Basic Terminology Guitar Players Should Know

In order to learn how to play the guitar, we must first learn the basic terminology and lingo used by people in the guitar milieu. Some of the words used might sound complicated or weird, but they are commonplace among guitarists and musicians in general. They refer to the parts of the guitar, as well as some of the techniques that help us become better at this unique instrument.

Body

The largest part of the guitar is where the sound of the strings resonates. Acoustic guitars have a large hollow wooden body, which also known as sound box.

Electric guitars do not always rely on their resonation boxes. They use magnetic pick-ups that capture the vibration of the strings and transform it to electrical signals that are sent to an amplifier. Electric guitars might have solid bodies, which can only produce sound through electronic pick-ups, or semi-hollow bodies, which have a resonation chamber but also use pick-ups to amplify their cleaner sound.

Headstock

headstock
This is also called the peghead, and is where the tuning keys are. The machine heads are used to control the tension and pitch of each string. The headstock is connected to the neck by a nut.

Nut

guitar-nut
It is the small strip of bone, plastic or metal, connecting the headstock with the neck. It has grooves that hold the strings and guide them. This important piece marks the start of the vibrating length of the strings.

Neck

The longest section of the guitar is what holds the tension of the strings. This is where the fret board is located.

Fret Board

Section of the fretboard

Section of the fretboard

It is the topmost part of the neck. This wooden board is divided by metal strips called frets. There are between 20 and 24 frets in most modern guitars, and each one represents a half tone interval.

Bridge

It marks the end of the vibrating length of the strings, and hold them to the body of the guitar. It also transfers the sound of the strings to the resonance box in acoustic guitars.

Pick-ups

These are actually magnets which create an electromagnetic field around the strings. Every time a string vibrates, it creates a disturbance in the field. The magnet picks up this vibration and transforms it to weak electrical signals that are then transmitted to an amplifier.

Amplifier

Also called “amp”, is the receiver of weak electrical signals from the guitar pick-ups. The amp then amplifies these signals and sends them to a loudspeaker in the form of sound.

Capo capo

Sometimes you need to play a song in a different key. The capo is a small device that, when attached to the fret board, changes the tuning of the guitar depending on the fret it is on.

Pick

Also called plectrum, is small piece of plastic, bone, or metal, used to strike or pluck the guitar strings. The sound produced by it is brighter and more focused than the one achieved with the fingertips, but the variety of sounds and textures is greatly reduced.

Whammy Bar

This device is often attached to the bridge. It is used to change the tension of the strings and produce a pitch-bending effect or vibrato effect. It is also referred to as a Vibrato system.

Riff

A melodic phrase that is often repeated as a part of a song. It is the basic building block of composition, and serves to accompany the main melody.

Reverb

It is the residual sound caused by the reflection against walls or objects. When playing in large halls, the sound of the guitar seems louder and fuller as it has great reverberance. This distinctive sound can be emulated digitally by using effect boxes or amps that have built-in reverb effects.

Tablatures

Guitar tablatures, or “tabs”, are the written expression of music especially directed at guitar players. They do not usually contain classical notation, and the notes are expressed in finger positions on a fret board. They are easy to read and very useful when learning to play the guitar.

Vibrato

When playing a melody, a vibrating sound is often used to add certain feeling to the phrase. This is achieved by bending the string slightly in quick successions.

Arpeggio

Sometimes the notes of a chord are not played simultaneously, but in a quick sequence or pattern. It is often done by alternating the bass tonic with the higher notes, creating a rhythmical sound.

Plucking

This means striking a string individually in order to make it vibrate. It can be done with the fingers or with a pick.

Palm Muting

When plucking a string, one can place the side of the picking hand on top of the strings and close to the bridge. This produces a damped and percussive sound characteristic of punk and heavy metal music.

While this list is not as extensive as we would like, we hope it helps new musicians and guitar aficionados to get familiar with the slang used on most publications and posts about the wonderful world of guitars.