DDV Music - Music Information and Education


The acoustic archtop guitar, used in Jazz music, features steel strings.
The acoustic archtop guitar, used in Jazz music, features steel strings.

A guitar is a fretted stringed musical instrument.


Guitar strings are strung parallel to the neck, whose surface is covered by the fingerboard (fretboard). By depressing a string against the fingerboard, the effective length of a string can be altered, which in turn changes the frequency at which the string will vibrate when plucked. Guitarists typically use one hand to pluck the strings and the other to depress the strings against the fingerboard. The strings may be plucked using either fingers or a plectrum (guitar pick), thus creating the sound of notes or chords.

The strings of a guitar produce little sound by themselves. Instead, their vibration must be amplified to audibly useful levels. In general, this amplication is achieved either mechanically or electronically, with the result being that there are two main categories of guitar: acoustic (mechanical amplification) and electric (electronic amplification).

  • In acoustic guitars, string vibration is transmitted through the bridge and saddle to the sound board. The sound board, typically made of a light springy wood such as spruce, vibrates the air, producing sound which is further shaped by the guitar body's resonant cavity.
  • In electric guitars, transducers known as pickups convert string vibration to an electronic signal, which in turn is amplified and fed to speakers, which vibrate the air to produce the sound we hear.

Guitars are made and repaired by people called luthiers.

Guitars are used in a variety of musical styles. Guitars are widely known as a solo classical instrument, and the primary instrument in blues and rock music.


Figurines playing the ancestor of the Guitar. Excavated in Susa, Iran. Dated 2000-1500 BCE. Kept at the National Museum of Iran.
Figurines playing the ancestor of the Guitar. Excavated in Susa, Iran. Dated 2000-1500 BC. Kept at the National Museum of Iran.

Instruments similar to what we know as the guitar have been popular for at least 5,000 years. The guitar appears to be derived from earlier instruments known in ancient central Asia as the cithara . Instruments very similar to the guitar appear in ancient carvings and statues recovered from the old Iranian capitol of Susa. The modern word, guitar, was adopted into English from Spanish, possibly from earlier Greek word kithara. Prospective sources for various names of musical instruments that guitar could be derived from appear to be a combination of two Indo-European roots: guit-, similar to Sanskrit sangeet meaning "music", and -tar a widely attested root meaning "chord" or "string".

The word guitar may also be a Persian loanword to Iberian Arabic. The word qitara is an Arabic name for various members of the lute family that preceded the Western guitar. The name guitar was introduced into Spanish when guitars were brought into Iberia by the Moors after the 10th century.

The guitar player (c. 1672), by Johannes Vermeer
The guitar player (c. 1672), by Johannes Vermeer

The Spanish vihuela appears to be an intermediate form between the ancestral guitar and the modern guitar, with lute-style tuning and a small, but guitar-like body. It is not clear whether this represents a transitional form or simply a design that combined features from the two families of instruments. In favor of the latter view, the reshaping of the vihuela into a guitar-like form can be seen as a strategy of differentiating the European lute visually from the Moorish oud. The Ancient Iranian lute, called tar in Persian also is found in the word guitar. The tar is thousands of years old, and could be found in 2, 3, 5, and 6 string variations.

The earliest extant six string guitar was built in 1779 by Gaetano Vinaccia (1759 - after 1831) in Naples, Italy. The Vinaccia family of luthiers is known for developing the mandolin. This guitar has been examined and does not show tell-tale signs of modifications from a double-course guitar.

The electric guitar was patented by George Beauchamp in 1936. Beauchamp co-founded Rickenbacher which used the horseshoe-magnet pickup. However, it was Danelectro that first produced electric guitars for the wider public. Danelectro also pioneered tube amp technology.

Parts of the guitar

Parts of typical classical and electric guitars, numbered

  • 1. Headstock
  • 2. Nut
  • 3. Machine heads (or pegheads, tuning keys, tuning machines)
  • 4. Frets
  • 5. Truss rod
  • 6. Inlays
  • 7. Neck and fretboard
  • 8. Heel (acoustic or Spanish)- Neckjoint (electric)
  • 9. Body
  • 10. Pickups
  • 11. Electronics
  • 12. Bridge (saddle)
  • 13. Pickguard
  • 14. Bottom deck
  • 15. Soundboard (=top deck)
  • 16. Body sides
  • 17. Sound hole
  • 18. Strings
  • 19. Bridge


The headstock is located at the end of the guitar neck furthest from the body. It is fitted with machine heads that adjust the pitch of the strings. Traditional tuner layout is "3+3" in which each side of the headstock has three tuners (such as on Gibson Les Pauls). In this layout, the headstocks are commonly symmetrical. Many guitars feature other layouts as well, including six-in-line (featured on Fender Stratocasters) tuners or even "4+2". However, some guitars (such as Steinbergers) do not have headstocks at all, in which case the tuning machines are located elsewhere, either on the body or the bridge.


