Guitar Glossary


String Action: When talking about the action we are talking about the height of the strings above the frets and fretboard. The higher the action the more difficult and (usually) better sounding the guitar. The lower the action the easier it is to play

Radius: Fingerboard or Fretboard : The radius is the curve that spans across the top of the fretboard. The larger the radius the more flat the radius.

Smaller radius fretboards are more curved which is better for playing chords especially if the string action is low. When trying to bend a string on a small radius neck you’ll get buzzes and dead notes because the string is hitting the next fret. A large radius is better for playing solos and single notes but is more difficult when playing chords. Some of the Schecter and Jackson Guitars have what is called compound radius necks where the radius is large at body and becomes smaller as you go down to the necks nut.

Frets: Frets are what the string actually is pressed against when your finger presses down on the string. When pressed the string hits the fret. These metal strips are positioned at different distances all along the length of the fingerboard. They are used to change the length of the string in order to produce different pitches or notes. They are usually made of alloys that consists of brass and nickel, or silver and nickel as well as just steel. The thickness of the frets can also determine how easy a guitar will be to play. A fret that isn’t very high off the fretboard is generally easier to play but can give fret buzz and doesn’t allow for string bending (vibrato). A thicker and taller fret allows for string bending. Thinner frets are more accurate pitch wise that thicker frets but wear down faster. When the frets have worn down and need to be replaced is called ‘Fret Dressing’. NOTE: there are guitars and basses that have no frets: fretless. Violins and other stringed instruments also have no frets.

Neck Action: The word “Action” when talking about guitars refers to the height of the strings above the fretboard. A high action means that the strings are high above the strings and vice versa. See How To Adjust the Action on a Guitar

Neck Shapes: You may have seen the words ‘C’ shape neck or ‘V’ shape neck well it’s referring to the shape of neck. The thickness of the neck (top to bottom) and the width of the neck are both up to the guitarist. The Width of the neck is referred to as it’s Radius . Certain necks have a very rounded shape which are closer to the ‘D’ Shape. The ‘D’ Shaped neck generally has more tone and sustain because it’s thicker than both the ‘C’ and ‘V’ shaped necks. It is also however usually more difficult to play. The ‘C’ shape necks are easier to play while the ‘V’ shape is right between the ‘D’ and ‘C’ shapes. The tone of the neck is also influenced by what it’s made of, ie. mahogany, maple. The pictures below are crosscut views where you are looking from the top of the neck. One thing about the ‘V’ necks found on the early Fender Strats. The design appears to have been a mistake in the manufacturing process. The employee who normally sanded the necks was gone and some one else had sanded them incorrectly – so the legend goes.

Neck Shapes

Bridge: The bridge of a guitar is located at the opposite end of the headstock. On Fender and Gibson guitars it located next to the treble or ‘bridge’ pickup. There are two basic types of bridges: Fixed and Tremolo. Of the Fixed variety the bridge is anchored to the guitar’s body. These types of bridge are more stable than tremolo bridges they also offer a greater amount of sustain and tone. This is because the bridge itself is screwed into the body. There are a number of different types of Fixed bridges. The Hardtail bridge can be found on Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters for instance. They usually have the strings come up from the back side of the body but many simply have the strings go through the ‘tail’ end. They are screwed into the body with very little routing or cutouts around them. The Tune-O-Matic bridge can be found on many guitars especially ones from Gibson. These bridges use a StopBar from which the strings are fed through. Each string has it’s own ‘Saddle’ that allows the string to be moved forward or backwards (See Intonation). The bridge is mounted to the body using two large screws. If a Stopbar is used it also is mounted using two large screws. The height of the strings are all adjusted at the same time.

Nut or Nut Width: The Nut of a guitar is located where the headstock ends and the fretboard begins. It establishes the width between the strings for the upper portion of the guitar neck. It also establishes the height of the strings themselves and is a fairly important piece of the guitar that is over looked. It effects the sound of the open strings (not pressing down on any fret) but has little effect on the sound of fretted notes. The material used for the nut will vary depending upon the type of guitar. For electric graphite or Graph Tech polymers are used because they prevent binding of the strings as well as are self lubricating. Bone was traditionally used but has been replaced by Corian and Micarta. Ivory was once used as it was used for piano keys. There are a couple of special types of Nuts 🙂 The rolling nut and the locking nut. The rolling nut allows the strings to move more freely across the nut, while the locking nut is used to lock the strings into place. The locking nut is found on tremolo systems like that from Floyd Rose.

Saddle: The saddle is found on the guitar’s bridge and is usually a piece of metal with a groove cut into it. It holds the string in place. Depending upon the bridge the saddle may allow the string be moved forward or backwards in order to adjust the intonation.

