The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter I: 1 Introduction - The Guitar

The first chapter of my upcoming series of articles called "The Ultimate Guide to Guitar"! Every article will elaborate on a new aspect of guitar playing, going from beginner techniques like chord practice to advanced stuff like the diatonic modes, all of it both in theory and in practice!

Ultimate Guitar

Introduction To The Ultimate Guide To Guitar

Hi all! This is ZeGuitarist. From now on, I will be writing for you guys a brand new column called The Ultimate Guide to Guitar (or UGG). This will be a collection of information, theoretical and practical lessons and exercises, about every aspect of guitar. Every week I will post you a new chapter, out of a total of 15 chapters.

This guide is designed to help beginning self-taught guitarists, starting from scratch, to work their way up to an advanced level of guitar skill. I will teach you both music theory and playing techniques, both of which are necessary get your guitar playing to a higher level! I will try to help you achieve this level in an enjoyable and fun way.

The 15 chapters in this guide are separated into 4 parts: part 1 for beginners, part 2 for novice players, part 3 for intermediate players, and part 4 for advanced players. Below I will give you an overview of the chapters to come. (Note that there are 15 chapters, but I divided some of them in 2 parts, so I'm going to post more than 15 articles.) This guide will cover aspects of guitar playing from beginner to advanced, so it's a guide for everybody! The more advanced articles will come last though, so be patient!

I tried to include every aspect of guitar playing into this guide, but there's some things I won't. For example, there's no article on slide guitar, and nothing on the use of a whammy bar. There may be more missing; but I only write about it if it's universal (every guitar player needs to know!), and if I know enough about it to explain it properly! You will find, though, that this guide will be very complete. There may even be things in this guide, that you may have read a thousand of times on UG! I don't mean to plagiarize anybody though. I simply want to make a guide that goes from A to Z and I don't want any letters left out!

Before starting with my first article, I just wanted to say I'm very happy and excited to help UG and its readers with my articles. I'm very glad I can contribute and I would like to thank PiCSeL and matter to give me this opportunity!

All that being said Let's get started with the Ultimate Guide to Guitar!


As I said, the guide is divided in 4 parts. Every part will consist of a couple of chapters: I will start with the music theory chapters (chords and scales, mostly), followed by some guitar technique chapters. This is the overview of the 4 parts of my guide:

Part I: For beginners

01. The Guitar
02. Chords: The Basics
03. Scales: The Basics - Pentatonic Scales
04. Technique: Basic Left Hand Techniques
05. Technique: Basic Right Hand Techniques

Part II: For novice players

01. Scales: Diatonic Scales In Theory
02. Scales: Diatonic Scales In Practice
03. Chords: Basics Of Chord Progressions
04. Technique: Left Hand Exercises
05. Technique: Right Hand Picking Styles
06. Technique: Muting

Part III: For intermediate players

01. Chords: Chord Construction
02. Chords: Harmonizing Scales And Chord Progressions
03. Technique: Tapping
04. Technique: harmonics
05. Technique: strength and speed exercises

Part IV: For advanced players

01. Scales: the diatonic modes in theory
02. Scales: the diatonic modes in practice
03. Chords: advanced chord progressions
04. Chords: modulation

Part I - Chapter 1: The Guitar

Welcome to the first chapter of the UGG! This chapter belongs to Part I: for beginners of this guide, and is meant for players who have just picked up their guitars and want to learn how to play! If you're a little more experienced, check out my guide every week... Subscribe if you want, before you know we will be digging in the more advanced stuff!

So you're new to guitar? That means you're sitting there right now, holding your guitar a little uncomfortably, not sure what to begin with... In this article, you are going to learn some basic stuff you just have to know before you start playing!

What you will learn:

  • Guitar anatomy: how the different parts of the guitar are called
  • Playing position: how to hold your guitar while playing
  • Left and right hand position: how to hold your hands in the correct way
Tuning: how to tune your guitar easily and without tuner

Note: I will not write about reading guitar tablature, because a great article about this already exists! It's written by BHD. If you don't know how to read tablature, you can check this article out here: Reading Guitar Tablature

Guitar Anatomy

So right now, you're holding a piece of wood with some fibers attached at both ends, and it's for making music. Makes sense doesn't it? Wouldn't it be nicer if we really knew our guitar and the parts it's made of? In this paragraph, I will tell you what the different parts of the guitar are called and what they are for, for both acoustic and electric guitars.