The nut is a small strip of ivory, bone, plastic, brass, graphite, or other medium-hard material that braces the strings at the joint where the headstock meets the fretboard. It is grooved to hold the strings in place, and it is one of the endpoints of the strings' tension. The material used also affects the sound of the guitar.


Also called the fingerboard in fretless guitars and basses, the fretboard is a piece of wood embedded with metal frets that comprises the top of the neck. It is flat on classical guitars and slightly curved crosswise on acoustic and electric guitars. The curvature of the fretboard is measured by the fretboard radius, which is the radius of a hypothetical circle of which the fretboard's surface constitutes a segment. The smaller the fretboard radius, the more noticeably curved the fretboard is. Pinching a string against the fretboard effectively shortens the vibrating length of the string, producing a higher tone (a string, unfingered, will vibrate from the saddle to the nut; once fingered, it will vibrate only along the distance between the saddle and the fret directly before the finger). Fretboards are most commonly made of rosewood, ebony, maple, and sometimes graphite.


Frets are metal strips (usually nickel alloy) embedded along the fretboard which are placed in points along the length of string that divide it mathematically. When strings are pressed down behind them, frets shorten the strings' vibrating lengths to produce different pitches- each one spaced a half-step apart on the 12 tone scale. For more on fret spacing, see the Strings and Tuning section below. Frets are usually the first permanent part to wear out on a heavily played electric guitar. They can be re-shaped to a certain extent and can be replaced as needed. Frets also indicate fractions of the length of a string (the string midpoint is at the 12th fret; one-third the length of the string reaches from the nut to the 7th fret, the 7th fret to the 19th, and the 19th to the saddle; one-quarter reaches from nut to fifth to twelfth to twenty-fourth to saddle). This feature is important in playing harmonics. Frets are available in several different gauges, depending on the type of guitar and the player's style.

Guitars have frets on the fingerboard to fix the positions of notes and scales, which gives them equal temperament. Consequently, the ratio of the widths of two consecutive frets is the twelfth root of two \sqrt[12]{2}, whose numeric value is about 1.059463. The twelfth fret divides the string in two exact halves and the 24th fret (if present) divides the string in half yet again. Every twelve frets represents one octave.

There are several styles of fret, which allow different sounds and techniques to be exploited by the player. Among these are "jumbo" frets, which have much thicker wires, allowing for a lighter touch and a slight vibrato technique simply from pushing the string down harder and softer, "scalloped" fretboards, where the wood of the fretboard itself is "scooped out", becoming deeper away from the headstock, which allows a dramatic vibrato effect and other unusual techniques, and fine frets, much flatter, which allow a very low string-action for extremely fast playing, but require other conditions (such as curvature of the neck) to be kept perfect in order to prevent buzz.

Truss rod

The truss rod is an adjustable metal rod that runs along the inside of the neck, adjusted by a hex nut or an allen-key bolt usually located either at the headstock (under a cover) or just inside the body of the guitar, underneath the fretboard (accessible through the sound hole). The truss rod counteracts the immense amount of tension the strings place on the neck, bringing the neck back to a straighter position. The truss rod can be adjusted to compensate for changes in the neck wood due to changes in humidity or to compensate for changes in the tension of strings. Tightening the rod will curve the neck back and loosening it will return it forward. Adjusting the truss rod affects the intonation of a guitar as well as affecting the action (the height of the strings from the fingerboard). Some truss rod systems, called "double action" truss systems, will tighten both ways, allowing the neck to be pushed both forward and backward (most truss rods can only be loosened so much, beyond which the bolt will just come loose and the neck will no longer be pulled backward). Most classical guitars do not have truss rods, as the nylon strings do not put enough tension on the neck for one to be needed.


