Teach Yourself Guitar. Part Two - Working With Your Instrument

Part two, looking at the instrument itself in detail, with reference to more information around the website.

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Hello. Welcome back to the 'Teach Yourself Guitar' series. First, I must apologise for a change in the scheduled lineup. I was planning out the articles while on a train, which looked and felt suspiciously like a bus, to Liverpool. When examining the planned content, I realised that the second and third articles I had originally planned were not only unbalanced, but also rather abstract. So, after a little restructuring, part three became part two and vice versa. Next, a word on the upcoming article. I have tried to include as much information as possible on the guitar itself. This means that some information, particularly on intonation and the truss rod, may be best to learn, but not to use as an absolute beginner. Furthermore, some of the information integral to this article has already been produced, quite perfectly, in other articles. So, to advertise the work of my fellow writers, to avoid plagiurism and to save me a job, I have done a short overview and provided a link. In these instances, I firmly believe that any description I provide would be pathetic in comparison to the descriptions I will be linking to. My links will direct to three columns, two lessons and a forum thread. I will not be directing to my article, as it is about to begin right here. Thank you for all the comments and ratings I recieved on the last article. I very much look forward to those I recieve here.

Teach Yourself Guitar by Tom Colohue

Part Two: Working With Your Instrument Guitar Layout A guitar is a delicate and intricate instrument comprised of many components. In order to understand many of the lessons and forum threads on this website, you'll need to know the names of each part of your guitar. Now, not all guitars are the same. In order to draw sales, a guitar must have a defining characteristic. This is something that makes it unique and seperates it from the competition. A particular look and style is one of the easiest ways to achieve this. There are two sources on the layout of the guitar that I am going to link to. For an examination of the components present, arranged in different types of guitar, read this forum thread. Also, for in-depth descriptions of each individual component, read this Ultimate Guide article. Learning about your instrument is an integral part of being a guitarist. If you know what something is, you're more likely to understand how it works and how to use it. How Does A Guitar Make Sound When a string is played, either with a finger or a pick, it begins to vibrate, which is interpreted by the ear as sound. Different sounds are created by the different wavelengths of the vibrations. A thicker string provides a wider wavelength and a lower frequency. A thinner string provides the opposite. You can stop the sound by stopping the vibration. The easiest way to do this is to put your finger on the vibrating string, leaving it no room for movement. Holding Your Guitar Holding your guitar correctly is very important. You need to be relaxed and calm, whilst also being comfortable with the size and weight of the guitar. Whenever you play guitar, you want to make sure it's as effortless as possible. For and image and a description, back to the Ultimate Guide with you. Holding A Pick A pick is helpful, due to its small amount of surface area, in ensuring that, when one or more strings are played, a clear, concise sound comes out. The angle of the pick, both horizontally and vertically, affects the amount of energy required per picking motion and also the sound that comes from it. You really do need to make sure that you're using as little energy as possible. My reference, once again, is the Ultimate Guide. This is the last reference to it in this article, I promise. Open Strings And Standard Tuning A guitar can play a total of twelve notes in different octaves. An octave is an interval, which is the difference between two notes. An octave is the interval between one note and the same note either with a higher pitch or a lower pitch. The twelve notes a guitar can reach are E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D and D#, in multiple octaves. '#' simply means that the note is higher in pitch than the letter preceding it. Notes containing the '#' sign can also feature a 'b' sign. For example, G# becomes Ab. These notes are enharmonic, meaning they sound the same but are named differently. '#' is called a sharp, while 'b' is called a flat. When a string is played open, which means unobstructed by the left hand, the sound you hear is a particular note. Using multiple strings we can play multiple notes at once. When three or more notes are played at once, it is called a chord. Now, in an attempt to keep the intervals between the open strings similar, while also making chords as easy as possible, a 'standard' tuning became popular. A tuning is an allocation of certain notes to certain open strings. From the thickest string to the thinnest, the notes of standard tuning are E, A, D, G, B, e. The lowercase 'e' signifies that, while the note of the thinnest string may be the same as the note of the thickest, it is two octaves higher. Holding Down A String A guitar can play more than just open strings however. Each fret gives you a different note that you can play per string. The interval between an open string and the first fret, or any fret and those directly beside it, is called a semitone. This means that if you place your finger on the E string and push it against the first fret, the note that sounds when you play the string will be one note, or semitone, higher than E, which is F. The reason the note is different is because the string can only vibrate past your finger. A shorter string makes vibrations with smaller and tighter wavelengths, which makes the note higher in pitch. A distance of two frets is a whole tone. Using the knowledge that the twelve notes a guitar can play, in ascending order, are E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D and D#, see if you can work out the following: What note would play if your finger was holding down:
  • The first fret of the B string
  • The second fret of the D string
