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Guitar and Guitar Repair Terms, a Guitar Glossary for the Novice


Repair Terms and Guitar Glossary for Novice Guitar Players

Glossary of Common Guitar & Guitar Repair Terms

Abalone - A highly colorful shell material commonly used on instrument inlays.  Abalone inlays come in a rainbow of colors and can  appear to change color when viewed from different angles.  Sometimes also called "mother of pearl".

Action - A term generally used to describe the strings height above the tops of the frets.

Active - When pickup's are said to be active they incorporate a pre-amp which requires additional power.  The result is a boost and/or wider range for the pickup.

Archtop - A guitar with an arched top which has been carved or pressed. The bridge and tailpiece are movable. Generally associated with Jazz musicians.  Common examples include the Gibson ES series of guitars.

Bakelite - Early form of plastic used in some guitars from the 30's to the 50's.  

Bigsby - Term used for a simple non recessed vibrato developed by Paul Bigsby

Binding - A protective and decorative strip made of  wood or plastic that is placed along the outer most edges of the top, back, neck, fingerboard and some times headstock.  This is a cap used to seal and protect joints.  Sometimes incorrectly referred to as purfling,  purfling actually refers to inlays along side of the binding and not the actual binding itself.

Block Markers - Square, rectangular or shark tooth inlays marking fingerboard position.

Body - The main portion of the guitar which the controls, bridge and pickups are mounted.  The body can be hollow (a hollow body) or solid (a solid body) design.

Bolt On - Normally refers to an instrument that has it's neck  attached by bolts rather than being glued in place.   Fender was on e of the first to use this design.  Bold on is a bit of a misnomer as generally screws rather than bolts are used.

Bookmatched - Generally most acoustic and many archtop  guitars  have tops and backs that are 2 pieces of wood glued together to form one large panel. Bookmatched refers to the wood coming from the same tree and actually being one piece of wood that has been but into consecutive slices so the grain in the panels creates mirror image patterns.

Bout - There are two Bout areas, the Upper Bout and the Lower Bout.  The Upper Bout is from the waist or sound hole up to the top of the body and the lower bout is below the sound hole or waist to the bottom of the body.  They are basically the widest parts of the guitar or bass.  

Brace - Braces are wooden struts glued inside hollowbody guitars providing strength and affecting tone quality.  An X brace is a popular brace pattern used in hollowbody guitars.  Other bracing patterns include the ladder brace, fan bracing and scalloped braces.

Bridge - Bridges come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  On a solid body electric guitar they generally fixed and hold the saddle that makes contact with the strings.         On archtop guitars  the bridge is usually  held in place only by the  tension of the strings and can be easily moved, also called a "floating bridge".   Many bridges are adjustable by thumbwheels incorporated into the bridge.  The bridge may sit on top of a bridge base plate or bridgeplate.

Bridge Pins - Bridge Pins  anchor the strings on to the bridge.

Bullet - Name give to the appearance of truss-rod adjustor nut on the headstock of some Fender guitars.

CAP - Also called a capacitor, a common electrical component that stores up an  electrical charge generally used on the tone potentiometer on electric guitars.

Celluloid - A common plastic material used on guitar pickguards, tuners and binding.  This material is not very durable and deteriorates over time therefore many vintage guitars have issues with celluloid parts.

Center Block - A solid wood block running through the body of a semi-acoustic guitar body.

Checking - Used to describe cracking found in lacquer finished guitars.  Vintage guitars often have checking in their lacquer finishes.  Checking is caused by the guitar's wood expanding and contracting with changes in temperature and humidity.  Is important to maintain constant humidity and reasonable range of temperature to prevent checking. 

Cutaway - A guitar which has been cut away to allow easy access to the frets while reaching over  the body.        A double cut guitar away has both sides cut away.  Many people just refer to "single cut" and "double cut" guitars.

Dog Ear - Nick name for a P-90 style pickup with mounting ears.

Dot Neck - Guitar with simple dot inlays in the neck  position markers.

Dreadnought - Generally associated with C.F. Martin and their biggest and loudest acoustic guitar.  Now used my many other brands on large acoustic guitar models.

Electro Acoustic - An acoustic guitar with a built in pickup, often a piezo electric pickup.

End block
- Acoustic guitars  normally have an end block and a neck block at opposite  ends of the body. The end block is usually glued to the top, back, and sides at the bottom end of the guitar.  Often strap buttons are are anchored into this block as it provides the strength necessary to support a strap.

