Guitar Terms And Their Meaning
Abalone – A rain-bowed colorful shell material used for inlay on guitars for decoration. The color varies greatly and enhances the overall appearance. See Photo.
Action – This describes the string height above the fingerboard on a guitar. The closer the strings are to the fingerboard without excessive buzzing the faster and easier the guitar plays. See Photo.
Active Pickups – An active pickup is one that uses electronics to enhance or modify the signal from the guitar’s strings. See Photo.
Alnico – Alloy used in the magnets of some guitar pickups. Alnico (AlNiCo) is made of Aluminum, Nickel and Cobalt. See Photo.
Archtop – A guitar with an arched or carved top, unlike a guitar with a flat top. Usually an archtop guitar has “f” sound holes and the flat top has a round or oval sound hole. See Photo.
Binding – A strip of plastic or wood that is inlaid along the edges of the top, back, fingerboard and/or headstock of a guitar. Bindings can be multilayered and used to enhance the overall appearance of a guitar. See Photo.
Body – The main part of the guitar. This is where the bridge and tailpiece are located and where pickups are mounted and wired. See Photo.
Bolt-on-Neck – A guitar neck that is attached by bolts or wood screws as opposed to being glued into a special joint in the guitars body. See Photo.
Bookmatched – The top and back of guitar are usually two pieces of wood glued in the center. Bookmatching is when a single piece of wood is sliced and laid open like a book. The grain then matches because it is of the same piece of wood. See Photo.
Bracing or Braces – Braces are strips of wood glued to the top and back of hollow guitars to give strength and support. There are different types of bracing for different applications and results. Some examples: X-Bracing are braces that intersect to make an “x” pattern and is the most popular for acoustic guitar tops. Ladder Bracing are braces on the guitars top that run parallel like ladder rungs. Scalloped bracing are braces that have been shaved down in the middle to lighten the brace resulting in a more vibrant guitar top. Fan bracing are braces that fan out and are used mostly on Classiscal guitars. See Photo.
Break Angle – The angle at which a guitar string will break over the nut or saddle. See Photo.
Bridge – There are many types of guitar bridges each designed for a certain type of guitar (solid body electric, archtop, acoustic, etc). The bridge transfers the vibration of the strings to the top or body of the guitar. On acoustic guitars the bridge is glued to the top. Archtop guitars have a bridge that is usually held in place by string tension much like a violin or similar instrument. Solidbody guitars commonly have their bridges mounted with screws directly to the guitars body. See Photo.
Bridge Pin – A bridge pin is a tapered pin that presses into the bridge and keeps the strings in place. See Photo.
Bridge Plate – A piece of wood glued to the underside of the top directly below the bridge on an acoustic guitar. This term sometimes refers to the bridge of a Telecaster type guitar. See Photo.
Capo – A device used for shortening the strings of the guitar which raises the pitch. A capo is used to change the key and pitch of the open strings of a guitar without having to adjust the strings with the tuning keys. The pitch of fretted notes does not change; only the open, unfretted strings are affected. See Photo.
Celluloid – A type of plastic used on guitars for binding, pickguards and tuner buttons. It shrinks over time and deteriorates with age. You can see examples of this on old Fender pickguards, Gibson tuner buttons and Gretsch binding. When binding deteriorates it is called “binding rot”. Old tuner buttons can literally turn to dust in your hands and if you remove an old shrunken celluloid pickguard you may not be able to re-install it. If you do remove a celluloid pickguard from a guitar that did not shrink too much you should mount it on a flat board using all of its mounting holes to prevent any further shrinking. More.
Checking – Checking are those little hairline cracks that you see in the finish on many older guitars. The cracks develop from the guitar being exposed to extreme temperature changes. The wood expands when it warms from being cold faster than the finish and the finish cracks for this rapid expansion. This is sometimes called Crazing. See Photo.
Coils – The windings of wire of a guitars pickup. See Photo.
Coil Tap – A coil tap is a wiring feature found on a guitars pickup wire coil. The coil tap(s) are points in the wire coil where a conductive patch has been exposed (usually on a loop of wire that extends out of the main coil body). When the coil taps are disconnected, the coil operates as normal. When a coil tap is connected to one end of the coil (or the end disconnected and reconnected to the tap), the section of coil between the tap and its connected end is bypassed – effectively reducing the number of turns in the coil. This is effective in splitting dual coil humbucker pickups to achieve different sounds and can be activated with a coil tap switch. Also sometimes referred to as splitting. See Photo.
Compensated Saddle – A compensated saddle is one in which the centerline is altered to either direction off-center to achieve better intonation. This alteration off-center shortens or lengthens the distance between the saddle and the nut. See Photo.
