Anatomy Of An Acoustic Guitar: The Ultimate Guide

Playing an instrument isn’t just about learning techniques, notes, and songs, it’s also about understanding the instrument in your hand and how it was made. This is nowhere more true than with the acoustic guitar.

You may think that learning guitar anatomy might be outdated, but knowing each individual part, and how they come together to make a whole, allows you to appreciate both the engineering and craftsmanship of a guitar.

Anatomy of an Acoustic Guitar - The Ultimate Guide

Whether you’ve been a lifelong guitarist, or you’re just starting off with the instrument, this guide explores every part of the guitar, from the tip to the toe, including what they do, and what they’re made of.

Components Of An Acoustic Guitar


acoutic guitar Headstock

The headstock is situated at the top of the guitar, and it’s primary function is to house the turning pegs which both hold and tune the guitar strings.

Unlike electric guitars – which have a variety of different configurations when it comes to the position of the turning pegs – the majority of acoustic guitars have a symmetrical 3 + 3 headstock.

This means that there are three turning pegs on the top, and three on the bottom.

A good headstock will also keep a guitar balanced. If one isn’t made well, then it is a neck-dive nightmare just waiting to happen.

The headstock is also the area of the guitar where brands will put their logos, and it has always been something of a style statement.

For instance, Gibson, Guild, and Seagull are amongst some of the brands that have their own distinct headstock design which makes them instantly recognizable.

Headstocks are most commonly made with laminate or solid wood.

Tuning Pegs

Also referred to as the machine heads, tuning pegs are usually placed three per side on the headstock. On acoustic guitars, guitar strings are wrapped around the face of the headstock.

From there, the tuning pegs are then used to tune the strings either up or down. Some tuning pegs are better than others, which is usually dependent on build quality.

Acoustic guitars have more options in comparison to electric guitars when it comes to the mechanics of the tuning pegs, as there are two different orientations: closed back, and open back.

Closed back machine heads are more common, but some guitar manufacturers still opt for an open backed design, which is more reminiscent of older, classic acoustic guitars.

Vintage guitars also tend to have rare tuning peg positions, as they’re placed perpendicular to the headstock, so that the pegs extend through which allows for a naturally arcing string-wind.

The material of tuning pegs can vary widely, however, the most common material is stainless steel. Some designs like to use brass for more tone. Plastic also used to be a pretty common material, but now it’s used for cheap children’s guitars.


The nut is a plastic or bone strip which has six grooves/notches that are placed between the headstock and neck of the guitar. As the strings pass through the nut, it sets the vibrating length for open strings and stops them from vibrating into the headstock.

Although it’s one of the smallest components of an acoustic guitar, it’s importance is easily overlooked.

The shape and size of the nut will vary depending on the design of your guitar, and the dimensions can make a massive difference in the tone and playability. Even just a few millimeters difference can drastically change how a guitar feels and how it plays.

Depending on the size of your hand and how you prefer to play, you may want a smaller or wider nut. Larger nuts have more space, which is better for fingerpicking styles.

As well as size, the material of the nut matters a lot. Animal bone was traditionally the only option used for nuts, as it offered a rich and full tone.

However, as there has been a lot of advancement in synthetic materials, this means that there is a much wider range of materials like nubone, micarta, tusq and plastic. Although bone and ivory may still be used, manufacturers prefer to use synthetic bone or ivory.

If you’re buying a new guitar, then the designers and crafters will have used shape and size specifications for optimal performance. But if you’re looking to create or install your own DIY nut upgrade, make sure you do a lot of research on size and spacing, so that you can get the most out of your instrument.


acoustic guitar neck

The neck of the guitar is not the fretboard – these are two separate parts. However, the neck of the guitar is what the fretboard sits on, and is made with a long piece of wood to reinforce the fretboard.

Traditionally, the neck of the guitar is made from a single piece of wood, which is then attached to the body of the guitar using a dovetail joint.

Today, however, there are several varieties of neck and different crafting techniques which are dependent on cost, availability, and customer preference.

For instance, some guitars have much wider necks, whilst others use a slim design. You are also able to replace an acoustic guitar neck if it has been damaged beyond repair. Unless you possess the skills to do it yourself, this process is done best by a guitar engineer.