F-hole - Term used for an "f" shaped sound hole on some hollowbody and semi-acoustic guitars.

Fingerboard (also called a fretboard) - This is the surface of the neck that contains the frets.  Note there are also some guitars that are "fretless" but the fingerboard is still used without frets. The fingerboard is generally a separate piece of wood glued to the neck.  It's often made of a hard durable wood as the frets must be securely anchored into the fretboard.  Vintage guitars often used Brazilian Rosewood and Ebony for fingerboard material.

Finish - This refers to the protective coating covering the guitar, often paint or lacquer.

Fixed Bridge - Refers to non-vibrato bridges.

Flame - Sometimes also called Flame Top.  Generally refers to Maple with dramatic grain resembling flames.

Flat Top - Used to refer to an acoustic guitar with a flat (non-arched) top.  Many Martin and Gibson guitars are considered flat top acoustic guitars.

Fret - Metal wire inlayed at intervals along the fingerboard.  The guitar player presses down on the string forcing the string to touch the fret changing the sting length and producing different notes.    There are a variety of fret wire profiles used for frets.

Hang Tag - Small tags and cards hung on guitars in show rooms.  A hang tag for a vintage guitar is generally very difficult to find.

Hard Tail - Term used to describe an electric guitar without a vibrato bridge, often used to describe Fender guitars.

Headstock - Describes the part of the guitar where the strings attach to the tuners.  Also called a peghead.  Fender generally uses 6 in-line tuners on the headstock and gibson prefers three on each side of the headstock.

Heel - Portion of neck where the neck curves or is reduced to join the body.

Hollow Body - An electric guitar body style with a thin body similar to an acoustic guitar.

Humbucker - A noise canceling twin coil pickup normally associated with Fender.

Inlay - Decorative material that is cut and embedded into the body, neck or headstock of a guitar.

Intonation - Refers to the guitars ability to play in tune at various positions along the neck.  Often adjusted by adjusting the bridge saddle.

Jackplate - Mounting plate for output jack. 

Laminated - The backs, sides and even tops of some instruments can be made from several pieces of wood which have been laminated to form one piece, usually at the determent of it's sound. (Especially if it's the top that's laminated.)       A neck can also be made from more than one piece of wood to produce a decorative center stripe.

Locking Nut - Bolts that lock the strings in place at the nut.

Logo - The manufactures brand name or trademark usually on the headstock.

Luthier - A guitar maker and guitar repair expert.  Always look for an experienced luthier. Tip - A good luthier will generally offer free repair estimates and explain the nature of the  repair.  Sometimes incorrectly spelled Luther.

Machine Heads - also knows as tuners or tuning machines.  Allows string tension to be changed changing the pitch of the strings.

Neck Block - The neck block is found inside of the body at the base of the neck.  The Neck block provides a strong point to mount the neck to the body.

Neck Plate - A metal plate used in the Fender style bolt on designs. it is screwed to the neck and the body fastening the neck to the guitar body.

Neck Pickup - Refers to the pickup closest to the neck.

Neck Reset - A neck reset is  performed restore the correct  angle between the fingerboard bridge which provides the correct action needed to play the guitar.

Neck Press - Uses gentle heat and pressure to straighten a neck.  Can be tricky and should only be performed by a trained Luthier.

Nut - Located  at the end of the fingerboard before the headstock, used to provide proper string height and spacing before the strings enter the tuners.

P-90 - Refers to an early Gibson single coil pickup.

PAF - Refers to a sticker on Gibson pickups.

Passive - Usually describes a guitar that does not use pickups which require power (active pickups).

Peghead - A peghead is where the tuners are mounted, also called a headstock. Vintage guitars often have cracks or repaired headstocks as this will often crack if a guitar falls over.

Pickguard - Also called a scratchplate, a thin covering screwed or glued to the top of a guitar to protect the guitar from picks and fingernails.  Comes in a variety of colors and styles.  Often cracked around the screw holes on vintage guitars. 

Pot - A Potentiometer mounted to the body of an electric guitar  commonly used for control of volume and tone.  The tone pot will normally have a capacitor soldered in circuit.

Pre-CBS - Refers to Fender guitars manufactured before the 1965 takeover of Fender by CBS.  Vintage collectors prefer pre-CBS guitars.

Quilted - Describes beautiful undulating pattern found in wood, generally refers to Maple and can also be referred to as "maple quilting" or maple quilted".

