In many of the reviews on this website, we’ll refer to the various parts of an acoustic guitar, so it’s a good idea to get used to the terms for various parts of the instrument.
We’ll start from the top of the instrument when it’s standing up (known as the “head”) and work our way down to the lower part of the guitar (the “body”).
The Head is the part of the acoustic guitar at the top when it’s stood upright. It contains the tuning pegs (or “machine heads”). The tuning pegs are where the strings are attached and you can turn these to tighten or loosen the strings, which changes their pitch. This is a very important part of the guitar for staying in tune!
Also, on the head, there is usually the brand name and logo displayed at the top. At the base of the head we have the nut. The nut is what we thread the strings through to keep them spaced correctly, and is usually made of plastic, wood, or bone.
Below the Nut, is the neck. This part of the guitar is where most of the action takes place, because it contains the fretboard (or sometimes “fingerboard”), and the frets. The frets are metal wires built into a special board (the “fretboard”), and they are what you push the string onto in order to “fret” a note.
The fretboard is often also inlayed with fret markers on the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets and with a larger inlay, or two dots on the 12th fret. The neck of a steel strung acoustic guitar will join the body at the 14th fret, and that of a classical guitar will join the body at the 12th fret.
With either type of instrument, the “heel” joins the neck to the body. One of the parts of an acoustic guitar that is often forgotten, the heel is a block of wood at the back of the neck joining the neck to the body. It can also get in the way of playing higher frets if it is too large.
Following on from the neck, we have the body (notice a theme here: head – neck – body?). The body of an acoustic guitar is hollow, which allows the air to vibrate inside and amplify the sound of the strings.
Because the sound is being amplified mainly through the body of the guitar, the size and shape of this part of the guitar will make a difference to how the instrument sounds. Smaller bodies tend to produce quieter, sweeter sounds, whereas larger bodies will produce louder, deeper (or “bassier”) sounds.
Think of the body of the guitar as an echo chamber. Bigger echo chambers will produce more echo, and thus bigger sounds. Smaller bodies wont resonate as much, but can bring out more subtle tones.
The shape of the body makes a difference, also. You may have noticed that many guitars have a similar shape. They usually have two “bouts”, one higher and one lower (i.e. I’m referring to the two rounder parts at the top and bottom of the guitar). Think of the guitar body as being with two circles on top of each other- the smaller one at the top controls the amount of treble, and the larger one at the bass affects how much bass the instrument has.
At the front of the guitar, there are usually soundholes. These allow the air to resonate inside the body, and they also prevent the guitar from constantly sounding muffled. Sometimes the guitar will have one large soundhole in the centre (most usual), although some guitars will have two “f-shaped” holes, known as F-holes (similar to what you’d see on a violin or ‘cello).
At the bottom of the body, we have the bridge. This is where the strings are anchored to the soundboard (the wood at the front of the body with the soundhole in).
Other Parts of an Acoustic Guitar
Some of the other things that you may see mentioned on this site in referring to guitars are:
The “top” is essentially the soundboard at the front of the guitar. It tends to be referred to by manufacturers as the “top”, because it isn’t the “back and sides” of the guitar.
The “tonewood” isn’t really a name for one of the parts of an acoustic guitar, but refers to the types of wood used in the guitar’s construction. As most of the sound, and tonal quality, of the guitar is produced by vibrating wood, it would make sense that the type of wood used would affect the sound.
There are a wide variety of woods used in making guitars, the one you should be most familiar with is Rosewood, which is the darker wood used mainly on the fretboard and bridge. Other woods include: Alder, Ash, Mahogany, Basswood and Maple. If you would like to read more about tonewoods, there is an excellent resource here.