Last Updated on May 31, 2023 by Teemu Suomala
Author: Tyler Connaghan
Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.
Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting
Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music IndustryHide The Rambling▲
Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).Hide The Rambling▲
Whether you’re new to the electric guitar or finally deciding to take that deep dive into the structural components that you’ve been putting off for all your years of playing, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about the anatomy of the electric guitar. From the electric guitar pickups and electronics to the strings and the fretboards, let’s take a closer look at the instrument that revolutionized rock and roll.
Learn about acoustic guitar anatomy here.
Anatomy of Electric Guitar – Diagram
Parts of Electric Guitar Explained
The headstock is the crowned jewel of the electric guitar, sitting at the top of the neck and acting as a home for the tuning pegs. It’s often made out of the same type and piece of wood as the neck, though there are other times that manufacturers will attach a different piece of wood to the neck using a scarf joint.
There are many different styles of electric guitar headstocks, which are often determined by the style of the guitar. For example, Fender Stratocasters use S-style headstocks with six inline tuning machines on a single side, while Gibson Les Pauls will use LP-style headstocks with three tuning machines mounted on each side.
Check our favorite Gibson electric guitars here.
Most manufacturers will trademark their headstocks with a unique design feature to separate their guitars from others.
Tuners (Tuning Machines/Machine Heads)
Your tuners, otherwise known as tuning keys or machine heads, hold a powerful sway over the sound of your electric guitar, even though they might seem quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things. These tiny, little mechanical marvels allow you to fine-tune the tension on each string, allowing you to tune each of your strings to perfection.
You must feed your guitar strings through the tuning posts, wrapping them around the cylinders so that you can turn the tuning key and increase or decrease the string tension (raise or lower the pitch, respectively). Some guitars also have locking tuners which ensure really good tuning stability.
If your guitar won’t stay in tune, check this guide: 7 Reasons Why Your Guitar Won’t Stay in Tune – And How to Fix it!
The humble string tree is an often underappreciated piece of the electric guitar. It’s certainly not as flashy as the crowned headstocks or the lacquered bodies, but it plays a vital role in keeping your strings in line and sounding good.
The string tree is the tiny piece of plastic or metal found on the headstock, which guides the high B and E strings to the tuners, keeping them in a consistent position as they run from the nut.
With a bit of downward string pressure, the string tree helps maintain proper tension and eliminate string buzz.
While the nut may sound like a simple component of the electric guitar, it’s quite vital. This little strip of material, typically plastic, bone, or composite material, acts as a guide for your strings, keeping them in place so that they can ring out crystal clear.
There are also special types of nuts out there, such as the Floyd Rose nut, which is made out of metal and attaches to the relevant locking tremolo system, and roller nuts, which are used to reduce friction on the strings.
Check our guitar nut materials guide here.
Think of the neck as the backbone of your guitar. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to traverse the fretboard, playing solos, riffs, and chords. The neck starts at the top of the body and extends up to the headstock.
Neck profiles can vary based on the model of guitar you have, and these profiles are often described by their shape. Modern C shapes, for example, are very popular. You can learn more about necks with our guitar neck shape guide.
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Frets and Fret Wires
Frets and fret wires require precision engineering, allowing you to play different intervals on the fretboard. Players have to place their fingers on the frets to play different notes. Some electric guitars have 22 frets, while other guitars have 24 frets or two octaves.
The type of fret wires you have on your guitar will depend on the manufacturer. Some guitar makers use jumbo frets, some use medium jumbo frets, and some use narrow-tall frets.
Fret inlays, otherwise referred to as fret markers, as the small dots or markers that you’ll find at certain intervals across your fretboard. The shape of these inlays will depend on the manufacturer, and some manufacturers even put them along the side of the neck for an easy visual from above.
These are often made out of plastic or abalone, and are there to provide navigational cues so you know which notes you’re moving to.
The fretboard is your musical map where your fingers find their ways to different notes. It rests upon the neck, though is often made using a separate piece of wood, either rosewood or maple. Rosewood fretboards are darker brown, while maple fretboards are lighter blonde. Ebony fretboards are dark in color.