Relief - The upward arching bow in an instrument's neck that allows the strings to move without touching  the frets.  A bowed or warped neck will have to be heated and pressed to restore the neck to  correct relief.

Refin - Refers to a refinished guitar.  Refinished guitars have a significantly lower value than original guitar with the original surface.

Refret - Also called a fret job, refers to re-fretting a guitar.

Rout - A hole or cavity cut into a guitar, often the body of the guitar.  Many times a pickup cavity is routed to enable a different pickup to be installed.  Routing will diminish the value of a vintage guitar and routing should not be done on a valuable guitar.

Rosette - The  decorative strip or inlay work found around the soundhole on an acoustic guitar.

Saddle -  The part of the bridge where the strings make contact transferring the string vibration to the bridge and body of the guitar.

Scale Length - Length of the vibrating string from nut to saddle or twice the distance from the nut to the 12th fret. 

Set Neck - A set neck is a neck that is glued into the body and uses no bolts for attachment. This is normally associated with  electric guitars.       

Setup - Guitar repair term to set intonation and action.

Single Coil Pickup - An early pickup design with a single coil of wire wrapped around a magnet

Soap Bar - Nickname for a P-90 style pickup that has no mounting ears.

Solid Body - Refers to electric guitars with a solid (non-hollow) body.  Includes many Fender and Gibson guitars.

Spaghetti Logo - Early style Fender logo with letters resembling spaghetti.  Used to assist in dating Fender guitars.

Sound Hole - Hole in the top of the body of a hollow body guitar.  May enhance sound of be simply for looks.  An F-Hole is a type of sound hole.

Sustain - Length of  time a sting vibrates

Split Coil - A double coil pickup wound with multiple coils that are smaller than a standard 2 coil pickup where each coil works with a few strings.  Most commonly one coil is used for the  e and a strings and one coil is used for the d and g strings.  The Fender Precision bass uses this type of pickup.  A split coil generally has a little less hum canceling but better high frequency response.

Stop Tailpiece - Sometimes called a stud tailpiece.  Fixed to the top of the guitar and  anchors the strings to the top.  Holes in the tailpiece allow strings to pass thru the stop tailpiece and over the bridge.
T- Frets - Refers to the shape of the metal fret.  T-Frets are used in most refrets.

Tailpiece - On instruments without bridge pins the strings are commonly anchored to a tailpiece. This normally mounts to the end block and pulls the strings down towards the top after passing across the bridge.

Thinline - Term used to describe hollow body electric guitars, first used with the Gibson Byrdland guitar.  Also used by Fender and others. 

Through Neck - A Thru neck design uses  a neck that  actually runs right thru the center of the body.

Trapeze Tailpiece - This tailpiece design has  a hinge like mechanism  on it and has a shape similar to a swinging trapeze. 

Tremolo - Another term used for Vibrato or Tremolo Arm

Truss Rod - A rod which runs thru the center of a guitar's neck below the fingerboard,  The truss rod helps to stiffen the  neck and prevent bowing caused by the tension caused by the strings.  Can be adjusted (in most guitars) to change  the relief of the neck.

Truss Rod Cover - A decorative cover that covers up the access point for adjusting the truss rod.

Thumbwheel - A small wheel used on adjustable bridges (those usually found on archtop guitars or mandolins) to adjust the bridges height. The top portion of an adjustable bridge rest upon these flat wheels and as they are screwed upward on their post the top portion of the bridge is raised.

Tune-o-matic - This bridge is commonly found on Les Paul style electric guitars.  It sits on two thumbwheels and has six saddles which allow individual  intonation adjustment for each string.

Tuning Machines - Mechanical devices used to increase or decrease string tension.  Located on the guitar head stock.  These can be all  inline (Fender style) , all individual or in 2 groups (Gibson style).

Veneer - Refers to thin wood or plastic laminate used in the construction of some guitars.

Vibrato - Bridge and/or tailpiece which can alter the pitch of strings when the vibrato arm is pressed.  Also called a whammy bar.

Volute - A piece of wood installed just behind the peghead.   It strengthens the neck where the headstock begins.

Waist - The narrow area of the guitar body approximately between the top and bottom of the guitar or bass.

We hope this glossary has answered some of your guitar and guitar repair questions.  We offer a full service vintage and used guitar shop in Chicago.  Please stop by our shop or give us a shout to discuss your guitar or guitar repair needs.

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