Inlays are visual elements set into the exterior wood on a guitar. The typical locations for inlay are on the fretboard, headstock, and around the soundhole (called a rosette on acoustic guitars). Inlays range from simple plastic dots on the fretboard to fantastic works of art covering the entire exterior surface of a guitar (front and back). Some guitar players put LEDs in the fretboard as inlays to produce a unique lighting effect onstage. Both Sam Rivers- bassist of rock group Limp Bizkit- and guitar virtuoso Steve Vai have used LEDs as fret inlays.

Fretboard inlays are most commonly shaped like dots, diamond shapes, parallelograms, or large blocks in between the frets. Dots are usually inlaid into the upper edge of the fretboard in the same positions, small enough to be visible only to the player. Some manufacturers go beyond these simple shapes and use more creative designs such as lightning bolts or letters and numbers. The simpler inlays are often done in plastic on guitars of recent vintage, but many older, and newer, high-end instruments have inlays made of mother of pearl, abalone, ivory, colored wood or any number of exotic materials. On some low-end guitars, they are just painted. Many classical guitars have no inlays at all; the player himself sometimes will make them with a marker pen, correction fluid, or a small piece of tape.

The most popular fretboard inlay scheme involves single inlays on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st frets, and double inlays on the 12th, sometimes 7th, and (if present) 24th fret. Advantages of such scheme include its symmetry about the 12th fret and symmetry of every half (0-12 and 12-24) about the 7th and 19th frets. However, playing these frets, for example, on E string would yield notes E, G, A, B, C# that barely makes a complete musical mode by themselves.

A less popular fretboard inlay scheme involves inlays on 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 22nd and 24th frets. Playing these frets, for example, on E string yields notes E, G, A, B, D that fit perfectly into E minor pentatonic. Such a scheme is very close to piano keys coloring (which involves black coloring for sharps that pentatonic consists of) and of some use on classic guitars.

Beyond the fretboard inlay, the headstock and soundhole are also commonly inlaid. The manufacturer's logo is commonly inlaid into the headstock. Sometimes a small design such as a bird or other character or an abstract shape also accompanies the logo. The soundhole designs found on acoustic guitars vary from simple concentric circles to delicate fretwork. Many high-end guitars have more elaborate decorative inlay schemes. Often the edges of the guitar around the neck and body and down the middle of the back are inlaid. The fretboard commonly has a large inlay running across several frets or the entire length of the fretboard, such as a long vine creeping across the fretboard. Most acoustic guitars have an inlay that borders the sides of the fretboard, and some electrics (namely Fender Stratocasters) have a black inlay running on the back of the neck, from about the body to the middle of the neck, commonly referred to as a skunk stripe.

Some very limited edition high-end or custom-made guitars have artistic inlay designs that span the entire front (or even the back) of the guitar. These designs use a variety of different materials and are created using techniques borrowed from furniture making. While these designs are often just very elaborate decorations, they are sometimes works of art that even depict a particular theme or a scene. Although these guitars are often constructed from the most exclusive materials, they are generally considered to be collector's items and not intended to be played. Large guitar manufacturers often issue these guitars to celebrate a significant historical milestone.


A guitar's frets, fretboard, tuners, headstock, and truss rod, all attached to a long wooden extension, collectively comprise its neck. The wood used to make the fretboard will usually differ from the wood in the rest of the neck. The bending stress on the neck is considerable, particularly when heavier gauge strings are used, and the ability of the neck to resist bending is important to the guitar's ability to hold a constant pitch during tuning or when strings are fretted. The rigidity of the neck with respect to the body of the guitar is one determinant of a good instrument versus a poor one. Conversely, the ability to change the pitch of the note slightly by deliberately bending the neck forcibly with the fretting arm is a technique occasionally used, particularly in the blues genre and those derived from it, such as rock and roll. The shape of the neck can also vary, from a gentle "C" curve to a more pronounced "V" curve.