In this image, all the different parts of the guitar are indicated. Some can only be found on electric guitars, some only on acoustic guitars. I will now give a brief description of every part indicated, from top to bottom.

01.Head (or headstock): the upper end of the guitar neck, where the tuning machinery is attached.

02.Tuning keys (or tuners, tuning machines): these are rotating pieces of material where the strings are wound around. By turning a tuner, you will wind a string further around, stretching it tighter so that the pitch rises; or by turning in the other direction, you will unwind the string from the tuner causing it to loosen, so that the pitch drops.

03.Nut: a strip of material that is designed to keep the strings in place at a fixed distance apart from each other. When a string vibrates, it will vibrate from the nut to the bridge.

04.Neck: a wooden extension protruding from the guitar's body. The neck is composed of the fretboard and frets, the headstock and tuners, and for electric guitars, a truss rod (a metal rod that runs inside the neck along its length, supporting it and giving it a fixed curve).

05.Frets: small metal strips sticking out of the fretboard. When you press down a string behind a certain fret, the string will no longer vibrate between nut and bridge, but between that particular fret and the bridge. The string length is now shorter, which gives a higher pitch: 1 semitone higher for each fret you go up (towards the bridge).

06.Fingerboard (or fretboard): the wooden top part of the neck of the guitar, where the frets protrude. You place your fingers between the frets and press the string down onto the wood, hence "fingerboard".

07.Position markers: not every guitar has these, but most of them have. These are little dots (or other marks) indicating a certain fret number. Most guitars have markers at the 3rd, 5th , the 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st (and possible 24th) fret. They're just there so that you know in which position your left hand is.

08.Body: In case of an acoustic guitar, the body is the hollow wooden case where the vibrations created by your strings echo inside, so that the sound is amplified. In electric guitars, the body can be solid, hollow or semi-hollow, and the amplification is created by the pickups. The overall sound, though, is in all guitars greatly determined by the (quality of the) guitar's body.

09.Pickguard: piece of material attached to the top of the guitar's body to protect it from scratches made by your picking attacks.

10.Soundhole: The hole in the upper part of the guitar's body where string vibrations enter the body, and amplified vibrations come out to produce sound. All acoustic and some electric guitars have soundholes.

11.Pickups: Only on electric guitars, although accessory pickups for acoustic guitars exist for amplification. Electric pickups detect the vibration of electric guitar strings through magnetism and convert this vibration into an electric signal. This is the signal that is amplified by a guitar amplifier to produce sound. The "tone" of an electric guitar is greatly determined by the (quality of the) pickups.
There is a difference between "single coil" pickups (only one magnetic coil, Fender Stratocasters have S pickups) and "humbucker" pickups (2 magnetic coils, Gibson Les Pauls have H pickups).

12.Pickup selector switch: most electric guitars have 2 or 3 pickups: one located near the neck ("neck pickup"), one near the bridge ("bridge pickup") and possibly one in between ("middle pickup"). With the pickup selector, you can select which pickups are active. Each pickup detects string vibrations at different locations along the string's length; this makes every pickup sound different.

13.Saddle: a piece of material where the string runs over before it goes to the bridge. On acoustic guitars, this normally is a strip of material protruding from the body, but on some electric guitars the saddle is adjustable so you can fine-tune the length of the string. (Normally, you shouldn't have to use this too often, though!)

14.Volume and tone controls: only on electric guitars. With these two knobs, you can control the guitar's volume and "tone" (or how the guitar sounds).

15.Whammy bar (or vibrato bar, or often very wrongly called tremolo bar: if you have a floating bridge (see below), you can adjust the string's length (and thus tension) while playing for some cool pitch-shifting effects. Press it down to the guitar's body to drop the pitch; pull it away from the body to raise the pitch (not possible with every whammy system!).

16.Bridge: the bridge serves as the second end-point for the strings, so that they vibrate between nut and bridge. Some bridges are "fixed" and thus not moveable; others are "floating" and can be moved while playing. Doing this will increase or decrease the length of the string, to raise of lower the pitch. You can move the bridge by using the whammy bar:

Position I is the normal position. Push the whammy bar down for position II: the strings will now be shorter and produce a lower pitch sound. Pull up for position III: the strings will be lengthened and produce a higher pitch sound. Note that the system in the image is a "Floyd Rose" system which allows the bridge to be moved both up and down. Not all systems allow the bridge to move in both directions though: some "vintage" whammy systems only let you push down the whammy bar to drop the pitch.

