Cool, so you’ve made the decision to buy a guitar! While looking around on the internet, you might come across a bunch of different guitar-related terms that make you wonder whether you should just buy a cowbell instead (and yes, you should). My aim in this article is to share with you what you need to know about the main different parts of the guitar, how guitar anatomy works, and how to go about buying a guitar that has the right features for you!
This article has certain sections which apply only to electric guitars, but most can be applied to both electric and acoustic guitars. If you’re looking to buy an acoustic guitar, you can read more specifically about acoustic guitars in this article, where I describe what to look out for and compare some of the best budget-friendly guitars on the market! I also have another article where I talk about some of the best beginner electric guitars available today.
Also, f you’re still not sure whether you want to get yourself an electric or acoustic guitar, I’ve written about that as well in this article here, aptly called ‘Acoustic vs Electric Guitar‘.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Table Of Contents
- 2 Guitar Anatomy
- 3 Types Of Wood (tonewoods)
- 4 Guitar Neck
- 5 Guitar Scale Length
- 6 Frets
- 7 Pickups
- 8 Different pickup configurations
- 9 Type of Bridge
- 10 Strings
- 11 Further Reading
First off, let’s start by defining the terms we’ll be using later on, so that it’s all clear and you can refer back to this diagram should you need to. Now it’s important to note that guitars come in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. Different people like different styles of guitars, and ultimately which guitar you choose will depend on what it is you’re looking for. However there are certain parts of a guitar that you’re going to come across regardless of what guitar you buy :
Types Of Wood (tonewoods)
It might surprise you (or maybe not) to find out that the type of wood used in building a guitar has a pretty big impact on the overall sound of the instrument. These different types of woods are knows as tonewoods by guitar makers. The various different number of tonewoods that are used to build guitars is extremely vast. This is especially true once you start getting into the more ‘custom-built guitar’ side of things, both with electrics and even more so with acoustic guitars. For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to be sticking to the main types that are used most commonly in mass-produced, commercially available electric and acoustic guitars.
Keep in mind that the wood type alone is not the be all and end all of the guitar’s overall sound, and therefore should not be given more consideration than it’s due when choosing an electric guitar. The pickups and amplification being useda also make a massive difference, and it’s really a case of having the combination of these factors that suits your needs most.
Perhaps one of the most commonly used types of wood, Alder is one of the softest types of hardwoods, and grows in various locations across the northern hemisphere. It is quite lightweight, making it ideal for making guitars that aren’t heavy to carry and perform with. In terms of tone, alder is known for giving rich, warm and balanced low and mid range frequencies that would suit pretty much style of music.
The highs might be a little bit more subtle than some other wood types, but plenty of brightness can still be achieved using alder, especially if combined with a certain type of pickup (as in a Telecaster, for example). Alder is not used as commonly nowadays as it was back in the 50s and 60s, when it was greatly popularised by Fender, however it remains a very popular option. Overall, it offers good ergonomics and a balanced sound, so you can’t really go wrong with a buying a guitar that has alder as its core tonewood.
Mahogany is the wood of choice for many Gibson guitars, amongst others. It comes from Central American and Africa, and is a common tonewood used both for guitar bodies as well as necks. It gives a balanced sound that leans much more towards a warm, earthy tone as opposed to a brighter one. Frequencies tend to be quite balanced, however the mid-range tends to be quite pronounced, which is why it makes it ideal for bluesier and classic rock tones that are usually saturated in mids.
Lows are tight and punchy, and highs are definitely present but also very controlled. Overall, mahogany gives good grit while maintaining a well rounded sound. It’s often combined with maple (as in Les Pauls for example) to give the guitar a distinctive, rich tone that highlights the best qualities of both woods.
Due to basswood’s affordability (as a result of its abundance), it’s often used for beginner and mid-level guitars. However, a well made basswood guitar can still achieve great sounds when built well. Due to its softness, basswood guitars tend to feature quite a lot of warm, ‘fat’ low end and a punchy midrange that’s not harsh or honky. It does not have a lot of grain and is quite light, making it good for guitar efficient ergonomics.
