Okay, so we’ve all heard the phrase elec­tric gui­tar but what do we really mean by elec­tric? And, what are the key ele­ments that make up an elec­tric gui­tar? OK here goes-

It refers to the elec­tric­al com­pon­ents that help pro­duce and shape the sound of an elec­tric gui­tar. These com­pon­ents can be found on the gui­tar itself, such as pickups and switches, or in extern­al devices like ped­als and amp­li­fi­ers.

In this art­icle, we will explore some of the most com­mon gui­tar-related elec­tron­ics, how they work, and how they can affect your gui­tar’s sound.


The pickup is the heart of an elec­tric gui­tar’s sound. It is a mag­net wrapped in a coil of wire that senses the vibra­tions of the gui­tar’s strings and con­verts them into elec­tric­al sig­nals. It works a little bit like a gen­er­at­or if you remem­ber doing phys­ics at school. These sig­nals are then sent to an amp­li­fi­er or oth­er device that amp­li­fies them to pro­duce sound.

There are two main types of pickups: single-coil and hum­buck­er.

Single-coil pickups use a single coil of wire to sense the string vibra­tions, and pro­duce a bright, clear sound typ­i­fied by the Fend­er Stra­tocaster and Tele­caster. Hum­buck­ers, on the oth­er hand, use two coils of wire to can­cel out the hum and noise that single-coil pickups can some­times pick up. This res­ults in a warm­er, thick­er sound — Take a look at the Les Paul and the major­ity of Gib­son style gui­tars.

Some gui­tars have mul­tiple pickups, allow­ing you to switch between them to pro­duce dif­fer­ent sounds. For example, a gui­tar with a bridge hum­buck­er and a neck single-coil pickup can pro­duce a wide range of sounds by switch­ing between the two.


Poten­tiomet­ers, or “pots” for short, are vari­able res­ist­ors that con­trol the amount of elec­tric­al cur­rent flow­ing through a cir­cuit. In a gui­tar, they are used to adjust the volume and tone of the pickups.

As a volume con­trol, they just lim­it the whole amp­litude of the sig­nal and hence you just get a quieter or louder sound com­ing out of the gui­tar. This can be an integ­ral part of how your gui­tar sounds and not just how loud it is, as this will influ­ence if the amp­li­fi­er breaks up or not.

There are two main types of pots: audio (Log­ar­ithmic) and lin­ear.

Audio pots are com­monly used for volume con­trols, as they provide a more gradu­al increase at the start of their travel.

Lin­ear pots are used for tone con­trols. They are wired in a simple cir­cuit with the capa­cit­or to enable the capa­cit­ance to increas­ingly short high fre­quency sounds to earth, thus chan­ging the EQ. See next sec­tion.


 Capa­cit­ors store elec­tric­al energy and release it when needed — well so what?

When a capa­cit­or is con­nec­ted to a pot, it cre­ates a high-pass fil­ter that removes low-fre­quency sig­nals from the gui­tar’s sound.

This res­ults in a bright­er, more treble-heavy sound. The value of the capa­cit­or used determ­ines how much of the low fre­quen­cies are removed.


Toggle switches are mainly used to select pickups. For example, select­ing just a bridge pickup will be more trebly than a neck pickup.

Oth­er switches found on gui­tars include toggle switches, which are used to activ­ate spe­cial effects like dis­tor­tion or over­drive, and push-pull switches, which allow you to switch between single-coil and hum­buck­er modes on cer­tain pickups.

Effects Ped­als

While not strictly part of the gui­tar or indeed not part of the gui­tar at all (!) they’re extern­al devices, effects ped­als are used to modi­fy the sound of a gui­tar.

They are typ­ic­ally placed between the gui­tar and the amp­li­fi­er. You can see many dif­fer­ent ped­als and inter­est­ing art­icles at guitarfxdirect.com

There are many dif­fer­ent types of effects ped­als, each with its own unique sound. Some of the most com­mon types include:

Dis­tor­tion: These ped­als add dis­tor­tion to the gui­tar’s sound, cre­at­ing a gritty, over­driv­en sound.

Delay: These ped­als cre­ate an echo effect, repeat­ing the gui­tar’s sound after a short delay.

Reverb: These ped­als add a sense of space to the gui­tar’s sound, cre­at­ing a “roomy” effect.

Wah: These ped­als allow you to manip­u­late the gui­tar’s sound by sweep­ing a fil­ter up and down, pro­du­cing a “wah-wah” effect.

So, in a nut­shell these are the things that make the elec­tric gui­tar “elec­tric”

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.