Almost all guitars have frets, which 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. The exceptions include fretless bass guitars and very rare fretless guitars. 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 and 24 frets, although guitars have been made with as many as 27 frets. Frets are laid out to accomplish an equal tempered division of the octave. Each set of twelve frets represents an octave. The twelfth fret divides the scale length exactly into two halves, and the 24th fret position divides one of those halves in half again.
The pickguard, also known as the scratchplate, is usually a piece of laminated plastic or other material that protects the finish of the top of the guitar from damage due to the use of a plectrum ("pick") or fingernails. Electric guitars sometimes mount pickups and electronics on the pickguard. It is a common feature on steel-string acoustic guitars. Some performance styles that use the guitar as a percussion instrument (tapping the top or sides between notes, etc.), such as flamenco, require that a scratchplate or pickguard be fitted to nylon-string instruments.
Unlike many string instruments which use a bow to create a sound, guitars are played by plucking or strumming the strings on the instrument, which vibrate to create a sound. Chords are played when the guitarist holds their fingers down on more than one individual string to change its length, which in turn changes the frequency of the vibration created - in other words, it creates a different note. Performers often use guitar tabs, rather than sheet music, when learning music: this acts as a kind of 'map' to teach guitarists where to put their fingers on the strings.