A "guitar pick" or "plectrum" is a small piece of hard material generally held between the thumb and first finger of the picking hand and is used to "pick" the strings. Though most classical players pick with a combination of fingernails and fleshy fingertips, the pick is most often used for electric and steel-string acoustic guitars. Though today they are mainly plastic, variations do exist, such as bone, wood, steel or tortoise shell. Tortoise shell was the most commonly used material in the early days of pick-making, but as tortoises and turtles became endangered, the practice of using their shells for picks or anything else was banned. Tortoise-shell picks made before the ban are often coveted for a supposedly superior tone and ease of use, and their scarcity has made them valuable. Picks come in many shapes and sizes. Picks vary from the small jazz pick to the large bass pick. The thickness of the pick often determines its use. A thinner pick (between .2 and .5 mm) is usually used for strumming or rhythm playing, whereas thicker picks (between .7 and 1.5+ mm) are usually used for single-note lines or lead playing. The distinctive guitar sound of Billy Gibbons is attributed to using a quarter or peso as a pick. Similarly, Brian May is known to use a sixpence coin as a pick. David Persons is known for using old credit cards, cut to the correct size, as plectrums. Thumb picks and finger picks that attach to the finger tips are sometimes employed in finger-picking styles on steel strings. These allow the fingers and thumb to operate independently, whereas a flat pick requires the thumb and one or two fingers to manipulate.
Knowing how to play guitar chords is one of the most important things for beginning players to learn. Not only are they important tools for developing your finger strength and dexterity, they also provide a foundation for learning, reading and playing songs. This page will show you how (with written instructions and diagrams) to play some of the most common guitar chords.
As a guitar player, chords are your bread and butter. They form the basis of almost every song and are the building blocks for most of the things that you will learn on the guitar. If you don't already know, a chord is a combination of at least two notes that are played simultaneously, creating a fuller, richer sound than can be achieved by playing each note individually. While most chords involve at least three notes played simultaneously, some may use even more. Also, chords usually involve playing multiple strings at the same time, which is called strumming. For more information on the basics of guitar playing, see Mahalo's guide to How to Play Guitar. On this page we will look at three of the most widely used chord "Families": Major Chords, Minor Chords and Seventh Chords. We will go over the finger positions for each of the chords (along with helpful diagrams) and explain a little bit about what makes each chord unique. Let's get started.
General Guitars can be constructed to meet the demands of both left and right-handed players. Traditionally the dominant hand is assigned the task of plucking or strumming the strings. For the majority of people this entails using the right hand. This is because musical expression (dynamics, tonal expression, color, etc.) is largely determined by the plucking hand, while the fretting hand is assigned the lesser mechanical task of depressing and gripping the strings. This is similar to the convention of the violin family of instruments where the right hand controls the bow. Left-handed players generally choose a left-handed (mirror) instrument, although some play in a standard right-handed manner, others play a standard right-handed guitar reversed, and still others (for example Jimi Hendrix) play a right-handed guitar strung in reverse. This last configuration differs from a true left-handed guitar in that the saddle is normally angled in such a way that the bass strings are slightly longer than the treble strings to improve intonation. Reversing the strings therefore reverses the relative orientation of the saddle (negatively affecting intonation), although in Hendrix' case this is believed to have been an important element in his unique sound.
The headstock is located at the end of the guitar neck furthest from the body. It is fitted with machine heads that adjust the tension of the strings, which in turn affects the pitch. Traditional tuner layout is "3+3" in which each side of the headstock has three tuners (such as on Gibson Les Pauls). In this layout, the headstocks are commonly symmetrical. Many guitars feature other layouts as well, including six-in-line (featured on Fender Stratocasters) tuners or even "4+2" (Ernie Ball Music Man). However, some guitars (such as Steinbergers) do not have headstocks at all, in which case the tuning machines are located elsewhere, either on the body or the bridge.
The nut is a small strip of bone, plastic, brass, corian, graphite, stainless steel, or other medium-hard material, at the joint where the headstock meets the fretboard. Its grooves guide the strings onto the fretboard, giving consistent lateral string placement. It is one of the endpoints of the strings' vibrating length. It must be accurately cut, or it can contribute to tuning problems due to string slippage, and/or string buzz. To reduce string friction in the nut, which can adversely affect tuning stability, some guitarists fit a roller nut. Some instruments use a zero fret just in front of the nut. In this case the nut is used only for lateral alignment of the strings, the string height and length being dictated by the zero fret.