There are several different kinds of woods that are used to craft guitar necks, these include: mahogany, maple, and walnut, which are amongst some of the more popular choices.


The fretboard is a long, thin strip of wood which sits on the neck of the guitar between the nut and the soundhole. The guitar strings run along the fretboard, and as you press them down against it, it will alter the vibrating length of the string which will change the pitch of the note.

On the fretboard you will find frets, fret bars, and inlays (which we’ll get to soon). The most common materials used to make fretboards are rosewood, maple, and ebony, amongst many other hardwoods.

Truss Rod

All modern acoustic guitars are fitted with something called a truss rod/neck reinforcement. It’s main function is to counteract the string tension.

Depending on the type of truss rod, it can also be used to make adjustments that will fix neck-warp caused by humidity or temperature change. It can also be used to raise or lower the string action.

Two-way truss rods are far more adjustable, and can fix back-bow and up-bow warping.

A neck reinforcement will keep the neck straight, but it is not the same thing as an adjustable truss rod. A two-way truss rod is the most ideal, so when you’re buying an acoustic guitar look for the term “adjustable.”


acoustic guitar fretbar

The fretboard is divided into smaller parts which are known as frets. These frets are separated by metal strips known as fret wires or fret bars, and these represent semitones. If you press a string against the fret bar whilst playing, it reduces the vibrating length of the string which will alter the pitch.

Traditional acoustic guitars – which don’t have a cutaway body – have either 19 or 21 frets. Only 14 of these frets are easily accessible.


Guitar inlays (or fret markers) are dots/positional markers which are placed on frets 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 of the fretboard, and sometimes even on the neck of the guitar. Not all guitars come with inlays, but they can be easily added or removed.

In terms of function, inlays are a visual cue which help players quickly identify the position of their fretting hand. Besides that, inlays are more for aesthetic purposes, and acoustic guitars often look incomplete without them.


Most acoustic guitars have a round sound hole, which is placed under the strings, and facilitates the “air” release when you play notes and chords. The air refers to the internal resonance which is created in the hollow chamber.

The size of the soundhole will vary depending on the guitar you have. It is based on models, and the type of guitar you are using, such as Jazz or Selmer guitars.

Some guitar manufacturers like McPherson, Ovation, and Taylor prefer to use f-shaped holes, or off-center or ported soundholes.


The soundboard is the official name for the face or top of a guitar. It is short for sounding board, and arguably plays the most important role when it comes to producing tone. When you hit a string, it will vibrate. The vibration will then move through the bridge and into the soundboard.

Because it’s a major component for tone and sound quality, a solid-top is far better than an all-laminate guitar. The most common materials used to craft soundboards are laminate, mahogany, cedar, and spruce.


Bracing is a lattice of wood strips which can be found on the underside of the soundboard (inside the guitar) which gives it more structural integrity.

Bracing is typically constructed using a strong, but lightweight timber which is placed in a specific pattern to keep the soundboard from breaking from the string tension.

Different bracing patterns can actually influence the sound of your instrument. X-bracing, which was developed by C.F. Martin & CO, is one of the earliest bracing patterns and it is still commonly used today.


acoustic guitar Pickguard

Like inlays, a pickguard is both functional and aesthetic. It was first introduced to acoustic guitar designs in the 1920s, with Martin being the first guitar manufacturer to introduce them.

In terms of functionality, a pickguard is used to prevent scratches from occurring on the soundboard which can ruin the guitar finish. Without a pickguard, a guitar pick can flick against the wood when aggressively strumming, which will cause scratches.

Most pickguards are made using a 2mm sheet of pearloid or plastic, which is stuck to the top of a guitar using adhesive. Over time a pickguard can wear out, but it can be taken to a repair shop to be replaced.

There are two different types of pickguards. The first is a teardrop shape which is attached to the soundboard using an adhesive. It is also the most common type of pickguard.

The second, however, is known as a floating pickguard which is typically found on acoustic archtops like the Fender Tim Arstrong Hellcat or the Gibson L-1.

As a pickguard is also an aesthetic part of a guitar, many guitar brands have altered their designs so that they have their own visually distinct instruments.

Alternatively, some brands have even decided to ditch the pickguard in their designs. However, the most common materials which are used to make pickguards are pearloid (mother-of-pearl), acrylic, or plastic.