Cutaway – A guitar that has part of the body cut away on its treble bout to allow access to the upper frets over the body. There are two styles of cutaways. One is the Florentine in which the tip comes to a sharp point like an ES-175. The other style is the Venetian which is rounded like a Gretsch 6120 or similar. A guitar that has a double cutaway would have both sides cut away like a Gibson SG. See Photo.
Dovetail – A tapered, sliding, mortise and tenon joint used to attatch a guitar neck to it’s body. This joint is used in Set Neck guitars. See Photo.
Ebonized – A stain that is used on lighter colored wood to give the dark appearance of Ebony. See Photo.
End block – The end block is a block of wood glued to the top, back, and sides at the bottom end of an acoustic or archtop guitar. Strap buttons and endpins mount to this block as well as input jacks in acoustic guitars. See Photo.
F-hole – The soundholes used on Archtop guitars that look like the script letter “f” like on violins and similar instruments as well as some mandolins. F-holes can vary in size and may be bound to enhance their appearance. See Photo.
Fingerboard or Fretboard – The surface of the guitars neck on which the frets are installed. The fingerboard or fretboard can be made of different types of wood (commonly maple, rosewood or ebony) or composite material. See Photo.
Floating Pickup – A pickup that is attached to the end of the fingerboard or pickguard, suspended over the body so it does not interfere with the acoustical properties of the guitar. This type of pickup is often found on archtop guitars. On many guitars that use the floating pickup the electronic circuitry (volume and tone pots) as well as the output jack are mounted to the pickguard. See Photo.
Fret or Fretwire – Perpendicular metal strips inserted into the fingerboard dividing the neck into fixed segments at half step intervals. Fretwire is available in many different sizes to suit each player. See Photo.
Hardware – All the different parts of a guitar including jacks, bridge, tuners, knobs, etc. See Photo.
Headstock– This is where the machine heads (tuners) are mounted. Also called a peghead. See Photo.
Humbucker – A pickup using two single coils mounted side by side or one on top of the other that are wired so the hum is canceled out. See Photo.
Inlay – Any ornate or functional marker material that is inlaid into the wood of a guitar. Most common inlay is purfling, rosette and the fretboard markers. See Photo.
Intonation – This describes the guitars ability to play in tune at various positions on the entire neck. See Photo.
Kerfing – Small strips of “bracing” glued around the entire perimeter of the top and side joint as well as the back and side joint inside the acoustic or archtop guitar. This is the gluing surface that holds the top and back to the sides. See Photo.
Laminated – This refers to the top back and sides of an acoustic or archtop guitar. If any of these pieces of the guitar are laminated they are made of multiple layers of thin wood not unlike plywood. This makes the parts of the guitar stronger and more uniformed. If a guitars top is laminated it does not resonate as much as a solid top. This can have its advantage by damping feedback on archtop guitars. See Photo.
Machine Heads – These are also called tuners or tuning machines. They are used for tuning up each string and mounted on the headstock which is also called the peghead. See Photo.
Mother of Pearl – A shell resembling a pearl in appearance that is used for inly on a guitar. See Photo.
Neck – The part of the guitar where the strings are stretched over the fretboard and the fingers are placed to stop the strings at different pitches. The neck of a guitar includes the guitar’s frets, fretboard, tuners, headstock, and truss rod. Necks can be bound with binding or unbound. See Photo.
Neck Block – The neck block which is found inside of the body at the base of the neck provides the necessary mating joint to mount the neck to the body on acoustic and archtop guitars. This is usually a dovetail joint with the neck being glued into it. Some acoustic guitars have a bolt-on-neck. The mounting bolts pass through the neck block. An electric/acoustic may have its batter compartment mounted to the neck block. See Photo.
Neck Through– A neck through design is one in which the neck actually runs right thru the center of the body. The “wings” of the body are glued to the neck. An example of this design is the Gibson Firebird. See Photo.
Nut – Found at the end of the fingerboard near the tuners. Usually formed from bone, ivory, plastic, ebony, or graphite, the nut determines string spacing and string height by small grooves cut into it’s surface. See Photo.
P.A.F. or PAF – The world’s first humbucker guitar pickup, invented by Seth Lover in 1955 as an engineer for Gibson and began use in mass production guitars in 1956 or 1957. P.A.F. stands for “Patent Applied For”. See Photo.
Passive Electronics – Refers to a guitar that does not have active circuitry requiring a 9 volt battery. See Photo.
Peghead – This is where the machine heads (tuners) are mounted. Also called the Headstock. See Photo.
