A guitar is the sum of its parts. There are many parts in acoustic and electric guitars.
Both the best guitars and worst guitars use the same systems.
Whether it’s a Gibson or PRS, a Fender or Rickenbacker, electric guitars are fascinating instruments.
Electrics have more parts than acoustic guitars, mostly due to the electronic components, and more complicated bridge mechanisms. There are a few parts that are common across all electrics. Some brands have unique quirks.
I’ve put together this extensive guide exploring the individual parts of an electric guitar. Describing each part in detail.
The numbers in the above image have been used to order the components
Table of contents
Include all the parts of the guitar with jump links, They are as follows
- Tone Woods
- Tuning Pegs/ Machine Heads
- String Trees
- Truss Rod
- Fret Board, Frets & Inlays
- Neck Joint
- Strap Button or Strap Pin
- Scratch Plate
- Pickups & Sound Hole
- Electronics and Controls
- Tail Piece
- End Pin
- Jack Socket
- Gear and Accessories
Parts of an Electric Guitar
1. Tone Woods
Tonewood is the name given to the wood used to make a guitar. Guitar’s can’t (or shouldn’t) be made out of any old tree. Particular woods are preferred for their different sonic qualities. Also, the technique used to cut and dry the wood affects the sound. Luthiers often specialize in understanding the acoustics of different woods.
The headstock is a section of wood at the top of the guitar. This is where the tuning pegs are attached, which is one termination point of the strings.
Often the headstock includes the manufacturer’s logo and the name of the guitar model.
3. Tuning Pegs/ Machine Heads
The tuning pegs (aka machine heads, tuning machines, tuning gears) are the mechanisms that hold the strings to the headstock end of the guitar.
Tuning pegs are also used for… tuning! The ends of the pegs are turned to increase or decrease string tension, which changes the pitch of the string. There are several different styles of tuning pegs. Some advanced versions have pitch locks or even automatic tuning machines like the Tronical. Most guitars use the same tuning systems, with similar style guitar parts.
4. String Trees
String trees are small metal clips used to hold parts of the string in place. These hold the sections of strings above the nut closer to the headboard. These are used to increase stability for the strings between the nut and the tuning pegs, and decrease the chances of the strings catching on objects.
Not every electric guitar will have string trees. Sometimes they have them for all the strings, sometimes only for the higher strings
5. Truss Rod
The truss rod is a long metal rod situated inside the neck of the guitar. Most electric guitars, if not all, contain a truss rod.
Truss rods have a mechanism for adjusting their tension.
The tension of the truss rod counteracts the tension of the strings on the neck.
The combined force of 6 tuned strings can apply over 80kgs of tension, which will bend the thin wood of a guitar’s neck. The truss rod applies an opposing force to cancel out the force on the wood.
Truss rods can be adjusted to change the curvature of a neck. This will affect the action (distance from strings to the fretboard).
The volute is a small protruding ridge connecting the rear of the headstock and the neck.
The origins of the word come from scroll-like ornaments that decorated Corinthian columns.
A volute is also a rare deep-sea snail… but that’s not what we’re talking about
The purpose of a Volute is to reinforce the join between the headstock and the neck, which is a point of weakness.
Volutes are generally found on guitars with the angled headstock. They are not so common on straight headstocks.
The nut is a thin bone, plastic, or skinny metal bar situated at the top of the fretboard. This is the first point of contact for the strings, acting as a “Fret 0”.
The nut is the piece of the guitar where the strings slot through and holds the top end of the tension. The bridge performs the same function at the opposite end of the guitar.
It may seem like a small cog, but the nut has a large effect on the guitar’s tone. If a nut isn’t set up properly it can create undesirable buzzing and tuning issues.
The neck is the long thin section of wood that connects to the guitar’s body. The neck is usually held in the left hand. Neck wood material has a large impact on the sound as the neck vibrates sympathetically with the strings.