  • The fourth fret of the A string Tuning Your Instrument A time may come when you wish to change the notes of your open strings, either to make more notes available to you or to make certain chords easier. Changing the note of an open string changes the notes that would be played when a string is pushed against a fret also. It can be done either by tightening the string, which shortens it, or by loosening the string, which lengthens it. For an in-depth article on tuning your guitar, click here. Sadly, pressure and movement of the strings, as well as the tension of holding tight, will make your strings loosen and come out of tuning over time. Constant maintenance is required to make sure that you are playing the notes you want to play. You'll be tuning a lot during your time as a guitarist. Re-Stringing In time, depending on how often you play, your strings will become worn and dirty. Your notes will lose clarity, volume and length. When this happens, it's time to replace them. Go down to your local music shop and buy yourself some new strings. It is recommended that you change your strings once every three months. Changing your strings can be quite daunting, especially the first time around. This guide should hopefully give you a nice and easy walk through it. Also, while your guitar is stripped of the strings, make sure to give it a good clean. At any other time it tends to be a lot more difficult. Intonation Intonation affects the notes your guitar is tuned to play the further down the fretboard you go. On the twelfth fret for example, the note played should be an octave above the note of the open string. With poor intonation, this may not be the case. For a detailed examination of the hows and whys of intonation, read this article. This is an area that may only require brief and minor alterations, but nevertheless, it is valid knowledge concerning your instrument. The Truss Rod The truss rod can be a dangerous thing to mess around with, but, as a guitarist, it's important that you're aware of it. A truss rod affects the angle of the neck in relation to the body of the guitar. This, in turn, affects the distance between the strings and the fretboard. The main benefit here is customisation for your own preferences and specifications. The closer the strings are to the neck, the easier they are to push down. However, the resulting note may not be as clear or sustained. For more information on the truss rod, including how to make adjustments, read this. By now, having read all this, you should be feeling a little more comfortable with your new instrument. The more you learn, play and practise, the better a player you will become, but your instrument will always be a part of your overall sound. I hope you've enjoyed the consolidation of information that was part two of 'Teach Yourself Guitar.' In the next part I'm hoping to look at playing the instrument, what to expect when you first start to play and a few techniques worth practicing from the beginning. Thank you and I hope to see you next week. Tom Colohue Ultimate-Guitar.com 2009
  • 21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      yamitenshi
      Don't hurt me, I'm a newbie to guitar playing, but I read in this article that the high E string should be two octaves higher than the low E string. IIRC (and if my friend explained things right), the high E string has the same pitch as the twelfth fret of the low E string, and is therefore only one octave higher, right? (Please correct me if I'm wrong, I always like to learn )
      hoondog
      Saying a thicker string has a "wider wavelength and lower frequency" by itself is not true. im sorry im not nitpicking, i just think this statement may be slightly misleading to beginners. frequency (fundamental frequency at least)is dependent on string tension- i.e. a high .10 e string and low .46 e string can be made to ring at the same pitch although they are not the same thickness. although the .46 timbre will obviously be better timbre wise which is a result of thickness (mass) vs tension.
      GrayFoxz
      the much needed article/compilation desperately needed for beginners.. Truss Rod...other than that it's a good article.
      Colohue
      SaiNt adEL #13 wrote: I think he just wants to show off his name...
      In relation to your quote, how do you work that one out?
      Colohue
      The twelfth fret of the low E string should be at the same pitch as the second fret of the D string. Don't be so afraid, I'm writing these articles for people like you.
      yamitenshi
      Ah, okay, and then the high E string is the same pitch as the fourteenth fret of the D string? Or am I getting things wrong again?
      decayingdave
      This was useful, and I think it covers up the smear of part one which was merely an endorsement.
      SaiNt adEL #13
      There's something funny up with the text about halfway down... it's formatted as if it's a link. I'm sure this will be fixed soon
      I think he just wants to show off his name...
      Pannenkoeken
      Decent article, but it would have been better off as a collection of links. As Colohue said, his summaries of the links were, in a word, pathetic.
      Caustic
      Truss rod affects the curvature of the neck, not the angle of the neck in relation to the body.
      Caustic
      colohue wrote: And if the neck curves is it not at a different angle?
      It is NOT at a different angle. The neck as a whole is at the same angle it left the body at either before or after truss rod adjustment. The curvature of the neck after it leaves the neck, until the nut, changes when the truss rod is adjusted. To change the angle of the neck, you would need a three-bolt neck joint like some Fenders had for a while. The third bolt would push the angle of the neck as it was compared to the body back or forth. As it is, the truss rod only changes how the curvature of the neck goes (ergo changing the distance from the strings to the fretboard among other things, as you mentioned), either straight or concave (it CAN make the neck convex, but that would make the guitar unplayable). You're a good writer, however. Once you've managed to sort out details like this, you'll be fine. Keep it up.
      Aethen
      Sure it's at a different angle, but the way you wrote it, it sounds as if it ONLY changes the angle that the neck goes into the body. That is incorrect
      ZeGuitarist
      There's something funny up with the text about halfway down... it's formatted as if it's a link. I'm sure this will be fixed soon