17.Output jack: this is where you plug in the cable in an electric guitar, to pass the signal from the pickups to a guitar amplifier.

Playing Position

All right, now that you know every part of your guitar, you can pick up your guitar and start playing! Well, not really... First, we must learn how to properly hold a guitar, and what to do with your hands! First, I will explain how to hold a guitar.

Most of you will have a right-handed guitar. If this is the case, you should hold your guitar so that the neck points to the left. If you have a left-handed guitar, it should point to the right. (Note: I will presume from now on that you have a right-handed guitar. If you have a left-handed guitar, just switch the words right and left from now on.)

Now, are you sitting down or standing up while playing?

  • If you are sitting down, the body of your guitar should rest on your right leg with the neck pointing to the left. It's best to sit down with a rather straight back and your legs parted:

  • If you are standing up, your guitar is held by a strap around your left shoulder. Be sure not to make your strap too long so that your guitar is hanging too low; it will be hard to reach and it's bad for your back (and your playing!). An example:

Note: the position for classical guitar is very different, there are very strict rules for it. I will not elaborate on classical guitar in this guide though, so not on the guitar position either.

Left And Right Hand Position

So now you've got your guitar in place, how do you start playing now? We need to get our hands in the correct position now. There are some guidelines about where to place both hands correctly, I will summarize them here.

Left hand

Your index, middle, ring and pinky finger should be resting on top of the fretboard, slightly curved. The thumb should be pressing down on the back of the neck most of the time. (Don't press too hard, just rest your thumb there!). When you are playing chords, sometimes the thumb will naturally come up over the top edge of the neck (because of the position of your hand), so that you can use it to mute the lower E string. It's important that your hand is RELAXED from the very beginning! Don't build up tension in your fingers or wrists, as this will make playing chords a lot harder!

Right hand

The right hand is used to pluck strings, and this can be done with or without a pick. Most of the time in this guide, I will presume that you are using a pick, but I will briefly explain the fingerpicking position too.

  • When playing with a pick: you should make an O shape with the thumb and index finger, with the pick held between the two fingers, and the sharp edge of the pick protruding from behind the thumb like this:

    When you use a pick, your wrist should not be stiff. In fact, most of the movement your pick hand makes should come from your wrist! So, relax, and practice, this should come natural to you in no time!
  • When playing without a pick: you are now going to pluck the strings with your fingers, a.k.a. fingerpicking. This isn't as easy as playing with a pick IMO. For a correct fingerpicking position, you should apply one important rule to yourself: one finger, one string. Most of the time, the thumb is assigned to the lower strings and thus plucks the notes on only those strings. The higher strings are plucked by your index, middle, ring and pinky fingers. Assign your pinky to the highest string, your middle finger to the next, and so on... If you do this, every string has only one finger to pluck it! This may be difficult in the beginning but it will make things easier after it becomes more natural to you.
In both cases, you hold your hand above the soundhole (acoustic) or pickups (electric) of the guitar to strum/pluck the strings. This should move your right arm into a comfortable position with a nice elbow angle. Again, try and loosen up, don't become tense from the beginning! It's best to filter out bad habits as we go...

Tuning Your Guitar

OK! So now we know every bit and piece that our guitar is composed of! We know how to hold the guitar, and how to correctly position our hands... Can we play now?!
Not yet... You might want to tune your guitar first! Otherwise, anything you play will sound like total crap...

The strings on your guitar are numbered, and every string has a standard pitch associated with it. The 1st string is the thinnest string with the highest pitch; the 6th string is the low, thick string. From 6 to 1, the notes that are normally assigned to each string (in standard tuning) are:

E(low) A D G B E (high)

You can try and memorize this by remembering this sentence:

Eddy Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddy

Now, there are two ways to tune a guitar.

Absolute tuning means you want every string to be tuned to the exact pitch of the note of the string. This means, if you want a low E, you play it on a piano and tune your guitar to that note, or you use a tuning device. Absolute tuning has the advantage that you can play along with other instruments like pianos, which are not that easy to tune, without sounding completely out of tune.