Maple has a lot of tightly packed grain, making it a very dense and heavy wood. For this reason, maple is not usually used by itself, but rather combined with other lighter woods (for example with mahogany) to create both a tonal and ergonomic balance. On its own, maple guitars sound very bright, while also producing nice controlled lows. Maple if very often used for necks, in fact is is the most commonly used tonewood for electric guitar necks worldwide. Sometimes it’s the only wood used for the whole neck including the fretboard, but quite often its combined with a rosewood fretboard to make the sound a bit warmer and smoother.
Poplar is fast becoming a more popular option with entry and mid-level guitar manufacturers, especially those based in Asia. It’s cheap and lightweight, and does not give the guitar any boost across any particular frequency range. If anything, poplar by itself tends to sound somewhat dull and lacking sustain. This is the primary reason why it’s never really used for higher end guitars.
One of the things to consider when buying a guitar, and definitely one of the most important parts of a guitar, is the neck. The type of neck on your guitar will make a significant difference when it comes to the comfort and ease with which you can play. The combination of the neck profile, fret size and spacing is what ultimately gives each neck its own distinct feel, and no one feature alone can completely define the playability of a neck without considering all the other factors.
Now when it comes to necks, as with pretty much everything else on a guitar, different people tend to prefer different styles, so the following information simply looks at the various different elements that when combined bring the puzzle pieces together.
The neck profile simply refers to the ‘shape’ that the guitar neck has when being looked at from a cross-sectional point of view. There are various different neck profiles, described by the letter of the alphabet which resembles the shape they take. There is no such thing as an ‘ideal shape’, the best one really is the one that you prefer. The classic C shape found on many guitars that offers a great option for most types of players. Modern Fenders tend to feature what’s known as a modern C shape, which is a flattened version of the classic C shape. Then there’s the D shape, which is curved at the edges and a bit flatter in the middle.
A V shape comes in two main variations, either a softer V shape or a more defined V in the middle of the neck. V necks tend to be favoured by players who like to play with their thumb wrapped over the neck, since the V shape gives the thumb extra purchase, allowing it to protrude better. A U shape neck is generally thin, flat and wider than a C shape. Ultimately, depending on your hand size and playing style, there may be one or more neck profiles that better fit your needs.
In order to fully understand the science behind a guitar’s neck radius, one need to dive into quite a bit of mathematical hoopla. To put it into somewhat simplistic and basic terms, the neck radius determines how ‘curved’ or ‘flat’ a neck feels when playing it. At this point it probably won’t come as a surprise to know that there are various different radius sizes across different guitars. As a general rule, the the smaller the radius, the more curvature the neck will have, while the higher the radius, the flatter the neck will feel. This makes it quite an important part of guitar anatomy that needs to be considered.
Generally, a more curved neck allows for easier chord playing, especially at the lower part of the neck, while a flatter neck makes it easier for playing higher up the neck, such as playing lead/solos., since it allows better anchoring to happen with the thumb behind the neck. A lot of vintage guitars, for example, feature a 7.5” inch radius, whereby the neck is extremely curved. Fender later started making guitars with a 9.5” radius, which maintains a good amount if curvature for chord playing while also allowing for easier lead playing. A lot of modern guitars tend to have a radius in the 12-16” range, with the neck getting flatter and flatter the higher up you go.
I find that a nice medium radius provides more than enough curvature while at the same time allowing for great grip all up and down the neck. For example, the moment I find myself favouring a radius of around 10”, although this might change over time. It’s also worth mentioning Modern guitar manufacturers such as Suhr are now making guitars with what is known as a compound radius, which attempts to combine the best of both worlds by having a lower radius at the lower frets and a higher radius as you go up the neck. This maintains a nice curvature in the area where chords are more commonly played while flattening out the neck where more lead playing tends to happen.
Guitar Scale Length
In simple terms, the scale length on a guitar is the distance between the nut and the 12th fret, multiplied by 2. There are various scale lengths that different manufacturers prefer, since this measurement has an effect on both the tone of the guitar as well as the inherent tension that you’ll experience with the strings (although string gauge also plays a major role in this). Larger scale lengths generally mean higher tension in the strings (since the string has to stretch across a larger distance), which translates into more resonant overtones and a brighter overall tone. Smaller scale lengths have a bit less tension in the strings, meaning a ‘darker’ overall sound. This is often an overlooked guitar feature when discussing the brightness of certain guitars. However it’s also an important factor to keep in mind when choosing the right electric guitar for you.
