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Parts of an Electric Guitar

All guitars share certain characteristics that make them behave like guitars and not violins or tubas. Understanding the anatomy of an electric guitar is important for understanding how to make music with it and how to take care of it.

Guitars come in two basic flavors: acoustic and electric. From a hardware standpoint, electric guitars have more components and doohickeys than do acoustic guitars. Guitar makers generally agree, however, that making an acoustic guitar is harder than making an electric guitar. That’s why, pound for pound, acoustic guitars cost just as much or more than their electric counterparts. Both types follow the same basic approach to such principles as neck construction and string tension, and so they have very similar constructions, despite a sometimes radical difference in tone production.

Here's an overview of the electric guitar's various parts and what they do:

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  • Bar: A metal rod attached to the bridge that varies the string tension by tilting the bridge back and forth. Also called the tremolo bar, whammy bar, vibrato bar, and wang bar.

  • Body: The box that provides an anchor for the neck and bridge and creates the playing surface for the right hand. On an electric, it consists of the housing for the bridge assembly and electronics (pickups as well as tone and volume controls).

  • Bridge: The metal plate that anchors the strings to the body.

  • End pin: A metal post where the rear end of the strap connects.

  • Fingerboard: A flat, plank-like piece of wood that sits atop the neck, where you place your left-hand fingers to produce notes and chords. The fingerboard is also known as the fretboard because the frets are embedded in it.

  • Frets: Thin metal wires or bars running perpendicular to the strings that shorten the effective vibrating length of a string, enabling it to produce different pitches.

  • Headstock: The section that holds the tuning machines (hardware assembly) and provides a place for the manufacturer to display its logo.

  • Neck: The long, club-like wooden piece that connects the headstock to the body.

  • Nut: A grooved sliver of stiff nylon or other synthetic substance that stops the strings from vibrating beyond the neck. The strings pass through grooves on their way to the tuners in the headstock. The nut is one of the two points at which the vibrating area of the string ends. (The other is the bridge.)

  • Output jack: The insertion point for the cord that connects the guitar to an amplifier or other electronic device.

  • Pickup selector: A switch that determines which pickups are currently active.

  • Pickups: Bar-like magnets that create the electrical current, which the amplifier converts into musical sound.

  • Strap pin: Metal post where the front, or top, end of the strap connects.

  • Strings: Although not strictly part of the actual guitar (you attach and remove them at will on top of the guitar), strings are an integral part of the whole system, and a guitar’s entire design and structure revolves around making the strings ring out with a joyful noise.

  • Top: The face of the guitar. On an electric, the top is merely a cosmetic or decorative cap that overlays the rest of the body material.

  • Tuning machines: Geared mechanisms that raise and lower the tension of the strings, drawing them to different pitches. The strings wrap tightly around posts that sticks out through the top, or face, of the headstock. The posts pass through to the back of the headstock, where gears connect them to tuning keys (also known as tuners, tuning pegs, and tuning gears).

  • Volume and tone controls: Knobs that vary the loudness of the guitar’s sound and its bass and treble frequencies.

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