There are so many little parts on an electric guitar that when you’re a beginner it can be a daunting task to figure out what each part is for! It never hurts to take a closer look at anything, so why not dive into the anatomy of an electric guitar?
Let’s start at the head and work our way down.
The headstock is at the farthest extremity of the guitar. This piece of wood is an extension of the neck and is usually made of the same material as the neck itself. It may be crafted of the single piece or glued on.
The tuners and the nut are fixed to the headstock. A logo isn’t mandatory but what is, is a way to press the strings down in their respective nut slots. This can either be done via an angled headstock design (like what Gibson’s been doing for as long as memory serves) or by using string retainers like you’ll find on a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster.
Another feature often found at the headstock of the guitar is the truss rod adjustment bolt (or truss rod adjustment nut). Again, this can sometimes be found at the base of the neck too, either accessible via the front or from where the neck butts up against the body (and to access the latter you have to take the neck off). The headstock can be adorned with bindings, inlays or other visual features, but basically, it’s just there to hold the ends of the strings in place.
The Neck And Fretboard
I consider the neck to be the user interface of the guitar. The biggest part of the ‘feel’ of the guitar comes from how the neck rests in your hand (which has to do, in part, with the width of the nut and the shape and thickness of the neck). Also, the neck acts as a foundation for the fretboard. The function of the fretboard is to hold the frets in place at a certain distance which equate notes. Just click here if you want to know more about frets: sized, shapes, materials.
The fretboard itself can be made out of the neck itself like older Fenders used to be, or it can be a separate piece of wood and may or may not be decorated with inlays and bindings. The only thing on which a solid consensus seems to persist is the necessity of position markers in the side of the fretboard.
The body has a couple of functions. Firstly, it holds the neck in place. One huge, long neck seems a bit… anesthetically pleasing, as Les Paul soon discovered! That’s why he added the guitar-shaped wings on his first ‘Log’! Also, it is the other end on where the strings are anchored. That means, by default, that the body holds all the rest of the tactile interfaces of the guitar: electrical controls are the predominant feature in this respect, in conjunction with all the other electronic apparel like pickups, wiring and if applicable, battery. If you want to know more about pots, please click here to understand more about the inner workings of potentiometers. Also, some other hardware is mounted on the body, used to suspend the guitar on the player’s body via a strap.
Let’s take a closer look at how pickups can be mounted. First of all, one of the most classical of ways is the pickguard. All the hardware, from pickups to electronics is mounted here, facilitating easy access and easy changing of electronics as well as prefabrication of the electronic heart of the guitar. Above is a view of the business end of a pickguard. Notice how everything is mounted on this slab of plastic instead of having it mounted directly on the wood.
Another method is to mount the pickups in a ring and have that ring itself mounted on the guitar. Notice how the pickups are suspended in the ring with two screws and springs. This method gives the guitar builder the luxury of changing the pickups without having to remove the strings and then a pickguard. But it also gives the luthier the choice to either mount the electronics on a control plate (like a on Fender Telecaster) on a pickguard (like a Stratocaster) or in a cavity from the rear (like a Gibson Les Paul).
One major part of the guitar that I haven’t mentioned yet is the bridge. The bridge is the part of the guitar that holds the string in place and isn’t the part that tunes the string to pitch. That doesn’t mean the bridge can’t move, because we all know that a tremolo unit (or rather, a vibrato) isn’t fixed, per se. If you want to read more on bridges, please click here for further reading.
I also didn’t mention the ‘how and what’ of a pickup in this article. For that I would like to refer to my article about the Anatomy Of A Humbucker: a thorough overview on pickups and humbuckers in particular go beyond the scope of this article.