For example, comparing Gibson Les Paul vs the Fender Strat, it is undeniable that the types of pickups and tonewood used play a massive role in the major tonal differences between the two. However, Fender’s standard 25.5” scale compared to Gibson’s 24.75” gives more tension to the strings, hence helping in giving Fenders a brighter overall tone. This might or might not be the sound you’re going for, again it all comes down to personal preference. It’s also very important to note that the string gauge you use (in other words, how thick the strings are) can also cancel out any difference in string tension cause by different scale lengths, since higher gauges (thicker strings) offer more tension than lower gauge ones.
Finally, if you’re going to be using a lot of dropped tunings (such as drop C or D), having a larger scale length will better allow you to maintain a certain amount of string tension while detuning. Again, this can be overcome by user heavier gauge strings, but it is something to keep in mind. Ultimately, you can buy a guitar that’s extremely comfortable to play across many different scale sizes, but it’s an integral part of guitar anatomy that should be looked at.
Scale length also affects the space that you can have between frets (also determined by the amount of frets you have), which is discussed in the next section.
Something else to keep in mind when buying a guitar is the frets, since not all frets are made alike. In fact, there are various differences in the material frets are made out of as well as the sizes that they come in. When it comes to different parts of the guitar, frets are often overlooked… but it’s not a bad idea to get an understanding of how they effect the overall structure of the instrument. For the sake of this article, I won’t be going into different fret materials that can be used (the material can have a small effect on the tone, as well as how long it takes for wear and tear to start kicking in). It is worth however taking a quick look at fret sizes, as well as the number of frets that you can choose to have on your guitar.
The main fret manufacturer that makes most of the frets found on guitars worldwide is California based Dunlop Manufacturing Inc, and they create five main fret sizes to choose from. Naturally there are other manufacturers, and some people even like to make their own frets. Here we’ll be sticking to the standardised sizes found on most guitars you’ll encounter on a day-to-day basis.
As with everything else guitar-related, the types of frets you prefer will ultimately depend on what you feel suits your playing best. In this section however, we’ll be taking a quick look at these common types of fret sizes, and how it might affect you as the player. Before delving in, it’s good to quickly take note of a couple of terms.
The way a fret works is a little bit like how a plant grows. You get the visible part that’s above ground (called the crown), but there’s also the part that’s anchoring the fret into the guitar neck (there are two mechanisms doing this called tangs and barbs. Here we’re only interested in the crown part, which is what you’re going to have contact with as you’re playing. The crown has two dimensions that we’re interested in, the width and the height. In other words, the crown width is how thick the fret wire is, and the height is how far off the guitar neck the fret protrudes.
a) Vintage (aka small) – As the name implies, these frets were used on old fender guitars, and are the thinnest in width. They also have low height.
b) Vintage jumbo – Wider than their vintage counterparts but a bit less height
c) Modern – Narrow but also tall, as the name implies this is found in a lot of modern guitars
d) Jumbo – Largest fret wire on the market, greatest width as well as height (shared with the modern frets at 0.055”)
e) Medium Jumbo – Wide but low height
Basically, the higher the crown height, the more you to press down if you want your fingers to actually touch the fingerboard while you’re playing. Bending notes becomes easier the taller the fret is, due to the fact that you have more space between the string and the fingerboard, giving you more room to ‘dig in’. It will also allow you to achieve a fuller, deeper vibrato.
Some people say that smaller frets give better intonation, although to be honest I’ve always owned medium jumbo or jumbo fretted guitars and never had intonation issues once the insturment has been properly set up. Others find that bigger frets help them play faster due to needing less contact with the fingerboard itself while they’re playing. Smaller frets (both in width and height) are generally considered to be a bit more difficult to work with, although again certain players prefer the overall resonant tone that they allow.
Ultimately, fret size will probably not make or break your overall playing style… however it is something worth considering. The only way to truly find out is to try… maybe starting off with a medium jumbo or modern will give you a nice compromise between width and height and allow you to explore for yourself.
