Getting to Know Your Guitar. Part 1

While certainly not the most glamorous part of playing guitar, learning how your instrument functions is vital towards becoming a successful guitarist.

Ultimate Guitar
Today we're launching a series of free guitar lessons, originally prepared and popularized by Kid Mercury - the developer and owner of website. These lessons cover young guitarists' long way from beginners to quite professional musicians. We hope this series will help you to reach your own desired level, as well as improve all your guitar skills that you already have. So, let's get it started!

Table of Contents:

1. Anatomy of a guitar
2. Basic guitar terminology
3. Guitar strings names
4. How to hold your guitar

1. Anatomy Of A Guitar

While certainly not the most glamorous part of playing guitar, learning how your instrument functions is vital towards becoming a successful guitarist. Once you have an understanding of all the parts of your guitar and how they work together to create sound, you'll be better equipped to manipulate your instrument to get the sound you want. Below is an analysis of the various parts of the guitar


The head's primary purpose is to serve as the location where the tuning knobs can meet the strings to ensure that the strings are properly wound. Resting on the head are extensions of the tuning knobs; these extensions serve as points where the string can be entered into and then wound.

Also known as tuners, tuning knobs are used to tighten and loosen the strings on your guitar. How tightly wound the string is directly correlates its pitch; the tighter the string, the higher the sound of the note it will produce.

Fretboard / Fingerboard

The fretboard is the "star" of the guitar; it is the instruments most glamorous part. The fretboard is broken up into many different sections, with each section being separated by thin metal bars. The term "fret" actually refers to the space between the metal bars. For example, the first fret is the region before the first metal bar. Likewise, the third fret is the region between the second and third metal bars (it is also the first fret with a small circle in it).

The frets serve to all the guitarists to manipulate the note that each string is produced. For example, when you press your fingers down on the first fret of a string, it sounds different than when you play the string open (meaning with no fingers pressing down on a fret). In the forthcoming lessons we'll show how you can manipulate the strings to get the sound you want, and will include examples from classic songs to illustrate how the sounds were derived.

Position Markers

Position markers are the small circles that can be found on certain frets. In a way, they serve as a map of the fretboard. The third fret is the the first fret to have a position marker. The fifth fret has one as well, as does the seventh and the ninth. Note that two position markers are placed at the twelfth fret; that is because notes played on the twelfth fret are exactly one octave above the note of the corresponding string when it is played open. If this is a bit confusing now, don't worry; it will make more sense in the music lessons section.


The body of the guitar is the wide, bulky part of its anatomy. If you are sitting down, it is the part of the guitar that will rest on your thigh. It also is where the sound hole can be found; on electric guitars, it is where the pickups can be found.

Sound Hole/Pickups

The sound hole is, as the name implies, the hole in the acoustic guitar. The pickups, on the other hand, are the rectangular objects that protrude from the body of an electric guitar.

Both pickups and sound holes serve the same function; they make the sound derived from plucking the string louder and richer.

Input Jack

The input jack can only be found on guitars that plug into amplifiers; acoustic guitars that do not plug into an amplifier will not have an input jack. Its purpose is to serve as the entry point for one end of the cable. The other end of the cable can be plugged into amplifiers, pedals, tuners, recording devices, and various other machines used process guitar sounds.

2. Basic Guitar Terminology

Like any field of study, the science and art of playing guitar is filled with its own terminology. In order to play the guitar and interact with other musicians and guitarists, you'll need to have an understanding of key terms. Below are some key terms defined. As always, reply to this thread if you have any questions about guitar terminology. Instructors are here to offer their support.

Guitar Pick

The guitar pick is a flat, triangular device used to play notes.

Guitar String

The string is the lengthy, metallic wire is pulled across the length of the guitar, running from below the sound hole (or pickups) to over top of the head.

The term "note" refers to the striking of a single string to produce a sound. In the video clip below, the guitarist uses a pick to pluck a single string on his guitar. The sound that is generated from the pluck of a single string is referred to as a note. The sound of a note can be manipulated by pressing the strings down on the fretboard, and by playing different strings as well.

Guitar Chord

A chord is simply multiple notes played in unison. In the video clip below, note how the guitarist plays multiple strings in a single strum. The video clip below shows a chord, the E Major chord, being played.

3. Guitar Strings Names

Each of the six strings on your guitar has a name so that you can easily identify it. These strings are identified below. The naming conventions will make more sense once we get to the additional lessons, but for now aim to memorize their names; this information will serve as a stepping stone to getting the sound you want out of your guitar, so it is important to master the material.

1 - the High E String. The high E string is the thinnest string that produces the highest pitched sound. It is the string that is closest to the ground when you are holding your guitar properly. Many guitarists will also refer to this as the 1st string.

2 - the B String. The B string is the string directly above the high E string. It is also referred to as the second string.

3 - the G String. Likewise, this is the string directly above the B string. It is also referred to as the third string.

4 - the D String. Located directly above the G string, the D string is also known as the fourth string.

5 - the A String. By now you may be sensing the pattern. The A string is located above the D string, and is also known as the fifth string.

6 - the Low E String. The final string, the one furthest from the ground when the guitar is held properly, is the low E string. This string produces the same musical note as the high E string, but does so at two octaves lower. Octaves, as well as the distance between notes, will be discussed in greater detail in the music theory section.