Neck joint or 'heel'

This is the point at which the neck is either bolted or glued to the body of the guitar. Almost all acoustic guitars, with the primary exception of Taylors, have glued (otherwise known as set) necks, while electric guitars are constructed using both types. On Spanish guitars, this portion is known as the 'heel' because it looks like a Spanish type shoe heel. Set necks usually feature dovetail joints, which offer stability and sustain. Other commonly used neck joints include mortise-and-tenon joints (such as those used by CF Martin & Co. guitars), and Spanish Heel style neck joints (commonly found in classical guitars). Bolt-on necks, though they are historically associated with cheaper instruments, do offer greater flexibility in the guitar's set-up, and allow easier access for neck joint maintenance and repairs. Another type of neck, only available for solid body electric guitars, is the Neck-Through-Body construction. These are designed so that everything from the machine heads down to the bridge are located on the same piece of wood. The sides (also known as wings) of the guitar are then glued to this central piece. Some luthiers prefer this method of construction as it is said to allow better sustain of each note. Some very high-end instruments may not have a neck joint at all, having the neck and sides built as one piece and the body built around it.

Body (acoustic guitar)

The body of the instrument is a major determinant of the overall sound for acoustic guitars. The guitar top, or soundboard, is a finely crafted and engineered element often made of spruce, red cedar or mahogany. This thin (often 2 or 3 mm thick) piece of wood, strengthened by different types of internal bracing, is considered to be the most prominent factor in determining the sound quality of a guitar. The majority of the sound is caused by vibration of the guitar top as the energy of the vibrating strings is transferred to it. Different patterns of wood bracing have been used through the years by luthiers (Torres, Hauser, Ramirez, Fleta, and C.F. Martin being among the most influential designers of their times); to not only strengthen the top against collapsing under the tremendous stress exerted by the tensioned strings, but also to affect the resonation of the top. The back and sides are made out of a variety of woods such as mahogany, Indian rosewood and highly regarded Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra). Each one is chosen for their aesthetic effect and structural strength, and can also play a significant role in determining the instrument's timbre. These are also strengthened with internal bracing, and decorated with inlays and purfling.

The body of an acoustic guitar is a resonating chamber which projects the vibrations of the body through a sound hole, allowing the acoustic guitar to be heard without amplification. The sound hole is normally a round hole in the top of the guitar, though some may have different shapes or multiple holes.

As an instrument's maximum volume is determined by how much air it can move, the Dreadnought body size is popular amongst acoustic performers.

Body (electric guitar)

Most electric guitar bodies are made of wood. This wood is rarely one solid piece, as laminating hardwoods in the proper way can produce a body of exceptional strength and superior tone. The most common woods used for electric guitar body construction include maple, basswood, ash, poplar, alder, and mahogany. Many bodies will consist of good sounding but inexpensive woods, like ash, with a "top", or thin layer of another, more attractive wood (such as maple with a natural "flame" pattern) glued to the top of the basic wood. Guitars constructed like this are often called "flame tops". The body is usually carved or routed to accept the other elements, such as the bridge, pickup, neck, and other electronic components. Many higher-end electrics have a nitro-cellulose laquer finish on the top, which promotes resonance.


The electric guitar is usually not very loud when it is played without an amplifier. Pickups are electronic devices attached to a guitar that detect (or "pick up") string vibrations and allow the sound of the string to be amplified. Pickups are usually placed right underneath the guitar strings. The most common type of pickups contain magnets that are tightly wrapped in copper wire. This allows the pickups to measure the movement of the steel guitar string within the magnetic field above the pickup. Some acoustic guitars also have microphones or pickups built into them for stage work. Pickups work on a similar principle to a generator in that the vibration of the strings causes a small current to be created in the coils surrounding the magnets. This signal is later amplified by an amplifier. The Fender stratocaster type guitars generally utilize 3 single coil pickups, while the Gibson Les Paul type use Humbucker pickups.

Traditional electric pickups are either single-coil or double-coil. Double-coil pickups are also known as humbuckers for their noise-canceling ability. The type and model of pickups used can have large effects on the tone of the guitar. Typically, humbuckers are used by guitarists seeking a heavier sound. Single coil pickups are used by guitarists seeking a brighter, twangier sound. However, a disadvantage of single coil pickups is mains-frequency (60 or 50 Hertz) hum. Some guitars need a battery to power their pickups and/or pre-amp; these guitars are referred to as having "active electronics", as opposed to the typical "passive" circuits.

Guitar Synthesisers may have specialist 'cluster' pickups, effectively giving each string its own pickup.


On guitars that have them, these components and the wires that connect them allow the player to control some aspects of the sound like volume or tone. These at their simplest consist of passive components such as potentiometers and capacitors, but may also include specialized integrated circuits or other active components requiring batteries for power, for preamplification and signal processing, or even for assistance in tuning. In many cases the electronics have some sort of magnetic shielding to prevent pickup of external interference and noise.