Number Of Frets
Again, this is very much going to be based on personal choice. The three most common number of frets available on guitars are 21, 22 and 24 frets (although this can vary). Certain vintage guitars, especially Fenders, often have 21 frets. Even more modern Fender models based on the old Teles and Strats will regularly feature 21 frets. 22 is a very common and more modern standard, while 21 is usually found in more vintage guitars.
Ultimately, the two ways in which the number of frets will effect you whien choosing an electric guitar are as follows. a) It affects the range of notes that it allows you to access at the higher end, and b) it affects the amount of space that you get between one fret and another. With 24 frets, you get access to two whole octaves per string… meaning that if the open string is an E, then the 24th fret will also give you an E but two octaves higher.
This is quite useful especially for the higher strings such as the B and high E if you want to play some ripping, face-melting solos that feature notes in those higher registers. With 22 frets you’ll still have access to almost two whole octaves (minus two semitones)… you’ll be able to reach those two octave intervals but you’ll need to use string bends to do so. 21 frets therefore gives you one semitone less than that.
The style you play will have an effect on how many frets you need. Ultimately, I don’t think that it should be the main factor that decides which guitar you get, but it is something to consider. I personally own all three kinds of guitars, and find them all useful. I’ve played 21 fret guitars on pure rock gigs, and I’ve played my 24 fret guitar at jazz/funk shows. Truth be told, I might use the 23rd and 24th frets two to three times per gig while playing solos, so not having those extra two frets would not have a major impact on my playing style. When I do want to use them however, they’re cool to have!
The other thing to consider when choosing and buying a guitar is that the more frets you have, the smaller the space between frets will need to be in order to accommodate all the frets on the neck (provided we’re talking about two guitars with the same scale but a different number of frets). The difference is generally not as evident in the lower frets as it is in the higher ones, where the frets are clustered closer together.
For example, my PRS Custom has 24 frets, but there also exists a similar 22 fret model. PRS generally offer a standard 25” inch scale on their guitars. Logically it follows that needing to fit 24 frets on a 25” scale will require the frets to be bunched a bit closer together than if only 22 frets were needed.
My Fender Tele, on the other hand, only features 21 frets and has a 25.5” inch scale. This means that compared to my PRS, the neck is a bit longer and there are 3 less frets to fit in, making the frets quite wide especially in the first half of the neck. Personally I quite like this spacing especially for rhythm work, but it does require a bit more effort to play certain lead patterns at higher tempos, or chords that require stretching across quite a few frets.
The amount of space you need to have between frets is, much like anything else, a personal preference. The wider the space, the more you’re required to stretch in order to play certain chords and patterns, especially if you’re lower down the neck. However it might also give you a little bit more space to manoeuvrer in, say if you’re playing a chord that requires your fingers to be clustered around each other, making it easier to play every note in that chord with clarity without having it move into other frets by mistake. Therefore there’s somewhat of compromise between the space that fret spacing gives you versus the physical dexterity that it requires to play.
Moving on to the pickups, which is definitely one of the most important parts of a guitar. This section will refer mostly to electric guitars, since although acoustic guitars can also have pickups, they tend to be different in structure and the kind of tone they produce.
Simply put, a guitar pickup takes the mechanical energy being produced by the strings vibrating, and turns it into an electrical signal that can then be amplified (via a cabe that’s inserted into the guitars’ input jack… refer to the guitar anatomy diagram above). Therefore the types of pickups used, as well as the different ways in which these pickups can be potentially configured and blended together, have a great bearing on how your guitar will sound once it’s being amplified in any way. This is why pickups should also be factored in when choosing an electric guitar. Before looking at the different types of pickup combinations commonly used in guitars, it’s important to take a minute to discuss the (mainly) two different types of pickups that you will encounter on pretty much any guitar that you play.
