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What do the dots on the neck of my guitar mean?


This is one of the two most frequent questions that I am asked by students.
I forget what the other one is.

Consider the following analogy:

The dots or markers on the neck of a guitar are there basically for the same reason you place a bookmark in your favorite book. It helps you find your place. Other than this instructional purpose, it serves as a decorative element. You can see the markings on various guitars as circles, ovals, trapezoids, lightning bolts or whatever the luthier* may choose.

You will find the markers most commonly at frets number 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12. Fret 12 is typically indicated by a double marker or two dots. This indicates an octave above the note played as open on the same string. Beyond these you may find markers at fret 15, 17, 19, 21 and if included a double again at 24.

*luthier: noun
a craftsman who makes stringed instruments (as lutes or guitars or violins)

American Psychological Association (APA):
luthier. (n.d.). WordNet® 3.0. Retrieved August 28, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/luthier
Chicago Manual Style (CMS):
luthier. Dictionary.com. WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/luthier (accessed: August 28, 2007).
Modern Language Association (MLA):
"luthier." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 28 Aug. 2007. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/luthier>.