Binding, Purfling, and Kerfing

The top, back and rim of an acoustic guitar body are very thin (1-2mm), so a flexible piece of wood called kerfing (because it is often scored, or kerfed to allow it to bend with the shape of the rim) is glued into the corners where the rim meets the top and back. This interior reinforcement provides 5 to 20 mm or solid gluing area for these corner joints.

During final construction, a small section of the outside corners is carved or routed out and then filled binding material on the oustide corners and decorative strips of material next to the binding, which are called purfling. This binding serves to seal off the endgrain of the top and back. Binding and purfling materials are generally made of either wood or high quality plastic materials.


The main purpose of the bridge on an acoustic guitar is to transfer the vibration from the strings to the soundboard, which vibrates the air inside of the guitar, thereby amplifying the sound produced by the strings.

On both electric and acoustic guitars, the bridge holds the strings in place. From there, the variations are astounding. There may be some mechanism for raising or lowering the bridge to adjust the distance between the strings and the fretboard (action), and/or fine-tuning the intonation of the instrument. Some are springloaded and feature a "whammy bar", a removable arm which allows the player to modulate the pitch moving the bridge up and down. The whammy bar is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "tremelo bar"; unlike the change in pitch that the whammy bar produces, a tremolo is a quick oscillation of the volume. (The effect of rapidly changing pitch produced by a whammy bar is correctly called "vibrato"). Some bridges allow for alternate tunings at the touch of a button.

On almost all modern electric guitars, the bridge is adjustable for each string so that intonation stays in tune up and down the neck. If the open string is in tune but sharp or flat when frets are pressed, the bridge can be adjusted with a screwdriver to remedy the problem. In general, flat notes are corrected by moving the bridge forward and sharp notes by moving it backwards. The bridge is commonly adjusted after replacing strings since small discrepancies in the diameters of the strings can greatly affect the intonation of the guitar.


Also known as a scratchplate. This is usually a piece of plastic or other laminated material that protects the finish of the top of the guitar. In some electric guitars, the pickups and most of the electronics are mounted on the pickguard. On acoustic guitars and many electric guitars, the pickguard is mounted directly to the guitar top, while on guitars with carved tops (e.g. the Gibson Les Paul), the pickguard is elevated. The Pickguard is more often than not used in styles such as flamenco, which tends to use the guitar as a percussion instrument at times, rather than for instance, a classical guitar.


A variety of different tunings is used. The most common by far, known as "standard tuning" (EADGBE), is as follows:

  • sixth (lowest tone) string: E (a minor thirteenth below middle C-82.4Hz)
  • fifth string: A (a minor tenth below middle C-110Hz)
  • fourth string: D (a minor seventh below middle C-146.8Hz)
  • third string: G (a perfect fourth below middle C-196.0Hz)
  • second string: B (a minor second below middle C-246.92Hz)
  • first (highest tone) string: E (a major third above middle C-329.6Hz)

Standard tuning has evolved to provide a good compromise between simple fingering for many chords and the ability to play common scales with minimal left hand movement. There are also a variety of commonly used alternate tunings - most of which are just common chord shapes that can be played open.

A common mnemonic used to remember the standard tuning (EADGBE) is "Even After Death Good Boys Eat".

Acoustic and electric guitar

Guitars can be divided into 2 categories:

Acoustic guitars

The traditional guitar is not dependent on any external device for amplification. The shape and resonance of the guitar itself creates acoustic amplification. However, the unamplified guitar is not a loud instrument, that is, it cannot compete with other instruments commonly found in bands and orchestras, in terms of sheer audible volume. Many acoustic guitars are available today with built-in electronics to enable amplification. There are several subcategories within the acoustic guitar group: steel string guitars, which includes the flat top, or "folk" guitar, the closely related twelve string guitar, and the arch top guitar. A recent arrival in the acoustic guitar group is the acoustic bass guitar, similar in tuning to the electric bass.