Single Coil vs Humbucker
There are two types of guitar pickups used most commonly on electric guitars : single coil pickups and humbucking pickups (commonly referred to as humbuckers). I won’t delve too deeply into the history or the mechanics of each (although both can be quite interesting if you’re into it… and there’s certainly no shortage of relevant information online). The most important thing to talk about at this point is to take a broad look at the tonal characteristics of each type of pickup, while bearing in mind that different brands and designs of the same type of pickup will naturally sound somewhat different from each other, while still maintaining a certain overarching characteristic that is unmistakeably a feature of that kind of pickup.
What you end up preferring is ultimately something that you’ll discover with experience. You can read a lot about it and get informed, which is always a good idea… ultimately, however, the only person who will know what works best for you is… you guessed it… yourself. Your tastes might also change over time, depending on your musical requirements (I know loads of fellow guitarists who have switched from humbuckers to single coils over the years, or the other way round).
Personally, I love both styles of pickups, and find them very useful for different kinds of situations. In fact, my main electric guitar at the time of writing (a PRS Custom S2), has a setting which allows me to turn the humbuckers into single coils at the flick of a switch (and vice versa). This gives me all the tonal variety that I could want and need without having to carry different guitars to a gig. I’ll talk more about this later, although it’s probably relevant to note that this feature (known as a split-coil system) only tends to come with mid-range and higher-priced guitars.
In general, single coil pickups tend to give a bright, twangy and clear sound. They are also incredibly versatile. When used with an overdriven sound, they give a really nice growl that cuts through the mix, has a lot of ‘bite’ and maintains the clarity of each individual note being played (even if you’re playing more than one note at the same time). This allows for distinct separation between the individual notes. being played, and is very useful if you’re playing a style of music that requires a certain ‘heaviness’ while still maintaining an element of ‘cleanliness’. If, on the other hand, you’re using more of a clean sound on your amplifier (or whatever you’re using to amplify your signal), single coil pickups will give you a glassy, bright and sparkly tone. This is why single coils are used for country, blues, rock, and many other genres.
Famous guitar players who have used single coil pickups over the years include Brian May, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Mark Knopfler, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Andy Summers, David Gilmour, Ritchie Blackmore, John Mayer… and Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers from Iron Maiden!!! Not bad right?! As you’ll notice, there is a lot of stylistic variety across the players mentioned, from blues to rock to psychedelia to metal, and anything in between.
Compared to humbuckers, single coils tend to be much brighter and twangier, and can offer more definition and bite. However, they also sound thinner, and have a lower output in terms of volume. This means that if you play a single coil pickup and a humbucking pickup through the same amplifier settings, chances are the single coil pickup will sound somewhat quiter.
Something else to keep in mind with single coil pickups is that they can quite noisy by nature. This is due to their high sensitivity to any form of electromagnetic radiation, which is being emitted by loads of different elements in your environment. One of the most common types of noise is known as the 60 cycle hum, which in plan english means that there’s a ‘picking up’ of the electrical current that’s powering your amplification system, pedals, etc..
That said, there are a couple of ways to greatly reduce or completely eliminate this noise. One way is through a process called shielding. We won’t get into the details here, but if you find yourself loving single coils but don’t to deal with the noise it seems to come with, this could be an option for you. Another possibly simpler (but also more expensive) option is to have noiseless single coil pickups installed on your guitar.
Some manufactures like Seymour Duncan and even Fender have managed to create single coil pickups that maintain the inherent qualities of these kinds of pickups while eliminating the noise that they’re typically associated with. The effectiveness of these pickups varies from brand to brand, and you would need to investigate a bit further if you were to eventually go down this route. As can be expected, they’re not always the cheapest of pickups, but they might be very much worth it if they can give you the sound you need without any of the hassle!
Humbucking pickups feature two rows of magnetic pickup points that pick up the strings’ vibrations instead of one, which is fundamentally the mechanical difference that they have with single coils. Sound wise, humbuckers are known for their bold, punchy and mid-range driven sound… in others words, they’re beefy! This has traditionally made them very popular in the realms of the heavier side of rock and jazz. Compared to single coils, humbuckers are not as bright and do not offer the definition that their counterparts have. However, they are fatter, punchier and generally louder than single coil pickups.
