The first buying decision is relatively easy — acoustic or electric? My advice — figure out what style of music you most want to play. Forget about everything else. Your first guitar has to nurture your soul.
Like many guitarists, you’ll eventually want at least one acoustic guitar and one electric guitar. But your first guitar should be the one you’ll want to play the most. Don’t choose a guitar because you heard that it’s best to start on an acoustic guitar, or electric guitars are easier to play. Forget that, your first guitar is about making music.
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Differences Between Acoustic and Electric Guitars
From a playing perspective they’re the same. Each has a neck, body, and headstock with six strings attached. An acoustic guitar is loud enough to be played without an amplifier. An electric guitar needs to be plugged into an amplifier.
Before you run off to the guitar shop, you’ll want to speak the some guitar-buying language. Here are some terms you’ll see in spec sheets, and hear from the salespeople.
The Parts of a Guitar
The basic parts of the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar are identical. Although, the electric guitar has additional gadgetry.
The Parts of an Acoustic Guitar
The Parts of an Electric Guitar
Glossary of guitar parts
Back: For acoustics, only, the back will be specified because it may affect the sound quality. Higher-priced acoustic guitars specify woods used in construction. For example: Top: Sitka Spruce. back/sides: Sapele.
Bridge: On acoustics, it’s that wooden plate that holds the saddle (see definition, below). On electrics, the metal piece that anchors the strings to the guitar’s body.
Bridge pins (acoustic): Plastic pins that hold the strings into the bridge.
Body (acoustic): The sound chamber that projects the sound and produces the guitar’s tone.
Body (electric): Contains the electronics and the bridge assembly.
End pin: The metal or plastic post where you attach one end of the guitar strap.
Fretboard: A wooden layer, on top of the neck, where the fret wires are embedded. Also known as a fingerboard.
Frets: the metal wires embedded in the fretboard.
Headstock: The wooden piece at the top of the neck where the tuning pegs are mounted.
Horns (electric): The hornlike shape created by “cutaways” in the guitar body. The cutaways allow access to the higher frets.
Inlays: Also known as position markers, inlays are positioned on the fretboard to serve as a visual reference, helpful in locating specific frets.
Nut: The plastic or bone strip at the top of the neck, just below the headstock.
Neck: The “backbone” of the guitar attaches the headstock to the body, and supports the fretboard.
Output jack (electric) The guitar’s electrical output, where you plug in the cable from the amplifier.
Pickguard: A protective layer (usually plastic) mounted to the guitar’s surface to protect it from pick scratches.
Pickup selector (electric): The switch that allows you to select the pickup or pickup combination.
Pickups (electric): These are bar-shaped magnets that “pick up” the vibrations of the metal strings to create the electrical signal that gets amplified into music. You can think of pickups as microphones for the vibrating strings.
Saddle (acoustic): This is a piece of bone, plastic, or Tusq that sits in the bridge. The strings pass over, and contact the saddle.
Sides (acoustic): Curved strips of wood that connect the top and back of the acoustic guitar. Higher-quality acoustic guitars will specify woods used in construction. For example: Top: Sitka Spruce. back/sides: Sapele.
Soundhole (acoustic): An opening on the top of the guitar to project the sound. This is usually circular or oval. Some archtop guitars have “F” holes like those found on violins and cellos.
Strap button: A metal or plastic post (like the end pin) where you attach your guitar strap. Some acoustic guitars don’t have this button. In that case, you can tie the end of the strap to the headstock.
Strings: The steel, bronze, or nylon strings that run from the bridge to the headstock. This is where the music gets made.
String tree (electric) A metal hook, attached to the headstock of some guitars. It creates a downward angle for the specific strings allowing for better contact at the nut.
Top (acoustic): Also called the soundboard. Higher-quality acoustic guitars will specify woods used in construction. For example: Top: Sitka Spruce. Back/Sides: Sapele.
Truss rod: A metal rod that fits into the neck and provides structural support. You can’t see the truss rod, but you may see a plastic plate on the headstock, adjacent to the nut. This allows access to the truss rod for neck alignment adjustments. Some acoustic guitars access the truss rod through the soundhole.
Tuning pegs: Also called tuning machines, tuning keys, tuners, or machine heads. They’re used to adjust the string tension to proper pitch.
Volume/tone controls (electric): Control knobs to adjust volume and tone of the pickups.
Whammy bar: (electric) Also called a tremelo bar, the whammy bar attaches to the bridge. Pushing the bar in and out causes the bridge to wobble, changing the pitch of the strings.