The body of a guitar refers to the top, back, and sides. These three elements are what determines the shape of the body. The back and sides are typically made using laminate or solid wood, and like the soundboard, they play a major role in the tone of a guitar.

For instance, if a guitar has a solid wood back and sides, it is a better sounding guitar compared to laminate counterparts. However, solid wood guitars are generally more expensive, as they have a better build quality.

The body of a guitar is typically made using rosewood, mahogany, or laminate.


The Rosette – which is French for little rose – is an ornamental ring which lines the edges of the soundhole. The Rosette is often thought of as an ornamental/aesthetic feature of an acoustic guitar, however, it actually has a practical purpose.

A Rosette actually provides some structural integrity to the soundhole, and helps prevent any cracks and chipping from forming around the edges.

With that being said, manufacturers will also use unique Rosette designs which makes their instruments more distinguishable.


Although strings aren’t technically part of a guitar, as they can be removed and replaced, they are the most important accessory, so they definitely deserve a mention.

Acoustic guitars use either metal strings or nylon strings (classical guitars). There are various different metal strings available, including bronze, steel, nickel, and phosphor. Strings are also available in a range of different gauges from light to heavy.

Strap Buttons

acoustic guitar Strap Buttons

Some acoustic guitars come with strap buttons (or a strap pin), which are metal or wooden pegs that are placed on the body to allow you to hook a guitar strap to your guitar. If you don’t have one, they can be easily installed or removed, depending on your preference.


The bridge is a strip of either carved wood or laminate which has deep holes that bridge pegs can be slotted into. The bridge is glued to the soundboard, a few inches away from the soundhole.

The main function of the bridge is to hold the string in place at the bottom of the guitar, and to transfer the string vibrations.

The height and material of a bridge can affect the sound of a guitar. Different materials can actually impact the tone and resonance, and although it has a minor effect, it’s still worth mentioning.

Bridges are most commonly made using either rosewood or ebony. However, maple and mahogany are more cost-effective substitutes.

Bridge Pins

As aforementioned, bridge pins slot into the bridge, and their main function is to secure the end of the string so that it remains firmly in place. A bridge pin will also carry the sound/vibration of a string into the soundboard.

As the material of a bridge can affect the tone and volume of a guitar, high-quality ebony bridge pins are considered the best type of bridge pins to use. However, beginner and immediate acoustic guitars usually have plastic bridge pins.

Ebony pins are known to improve volume and clarity. But there are lots of materials that you can experiment with, as each has a distinct capacity to change your tone towards more bass or treble.

The most common materials used to make bridge pins are ebony (wood), ivory, bone, horn, plastic, and other synthetic materials.


The saddle can be found on the notch of the bridge, and is a thin strip of plastic or bone. As it sits in the strings, it can also influence the tone and action of the strings.

It can also be filed down to either raise or lower the string action, however, this process needs precise measurements. When you are researching acoustic guitars to buy, if you see the term “compensated saddle”, this means that the saddle is angled for better intonation (accuracy of pitch).


The main function of binding is to hide the end grain and give an extra layer of protection to the edges of the soundboard. However, it is mostly considered a cosmetic addition. Guitars that are made with softer tonewoods like cedar will have binding, but mahogany guitars will often ignore this process.

Must-Have Guitar Accessories

guitar capo

Although strings are an accessory themselves, there are few must-have accessories that you need to make your playing and maintenance experience better.

String Cutter And Winder

Replacing the strings on your guitar can be a tricky process, which is why most guitarists will use a string cutter and winder for the sake of convenience.

With a string cutter you are able to cut your strings in a matter of seconds, which not only makes them easier to remove, but means that you can easily adjust the length of your strings.

If you don’t cut down the strings before you restring your guitar, it will take a long time to adjust the tuning pegs. Similarly, a string winder will make winding your strings as easy as can be.

Luckily, you can purchase these as a 2-in-1 product, and they’re widely available online. We recommend this D’Addario Pro string Winder and Cutter which is available on amazon.

You can also buy the two separately, which can make it easier to use both. For a string cutter, we recommend this MusicNomad Cutter, as it’s perfect for cutting all string types and has an ergonomic non-slip grip.

