Guitar Basics

Welcome to lesson 1.  If you are just beginning, this should start you out in the right direction.  If you are familiar with these concepts read them over again and maybe you learn something new.  Here we go. Lets jump right in.


The major parts of the electric guitar are shown and described below.


^click to enlarge^

Head and tuning pegs

Most electric guitars have 6 tuning pegs located on the same side of the headstock (some however have 3 on each side of the head). Turn the pegs to tune the guitar. Turning the pegs either tighten or loosen the strings resulting in a higher or lower pitched tone.


The Nut

The nut is designed to lead the strings  from the fret board to the tuning pegs through the slots in the nut. It is usually made of plastic, brass, bone or graphite.


Many guitarists prefer a nut made of bone as they claim it produces the best sound. In any case, if you use the vibrato arm a lot or play your  guitar in a rough way, a nut made out of a low friction material would be preferred as it wouldn’t cause your strings to “snap at the nut” so frequently.


Guitar neck and Fret board

The guitar neck itself is most commonly made out of rosewood or maple or variations of those types of wood. Necks can also be made out of ebony or mahogany.

Some players choose their guitar necks carefully as it is a factor in the overall sound of the guitar.

The neck is either bolted to the guitar body or made as one part with the guitar body.


The fret board on this guitar type consists of fret wires place into the guitar’s neck. Between these wires are the frets where you place your fingers. A standard electric guitar usually has 21-24 frets. Each fret represents one semitone so a fret board with 24 frets is spanning 2 octaves (24 semitones).

The Pickups and the Pickup Selector Switch

You can think of the pick ups as microphones on your electric guitar. Most electric guitars have 2-3 pickups and their placement is important. Located close to the neck the pickup will produce a soft rounded sound, while located close to the bridge it will produce a sharper, more pointy sound.


When speaking of electric guitars and pickups we are usually talking about magnetic pickups, as they use magnets to convert the vibration of the string into an electric signal, and these can be divided into 2 main types: The Humbucker (Double-coil) and the single coil pickup. Double-coil pickups are basically single coil pickups mounted side by side and the sound they pick up is “integrated” through to the output.


Experimenting with pickup placement on the guitar can produce some interesting variations in the sound.


The pickup selector switch toggles between the pickups (or combination of pickups) the guitar uses to pick up the sound.


The picture above displays single coil pickups.


The bridge and the vibrato arm

The bridge can be divided into 2 main types: Tremolo and non-tremolo (hard tail) bridges. The tremolo bridge has an extension arm (a.k.a. vibrato arm) which the player can push (and in some cases pull) to decrease or increase the string tension causing a tremolo or vibrato effect in the sound.


The Body and pick-guard

The guitar body is commonly made of maple, mahogany or ash wood and comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The choice of wood here will also be a contributing factor to the overall sound of the guitar.


The white part of the guitar body in the picture above is the pick guard. It is there to protect the wood finish of the guitar body from being struck or scraped by the pick when picking the strings.


Volume and tone controls

The volume control adjusts the volume (big surprise!! ;-)) on the signal picked up by the pickups.

The tone controls adjusts the treble on the sound. There are usually 2 or more tone controls each referring to the pickup selected with the pickup selector switch.


Output Jack

A cable with a 1/4″ male jack plug in both ends is used to plug the guitar into an amplifier or a mixing unit.



Standard tuning is the tuning that is most common for guitars(hence the name).  To have your guitar tuned to standard tuning, the first string (smallest gauge) should be tuned to E, the 2nd to B, the 3rd to G, the 4th to D, the 5th to A, and the 6th to E.  One easy way to tune is to use this website. Click on a string on the website and turn the tuning peg on your guitar for that string until the notes sound the same.  If you do not have access that website you can tune your guitar relative to itself.  Place your finger on the 5th fret, 6th string (biggest gauge) and pluck the string.  Now pluck the open(no fret) 5th string. The two should sound the same. If they don’t tune the 5th string until they do. Next play the 5th string at the 5th fret. Tune the open 4th string to it. Next play the 4th string at the 5th fret. Tune the open 3rd string to it. Next play the 3rd string at the 4th fret. Tune the open 2nd string to it. Finally tune the open 1st string to the 2nd string at the 5th fret. Then your done.


Extend you hand out in front of you with your palm facing up.  Keep you hand relaxed and slowly turn your hand over.  Your thumb and index finger should fall together.  This is the natural place for your pick to be.


One form of musical notation for the guitar is called a tabulature.  It is almost like a short-hand form of notation instead of using a musical staff.  Instead of showing notes on a staff, a tab shows the string and fret you should play.  Many sites have tabs for almost any song you will ever want to play.  But first you must learn how to read and understand this form of notation.  A sample tab is shown below.

e———————————————————     <–1st string                     
E———————————————————     <–6th string (biggest gauge)

 Each of the 6th strings have a correponding line.  The numbers represent the frets you should play.  You read from left to right.  So in this example, you should play the 5th string, 5 fret then the 5th string 7th fret, then the   4th string 5th fret, then the 4th string 7th fret, etc.  The last thing you would play would be the 7th fret on the 5th string and the 4th string at the same time. Note-the tab does not show the rythym you should play. To know this you must either listen to the song to find out, find a tab with the rythym notated above it(q for quarter note, e for eighth note, etc.) or find a combination staff and tab like those in PowerTab and GuitarPro(see below). 


I recommend that you get some guitar software.  Many sites offer free tabs of songs using two excellent software applications. Powertab is freeware and can be downloaded for no cost.  GuitarPro costs $50 one time and you get free updates for as long as you want. They are somewhat similar although PowerTab is though of as simpler to use, with less features, and GuitarPro is though of as hard to use, with more features.  If you don’t want to spend to money PowerTab should do just fine.

If you have any questions, email me at

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One Response

  1. Very well written, I enjoyed reading this very much!

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