The electric guitar has come a long way since it was invented in 1936. Today’s electric guitars have many parts, but the raw materials have remained the same. So what are electric guitars made of?
An interesting history, some metal, and lots of wood!
Table of Contents
The First Electric Guitar
The first electric guitar, A-22 Electro Hawaiian, was invented and designed by George Beauchamp and manufactured by the Rickenbacker Company in 1932. It was nicknamed “The Frying Pan” because of its shape, and it was the first solid-body guitar. The guitar was made of cast aluminum and had a horseshoe electro-magnetic pickup,1 a small magnetic device that converts the vibrations of guitar strings into electric signals. The guitar was connected to an amplifier, a device that increases the voltage, current, or power of a signal and helps increase the sound.2
But when the same mechanism was applied to acoustic guitars, it generated feedback, a loud piercing noise that is caused due to repeated amplification of sound. In this case, it was produced by the hollow body that resonates sound in acoustic guitars.3 This loud sound was considered quite disturbing until Jimi Hendrix began experimenting with it in his music during the 1960s.
Several musical engineers, artists, and guitar manufacturing companies were already racing to figure out a way to solve this issue and knew that the problem could be resolved if the guitar’s body did not have any hollow cavities. In a few years, guitar manufacturer Leo Fender released the first electric guitar with a solid body and cleaner sound in 1949, called the “Fender Esquire.” Since then, these instruments have only gotten better both in terms of construction and sound.
Here’s a breakdown of what modern electric guitars are made of and where wood and metal are used in the instruments.
Parts That are Made of Wood
The structure of the electric guitar is most commonly built of wood. The structure comprises the body and the neck. The neck again has another part called the fretboard or the “fingerboard.” The neck and the body can be made of the same type of wood or different types of wood. The “fretboard” is usually made of maple, rosewood, and ebony on almost all guitars, including acoustic and classical guitars.
Wood is just as important to the electric guitar as they are to an acoustic guitar. The basic tone and timbre of the guitar sound depend on the type of wood used, also commonly referred to as tonewood.
The body of the electric guitar is made of heavier tonewoods such as alder, basswood, mahogany, swamp ash, walnut, koa, maple, and rosewood. The neck is usually made of wenge, maple, koa, rosewood, or mahogany. They are also referred to as “body wood” and “neck wood.” A guitar is usually built out of several different types of wood.4
Parts That are Made of Metal
Besides wood, many parts of the electric guitar are made of metal including the electronic components, which makes them heavier than acoustic and classical guitars.
Electric guitars are fitted with transducers called pickups. They are mounted on the body of the guitar, right below the strings. These devices are made of magnets that are wrapped with wire, and they help convert the vibrations from the strings into electric signals.
The magnets in the pickups are usually made of iron, steel, or alloys such as alnico, ferrite and neodymium, some are even made of ceramic. The wire coiled around the magnet is generally made of copper. There are different types of pickups, and most electric guitars have two or three.5
Electric guitar strings are usually pure nickel, nickel-plated, or stainless steel. These metals are ideal for activating the magnets and transmitting the energy created from the vibrations through the pickups.6
The fretboard consists of thin strips of metal called frets, which are softly hammered into position at a specific distance from each other on the board to divide it into different pitches. They are made of stainless steel, nickel silver, or an alloy of copper and titanium.7
Other parts of the electric guitar that are made of metal are the tuning pegs, bridge, tremolo unit, sockets, tone knob, endpin, pickup selector, and the truss rod.
Other Materials Used in Guitars
The nut is a small strip that sits between the headstock and the fretboard of the guitar. The strings pass down the tuning pegs, down the fretboard, through the grooves on the nut, to be strung to the bridge of the electric guitar. It helps the strings stay in place. It is typically made of bone, corian, plastic, brass, or graphite.8
The pickguard on electric guitars is usually made of plastic and is attached to the soundboard, under the strings. It helps protect the finishing on the area and serves as a scratch plate, finger-rest, or scratch guard.9
The dots on the fretboard are called fret markers, and they help guitarists quickly find the right position for a pitch. They are made of many different kinds of materials, such as woods, plastics, clay, metals, mother-of-pearl, abalone, semi-precious stones, etc.10
This is how wood, metal, and sometimes other materials come together to create an instrument that has given us some of the best music for decades. The electric guitar is painted and finished with products to give it a metallic or plastic look, but underneath, the instrument is purely made of wood.
Experience how amazing electric guitars sound first hand, book a free trial class with BYJU’S FutureSchool. Learn with a dedicated instructor in a live, 1:1 setting to hear and see the magic of sound on an electric guitar. Also, for more music resources, be sure to check out the BYJU’S FutureSchool blog.
- “Frying Pan” Electro Hawaiian Guitar. (n.d.). Met Museum. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/729575
2. Sam. (2020, October 21). Early History of the Amplifier – Mission Engineering. Mission Engineering. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://missionengineering.com/early-history-of-the-amplifier/
3. The Origins of the Electric Guitar：The birth of the electric guitar – Musical Instrument Guide – Yamaha Corporation. (n.d.). Yamaha. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.yamaha.com/en/musical_instrument_guide/electric_guitar/structure/#:%7E:text=The%20first%20electric%20guitar&text=It%20was%20around%201936%20when,birth%20of%20the%20electric%20guitar
4. Nusselder, J. (2021, January 29). Best Wood for Electric Guitars | Full Guide Matching Wood & Tone. Neaera. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://neaera.com/best-wood-for-electric-guitars/#Best_Neck_Woods
5. Hoberg, M. (2017, December 5). The Different Types of Guitar Pickups Explained: Electric – Acoustic – Bass | Gearank. GEARANK. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.gearank.com/articles/guitar-pickups
6. Laghari, A. (2022, April 7). Can You Put Nylon Strings On Electric Guitar? Rock Shop Guitars. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://rockshopguitars.com/learning-guides/can-you-put-nylon-strings-on-electric-guitar/
7. Jenkins, M. (2021, July 12). All About Frets Part 2: Manufacturers and Materials. The Music Gallery. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://musicgalleryinc.com/blogs/matts-blog/the-history-of-frets-as-they-relate-to-the-guitar-part-2
8. Duffy, M. (n.d.). Small Wonder: How the Nut is Critical to Your Tone. Fender. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/small-wonder-how-the-nut-is-critical-to-your-tone#:%7E:text=Nuts%20are%20typically%20made%20out,density%20greatly%20contributes%20to%20tone.
9. Richardson, G. (2020, September 30). The Different Types of Guitar Pickguards Explained. Zing Instruments. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://zinginstruments.com/types-of-guitar-pickguards/
10. Fret Marker. (2016, March 29). Sweetwater. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/fret-marker/#:%7E:text=A%20fret%20marker%20may%20be,%2Dprecious%20stones%2C%20and%20more