Understanding the Guitar and How it Works

You see guitars being played everywhere, everyday. You hear it on the radio, you see them in the parks, you might even have friends that come over and jam on them. An acoustic guitar works a bit different than an electric guitar. To begin to understand how a guitar works we’ll start with the one that’s been along longer-the acoustic guitar.

The acoustic guitar is a favorite for kids and adults to pick up to learn to play. It is popular for a lot of reasons. It’s a good accompaniment, it can be played solo so you don’t have to have anyone else around, and it goes along with today’s music. And when you think today’s music, guitar can go along with any of today’s music. It is popular with rock, pop, easy listening, classical, country, flamenco and just about any other type of music you can think of.

The acoustic guitar has been around for hundreds of years. It is known to date back at least to the 1500’s but the guitar back then is just a bit different than the guitar we play today. Of course with the addition of a little thing called electricity there is a whole different side of the sound of guitar.
Speaking of which how does a guitar make its music? What do all the parts do to make it sound the way that it sounds? These are questions that can be answered, but the simple point for now is that they all work together to make pretty music.

Guitars are built a certain way to resonate sound so that you can hear it after you strum on the strings. And before you can get good at playing your guitar you should understand how it’s made, what it does and how it does it.

Parts of the Guitar

So let’s start by understanding all the parts of the guitar. There are three main sections of the guitar. First there is the obvious hollow body, the neck (on which are the frets), and the head which holds the tuning pegs.

The most critical piece of the guitar is the soundboard which is located on the front of the body. The sound hole is located on the soundboard. On most guitars the sound hole is circular.

Next you have the bridge. The bridge is the piece on which the six strings are attached. Located on the bridge is a normally plastic piece called the saddle. The saddle has six notches in it by which each of the strings slip in to separate them and direct them toward the tuning pegs on the other end of the guitar.

Almost every body of all guitars has an indentation. It resembles a waist. This curvature is meant to hold the guitar more easily on your knee when you are sitting. On either side of the waist the guitar is wider, these two widening are the bouts. The upper bout is connected to the neck and the lower bout with the bridge.

Depending on the size of the guitar (bout sizes, waist size etc) the sound or tone that comes out of the guitar will be different. This is why no two guitars sound totally the same in their tone.

The neck has a face. The face is where you see the frets. These frets combined make up the fingerboard. A fret is usually a metal piece imbedded into the fingerboard at very specific measurements.

At the end of the neck, at the head is another piece called a nut, similar to the saddle at the other end, it contains grooves that the strings slide into again. The string then passes over the nut and then gets strung into the tuning heads. You use the tuning heads to tune up or down your string sound.

Why Do Guitars Have Strings and Frets

Obviously the main way that the guitar plays sound is by the strings vibrating. The vibrations they cause a tone. The way you come up with the tones is by the way that you finger the strings and the tension that you cause on the strings. The tension is caused a few different ways.

Tension causes a sound frequency and the frequency is changed based on the length of the string (such as where you have your finger place-this lengthens or shortens the length of the string), the amount of tension on the string, the string weight that you have on your guitar as well as the string tension on the guitar.

Obviously string weight is different as you go from the high E to the low E on the six strings. The weight gets heavier as you get closer to the bass E. The sound is changed based on the thickness of these strings and is a primary contributor to the sound that is made on the guitar.

In the simplest of explanations. Most guitar scale lengths (the measurement of the string between the saddle and the nut) average 24 to 26 inches. When you press anywhere on a string you change that length of string and hence the sound tone changes with it.

Frets are spaces out based on a mathematical formula (which I am not going into in this article) to give the right frequency pitch for the sound of the scale that is suppose to emit when that particular fret is pressed down. In this manner, the fret distances move up the guitar and as the string sound gets higher (putting a finger on the string at each fret as you move up the finger board).

Stringing and Tuning the Guitar

When you are ready to go with your guitar you will need to understand how to string and tune it. All strings start at the bridge, get placed into the groove at the saddle is pulled along to the nut, put back into the grove for the appropriate indentation and then put into the appropriate tuning peg. When you are tuning it make sure that you are twisting the tuning peg the right direction which is the string on the inside of the tuning peg spindle, not the outside.

The good thing about tuning a guitar is that you can self tune. Although it is better to tune to a piano or some other device, if worse comes to worse you can self tune.

The 6th string or the low E is always the starting point. Tune this string to an E on piano (preferable the E below middle C on the piano). Once you have the string tuned you are ready for the rest of the guitars. The sound on the 5th fret / 6th string is the same sound as an open 5th string. So you can tune the open A string to the covered 6th string. Same with the 5th string to 4th string and 4th string to 3rd string. When you get ready to tune up the 2nd string, the appropriate 3rd string cover changes to the 4th fret verses the 5th fret on all other stings. So its 3rd string 4th fret equals open 2nd string. And then on the 2nd string you go back to 2nd string 5th fret to open 1st string. This is the pattern that you use when you sting up the guitar.

Guitar Basics

Once you understand the basics of how the guitar works you will have a better shot to understand what it is that you are doing to make it sound the way that it sounds. Having this knowledge is going to help you in playing from a point of intelligence rather than a point of ignorance. You will be able to understand better why something might sound the way that it does and either make corrections or know that it is right.

The guitar parts that you need to be most familiar with are the tuning pegs, the saddle, the nut, the fingerboard, frets, body, sound hole and sound board. You should make sure that you know the basic function of all of these so that you can play with clarity of what each one does for you when you are playing your songs.

Knowing how to string your guitar is a basic chore that you not only need to know how to do, but you need to know how to do right. You will need to know how to do this quickly as you will break strings and you will not want them to stop you from moving forward. And learning how to tune the guitar before, after and during each time you pick up the guitar is something that if you do not excel in, you will not have any luck learning to play because you will get too frustrated playing an out of tune guitar.

Work on learning these basics first. They are your building blocks and understanding how your guitar works, what makes the sound, how to string it and how to tune it are the basics you should start to learn first.