Some people refer to fretboards as fingerboards, these terms mean the same thing.
Check our full how to clean guitar fretboard article.
Without your strings, your guitar would have no sound. They act as the conduits between your fingers and your guitar amp, translating each pick and pluck into musical notes and chords. Electric guitar strings are made out of metal, such as nickel-plated steel, and when you pluck the strings, the vibration is translated into an electrical signal that the pickups can then translate into sound.
The types of strings you use can have a big impact on the sound, such as round wound vs. flat wound.
Check these string ugides of ours:
The truss rod is another vital electric guitar component that plays a crucial role in maintaining the playability and structural integrity of your guitar. This adjustable steel rod sits within the neck and counteracts the string tension to prevent the neck from bowing or warping using neck relief adjustments.
The heel or neck joint is where the neck meets the body, forming a sturdy and stable connection. This joint directly influences the vibration transfer from the strings to the body, shaping the tone and sustain of the instrument. You can achieve optimal clarity and resonance with a quality heel/neck joint.
Plus, depending on the design, this joint can also impact fret access and neck contour.
Arguably, the most distinct feature is the electric guitar’s body. The body is often made from wood, serving as a resonant chamber to shape and amplify the sound produced by the strings. With various factors like density, wood type, and thickness, the way the body is constructed can greatly impact the feel of the guitar. For example, you have solid-body electric guitar, semi-hollowbody electric guitar, and hollowbody electric guitar types
Single-cut and double-cut body types are very popular body shape variations. These cuts or cutaways refer to the curved, scooped areas next to the guitar neck. As for wood, such as ebony or mahogany, we recommend checking out our tonewoods article to learn more about the differences between them.
The top is one of the most critical components of the eclectic guitar, directly influencing the acoustic tone & projection, and weight of the instrument. The sound of the guitar can be impacted by the thickness, density, and resonance of the wood top.
Double Cut/Single Cut
As we said before, double-cut and single-cut are two distinct body types, each with its own unique appeal and advantages. Double-cut body types feature two symmetrical cutaways, providing players with easy access to the upper frets, allowing for a wide range of playing positions. You’ll often find these body types in rock and metal guitars, such as Ibanez guitars, as these players often utilize the full range of the guitar.
On the other hand, single-cut guitars use single cutaways on the treble end of the fretboard, typically offering thicker and warmer tones with better resonance and sustain.
Check our favorite Ibanez electric guitars here.
Pickups convert the string vibrations into electrical signals so you can get sound out of your guitar. Though these pickups are often made out of copper wire and magnets, combining different material amounts and construction methods can greatly alter the tonal characteristics.
For example, humbucker pickups are equipped with two coils, generating a thicker, deeper, and smoother sound, different than single coils, which produce a brighter and crisper sound.
You also have other unique pickups, such as P90 pickups, which are essentially single-coil pickups with a wider structure and different magnetic placement, offering a higher output and midrange response.
Check our full electric guitar pickup types guide here.
The pickup switch allows you to switch between multiple pickups on your guitar, as each pickup, depending on its location, outputs a unique tonal characteristic.
While you’ll find a wide range of pickup switch configurations as you look at different guitars, some of the most popular include the 3-way toggle switch and the 5-way pickup switch.
- Three-way switches allow you to switch between the neck, middle, and bridge (or neck and bridge combined when there isn’t a middle pickup).
- Five-way switches allow you to switch between the neck, middle, and bridge pickup with two unique hybrid positions.
Volume & Tone Knobs
With the volume and tone knobs, you can adjust the level and frequency response of your guitar. You’ll often find these knobs on the lower portion of the body, though the number of knobs you’ll find will depend on the manufacturer.
You might also find advanced tone-shaping components, such as EQ circuits, on higher-end guitars.
Output Jack/Cable Jack
Praise the output jack, as without it, you wouldn’t be able to connect your guitar to a guitar amplifier or pedalboard.
Some higher-end guitars feature locking output jacks, which provide a slight bit of extra security against accidental disconnection, making them great for playing live!
