top of the body or a backplate on the back of the body.
The finish on a guitar refers to the painting techniques used to give the guitar its appearance. Some guitars will have a natural finish that showcase the beauty of the wood grain used while other will have a solid paint color. One popular technique is to use a translucent finish that both colors the guitar while also showing off the underlying wood grain. These guitars are regarded as having highly flamed tops or figured tops as opposed to the little or no grain displaying plain top translucent finishes. One special type of wood grain translucent finish that shows a distinct square-like pattern is known as a quilt-top finish. Another popular technique which uses a gradual grading of 2-3 colors is known as a burst finish as seen in the popular sunburst, honeyburst, and silverburst finishes. Many guitars will have a high gloss clear coat finish of lacquer or nitrocellulose while other will have a flat matte, smooth, and freshly sanded feeling satin finish.
I hope this article will give you a better understanding of the various guitar parts and the terminology used to describe them. Visit www.2ndstringguitars.com for the best value in new and used guitars, factory 2nds, and refurbished instruments at cheap guitar prices.
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