The strings have some clear patterns with respect to their naming conventions and their positioning on the guitar: The strings are numbered one through six starting with the bottom string.

Starting from the low E string to the high E string, each string gets thicker and produces a deeper sound. In particular, the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings are referred to as the bass strings, as they produce a deeper, fuller sound.

Here's a video that runs through this same topic.

There you have it - that's pretty much all there is to guitar string names.

4. How To Hold Your Guitar

Being sure to hold your guitar properly is something that is extremely important, but is often overlooked by many guitar students. How you hold the guitar is something that easily becomes habitual, so it is important to learn how to hold the guitar properly from the start; otherwise, bad habits will develop.

Holding the guitar correctly is simple; there are only a few key matters that you need to be aware of. These are outlined below.

Left Hand, Right Hand

The elbow of the hand that you strum with should be at an angle that is slightly less than 90 degrees, so that your hand naturally falls close to the sound hole / pick ups. If you are a right handed guitarist, this will apply to your right hand; your left hand will be the hand that manipulates the fretboard. The opposite is true for left handed guitarists.

Back of Body Against Stomach

Ideally, you should hold your guitar so that the strings are properly aligned, and are directly above one another. If you are doing this correctly, the back of the guitar's body should be resting against your stomach. Holding the guitar in such a position will allow you to maximize the mobility of your fingers across the fretboard.

Bottom of Body on Lap

When seated, the body of the guitar should rest on your lap. You'll notice that both electric and acoustic guitars have curves in their body; the curve is the perfect place where your guitar can meet your lap.

Palm Away From Neck

This third mistake is by far the most common one, and is an easy trap for guitarists to fall into, even after they have become experienced: the palm of the guitar should not touch or rest against the back of the guitar's fretboard. Your thumb can push against the back of the neck - this often makes pushing the strings down easier - but the palm should not "hug" the neck. Hugging the neck can substantially limit the guitarist's mobility up and down the fretboard.

ActoGuitar's purpose is to help people learn to play guitar, and to help experienced guitarists with professional ambitions reach their aspirations. Be sure to check out ActoGuitar website at this location.

To be continued...

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I picked up an electric guitar for the first time ever today. This lesson was great for me. I'm a wimp, but my finger tips hurt already. Thank you for the lesson!
    Recommended Links There are no recommended links at this time. input device Definition A {peripheral} used to transfer data from the outside world into a computer system. Some input devices are operated directly by the user. A guitar is an input device, and the jack used is the input jack of an input device, despite the fct that is outputting information.
    Input means sound is coming in not that your putting somthing into it. I would call it the output
    Rock Pixie
    God... it doesnt mater whether its input or output- we all know what he's talkin about right?! anyway.. gr8 lesson thanx XX
    "the palm of the guitar should not touch or rest against the back of the guitar's fretboard." Not bashing, but please fix this. I got confused. It should say "the palm of your hand" i'm pretty sure.
    Thanks man, it's only my 2nd day and I was playing chords one string at a time before this :S
    Thanks man, it's only my 2nd day and I was playing chords one string at a time before this :S
    good but I think most of it was sort of self- explanatory but i guess some beginners could make good use of it. Keep it up.
    HEY THIS IS GOOD FOR BEGINNERS LIKE ME! I learned a lot! thanks guys! i always reccomend this site to my peers who are also interested with playing guitar. Thank you UG and God bless always! =)
    um, sorry for the wrong spelling up there... i was typing too fast.. maybe i was so exited.. anway, thanks UG!
    good exept for guitars have output jacks not input jacks. u dont put sound into it... sound goes out. good 4 nubes.
    Checked. And don't post positions under any circumstances, it'll earn you an instant warning.
    fas11030 wrote: they're called inlays not position markers
    Not necessarily. Inlays can be position markers, as well. But position markers aren't always inlays. It all depends on the style of the position marker. I usually refer to the designs as inlays if they're made of mother of pearl, or can be considered art.
    good exept for guitars have output jacks not input jacks. u dont put sound into it... sound goes out. good 4 nubes.
    Not really. They are called input jacks because you insert the cord that runs between your amp and the guitar into it, thus being an input jack. Ive never in my 5 years of playing guitar ever heard anyone refer to that jack as an output jack
    Hi, I'm still quite confused with the way the strings are numbered. Is the bottom string labeled as string 1 or 6? I've been going around and people refer to them differently.
    Yeah, its an input jack. Anyway, good lesson... Really beneficial for newbies.. Lol, it even has diagrams and videos. How cool is that? Haha..
    as a newbie...I have to say thanks! All of these articles have really helped me out! And personally, I don't htink its a big deal if there's minor mistakes...different ppl call things by different names. Just depends on where you're from! And if it's wrong we'll figure it out eventually!! I mean we are newbies!
    Great article. Your chord definition is a bit diffuse. A chord is three or more notes sounded together.
    Actully, it is an input jack the current goes throught your guitar and plus you insert the jack into your guitar, therefore it is an input. Im not bashing anyone just helping you out, so dont get angry.
    Good, wish i had stuff like this when i started out... the vids make it alot easier for a newbie to get the idea before trying it out... exellent, keep it up...
    God dammit I'm an advanced player whos palm "hugs" the back of the fretboard !