Acoustic vs. Electric – What are the Parts of Each Type of Guitar?

Guitars are like cars, there are many makes and models. And, just like there are certain fundamentals to driving a car; there are fundamentals to playing a guitar. In other words, everything that you learn on one guitar can be transferred to another. As you gain more experience, you’ll discover that certain techniques work better on different types of guitars.

Let’s take a look at the main differences between types of guitars.

Acoustic Guitars

Let’s begin with the acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitars are usually broken down into two categories:

  1. Steel string

  2. Nylon string

Parts of Acoustic Guitar

Image Source: SweetWater.com

Steel-string acoustics

Steel-string acoustics generally have metal wires for strings, a narrower neck, and longer fretboard. They also tend to be a little louder due to the construction and playing style; that is, a lot of people prefer using a pick and strumming chords on their steel-string acoustic.

One drawback is that the steel strings tend to be a little harder on the fingers until you develop callouses.

Nylon-string acoustic

The nylon-string acoustic, on the other hand has plastic strings, a wider neck, and a shorter fretboard. Although you can use a pick, most nylon-string players prefer using their fingers to pluck and/or strum the strings.

Nylon-string guitars are sometimes referred to as folk guitars or classical guitars. These guitars are easier on the fingers and the wider neck makes it easier to find the single string that you want to pick or pluck.

Electric Guitars

These bad boys use steel strings, but, because of the construction and technology behind them, are easy on the fingers and it doesn’t take too much hand pressure to get a good sound out of them.

Electric Guitar Parts

Image Source: ElectricGuitarTutor.com

They also have a thinner neck and longer fretboard with a cutaway where the neck joins the body to make those tiny frets easily accessible. Although there are many hollow-bodied guitars still available—and preferred by certain types of players—the solid-body guitar is the most popular used in all styles of music.

Instead of the sound box, used by the guitars of yesteryear, the solid-body electric has pickups (which are little microphones; more about this in the next section) that send the sound through a cable to an amplifier, and, viola! Instant rock star!

How the Guitar Works

The way that the guitar works is the same for both acoustics and electrics. It’s the way that they transmit the sound where the differences ultimately lie.

First, you strike the string causing it the vibrate back and forth. The speed that it vibrates is measured in Hertz or cycles per second. The faster that the string vibrates, the higher the pitch of the note.

How do you make the string vibrate faster?

Shorten the length of it by pressing down on a fret. Hitting the string harder will not make it vibrate faster, it will make it vibrate louder.

On acoustic guitars, the vibrating string causes the entire guitar to vibrate and the sound gets amplified through the sound hole. On electric guitars, the pickups use magnets to transfer the string vibration into a tiny electronic voltage that travels through the cable into a guitar amp. Once again: instant rock star!

Most electric guitars have a solid body, so the string vibration is not particularly audible—that’s why they have to be plugged into an amplifier.

Parts of the Guitar

As we you can see in the diagrams above, all guitars have the same basic elements that are often compared to the human body (with the neck of a giraffe):

  • Head

  • Neck

  • Body

Headstock

The end of the neck that holds the tuning pegs.

Tuning Pegs (or Tuning Machines/Machine Heads)

These are turned to tighten or slacken the strings, changing the tuning or pitch.

Nut

Small piece of plastic, bone, or metal at the bottom of the headstock that keeps the strings in the correct position over the fretboard.

Strings

The metal wires that you press (or fret) in order to play music.

Fretboard (or Fingerboard)

Thin piece of wood attached to the front of the neck that holds the frets.

Frets

Thin strips of metal built into the fretboard. Holding a string against a fret changes its vibrating length, altering its pitch.

Fret Markers

These dots help you find the correct position on the neck more easily.

Strap Pin

This is where you attach one end of your guitar strap—sometimes located on the heel of the neck on some electrics and acoustics. Not all steel-string acoustics have a strap pin here.

Pickups

Magnetic devices that turn the vibrations of the strings into an electric current, which is then fed down a cable into an amplifier.

Pickguard

This prevents you from damaging the front of your guitar (sometimes known as the “top”) with your pick when strumming. Usually made from plastic.

Bridge

This anchors the ball-ends of the strings to the body of the guitar. Electro-acoustic guitars have a pickup built into or under the bridge.

Endpin

This is where you attach the other end of the guitar strap. On many electro-acoustic guitars, the endpin also houses the output jack.

Pickup Selector

A switch allowing you to choose which pickup(s) you want to use, creating different tones.

Volume/Tone Controls

Allow you to alter the volume and tone of the sound from the pickups. Electro-acoustic guitars usually have these on the top side of the body, sometimes mounted in a little panel.

Output Jack

The socket where you attach a cable to go to an amplifier. Also found on electro-acoustic guitars.

Closing Thoughts

A general understanding of your instrument is important. It’s vital to the life of the instrument and your enjoyment as the player. As you gain familiarity with each mechanism and its function, you’ll be able to adjust this instrument to suit your style and abilities.

To customize an old adage, “Take care of your guitar, and your guitar will take care of you.”

If you’d like to learn more about different makes and models of electric guitars then please check out this post where I talk about the best electric guitars. Thanks for reading.

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Ed Lozano
 

Ed Lozano is a professional guitarist, instructor, producer and published author. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and lives in the Andes mountains.

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