  • Renaissance and Baroque guitars: These are the gracile ancestors of the modern classical guitar. They are substantially smaller and more delicate than the classical guitar, and generate a much quieter sound. The strings are paired in courses as in a modern 12 string guitar, but they only have four or five courses of strings rather than six. They were more often used as rhythm instruments in ensembles than as solo instruments, and can often be seen in that role in early music performances. (Gaspar Sanz' Instruccion de Musica sobre la Guitarra Espanola of 1674 constitutes the majority of the surviving solo corpus for the era.) Renaissance and Baroque guitars are easily distinguished because the Renaissance guitar is very plain and the Baroque guitar is very ornate, with inlays all over the neck and body, and a paper-cutout inverted "wedding cake" inside the hole.
  • Classical guitars: These are typically strung with nylon strings, played in a seated position and used to play classical music. Flamenco guitars are almost equal in construction, have a sharper sound, and are used in flamenco. In Mexico, the popular mariachi band includes a range of guitars, from the tiny requinto to the guitarron, a guitar larger than a cello, which is tuned in the bass register. The father of the modern classical guitar was Antonio Torres Jurado>.
  • Flat-top (steel-string) guitars: Similar to the classical guitar, however the body size is usually significantly larger than a classical guitar and it has a narrower, reinforced neck and stronger structural design, to sustain the extra tension of steel strings which produce a louder and brighter tone. The acoustic guitar is a staple in folk, Old-time music and blues music.
  • Resonator, resophonic or Dobro guitars: Similar to the flat top guitar in appearance, but with sound produced by a metal resonator mounted in the middle of the top rather than an open sound hole, so that the physical principle of the guitar is actually more similar to the banjo. The purpose of the resonator is to amplify the sound of the guitar; this purpose has been largely superseded by electrical amplification, but the resonator is still played by those desiring its distinctive sound. The type of resonator guitar with a neck with a square cross-section -- called "square neck" -- is usually played face up, on the lap of the seated player, and often with a metal or glass slide. The round neck resonator guitars are normally played in the same fashion as other guitars, although slides are also often used, especially in blues.
  • 12 string guitars usually have steel strings and are widely used in folk music, blues and rock and roll. Rather than having only six strings, the 12-string guitar has pairs, like a mandolin. Each pair of strings is tuned either in unison (the two highest) or an octave apart (the others). They are made both in acoustic and electric forms. Big Joe Williams is a blues musician famous for his 12 string guitar.
  • Russian guitars are seven string acoustic guitars which were the norm for Russian guitarists throughout the 19th and well into the 20th centuries. The guitar was traditionally tuned to an open G tuning.
  • Archtop guitars are steel string, instruments which feature a violin-inspired f-hole design in which the top (and often the back) of the instrument are carved in a curved rather than a flat shape. Lloyd Loar of the Gibson Guitar Corporation invented this variation of guitar after designing a style of mandolin of the same type. The typical Archtop is a hollow body guitar whose form is much like that of a mandolin or violin family instrument and may be acoustic or electric. Some solid body electric guitars are also considered archtop guitars although usually 'Archtop guitar' refers to the hollow body form. Archtop guitars were immediately adopted upon their release by both jazz and country musicians and have remained particularly popular in jazz music, usually using thicker strings (higher gauged round wound and flat wound) than acoustic guitars. Archtops are often louder than a typical dreadnought acoustic guitar. The electric hollow body archtop guitar has a distinct sound among electric guitars and is consequently appropriate for many styles of rock and roll. Many electric archtop guitars intended for use in rock and roll even have a Tremolo Arm.
  • Acoustic bass guitars also have steel strings, and match the tuning of the electric bass, which is likewise similar to the traditional double bass viol, the "big bass", a staple of string orchestras and bluegrass bands alike.
  • Harp guitars. Harp Guitars are difficult to classify as there are many variations within this type of guitar. They are typically rare and uncommon in the popular music scene. Most consist of a regular guitar, plus additional 'harp' strings strung above the six normal strings. The instrument is usually acoustic and the harp strings are usually tuned to lower notes than the guitar strings, for an added bass range. Normally there is neither fingerboard nor frets behind the harp strings. Some harp guitars also feature much higher pitch strings strung below the traditional guitar strings. The number of harp strings varies greatly, depending on the type of guitar and also the player's personal preference (as they have often been made to the player's specification).
This Fender Stratocaster has the features of most electric guitars: multiple pickups, a whammy bar, volume and tone knobs.
This Fender Stratocaster has the features of most electric guitars: multiple pickups, a whammy bar, volume and tone knobs.