Scale Length: The Scale Length of a guitar is measured from bridge to the nut on the neck. To be more precise the measurement is taken at the bridge at the saddle. The usual scale lengths are around 24.75 inches for most Gibson Les Pauls and 25.5 inches for Fenders, but this can widely vary. The thing you should know is that the string tension is less for shorter scale length guitars, and more for longer lengths. Longer scale lengths give you more tone and sustain but are a little more difficult to play than shorter ones. Short scale lengths allow you to bend the strings easier as well as press them down to the fingerboard. One problem with shorter lengths is you get get fret buzz.

Truss Rod: The Truss Rod is designed to counteract the tension placed on the neck by the strings. It is a metal rod that is placed lengthwise through the neck. There are usually adjust openings either at the top (headstock), at the bottom, or at both ends. Fender and Gibson guitars have single truss rods that can be tighten or loosen depending upon the weather, moisture, and temperature. The idea is to keep the neck straight so it doesn’t bow in or out. Care must be taken before adjusting the truss rod yourself. You can easily ruin a neck or strip the truss rod if you don’t know what you are doing. If you have to adjust your guitar then purchase a cheap affinity Strat and practice on it before you do anything to a real Gibson or Fender.

Body of Guitar: The Body of the guitar will determine much to how the guitar will sound. The body material (usually a wood type) determines the sonic characteristics of the guitar. The material used can range from aluminum and graphite, to granite or maple. Usually of course the body is made from wood which varies in density and weight. Heavier woods tend to give you more sustain and a brighter tone while lighter weight woods have a more nebulous sound (Pine is a lightweight wood). Many guitarist seem to light woods that are in between the two. Mainly because of the weight of the guitar. A solid rock maple guitar is somewhat more heavy than the same body shape in Alder. Some of the woods used for guitar bodies are as follows:

  • Alder – this is probably one of the most popular wood used (as well as Poplar). Its a lighter weight wood that is easy to work with (manufacture). Many Fender Guitars are made using Alder wood for the body. It has a light tan color and no real noticeable wood grain pattern.
  • Ash – This wood is a little heavier than Alder and has a poppy warm tone to it. More sustain than Alder or Basswood. Many of the vintage Fenders where made using Ash.
  • Basswood – A light weight wood similar to Alder. Many of the Squier Strats and Teles are made with Basswood. It has a bright tone with good attack and is easy to work with.
  • Mahogany – This is a heavier more dense wood that has a darker tone when compared to Alder, Poplar or Basswood. Good sustain and warmer tone. Bodies made of Mahogany are usually on the heavy side.
  • Maple – This is one of the more heavier weight woods. Being very dense give the guitar a bright tone with plenty of bite and a sharper attack. A guitar body made from maple would be somewhat heavy. There are many guitar body tops made of maple. They are glued on top of the body core which would be made of a lighter weight wood such as poplar or alder.
  • Tiger Maple – is about the same as maple

Headstock: Located at the end of the fretboard and usually has the tuners attached to it. The tuners can be arranged in many different patterns. For instance the Fender Stratocaster has a 6+0 configuration with all 6 tuners located on one side of the headstock. Gibson Les Pauls are a 3+3 configuration where there is 3 tuners on each side of the headstock. There are usually decals or logos located here. The headstock can be straight or angled back. When angled the strings don’t require retainer clips to keep the strings positioned correctly. It also allows for easier truss rod adjustments.

Guitar Amp Glossary:

Combo Amp: This is a combination of both the amplifier (Head) along with the Speaker cabinet in a single package. Marshall stacks use a separate head and speaker cabinets, while the Vox AC30 Combo is amplifier and speakers in one cabinet.

Point to Point Wiring: This is usually means that the wiring is done using no Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) but is wired from component to component. Most often terminal strips (terminal or connector poles usually found in rows of 2) where used. The method more than likely had to be done by hand but don’t really offer any better sound or reliability. This of course will depend upon the type and quality of the PC board and how it’s designed.

Power Tubes: The difference between the 6L6 tube and the EL34 tube for the most part are as follows: The EL34 produces a more low and mid frequency sound that is tighter sounding. It has a more “British Rock” tone because of it’s biting and aggressive sound. The 6L6 on the other hand is more of an American sound. Great for blues because of it’s smoother bass frequencies along with more high end frequencies – think Fender Twin. The 6550 has more of a midrange resonance or “woody” sound. This tube was used in Marshall amps of the mid-80’s. It can also have a more metallic sound depending upon the preamp tubes and tone/EQ settings. The THD Univalve amp is a self-biasing tube amp that allows you to change tubes with re-biasing the amp.

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