The Most Important Guitar Terms

3/4-size guitar
A smaller than normal guitar with shorter strings and less space between frets.

action
A term referring to the height of the strings above the frets and fretboard.

altered and open tunings
The result of changing the tuning of one or more strings from standard EADGBE.

alternate picking
Picking in alternate directions (down-up-down-up).

arpeggio
A broken chord, usually played evenly low to high and back again.

arrangement
The setting of an original or standard tune for a given solo instrument or group of instruments

barre chord
From the French term barré. The technique of placing the left hand index finger over two to six strings in the fingering of a chord. The great advantage of using barre chords is that they are "moveable shapes" that can be applied at practically any fret.

bending
The act of pushing or pulling a string sideways across the a fret to raise the pitch of a note by a half to full tone or more. Used extensively in rock and blues playing as well as in jazz.

Bridge
Section for fixing and supporting the strings on an acoustic guitar. The method of supporting the strings on an electric or acoustic guitar.

capo
A mechanical barre that attaches to the neck of a guitar by means of a string, spring, elastic or nylon band, or a lever and thumbscrew arrangement. The capo can be used to raise the key of a song to suit a vocalist as well as to lower the action and shorten the string length.

chord
Three or more notes sounded simultaneously.

chorus (of a tune)
Strictly speaking, the portion of a song lyric or melody that is repeated, often with other voices joining in. In jazz improvisation, however, "playing a chorus" would mean taking a turn improvising over the tune's chords progression.

closed voicing
The term "voicing" refers to the vertical arrangement of the notes of a given chord. "Closed voicing" places the member notes as close together as possible, no matter the inversion as opposed to "open voicing" which spreads the member notes of the chord at larger intervals.

cutaway
A concave area generally in the upper right bout of a normal right-hand guitar that allows the player easier access to the high frets.

dobro
A type of resonator guitar.

dreadnought
A large acoustic steel-string guitar

dropped-D tuning
The practice of lowering the sixth string (E) by a whole tone, one octave lower than the fourth string.

finger picks
Banjo-style picks that fingerstyle guitarists use when playing steel-string instruments.

fingerstyle
Playing with the fingernails or fingertips with or without fingerpicks as opposed to playing with a flatpick.

flatpick
A triangular or teardrop-shaped piece of nylon or plastic used to pluck or strum guitar strings. Flatpicks are available in a large variety of shapes, sizes, and thickness.

footstool
A small adjustable stool used to raise the height of the guitar.

fret
Metal strips placed across the fingerboard to determine semitonal spacing

hammer-on
A note sounded literally by "hammering" down with a left hand finger, often performed in conjunction with a note first plucked by the right hand on the same string.

harmonics
Chime-like sounds achieved in two ways: 1) natural harmonics - by touching a string at any equidistant division of the string length (typically 5th, 7th, and 12th fret), directly above the fret with left hand, and striking hard with the right-hand fingers or pick near the bridge where there is more string resistance; or 2) artificial harmonics - touching a string with the index finger of the right hand twelve frets higher than any fretted note and plucking the string with either the thumb or third finger of the right hand.

headstock
Section for mounting the machine heads or pegs.

heel
A reinforced section supporting the neck where it joins the body.

interval
The distance between two notes.

inversion
Structuring a chord with a note other than the root as the lowest note.

lead guitar
The part played by a guitar soloist in a rock band

luthier
A guitar maker or repair person.

machine head
Mechanical device for adjusting pitch.

modulate
To change keys within a piece of music

nut
Point at which the strings are supported as they run from the fingerboard to the headstock.

open voicing
A manner of chord construction in which the member notes are broadly separated. See closed voicing above.

pentatonic scale
A five-tone scale used often in rock.

pickguard
A plate for protecting the guitar body from pick scratches.

picking
Plucking or producing a sound on the guitar in general, either with the fingers or a flatpick. Sometimes refers to playing a single-note melody line.

pickup
A coil wound with fine wire which converts the sound into electrical signals.

p i m a
Letters derived from the Spanish names for the fingers of the right hand: pulgar (thumb), indice (index), medio (middle), and anular (ring). Used to indicate fingering.

plectrum
Another name for a flatpick.

polepiece
Individual metal poles under each string on a pickup

positions
A reference to placement of the left hand index finger at various frets.

pot
Potentiometer for controlling a signal. Usually a volume or tone control.

power chord
A chord consisting of the first (root), fifth and eighth degree (octave) of the scale. Power chords are typically used in playing rock music.

preamp
A signal-boosting device

pull-off
The opposite of a hammer-on. Performed by plucking a note with a finger on a higher note and pulling parallel to the fret to sound a lower note on the same string.

purfling
Decorative inlays next to the binding.

rasgueado
Method of strumming used by flamenco guitarists.

rosette
The circular decoration around the soundhole.

rhythm guitar
Rhythmic strumming of chord backup for a lead player, singer, or ensemble.

saddle(s)
The point on the bridge for supporting the strings.

setup
The adjustment of the action of a guitar for optimal playing characteristics.

shape
The outline form of a chord on the fingerboard.

slide
A plastic or glass tube placed over the third or fourth finger of the left hand and used to play "slide" or glissando effects in rock and blues and other forms of traditional music.

soundboard
The top or table of the guitar.

soundhole
Normally a circular section cut out of the top to allow sound and energy to project from the soundchamber.

standard tuning
The guitar is generally tuned EADGBE low to high.

string winder
A swivel device with a handle with a fixture that fits over the tuning keys.

strumming
Performed with a pick or the fingers. Generally consists of brushing across 2-6 strings in a rhythmic up and down fashion appropriate to the tune being played.

tablature or tab
A system of writing music for fretted instruments whereby a number or letter appears on lines representing the strings, indicating the fret to be played.

tailpiece
Metal frame or stud for holding the strings on the body of a guitar.

transcription
To write a solo, note for note, off of a recording.

transducer
A device for transferring energy from one form to another. Used to describe a form of pickup used for amplifying acoustic instruments.

transpose
To change the key of a piece of music by a specific interval.

tremolo
A technique performed with either a very rapid down-up movement of the pick or a pami plucking of the fingers.

triad
A three-note chord.

truss rod
Reinforcing metal rod for stabilizing and adjusting the neck.

tuner
An electronic tuning device.

tuners
Machine heads.

vibrato
To vibrate by slightly altering a pitch higher and lower.

voicing
The arrangement of the member notes of a chord, or placement of the melody or bass line within a harmonic progression.