Electric guitars

Electric guitars can have solid, semi-hollow or hollow bodies, and produce little sound without amplification. Electromagnetic pickups (single and double coil) convert the vibration of the steel strings into electric signals which are fed to an amplifier through a cable or radio device. The sound is frequently modified by other electronic devices or natural distortion of valves (vacuum tubes) in the amplifier. The electric guitar is used extensively in blues and rock and roll, and was commercialized by Gibson together with Les Paul and independently by Leo Fender. The lower fretboard action (the height of the strings from the fingerboard) and its electrical amplification lend the electric guitar to some techniques which are harder (or impossible) to execute on acoustic guitars. These techniques include tapping, extensive use of legato through pull-offs and hammer-ons (a.k.a. slurs in the traditional Classical genre), pinch harmonics, volume swells and use of a Tremolo arm or effects pedals.

7 string guitars were developed in the 1990s (earlier in jazz) to achieve a much darker sound through extending the lower end of the guitar's range. They are used today by players such as James "Munky" Shaffer, John Petrucci, Jeff Loomis, Steve Smyth, and Steve Vai. Meshuggah, Rusty Cooley & Charlie Hunter go a step further, using an 8 string guitar with two extra low strings. Although the most commonly found 7 string is the variety in which there is one low B string, Roger McGuinn (Of Byrds/Rickenbacker Fame) has popularised a variety in which an octave G string is paired with the regular G string as on a 12 string guitar, allowing him to incorporate chiming 12 string elements in standard 6 string playing. Ibanez makes many varieties of electric 7 strings

The electric bass is similar in tuning to the traditional double bass viol. Hybrids of acoustic and electric guitars are also common. There are also more exotic varieties, such as double-necked guitars, all manner of alternate string arrangements, fretless fingerboards (used almost exclusively on bass guitars, meant to emulate the sound of a stand-up bass), and such.

Guitar terminology


The guitar has come to be called many different colloquial names over time such as:

  • axe,
  • box,
  • guit-box,
  • guit-fiddle,
  • guit-box-fiddle,
  • guit-axe,
  • bread-box,
  • bread-winner,
  • bread-box-winner,
  • bread-box-fiddle.

Pitch bender

The pitch bend leg found on many electric guitars has also had slang terms applied to it, such as "tremolo bar (or arm)", "sissy bar", "whammy handle", and "whammy bar". The latter two slang terms led stompbox manufacturers to use the term 'whammy' in coming up with a pitch raising effect introduced by popular guitar effects pedal brand "Digitech".

Leo Fender, who did much to create the electric guitar, also created much confusion over the meaning of the terms "tremolo" and "vibrato", specifically by misnaming the "tremolo" unit on many of his guitars and also the "vibrato" unit on his "Vibrolux" amps. In general, vibrato is a variation in pitch, whereas tremolo is a variation in volume, so the tremolo bar is actually a vibrato bar and the "Vibrolux" amps actually had a tremolo effect. However, following Fender's example, electric guitarists traditionally reverse these meanings when speaking of hardware devices and the effects they produce.


A capo (used to change key without changing fingering) is sometimes called a "cheater".


A slide, (bottle, knife blade or metal bar) used in blues and rock to create a glissando or 'hawaiian' effect. The necks of bottles were often used in blues and country music. Modern slides are constructed of glass, plastic, chrome, brass or steel, depending on the weight and tone desired.


A "pick" or "plectrum" is a small piece of plastic which is generally held between the thumb and first finger of the picking hand and is used to attack the strings. Though most classical players pick solely with their fingers, the "pick" is the most common means of playing used today. Though today they are mainly plastic, variations do exist, and some guitarists (including Django Reinhardt) were known to use tortoise shell picks.


A guitar/synthesizer is the adaptation of a guitar to control a synthesizer. Most commonly, a guitar/synth is a converter which analyzes the pitch of each string and sends an electronic message to a synthesizer, telling it what note to play. The pitches of the individual strings can be determined if a hexaphonic pickup is used. In modern implementations, the converter's output is a MIDI signal. This implementation led to the use of MIDI guitar as a synonym for a guitar/synthesizer or for the field of guitar synthesis in general.

A guitar-like MIDI controller is also referred to as a guitar/synthesizer. Such a device is not actually a guitar, but a human interface designed to play like one. It allows a guitarist to play synthesizers or other MIDI-enabled instruments. The SynthAxe was one notable example.

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Guitar