Guitar necks come in many different shapes and styles.
Examples of common neck shape profiles include C, D, and U.
The length and width of guitar necks also vary. Players with larger hands may favor larger necks.
9. Fret Board, Frets & Inlays
The fretboard is a long part of the guitar where the pitches of the strings are controlled and is the main playing surface. These are used for playing melodies and chords, as the guitarist holds different fret positions.
A fretboard is constructed from a thin piece of wood attached to the neck. Grooves are cut into this piece of wood at evenly spaced intervals. These grooves are filled with metal wires. These wires are the actual frets.
It is common for an electric guitar to have inlays, which are decorative fret markers set into the wood. These can be simple dots, bars, or even complex patterns and artistic designs.
Guitars use inlays to make it easy to quickly understand and count frets. As there are usually 20+ frets on a guitar, it is tiring for the eyes to count out, say 12 frets to find the right note.
Inlay fret markers are usually included on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. This is usually repeated up the octave on the 15th, 17th, 19th, and 24th fret.
The strings are the main sound source in an electric guitar. These are the vibrating elements that produce the sonic energy we hear. These are one of the most important parts of an electric guitar.
Strings are activated by an “exciter”, which could be anything from a finger, guitar pick, to screwdriver or E-Bow (my favorite guitar accessory ever). Activating a string will produce notes.
Strings come in a variety of gages, which describe their thicknesses. Higher pitched strings are thinner than low ones. Strings come in several materials, winding, and core styles.
Most guitars use six strings, but seven and eight-string models are also fairly common.
Check out our full post about the best guitar strings!
The term action describes the distance between the fretboard and the strings.
If the action is too high on a guitar it will be difficult to cleanly finger individual notes, and barre chords become more difficult.
Insufficient (low) action can create issues with fret buzz.
Action can be altered by truss adjustment rod or changing the gage of guitar strings. Lighter strings result in a lower action.
12. Neck Joint
The neck joint is the region where the guitar’s neck joins the body. There are a few different possibilities, the most common being bolt-on, set neck, and neck-through.
Many electric guitars favor a bolt-on neck design, where the neck is attached using bolts and a panel at the rear of the guitar.
A set neck is created using a dovetail joint and strong wood glue. Set necks are supposed to produce a longer sustain.
Neck-through guitar necks run the entire length of the guitar, from headstock to the bottom of the body. These continuous pieces of wood are enlarged with “wing” like slabs of wood glued to the sides to make up the rest of the body. Neck-through guitars are designed to have a warmer, fuller tone.
A heel is the equivalent of a neck joint but on an acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitar necks are not attached to bodies in the same way as electrics. The heel is part of the neck which is as deep as the guitar’s body. The heel is used to attach the neck to the body on an acoustic guitar.
The body of the guitar is the main wooden piece of the guitar. The electric guitar body serves multiple purposes.
Primarily, the body makes the guitar easier to hold. Bodiless guitars do exist but they are more awkward to play.
The second function of the body is to act as a resonator. This is more important in an acoustic guitar over an electric, as the hollow cavity is the main producer of volume, where electrics rely on pickups and amplification.
There are several different body densities of electric guitar too.
The most common are solid body, where the guitar is made from a solid piece of wood.
Hollow body and semi-hollow electric guitars change the resonance by having hollowed-out holes inside the body.
Hollow body guitars tend to be more resonant than solid bodies.
15. Strap Button or Strap Pin
The strap buttons are used to fasten a guitar strap to the instrument. Guitar straps are an important accessory that improves playing comfort and reduces fatigue. Playing an electric guitar standing up without using a strap will be unnecessarily difficult and should be avoided. Check out our article on how to use guitar straps.
16. Scratch Plate
The scratchplate is a separate piece of thin plastic (or any material), placed around the strumming zone of the guitar, and the pickups. This is used to protect the surface of the guitar, which can be scratched or weathered from repetitive strumming.