For the winder, try using this Dunlop winder from Amazon. Not only is it a great value for money, but it helps you wind the tuning pegs in seconds, and can also help you remove the bridge pins.


A capo is something you can’t live without, especially as a beginner when you only know a limited number of chords. The capo is placed on a specific fret, and can help you effortlessly transpose a song.

For the best effects, it’s worth spending a little extra on a high quality capo. We recommend this Wingo Capo, which is made from rosewood, and is extremely reliable.

Remember to remove the capo from the neck of your guitar after you’ve finished using it, as it can put the neck and fretboard under a lot of stress if left on for substantial periods of time.

Guitar Stand

A guitar stand is great for performers, but it can also be used to protect your guitar against falling over or being damaged when it’s not in use. Check out this Amazon Basics Guitar Stand, which folds away for easy storage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are The Different Styles Of Ccoustic Guitar And What Do They Mean?

There is a wide catalog of acoustic guitar body designs which have been developed over generations of guitar engineers and crafters. There are three key elements which affect the style of a guitar: shapes, construction, and wood.

As an acoustic guitar has something known as a “resonant chamber”, the size and dimensions of the shape of the body can have a drastic effect on the sound projection of a guitar.

There are a number of different styles and types of acoustic guitar, but some of the most common categories are:

  • Dreadnought: The dreadnought is the most iconic acoustic guitar shape, which has a large shoulder and a large lower-end on the body of a guitar. These are all round guitars that are extremely versatile.
  • Grand Auditorium: The grand auditorium takes the best features of a dreadnought, but modernizes it. The waist of the body is narrowed slightly, and the fretboard is enhanced by the addition of a cutaway.
  • Concert: The concert is a mid-19th Century design, which has a mid-sized body that champions EQ in the mid and upper ranges. This makes it ideal for unplugged sessions.
  • Orchestra: The orchestra is an almost shrunken dreadnought style. However, it offers results in maneuverability, and gives a brighter tone which is perfect for finger-picking playing styles.
  • Jumbo: This is a pretty self-explanatory style. The body of a jumbo is basically a larger version of the dreadnought, and the extra space allows you to produce bigger sounds.
  • Parlor: The parlor is a small but bold guitar style. They’re best known for projecting mid-range tones.
  • Mini: These are compact guitars which are around ¾ of the size of a regular guitar. These are perfect for mobility or smaller players.

What Is The Difference Between Acoustic Guitar And Electric Guitar Design?

Although acoustic and electric guitars both share the same inherent design, the main difference between the two is the anatomy. This is because electric guitars generally have a solid body, which means that they have no chamber (hollow inside), whereas acoustic guitars have a chambered body.

As electric guitars don’t have a soundhole or a body chamber, they have a paltry unplugged volume, which means that they rely on pickups or electronics for amplification. Despite this difference, they generally have the same playing techniques.

What Are The Most Common Materials Used To Make Acoustic Guitars?

The best acoustic guitars are made from wood. The most common woods that are used to construct the body and the neck of a guitar are mahogany, maple, ash, basswood, walnut, spruce, holly, poplar, alder and agathis.

There are also a few different exotic tonewoods that are used. These are rosewood, koa, lacewood, zebrawood, koruna, padouk, bubinga, and wenge.

There are three reasons as to why wood is the best material to use. These reasons are that:

  • Wood resonates better
  • It improves tone with age
  • It looks good

Although what constitutes a great sounding and looking guitar can come down to personal preference. There is a general consensus on what the best tonewoods for acoustic guitar are. Most acoustic guitars are made from spruce, rosewood, or mahogany.

Final Thoughts

The acoustic guitar is an ever-evolving instrument, and guitar engineers are constantly seeking ways to create better sounding and better quality guitars.

This is nowhere more evident when comparing different brands and models of guitars, as each manufacturer is trying to refine body shapes and components that will set their designs apart from their competitors.

Something as little as a nut or bridge can have such an impact on the tone and sound of your instrument, that each part is as important as the next. With that being said, there is nothing more versatile than the acoustic guitar.

There are so many different styles, designs, and materials that are used that no two guitars are the same. So, if you are looking to purchase a new guitar, or want to customize your own, make sure that you choose one which fits your preferred playing style.

Andrew Patterson
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