Humbuckers are by no means limited to specific styles of music. Many great guitar players have used them over the years to achieve their unique and timeless sound, such as Slash, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and Kurt Cobain. Used with a more overdriven sound, humbuckers will deliver crunch and sustain for days, enabling a big, full wall of sound. Coupled with a clean sound, you can get a nice, warm and well rounded tone with lots of low end and a healthy midrange, with highs that are more subdued than in single coil but still present.
Simply put, a split coil pickup allows you take a humbucking pickup and ‘split’ it into two single coils. This is usually done by a push/pull tone know or via some sort of switch found in the control area of the guitar (Where the volume and tone knobs are). The major advantage of having such a system is pretty self-evident… it gives you the versatility of having two vastly distinct tonal identities at your fingertips, all in one guitar. This might not be so essential if you’re mostly playing at home or recording in studios, however when you play a lot of live shows (as I do), having such a feature truly becomes a game-changer! This is especially true if you’re playing gigs where you need to play a lot of different styles, or have lots of different tonal qualities during the course of the performance.
A question you might have at this point is whether splitting a humbucker into a single coil will cause it to lose volume. The answer is that it depends on the guitar/pickup manufacturer. In the past, this volume loss was a bit of an issue with some guitar brands. Nowadays, as the technology is always evolving and advancing, guitar manufacturers are wisening up to the true power of a volume-balanced split coil pickup.
With my PRS for example, I get absolutely zero noticeable loss in volume when going from humbucking to single coil mode. This is due to the technology that PRS have invested in when designing the stock pickups that come with the guitar. In fact, sometimes the guitar can sound a bit louder when I’m in single coil mode, due to the fact that I get a bit more clarity and note separation which allows what I’m playing to cut through the mix of a live band more efficiently.
Believe me, I use this feature in each and every single gig that I do these days… I honestly look at split-coil pickups as the swiss army knife of guitar tone!
Side by Side comparisons
|Tonal Quality||Bright, Twangy, Glassy, has ‘bite’||Beefy, rounded, punchy, lots of low and midrange|
|Clarity||Gives excellent note seperation on both clean and overdriven sounds||Notes sound a bit more ‘grouped together’ when used with an overdriven sound|
|Volume||Tends to be lower in volume and a bit thinner||Louder and has more body|
|Noise||Noisy by default, can be shielded. Another option is to buy and install noiseless single coil pickups||No extra noise picked up|
|Styles||Great for funk, country, pop and blues||Great for rock, metal, heavy blues and jazz|
Different pickup configurations
Now that we’ve looked at the different types of pickups, let’s take a quick look at the various ways in which these pickups can be configured on a guitar. For the duration of this segment, we’ll refer to humbuckers as H and single coils as S (this is generally how you’ll find pickup configurations being referred to on the manufacturer’s websites, guitar magazines, reviews and forums). Pickup configurations tend to not only have a tonal, but also a visual impact on guitar anatomy, and are therefore one of those parts of a guitar that really make a world of difference in so many ways. There are many different kinds of pickup configurations that a guitar can have, but here we’ll look at the 5 most common ones you’ll find in almost all mass-produced guitars:
With HH, you get two humbucking pickups, one in the bridge position and one in the neck position. Typically, the bridge pickup will give you a brighter, twangier sound, rich in highs and upper mid-range while not having too much low end, while the neck pickup will be warmer and rounder. With an HH system, guitars will usually have what’s knows as a three way pickup selector. Simply put, this will allow you to choose from one of three options : position 1, which will switch on the bridge pickup, position 2, which will offer a blend of the two pickups, and position 3, which will engage the neck pickup by itself.
Position 2 (also known as the middle position) is quite interesting, because it will often give you the brightness and bite of the neck pickup together with the tight low end of the neck pickup. Interestingly enough, the middle position on some guitars tend to have some single-coil tonal qualities to it while maintaining the beefiness associated with humbuckers… this is definitely the case with my PRS! The Gibson Les Paul, and the Gibson SG, two of the most popular guitars of the last few decades (and many will argue, the sound of classic rock), typically feature HH pickup configurations.
In an SSS guitar, you get three single coil pickups arranged across the body of the guitar, one at the bridge, one at the neck, and one in between these two. Tonally, the neck and bridge pickup show similar characteristics to those in humbucking guitars, namely more brightness at the bridge and more low end at the neck, albeit with overarching single coil characteristics. The middle pickup tends to be a blend of the two.