Relative tuning means you don't want the strings tuned to the exact pitch that the string is normally tuned to, but you respect the relative distances between the notes of the strings. This means, if the 5th string is normally 5 semitones higher than the 6th, you respect this distance, even though your 6th string isn't tuned to its normal pitch. All your strings will be out of pitch, but the distances between the pitches will remain the same. You can perfectly play your guitar like this, if you're on your own. As soon as other instruments that are correctly tuned play along, you're in trouble...

So how do we tune a guitar relatively? There's a very easy trick to do this. I will explain:

1. You may or may not have the 6th string (low E string) tuned to its normal pitch (E). If you have, you can follow these steps and your guitar will be absolutely tuned. If you haven't, follow these steps to relatively tune your guitar.

2. The 5th string is normally 5 semitones higher than the 6th string. If you know that one fret is one semitone, you can figure out that pressing down the 6th string at the 5th fret will produce a pitch that is 5 semitones higher that the open string. Simple, isn't it? Now, the pitch that you hear now is the pitch that the open 5th string should sound like. So, turn the tuning key of the 5th string until the open string sounds the same as the fretted 6th string. The 5th string is now in tune.

3. The 4th string is normally 5 semitones higher than the 5th string. Easy peasy, we just do exactly the same as we did a minute ago with the previous string! The 4th string is now in tune...

4. The 3rd string is 5 semitones higher than the 4th... Repeat and the 3rd string should be in tune now!

5. The 2nd string is only 4 semitones higher than the 3rd string. Surprise! This doesn't make things any less easier though: just fret the 3rd string behind the 4th fret and repeat. The 2nd string is now in tune.

6. The 1st string is again 5 semitones higher than the 2nd, so repeat and your guitar is in tune!

Note: Fretting means placing your finger on the fretboard on a certain position. If I tell you to fret the 6th string at the 5th fret, you place your finger on the 6th string between the 4th and the 5th fret on the wooden fretboard. Do not place your finger ON the metal! You place your finger behind it, meaning at the headstock side.


All right!! We know every part that our guitar is made of, we know how to hold it, how to place our hands, and how to tune it... We are now completely ready to start playing!
Wait... The article's over already? Yes, but the next article will start with the first basic chords lesson! Finally we can start playing!

I hope you all enjoyed this article and that you will all continue to read the upcoming articles! Cheers and till next time!