The truss rod is a metal rod that runs along the inside of the neck. It is used to correct changes to the neck's curvature caused by the neck timbers aging, changes in humidity or to compensate for changes in the tension of strings. The tension of the rod and neck assembly is adjusted by a hex nut or an allen-key bolt on the rod, usually located either at the headstock, sometimes under a cover, or just inside the body of the guitar underneath the fretboard and accessible through the sound hole. Some truss rods can only be accessed by removing the neck. The truss rod counteracts the immense amount of tension the strings place on the neck, bringing the neck back to a straighter position. Turning the truss rod clockwise tightens it, counteracting the tension of the strings and straightening the neck or creating a backward bow.Turning the truss rod counter-clockwise loosens it, allowing string tension to act on the neck and creating a forward bow. Adjusting the truss rod affects the intonation of a guitar as well as the height of the strings from the fingerboard, called the action. Some truss rod systems, called "double action" truss systems, tighten both ways, allowing the neck to be pushed both forward and backward (standard truss rods can only be released to a point beyond which the neck is no longer compressed and pulled backward).
Classical guitars do not require truss rods as their nylon strings exert a lower tensile force with lesser potential to cause structural problems. However their necks are often reinforced with a strip of harder wood, such as an ebony strip running down the back of a cedar neck. There is no tension adjustment on this form of reinforcement.
Also called the fingerboard, the fretboard is a piece of wood embedded with metal frets that comprises the top of the neck. It is flat on classical guitars and slightly curved crosswise on acoustic and electric guitars. The curvature of the fretboard is measured by the fretboard radius, which is the radius of a hypothetical circle of which the fretboard's surface constitutes a segment. The smaller the fretboard radius, the more noticeably curved the fretboard is. Most modern guitars feature a 12" neck radius, while older guitars from the 1960s and 1970s usually feature a 6-8" neck radius. Pinching a string against the fretboard effectively shortens the vibrating length of the string, producing a higher pitch. Fretboards are most commonly made of rosewood, ebony, maple, and sometimes manufactured or composite materials such as HPL or resin. See below on section "Neck" for the importance of the length of the fretboard in connection to other dimensions of the guitar.
Frets are metal strips (usually nickel alloy or stainless steel) embedded along the fretboard and located at exact points that divide the scale length in accordance with a specific mathematical formula. Pressing a string against a fret determines the strings' vibrating length and therefore its resultant pitch. The pitch of each consecutive fret is defined at a half-step interval on the chromatic scale. Standard classical guitars have 19 frets and electric guitars between 21 to 24 frets (though Caparison Guitars issue guitars with as many as 27 frets).Frets are laid out to a mathematical ratio that results in equal tempered division of the octave. The ratio of the spacing of two consecutive frets is the twelfth root of two. The twelfth fret divides the scale length in two exact halves and the 24th fret position divides the scale length in half yet again. Every twelve frets represents one octave. In practice, luthiers determine fret positions using the constant 17.817, which is derived from the twelfth root of two (17.817 = (1-2-1/12)−1). The scale length divided by this value yields the distance from the nut to the first fret. That distance is subtracted from the scale length and the result is divided in two sections by the constant to yield the distance from the first fret to the second fret. Positions for the remainder of the frets are calculated in like manner. Actual fret spacing does not use this exact value; the fret spacing on the fretboard was also done by trial and error (testing) method over the ages. There are several different fret gauges, which can be fitted according to player preference. Among these are "jumbo" frets, which have much thicker gauge, allowing for use of a slight vibrato technique from pushing the string down harder and softer. "Scalloped" fretboards, where the wood of the fretboard itself is "scooped out" between the frets allows a dramatic vibrato effect. Fine frets, much flatter, allow a very low string-action but require other conditions such as curvature of the neck to be well maintained to prevent buzz. On steel-string guitars, frets are eventually bound to wear down; when this happens, frets can be replaced or, to a certain extent, leveled, polished, recrowned, or reshaped as required.