SSS guitars usually have a five way pickup selector, offering the following options :
position 1, which will switch on the bridge pickup
position 2, which will offer a blend of the the bridge and middle pickups
position 3, which will engage the middle pickup by itself
position 4, which blends the middle and neck pickups
position 5, which activates the neck pickup by itself.
As you can imagine, having this wide range of options offer a great amount of tonal possibilities! Examples of a guitar that typically has this setup is the evergreen Fender Stratocaster.
Same as the HH but with single coil pickups instead of humbuckers. A hugely popular guitar that traditionally uses this configuration is the Fender Telecaster (although modern Teles are often seen featured with humbucking pickups).
As you might have deduced already, HSS is a pickup configuration that gives you a humbucker at the bridge, with two single coil pickups in the middle and neck position. This allows for quite a lot of tonal variety, allowing you to opt for a fuller, creamier sound for more rock based sounds, for example, then switching to one of the single coils for crisper, glassier clean tones. More modern Strats are often seen bearing this configuration.
Similar to the HSS but with a humbucker in theneck position instead of a single coil. This configuration is ideal if you want to still have the tonal flexibility of choosing between both kinds of pickups, while leaning more towards a humbucking sound in your general playing. Many Ibanez guitars, such as the famous and widely used Ibanez RG, tend to feature an HSH style. It is the go to configuration for many modern rock and fusion players due to the flexibility that it offers.
Type of Bridge
Another feature to consider when looking at different parts of a guitar is the type of bridge that you can have. The two main types of bridges used are either fixed bridges (also known as hardtail bridges), or tremolo system bridges (sometimes referred to as floating bridges, although a tremolo system does not always use a floating bridge).
Simply put, a fixed bridge is set in one position and cannot be moved or manipulated. On the other hand, a bridge that’s using a tremolo system can have its position manipulated and changed vertically via the use of a tremolo arm, more commonly known as a whammy bar. This bar fits into a socket at the end of a floating bridge, and allows for the bridge itself to be moved up and down, which in turn changes the pitch of the notes you’re playing (the pitch is lowered if the bridge itself is lowered, and vice versa).
There are many different types of tremolo bridge systems. One such example is the Bigsby tremolo, seen on many vintage guitars and heard on countless country, blues and rockabilly records. This system uses what’s known as a rolling bridge, and the tight springs that it uses gives a very shimmery, somewhat subtle but extremely musical vibrato. Another example is the more modern Floyd Rose system, which is based on a floating bridge mechanism and is often used in rock and metal due to the physical flexibility (and therefore pitching variety) that it offers. Many guitar manufacturers nowadays also have their own floating bridge system. Just like pickup configurations, different bridge types have an impact on guitar anatomy that’s noy only tonal in nature, but also visual.
Strings are usually measured by what is known as gauge. In short, the higher the gauge, the thicker the strings, meaning the more tension they will have. Higher gauge strings are great for getting a full, thick tone, and also for downtuning strings without losing too much tension. They also tend to give great resonance. However lighter gauge strings tend to be easier to bend, due to the fact that they’re stretched out less tightly and are therefore easier to manipulate overall. Different players prefer different gauges. Electric guitar gauges can go as low as 8 (super light and flexible) to as high as 13 (thick and with loads of tension).
For the past few years I’ve been .10-.52 gauge strings on my electric guitars, meaning that the thinnest string is 0.10 inches in diameter while the thickest string has a 0.52”. This is typically referred to as gauge 10 strings, although it’s worth mentioning that you can a certain gauge with different amounts for the thicker strings (ex : 10-52 vs the more common 10-49). I’ve found that this gives me high strings (G, B and high E) that are easy to manipulate and bend while playing lead. At the same time, it allows me to get a good amount of stability and tension on the lower strings that while playing chords and riffs by giving me the right amount of resistance (not rigid or too loose), which I used to get when using 10-49.
If you would like some help on buying a guitar, I have written in detail about some of the best budget-friendly electric and acoustic guitars on the market, so you can compare them side by side.