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Ultra-beginner lesson

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Ultimate lesson for beginners.

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

The course will be split into several parts:

  • Part 1: The different types of guitar: an overview of different guitars available on the market, their characteristics,
  • Part 2: Some vocabulary to describe different parts of our favourite instrument,
  • Part 3: How does it work? This part concerns the functioning of the guitar, how do we produce the notes, etc .... a must!
  • Part 4: Accessories: things that often accompany the guitarist in addition to his instrument.

The different types of guitar

To make it simple, we will classify the guitars into 2 main categories: "acoustic" guitars and "electric" guitars.

Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars have a large and impressive body which allows the natural amplification of sound and projection. They can therefore be played without amplification. Within this category "acoustic", we find two families: The "nylon" strings guitar (called "classical") and the "steel" strings guitar (called "folk"). Two types of instruments with different sounds (note: there is no better or worse, it's a question of styles and tastes).

Nylon strings guitars

They have perhaps a little softer sound, probably a little less "noisy" for low-end models, a quite large neck and are generally used to play the classical repertoire, bossa nova ( let's say Brazilian) and flamenco.

The steel strings guitars

The steel strings guitar is the pop-rock guitar in 90% of cases. When you go in a guitar store, you will be proposed this kind of guitar.
The neck is narrower than on the classical guitar and in fact it's quite close to an electric. The steel strings give this folk guitar a good sound projection.

Among the folk guitars, there are several types of bodies, more or less bulky (Standard, Jumbo, ...) with a cutaway for a greater access to high notes. You also can find 12 strings models, not to mention the various species of wood...

Note that in these two families of acoustic guitars (classical and folk), we can also find "electro-acoustic" models. The characteristics of the guitar does not change, it is simply equipped with a system of sound recording and pre-amplification which allow connecting the instrument to a sound system, amplifier, sound card, in order to easily record yourself.

Electric guitars

Electric guitars have a full body; the sound is transmitted by the microphones, and to really enjoy the instrument, it should be connected to an amplification system. Note: some models may have a resonance body, particularly models to play jazz; they are called "half body", their sound still comes mostly from microphones and amplification, therefore we classify them as "electric guitars”...).

The sound of electric guitars when not connected to an amplifier is almost zero, in a very quiet environment at 2 am, you would be able to hear a little something, but with a TV on or 2 girlfriends talking nearby, you won't hear anything! So you'll need an amplifier to use this type of guitar (an important element to consider in a budget!). Besides, we often add effects (distortion, chorus, delays, etc ...) to change the sound of an electric guitar. If you plan to play mainly in the summer on the beach, or when meeting friends, go for an acoustic guitar.

The various parts of guitars

A little anatomy class! Why learn about the different parts of the guitar? There are lots of good reasons.

First, in order to clearly explain your problems, if any, you'd better know that the thing on which the string is attached and does not want to turn anymore is called a "tuning machine"; if you say that your pick fell in the rosette, you will be a bit better understood than if you say: "I lost the plastic thing in the hole!".
And if you are told that the soundboard is massive, you will not be surprised even if the guitar weighs less than 30 lbs...

Let's divide our guitar into 2 main parts: the body and the neck.

The body

The body (or “caisse” on an acoustic) is the most impressive. It's the part meant for the hand that plucks the strings (the right hand for right handed guitarists, and left hand for the others). The neck is the other part where the other hand (normally it's the only one you have left !) will form the chords, press the string...
At the end of the neck, we find the "headpiece" (it's usually where you find the brand of the guitar).

On the headpiece, you find the "machine heads" (or tuning keys - one per string): On a violin, they are simple wooden pegs, on modern guitars, they are more sophisticated components (oil bath, sometimes self-blocking, ...), they all have the same role: to tune the guitar. Turning the "machine heads", you will give more or less tension to the strings and this will result in a more or less high note.

At the junction between the headpiece and the neck, you can find the nut (the small coloured thing that goes under the strings), it's made of plastic or made of bone.
The string will vibrate between this point and the other end (the saddle located on the body) and therefore resonate, producing a sound.

The neck

The back of the neck can have different profiles, more or less curved or flat, depending on what is comfortable for you. On the neck, you find the fingerboard (it's where your fingers will lay). This fingerboard is divided into boxes limited by the "frets", these small metal strips perpendicular to the strings all along the neck.The frets are not located randomly, there are quite sophisticated calculations : you can see that the closer you get to the body, the smaller the boxes are.

Finally, on the fingerboard you can find some dots which are markers to help you find positions more easily.

The body is composed of the "back", the "sides" (on the two sides) and the "soundboard". These elements form a "sound box". It's the lung of the guitar and the sound you get depends on a lot of factors: the quality of the wood, the internal construction (the bracings), etc.
On the soundboard, you will find the "rosette" (you will not speak about the hole anymore) that projects sound outward from the body (we can decrease the volume of the sound with a "feedback reducer"),

The bridge is the opposite part, on which the strings are attached to. On the classic guitars, you must have the string go through a hole and make a little special knot to attach it. On the folk guitars, you find "anchors" that you have to gently take out when you want to change a string, and on electric guitars, there are plenty of other systems (depending on whether you have a tremolo or not).
On the bridge, there is also the "saddle". Just like his brother "nut", it is either made of plastic or of bone and determines the vibrating length of the string.

On an electric guitar, we will find the same main components (body, neck, headpiece) but the body will be full and you will find an electronic part dedicated to the transmission of vibration of the strings (pickups, knobs, sometimes active electronics), but to generate notes, the principle is exactly the same!
And all this is supposed to generate music...

How does it work ?

Even without strings, the guitar can serve as a good percussive instrument, but it is not its primary function.

Now let's say that our strings are in place, between the bridge and the tuning machines (you see what I mean?), well, when we pluck a string, it vibrates, this vibration will be transmitted to the soundboard and amplified by the body. Various parameters in the string (material, diameter, tension...) will generate a more or less high note. When tuning, we will change the tension of the string (by stretching or relaxing the string) to find the correct note for each string.

The main note for each string is determined by the vibrating length between the saddle and nut,  the open string will be the lowest note possible on this string (if you want a lower note, you will need to relax the string using the “machine heads”). The basic principle is that the shorter the string is, the higher the note will be.

And how can we reduce the length of the string? By pressing a finger on the fingerboard just behind a fret (the fret becomes in fact, a sort of "intermediate" nut ...)
And to know in which box to press, all you need to do is learn how to read a tablature...


You can very well make music with just a guitar, but there are accessories that can help you vary the sound of your guitar.

  • To pluck the strings, there is the pick: small triangular piece of plastic (but there are also some picks made of bone, wood...) that you hold between two fingers and which gives a sharp attack.
  • You may also use a "thumb pick" that are used for finger-picking and replace the nails. Sometimes, some use a thumb pick as a normal pick (it enables you to free your fingers for the picking).
  • The "Bottleneck" enables you to get a special “slide” effect.
  • The "belt" when you want to play standing ... (on electric guitars, you can add "strap locks," which is a kind of security system to prevent your belt from untighting)
  • The "capo" is a kind of clip that you place along the neck and which enables you to change the pitch of some songs keeping the same chord positions (mainly used by singers/guitarists).
  • The "rosette microphone" is a mobile microphone to connect an acoustic guitar.
  • The airlock mutes the rosette to weaken the sound and to prevent feedback problems on stage (rare)

There are other accessories: the tuner (to...tune), the metronome (which gives the beat), etc.


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A painter paints pictures on canvas. Musicians paint their pictures on silence.
(Leopold Stokowski)