Inlays are visual elements set into the exterior surface of a guitar. The typical locations for inlay are on the fretboard, headstock, and on acoustic guitars around the soundhole, known as the rosette. Inlays range from simple plastic dots on the fretboard to intricate works of art covering the entire exterior surface of a guitar (front and back). Some guitar players have used LEDs in the fretboard to produce a unique lighting effects onstage. Fretboard inlays are most commonly shaped like dots, diamond shapes, parallelograms, or large blocks in between the frets. Dots are usually inlaid into the upper edge of the fretboard in the same positions, small enough to be visible only to the player. These usually appear on the odd numbered frets, but also on the 12th fret (the one octave mark) instead of the 11th and 13th frets. Some older or high-end instruments have inlays made of mother of pearl, abalone, ivory, coloured wood or other exotic materials and designs. Simpler inlays are often made of plastic or painted. High-end classical guitars seldom have fretboard inlays as a well trained player is expected to know his or her way around the instrument. In addition to fretboard inlay, the headstock and soundhole surround are also frequently inlaid. The manufacturer's logo or a small design is often inlaid into the headstock. Rosette designs vary from simple concentric circles to delicate fretwork mimicking the historic rosette of lutes. Bindings that edge the finger and sound boards are sometimes inlaid. Some instruments have a filler strip running down the length and behind the neck, used for strength and/or to fill the cavity through which the trussrod was installed in the neck. Elaborate inlays are a decorative feature of many limited edition, high-end and custom-made guitars. Guitar manufacturers often release such guitars to celebrate significant or historic milestones.
Neck A guitar's frets, fretboard, tuners, headstock, and truss rod, all attached to a long wooden extension, collectively constitute its neck. The wood used to make the fretboard usually differs from the wood in the rest of the neck. The bending stress on the neck is considerable, particularly when heavier gauge strings are used (see Tuning), and the ability of the neck to resist bending (see Truss rod) is important to the guitar's ability to hold a constant pitch during tuning or when strings are fretted. The rigidity of the neck with respect to the body of the guitar is one determinant of a good instrument versus a poor one. The shape of the neck can also vary, from a gentle "C" curve to a more pronounced "V" curve. There are many different types of neck profiles available, giving the guitarist many options. Some aspects to consider in a guitar neck may be the overall width of the fingerboard, scale (distance between the frets), the neck wood, the type of neck construction (for example, the neck may be glued in or bolted on), and the shape (profile) of the back of the neck. Other type of material used to make guitar necks are graphite (Steinberger guitars), aluminium (Kramer Guitars, Travis Bean and Veleno guitars), or carbon fiber (Modulus Guitars and ThreeGuitars).Double neck electric guitars have two necks, allowing the musician to quickly switch between guitar sounds.
Neck joint or "Heel" This is the point at which the neck is either bolted or glued to the body of the guitar. Almost all acoustic steel-string guitars, with the primary exception of Taylors, have glued (otherwise known as set) necks, while electric guitars are constructed using both types. Most classical guitars have a neck and headblock carved from one piece of wood, known as a "Spanish heel." Commonly used set neck joints include mortise and tenon joints (such as those used by CF Martin & Co.), dovetail joints (also used by CF Martin on the D-28 and similar models) and Spanish heel neck joints, which are named after the shoe they resemble and commonly found in classical guitars. All three types offer stability. Bolt-on necks, though they are historically associated with cheaper instruments, do offer greater flexibility in the guitar's set-up, and allow easier access for neck joint maintenance and repairs. Another type of neck, only available for solid body electric guitars, is the neck-through-body construction. These are designed so that everything from the machine heads down to the bridge are located on the same piece of wood. The sides (also known as wings) of the guitar are then glued to this central piece. Some luthiers prefer this method of construction as they claim it allows better sustain of each note. Some instruments may not have a neck joint at all, having the neck and sides built as one piece and the body built around it.