Pots, what serious guitar nerds refer to as potentiometers, control the tone and volume of the guitar. These variable resistors are typically located on the body or control plate (usually under the backplates), adjusting the amount of electrical current flowing through the circuit.
The pickguard is the shield of your guitar, protecting the body against scratching and other damage caused by playing with a pick. Pickguards are often made out of plastic, not only serving as a protective element but as a decorative element too.
The bridge anchors the strings to the body, transmitting the vibration of the strings to the pickups. There are many different electric guitar bridge types, though some of the most popular include fixed bridges and tremolo bridges (otherwise known as floating bridge).
You can learn more about the different types of bridges in our guitar bridge types guide.
If you are shopping for used guitars, bridge is one crucial part to inspect. Learn more about buying used guitars here.
Saddles sit on the bridge and are responsible for holding the strings in place. They’re often made out of metal and come in various shapes and sizes, each providing unique playability, adjustment possibilities, and tonal characteristics.
Adjustable saddles are some of the most popular saddle types, giving you precise control over the height and length of the strings so you can fine-tune the action and intonation of your guitar.
Tremolo Arm/Whammy Bar
The tremolo arm, often referred to as the whammy bar, is one of the most expressive components of the electric guitar, allowing players to utilize effects from vibrato or dive bombs. The whammy bar is often located on the bridge of the guitar, where you can push and pull it to raise and lower the pitch of the notes being played.
Not all guitar comes with whammy bars, though most can be fitted with them.
Backplate or backplates cover the tremolo block, tremolo springs, and electronics (such as potentiometers) on the backside of the guitar.
The tremolo block is a critical component in the design of the Strat-style tremolo bridge. It is a solid block made of steel that is fixed to the back or bottom of the bridge.
As the strings pass through the bridge, the tremolo block functions as the central point of attachment for the tremolo springs. These springs are secured to a claw, which is screwed into the guitar body on the opposite side, providing the necessary tension to keep the strings in tune.
The strap buttons often attach to the body of the guitar, allowing you to connect your attach your strap. Attaching a strap to your guitar allows you to suspend it from your shoulders, making it easier to hold and play, particularly while standing.
The tailpiece is a vital element found on numerous guitars, providing an anchoring point for one end of the strings. Tailpieces can often be found in semi-hollowbody and hollowbody electric guitars.
Batteries (For Active Pickups)
Batteries play a crucial role in active pickup guitars, amplifying the strings by powering active pickups. Unlike passive pickups, which solely rely on magnetic induction to capture the vibrations of the strings, active pickups require a power source because of their built-in preamps.
Find top notch guitars with active pickups here.
Electric Guitars vs Acoustic Guitars – Main Differences
While acoustic and electric guitars might play similarly, they are very different instruments. There are a few main things that set them apart, including:
- Sound – Electric guitars use pickups and external amplifiers to produce sound, while standard acoustic guitars without built-in electronics use only strings and wood vibration.
- Construction – Electric guitars utilize smaller, solid bodies, while acoustic guitars utilize larger, hollow bodies.
- Playability – Electric guitars are typically much easier to play, whether picked or fingerstyle, with thinner, lighter strings and thinner necks.
You can check out our acoustic vs. electric guitar guide for a more in-depth list of differences.
Should Beginners Learn to Identify Different Parts of The Electric Guitar?
Definitely! Learning how the various parts of the electric guitar function is very beneficial.
What Parts of Electric Guitar Affect Sound The Most?
While some say the wood has the greatest impact on the sound of an electric guitar, there’s proof that says otherwise. Some of the most sound-impacting components are the:
- Neck length
- Nut material
What Parts of Electric Guitar Affect Playability The Most?
- String height, aka. action
- Body size and shape
- Neck profile
- Neck size
- Scale length
Conclusion Anatomy of Electric Guitar
So, there you have it, the anatomy of the electric guitar! From the expressive whammy bar to the nuanced pickup systems, electric guitars have been consistently innovated and recrafted over the past century, giving us new tonal possibilities.
Hopefully having a better understanding of the anatomy of the electric guitar gives you a better appreciation of the instrument! If you have any questions, just leave a comment down below, we are here for you!
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