I know you’re probably eager to get started, but in this lesson, we’re not going to be playing the guitar just yet.
Don’t worry – this is not some kind of weird Mr. Miyagi thing – we just need to cover a few basics before we’re ready to start working on technique.
So, sit back, grab a cup of tea or coffee if you like, and we’ll breeze right through our first lesson.
3 Types of Guitars
There are many types of guitars out there, but for the intents and purposes of this lesson, there are only three types:
- Steel-stringed acoustic guitar. This is your typical acoustic guitar. It comes with steel strings, and usually a pickguard around the sound hole too.
- Nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. The main difference between a nylon-stringed instrument and steel-stringed instrument is the strings themselves (they have a softer feel to them). But another characteristic of a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar is that it usually has a wider neck.
- Electric guitar. Most electric guitars do not come with sound holes and instead come with what are known as pickups. Electric guitars usually come with lighter strings than acoustic guitars and must be plugged in (if you want to unlock their full potential).
If you own a guitar already, there’s a good chance you own one of the above. They’re all a little different, and while we won’t be going in-depth now, we will be looking at some of the other differences momentarily.
Next, we need to look at…
Basic Guitar Anatomy
A guitar is made up of different parts, and each part has a name. Knowing these names is helpful when describing a specific part of a guitar.
Here is a crash course in guitar anatomy (you don’t need to know everything in the image yet – I cover what matters most below):
- Head / headstock. Often features the branding or logo of the guitar maker. String posts, and sometimes string trees are attached to the head of the guitar as well.
- Tuners / tuning keys / machine heads. Attached to the headstock. These are manipulated to tune the guitar. We won’t be looking at how to tune a guitar until later!
- Nut. Between the headstock and the neck exists a piece of plastic, bone, brass, or graphite (often white in color, but sometimes not) with string grooves in it. This is the nut.
- Neck. The neck of the guitar is where much of the action happens. The flat side of the neck is called the fingerboard.
- Frets / fret wires. Small strips of metal (made of nickel, copper, and small amounts of lead, zinc, and cadmium) appear at certain intervals on the fingerboard. These are your frets.
- Body. The body of the guitar is the largest section of the instrument. Sometimes thin, sometimes thick, it plays a big role in the sound of a guitar (especially with acoustic instruments).
- Sound hole. Virtually every acoustic guitar comes with a sound hole. Careful not to drop your picks / plectrums in there! Most electric guitars do not come with sound holes.
- Pickups. Instead of sound holes, electric guitars have pickups. These are what make it possible for you to plug your electric guitar into an amplifier and produce a sound. Many modern day acoustic guitars also come with pickups (in which case they’re considered acoustic-electric guitars).
- Strings. Your guitar should have six strings.
- Bridge. The bridge plays a similar role to the tuners / tuning keys / machine heads found on the head stock. It’s used to hold the strings in place on the other end of the guitar. Sometimes, electric guitars will have a stop tailpiece as well.
It’s okay if this doesn’t all sink in right now. What’s important is you begin referring to each section of the guitar by its name. As you keep practicing, it will only be a matter of time before you remember it all.
Pro tip: Playing the guitar, or learning an instrument in general, is all about repetition. So, get used to repeating a lot, especially if you want to keep improving as a guitarist.
The 6 Strings of a Guitar
If you have a “standard” guitar, it should have six strings. If it has fewer, it probably means you need to go to the local guitar store, buy the appropriate string or strings, and have them installed. Tuning and replacing strings is not covered in this lesson, but we’ll get there.
I follow a naming and numbering convention for each string that’s important to remember.
- “E,” “E string,” “low E string,” “sixth string,” or simply “6.” This is the thickest string on your guitar.
- “A,” “A string,” “fifth string,” or “5.”
- “D,” “D string,” “fourth string,” or “4.”
- “G,” “G string,” “third string,” or “3.”
- “B,” “B string,” “second string,” or “2.”
- “E,” “E string,” “high E string,” “first string,” or “1.” This is the thinnest string on your guitar.
Observation: The sixth and first strings are both called E. To differentiate, say “low E” or “high E.”
That’s it for today! Should be a quick study, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know.