How the guitar works

How the guitar works
(Image credit: Pipat Pajongwong / EyeEm)

Before you start playing, you need to know how the guitar works. Broadly, guitars fall into one of two categories: acoustic and electric – and, though the inner workings of electric guitars are slightly more complicated, the good news is that the guitar is easy to get started with.

Your guitar probably won’t be identical to either of these, but it will work in the same way. Here’s the important info. 

How the acoustic guitar works

How the guitar works

(Image credit: Future)
  1. STRINGS: A standard acoustic guitar has six strings made either of metal or nylon.  
  2. BODY: The vibration of the strings resonates the guitar body to make the sound of the strings louder.  
  3. SOUNDHOLE: The soundhole affects the tonal quality and volume of the strings when they’re plucked.  
  4. MACHINEHEADS (aka tuners): The strings are attached to the guitar here at the machineheads...  
  5. BRIDGE ...and to the guitar body here at the bridge.  
  6. NECK: Press down on the strings here to change the pitch of the strings when you pluck them.   
  7. FRETS: Metal frets tell you where to put your finger for every musical note on the guitar.

How the electric guitar works

(Image credit: Future)
  1. STRINGS: The strings on an electric guitar are made of metal...   
  2. PICKUPS: that the magnetic pickups can ‘pick up’ the sound and turn it into an electrical signal.  
  3. BODY: Most, though not all electric guitars are made of solid wood, unlike the hollow-bodied acoustic.   
  4. BRIDGE: This guitar has a ‘tremolo arm’ to ‘bend’ the sound of the strings, but standard ‘fixed’ bridges are commonplace too.   
  5. VOLUME/TONE CONTROLS: This guitar has one volume knob and two tone controls. Some guitars have separate controls for every pickup.  
  6. PICKUP SELECTOR: There’s a reason for having three pickups: they all sound different! The selector lets you experiment with these sounds.  
  7. OUTPUT SOCKET: Known as a ‘jack socket’, your cable goes in here to send your guitar’s signal to your amplifier.

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.