In this article we will look across all the parts of the electric and acoustic guitar to see which ones have the most effect on the overall sound. This will help you beginner guitarists. If you’d like to see this info in action, online guitar lessons are a great idea. There is plenty of argument for specific materials and builds, but sound is also subjective so we need to approach the matter in a more practical manner. Here are all the parts of a guitar and how they affect the sound.
In an acoustic guitar this is the most important part, as the sound waves are amplified in this space. There are a variety of shapes and sizes that acoustic guitar bodies come in, with different bracings and build. The big jumbo guitars of course project more volume and bass tones, but it’s more than the space that makes a difference. A solid wood sound board will always sound better than laminated or pressed wood.
While people have preferences for the wood used, what truly matters is a solid piece, as that physically projects sound better. As for electrics the body builds and designs have mostly been shown to have little effect on the overall sound, we can remove the body and still get a clean or distorted sound depending on how we change the signal. Aesthetics are important as we need to like the product, but some factors do not matter as much.
Attached to the body is the neck with the fretboard made of materials like rosewood, maple, and ebony. The frets themselves can be made of stainless steel, nickel, and other metal alloys, but for the most part these materials do not have too much effect on the sound. What is more important is that the neck is shaped and angled correctly. A classical acoustic guitar is larger with more space, while a heavy metal electric guitar will be thinner and sleek for shredding.
If your guitar is a steel string acoustic or electric you want to be sure it has a truss rod down the neck. This will help a guitar technician to adjust this rod when changing the curve of the neck. Some relief is necessary to keep the middle part of the guitar from a mute or dead sound, too high of a curve leads to action issues!
The guitar nut is at the top of the fretboard and is where the strings connect from the headstock. It can be made of bone, plastic, various metals, and they all have a little different sound. There is no consensus on which is better, everyone has an opinion! Remember, it will only affect the tone of the open strings, which makes sense as when you press down on a fret you take the nut out of the equation.
One of the biggest sound issues with the nut is if your strings do not fit right! If you ever hear a buzzing or other errant tone it can be poor string fitting in the nut. Sometimes this can be solved by using a graphite pencil mark in the space, other times you will just need a proper fitting nut. If you use higher gauge strings for your guitar, this is a potential problem!
Headstock and Tuning Pegs
Some players claim that a heavy headstock and tuners can change the sound of the guitar, which may be possible, but normally it has very little effect. What is important is that the tuners hold the strings correctly, if they slip you lose tuning and playing becomes impossible. If you have a tuner that slips it will need to be replaced, and if you shred or play intensely you may want locking tuners to help keep those strings in tune through all the pulling and pushing of the bridge!
On an acoustic guitar the saddle is built of similar materials as the nut, using bone or modern plastics. It sits on the bridge and transfers the string vibrations to the top of the soundboard and body. In some cases you will see the saddle has a weird shape, this is to improve the intonation, that way the frets you play sound right! The key to a proper saddle is fitting correctly, if not it may vibrate or dampen the sound. If you ever hear any odd vibrations or buzzes, check the nut and saddle first!
Bridge and Tailpieces
Fixed bridges can be made of wood or metal and are screwed in or glued on. These are the best bridges as the strings need a solid support system at the bottom of the guitar! In an electric guitar we often want to bend the strings more so we use various floating bridges like the Bigsby B3, whammy bar, or the Floyd Rose Tremolo. These allow us to change the pitch and bend the strings faster and farther than regular bends.
These can come at a cost to the overall tone of some of the notes, sometimes guitarists feel the lack of a fixed bridge can lead to less bass. In most cases though, added signal changes can fix these problems. It is a lot easier to fix electric guitar sound issues as the intonation is easier to adjust and parts are often interchangeable. However on an acoustic guitar any bridge changes are major repairs!
This is where the electric guitar gets its sound from, the strings vibrate and electric coils pick up the soundwaves. A single coil is seen on Fender’s and provides a very high and clean tone, but it also has a hum. By doubling these coils, like a Gibson, we can cancel out the hum and then we can play high gain music. These days there are multiple variations of guitars with single and humbucker pickups for different sounds.
The main thing to remember about the sound of pickups and the electric guitar is that a lot of it can be changed with amps and effects units. Even if you only have single coils you can get a higher gain sound out of them, it’s not impossible. One of the biggest sound changers on the electric is simply how we alter the signal after it leaves the guitar.
This includes pots, jacks, shielding, and wires, which may seem insignificant but it isn’t! You want quality electronic parts in both acoustic-electrics and electric guitars, otherwise they will crackle, short, and cause all sorts of pops and dropouts. If you have a guitar that needs new parts it is wise to replace them, as electronic cleaners will eventually gunk up after a few uses. These parts of the guitar do not need to be special, just high quality.
And finally we have one of the most important parts of all, the strings! Do not use dirty, rusty, and gunked up strings! The string is the very heart of the vibration in both acoustic and electric guitars, and they come in a lot of varieties. Always be wary of putting too heavy of gauges on and avoid steel strings on a classical, but otherwise you can experiment with different types of strings. Change them often and keep note of which sounds the best, everyone has their own preferences.
Some parts of the guitar are very important to the final sound, while others are more about looks and feeling. As you play guitar take note of what makes a difference and what doesn’t, one of the best skills to learn is how to set your guitar up. Regardless of your guitars’ build, a proper setup can lead to a great overall tone whether you like to play country or heavy metal!