Body (acoustic guitar)
In acoustic guitars, string vibration is transmitted through the bridge and saddle to the body via sound board. The sound board is typically made of tone woods such as spruce or cedar. Timbers for tone woods are chosen for both strength and ability to transfer mechanical energy from the strings to the air within the guitar body. Sound is further shaped by the characteristics of the guitar body's resonant cavity. In electric guitars, transducers known as pickups convert string vibration to an electric signal, which in turn is amplified and fed to speakers, which vibrate the air to produce the sounds we hear. Nevertheless, the body of the electric guitar still performs a role in shaping the resultant tonal signature. In an acoustic instrument, the body of the guitar is a major determinant of the overall sound quality. The guitar top, or soundboard, is a finely crafted and engineered element made of tonewoods such as spruce and red cedar. This thin piece of wood, often only 2 or 3 mm thick, is strengthened by differing types of internal bracing. The top is considered by many luthiers to be the dominant factor in determining the sound quality. The majority of the instrument's sound is heard through the vibration of the guitar top as the energy of the vibrating strings is transferred to it. Body size, shape and style has changed over time. 19th century guitars, now known as salon guitars, were smaller than modern instruments. Differing patterns of internal bracing have been used over time by luthiers. Torres, Hauser, Ramirez, Fleta, and C.F. Martin were among the most influential designers of their time. Bracing not only strengthens the top against potential collapse due to the stress exerted by the tensioned strings, but also affects the resonance characteristics of the top. The back and sides are made out of a variety of timbers such as mahogany, Indian rosewood and highly regarded Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra). Each one is primarily chosen for their aesthetic effect and can be decorated with inlays and purfling. The body of an acoustic guitar has a sound hole through which sound projects. The sound hole is usually a round hole in the top of the guitar under the strings. Air inside the body vibrates as the guitar top and body is vibrated by the strings, and the response of the air cavity at different frequencies is characterised, like the rest of the guitar body, by a number of resonance modes at which it responds more strongly. Instruments with larger areas for the guitar top were introduced by Martin in an attempt to create louder volume levels. The popularity of the larger "dreadnought" body size amongst acoustic performers is related to the greater sound volume produced.
The main purpose of the bridge on an acoustic guitar is to transfer the vibration from the strings to the soundboard, which vibrates the air inside of the guitar, thereby amplifying the sound produced by the strings. On all electric, acoustic and original guitars, the bridge holds the strings in place on the body. There are many varied bridge designs. There may be some mechanism for raising or lowering the bridge to adjust the distance between the strings and the fretboard (action), and/or fine-tuning the intonation of the instrument. Some are spring-loaded and feature a "whammy bar", a removable arm that lets the player modulate the pitch by moving the bridge back and forth. The whammy bar is sometimes also referred to as a "tremolo bar" (see Tremolo for further discussion of this term—the effect of rapidly changing pitch produced by a whammy bar is more correctly called "vibrato"). Some bridges also allow for alternate tunings at the touch of a button. On almost all modern electric guitars, the bridge is adjustable for each string so that intonation stays correct up and down the neck. If the open string is in tune but sharp or flat when frets are pressed, the bridge can be adjusted with a screwdriver or hex key to remedy the problem. In general, flat notes are corrected by moving the bridge forward and sharp notes by moving it backwards. On an instrument correctly adjusted for intonation, the actual length of each string from the nut to the bridge saddle is slightly but measurably longer than the scale length of the instrument. This additional length is called compensation, which flattens all notes a bit to compensate for the sharping of all fretted notes caused by stretching the string during fretting.
The saddle of a guitar refers to the structure on or parallel to the bridge. The saddle is most commonly found on acoustic guitars, but some models of hollow-bodied electric guitars have it. Its basic purpose is to hold the strings above the bridge and guitar, and to mute the vibration of the string so the strings do not buzz and/or damage themselves or the bridge. It is comparable in size and function to the nut, and variations in its design are not uncommon.
The standard guitar has six strings but four-, seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-, eleven-, twelve-, thirteen- and eighteen-string guitars are also available. Classical and flamenco guitars historically used gut strings but these have been superseded by polymer materials, such as nylon and fluorocarbon. Modern guitar strings are constructed of metal, polymers, or animal or plant product materials. Instruments utilising "steel" strings may have strings made of alloys incorporating steel, nickel or phosphor bronze. Bass strings for both instruments are wound rather than monofilament.