84 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Steel stringed acoustic guitars most definitely have truss rods. For classical guitars(nylon) it depends on how high quality it is , what woods are involved etc. They sometimes have a truss rod, sometimes have an ebony strand encrusted into the back of the neck and sometimes have neither. And checked.
    Nice to read, and great content, I'm looking forward to the next parts aswell!
    When you use a pick, your wrist should not be stiff. In fact, most of the movement your pick hand makes should come from your wrist! So, relax, and practice, this should come natural to you in no time!
    HA, Matthew Bellamy could use that advice.
    xXForget itXx
    looks great, but you may want to include transcribing in the novice or intermediate chapters
    shut_up_n00b wrote: This is really good. The only thing that bugged me is that not every one knows what a semitone is. You could have explained that better.
    That's coming up, chapter 3.. Cheers! ZeG
    This is really good. The only thing that bugged me is that not every one knows what a semitone is. You could have explained that better.
    Roopelatvalafan wrote: hope the advanced part will be as advanced as promised.. alot of columns on theory and stuff try to be very advanced.. but it is very few coloums that bring in something new, like how to use theory for example..
    Yes, the last part will be advanced. But I can't promise that I'll write something that you don't know already. I write this guide for a very broad audience, but don't hate me or give me bad critique because I can't tell you anything new... It means that you are beyond my audience, that your knowledge of guitar is beyond mine Cheers! ZeG
    hope the advanced part will be as advanced as promised.. alot of columns on theory and stuff try to be very advanced.. but it is very few coloums that bring in something new, like how to use theory for example..
    Metallicam wrote: Nice job! Can't wait for the latter parts of it! That's an excellent way of remembering the string notes too, because if you wanna switch to double drop d, you can just switch names!
    Yea something like: Dumbass ate dynamite, good bye Dumbass Cheers! ZeG
    looking forward to part 3. know its a long way off.. but.. should be really helpful once it gets to the more advanced sections.
    Nice job! Can't wait for the latter parts of it! That's an excellent way of remembering the string notes too, because if you wanna switch to double drop d, you can just switch names!
    The lesson structure is excellent,well explained & looking foward to the next part, cheers
    Rock on! This is very generous of you. I can tell you put a lot of time into the article, and I'm sure it will help many folks out. I'll be referring students to it! Thank you.
    I can't wait for the rest of it, this is a great start, keep it up, and I'll keep reading!
    Wow! This is the BEST lesson I've seen for first-timers on the guitar! I've written up some lessons and this beats them all! I definitely want to include a lot of this information!
    SaiNt adEL #13
    nice, very nice! i'm not new to any of it, but i'm sure it really help anyone is is. can't wait to see the rest!
    This should be great. Ive been playing self-taught for awhile, but dont have much knowledge of theory and a couple other rather useful things that I sort of need to know. This is a great alternative to beginner, maybe even some intermediate or advanded books, and its completely free. Great idea, and good luck on it.
    ripjoestrummer wrote: When you use a pick, your wrist should not be stiff. In fact, most of the movement your pick hand makes should come from your wrist! So, relax, and practice, this should come natural to you in no time! HA, Matthew Bellamy could use that advice.
    Lol never noticed that until now. Good deal, when I was first learning the strings, I learned them as Every Artist Does Good Besides Elvis. I like your acronym more, it's explosive
    Hi In the Overview/Index of all the lessons, the last chapter 5 of the IV part is missing the link, pls fix Thanks!
    men u dont have any idea about how much i was asking for articles like this thanks a looooot!!!
    I saw this article mentioned in another column about the importance of learning music theory and from what you said in the intro this article is just what I was looking for. I know a little bit about music theory and understand the importance of it but it was hard for me to learn exactly what to do with what I know and I have a feeling this will be telling me. ')
    When you use a pick, your wrist should not be stiff. In fact, most of the movement your pick hand makes should come from your wrist!
    Broken Wrist =( Gotta wait 6 weeks till i can play normally again! But I'm sticking to your theory articles and it helps me a lot! It's really complete and easy to understand! Thanks a lot!
    Wow dude, this is totally awesome. I've been playing for about 2 years and I can play some relatively "tough" passages but I have almost zero theory; this has helped me so much dude. Keep it up buddy
    Good guide, but some of the things you say only apply in certain circumstances. Good for beginners though.
    Something is wrong with the link for Chapter I-5. The page isn't opening up.
    hell good lesson but i didnt learn anything cant wait for advanced stuff w00t.
    The easiest way to remember the things is Every Body Gets Drunk At Easter
    this iz an awesome guitar intro! is topped playing fer a while,and hav started agen and this iz making it soooo easy! kudos
    jclisenby wrote: Your lessons are amazing. I wish I would have had these as a beginner. I can't wait till you get to subjects I want to know more about. You rock!!
    totally, Ive been playing a year and still found these articles awesome, and if only they were here when i started playing thanks a lot
    Your lessons are amazing. I wish I would have had these as a beginner. I can't wait till you get to subjects I want to know more about. You rock!!
    The next article is uploaded! Just follow the link at the bottom of this article, or check it out in the columns section... Cheers! ZeG
    Great Intro to Guitar! Cant wait for the rest of the series! UG is now one step closer to becoming the only guitar website worth checking in on ;D !!!
    nice article! bring in the next chapters, for the sake of guitar warriors all around the world! yeah!
    funkybluesrocks wrote: Hey is there a way I can subscribe to this thing so it sends me an email when the next article come out?
    You can subscribe to the blog in my profile, I will post there whenever a new article comes out.. Cheers! ZeG
    Auldy001 wrote: Great Intro to Guitar! Cant wait for the rest of the series! UG is now one step closer to becoming the only guitar website worth checking in on ;D !!!
    This man speaks truth!
    well written, this will actually help, since I am teaching my 7 yr old how to play instead of just making noise, great guideline, I left out some stuff when we started i guess. Thanks
    Rodney Rocket
    Rodney Rocket wrote: Heres a good one for remembering strings. - Every Additional, Day, Guitar, Becomes, Easier