Pickguard – A sheet like piece of material attached to the body of the guitar to protect the surface from pick scratches, and to hide wiring and pickups. It can be mounted with screws and also brackets. On an acoustic guitar the pickguard is glued directly to the top. The material is available in a wide variety of colors and thicknesses. See Photo.
Pickup – A device that captures the mechanical string vibrations that are created and transform them into an electronic signal. See Photo.
Plectrum – Often called a pick. A small triangular shaped piece of plastic used for strumming or picking the guitar strings with the hand. See Photo.
Potentiometer (Pot) – A variable resistor that can be used as a voltage divider. A pot is used for volume or tone controls in guitar circuitry. They are available in a wide range of values for specific applications. See Photo.
Purfling – A decorative material such as wood or shell that is inlaid around the edge of the body, soundhole or peghead, just inside the outer binding. This is used to enhance the appearance of a guitar. This is sometimes found on ornate acoustic guitars such as the Martin D-45. See Photo.
Relic – A term used for guitars that have a simulated aged look like an authentic vintage model. See Photo.
Relief – Neck relief is the amount of bow in the neck that allows the strings to vibrate freely without buzzing on the frets. See Photo.
Rosette – A decorative inlaid strip around the soundhole of an acoustic guitar. See Photo.
Saddle – The part of the bridge that the strings go over to transfer vibrations to the top of the guitar. See Photo.
Scale Length – The distance between the nut and saddle. To calculate the scale length of your guitar measure from the 12th fret to the edge of the nut on the fingerboard. Then multiply that number by two and you have your scale length. See Photo.
Scalloped Fretboard – A fretboard that has been carved or recessed to create a scoop between frets. See Photo.
Set Neck – A neck that is glued into a joint on the body and uses no bolts or screws for mounting. See Photo.
Single Coil – A term that describes a pickup with one coil as used on most Fender type guitars. See Photo.
Slide – A glass, stainless steel, brass, or chrome tube of approximately one to two inches long and ¾ inch diameter which is slipped over one of the fingers of the fretting hand. See Photo.
Strap – A piece of leather or woven cloth material used to hold the guitar so you can play it while standing. See Photo.
Strap Button – A small peg mounted to the guitars body to attatch the strap to. See Photo.
Switch Tip – A plastic or metal tip that is used to cover the lever of a switch on the guitar. See Photo.
Tailpiece – The tailpiece anchors the strings at the opposite end of the headstock or peghead. The trapeze type is mounted to the end block and has a hinge that lets the “trapeze” part ride over the guitars top. This is most commonly found on archtop guitars. The stop type is mounted directly to the top of the guitar. This type is used on solid body guitars like the Gibson Les Paul. See Photo.
Tremolo Arm – See “Tremolo or Vibrato System”. See Photo.
Truss Rod – A metal rod which runs through the center of the guitars neck. It is installed just below the fingerboard and helps to stiffen the neck and prevent bowing that could be caused by string tension. There are several types of truss rods. The T-bar is a non-adjustable bar that is shaped like a T. The Single Action adjustable rod can be tightened to compensate for the tension of the strings. A Square Bar truss rod is a hollow square bar that is non-adjustable. And the Dual Action rod is an adjustable rod that can create underbow or backbow in the neck. See Photo.
Thumbwheels – Small wheels with knurls along their edges that are used to adjust the height on guitar bridges. These are usually found on archtop guitars and some solid body guitars like the Gibson Les Paul. The bridge sits on these flat wheels and as they are turned up or down on their threaded post the bridge is raised or lowered. See Photo.
Tune-o-matic Bridge – This type bridge is found on the Gibson Les Paul, some archtops and Les Paul style electric guitars. The bridge sits on two thumbwheels and as they are turned up or down on their threaded post the bridge is raised or lowered. It also has six individual saddles for intonation adjustment of each string. See Photo.
Tremelo or Vibrato system – A bridge and/or the tailpiece of an electric guitar or archtop guitar to enable the player to quickly vary the tension and sometimes the length of the strings temporarily, changing the pitch to create a vibrato or pitch bend effect.. A lever is attached to the system and is often called the tremolo arm, trem arm, tremolo bar, whammy bar or wang bar. See Photo.
Veneer – A thin piece of wood or plastic laminate placed on the headstock or peghead to enhance the appearance or provide strength. See Photo.
Volute – The part of the neck where it transitions into the headstock or peghead can have a carved part called the volute for added strength to prevent a broken headstock. See Photo.
Wang Bar- See “Tremolo or Vibrato System”. See Photo.
Whammy Bar – See “Tremolo or Vibrato System”. See Photo.
Zero Fret – A fret installed exactly where the nut should be. The guitar strings ride directly on this fret which sets the height of the strings from the fingerboard in the open position. A nut is still needed for string spacing only, not height. See Photo.