A damaged scratchplate is a lot easier to fix than a scratched finish or wood. All the electronics and cabling are usually hidden in a cavity below the scratchplate. The plates can be unscrewed for access.
17. Pickups & Sound Hole
Pickups are essential electronic parts of an electric guitar, these are responsible for the transduction of energy.
Pickups transduce (or convert) the physical vibrations of the guitar string into an electric signal, which is then sent to an amplifier.
These electric guitar parts work by using bar-like magnets to receive the magnetic information produced by rapidly moving metal wires. This produces a small electric signal which can be amplified to a loud sound.
There are a few styles of pickups, including single-coil pickups, humbuckers, and active or passive. Humbuckers use two single coils combined, sometimes covered by a metal plate.
The placement of a pickup affects its sound. Pickups close to the bridge are thinner, brighter, and twangier. Pickups closer to the neck have a warmer, fuller, more rounded sound.
Pickups usually have controls for their volume and tone. Guitars can have multiple pickups, 2-3 being the most common amount.
Electric guitars don’t usually have a soundhole, which is a feature of acoustic guitars used for projecting the acoustic resonance beyond its body.
18. Electronics and Controls
This section contains the controls for the electronic circuit.
Typically, an electric guitar has volume and tone controls, and a pickup selector switch.
The volume controls change how loud the signal is. This is useful for gain staging. Some guitars have separate volume knobs for each pickup, others only have 1 for the whole guitar.
The tone knob generally filters the high frequencies from the signal, producing a comparatively warmer sounding tone. This knob can be used to achieve many different tones. Some tone circuits have more advanced features and can boost frequencies, but this is rare.
The pickup selector switch is used for choosing which combination of pickups is being used to create the signal. Changing this configuration can drastically change a guitar’s sound. Selector switches are used on guitars with more than one pickup.
Guitars with 2 pickups usually have a 3-way pickup selector switch, guitars with 3 pickups like the Fender Stratocaster favor a more flexible 5-way switch.
All the electronic components are soldered together with wires located inside the body, in a cavity below the scratchplate.
The bridge is a metal mechanism where the strings rest at the bottom end of the guitar. Changing the bridge height also affects the action.
There are many different electric guitar bridges, some accommodate tremolo bar systems, such as the Floyd rose design, others are fixed. The bridge assembly can usually be replaced in most guitars if it is faulty.
20. Tail Piece
The tailpiece is the hardware assembly used to attach the bottom end of the strings to the guitar body. There are many tailpiece designs. Some tailpieces contain a vibrato bar (aka Wang bar, whammy bar) which can be used for pitch bends by quickly changing the string tension.
This mechanism can be used to adjust the intonation of a guitar. The intonation is effectively the length between the bridge and nut. If the intonation isn’t perfect on a guitar, there will be tuning discrepancies on each string, as you move up and down the fretboard.
Use an intonation adjustment screw to correct the intonation on a guitar.
How to fix guitar intonation:
- Perfectly tune a string.
- Play a harmonic at the 12th fret and check the tuning.
- If this is out by any number of cents, the intonation isn’t perfect.
- Increasing the string length (with the intonation adjustment) increases the intoned pitch.
- Repeat for each string.
22. End Pin
The endpin is the second of two strap buttons used for attaching a guitar strap.
23. Jack Socket
The jack socket is a ¼” female TRS socket, where one end of the guitar cable is plugged. The other end is plugged into an amplifier or interface.
The jack socket is essentially the guitar’s output jack.
24. Gear and Accessories
There are some important accessories for electric guitars.
Gigbag: for transportation and protection.
Amplifier: An electronic device used to make the sound audible with a powered loudspeaker.
Guitar Cables: required to connect a guitar to an amplifier.
Guitar Pedals: these change the sound of a guitar by processing and modifying the electronic signal. Common guitar pedal effects include reverb, delay, chorus, overdrive, distortion, and wah.