Mastering Guitar Terms: Essential Vocabulary for Every Guitarist

Published Categorized as Guitar Information

Looking to get one up on your fellow guitarist? Don’t really know what a certain musical thing means? Want to learn how to get to know it better? Then join us as we alphabetize the essential guitar vocabulary of guitar terms for your viewing pleasure.

Introduction to the World of Guitar Vocabulary

Learning guitar isn’t just about memorizing chords and notes, you also have to learn some new vocabulary! Understanding the terms and slang used when talking about the guitar is important for every guitarist, especially if you plan to make music with others – how else are you going to be able to communicate with your fellow musicians?

This introduction to guitar terms and guitar jargon is sure to get you well on your way with the basics of guitar language, so you are not caught short in the field.

Terms of Guitar Anatomy

First up, let’s look at the anatomy of a guitar in detail with these key terms and parts of the guitar in alphabetical order:

  • Back and Sides: These form the hollow cavity of the body and contribute to the overall tonal character of the guitar.
  • Body: The large, hollow part of the guitar that amplifies the sound of the strings.
  • Bracing: The internal framework inside the body that supports the guitar’s top and back and affects the instrument’s sound.
  • Bridge: The piece attached to the body that anchors the strings and transmits their vibrations to the top of the guitar.
  • End Pin: The small peg or button on the bottom edge of the guitar where a strap can be attached.
  • Fretboard (or Fingerboard): The top surface of the neck with embedded frets that the player presses the strings against to change the pitch.
  • Frets: The metal wires embedded along the fretboard that divide it into fixed intervals.
  • Headstock: The top part of the guitar where the tuning pegs are located.
  • Neck: The long, thin part of the guitar where the fretboard is attached and where the player’s left hand is placed to form notes and chords.
  • Nut: The small strip at the junction of the headstock and the neck that guides the strings onto the fretboard.
  • Pickguard: A protective plate often placed below the soundhole to protect the guitar’s finish from being scratched by a pick.
  • Position Markers (Inlays): The dots or other shapes on the fretboard that help indicate the position of specific notes.
  • Purfling/Binding: The decorative edging around the guitar’s top and sometimes the back, can also serve to protect the edges of the wood.
  • Rosette: The decorative pattern around the soundhole.
  • Saddle: The small piece set into the bridge that lifts the strings to a certain height and can affect intonation.
  • Soundboard (Top): The front, and typically the most resonant, part of the guitar’s body, which plays a crucial role in the instrument’s sound production.
  • Soundhole: The opening in the body of the guitar that helps project the sound outward.
  • Strap Buttons: Sometimes located at the base and the heel of the neck for attaching a strap.
  • Strings: The metal or nylon lines stretched from the tuning pegs to the bridge that produce sound when plucked or strummed.
  • Truss Rod: The adjustable rod inside the neck that helps control the curvature of the neck.
  • Tuning Pegs (Tuners): The geared mechanisms on the headstock used for tuning the strings.

Guitar Terms of Playing Techniques

From basic strumming to advanced fingerstyle, here’s an alphabetized list of some guitar-playing techniques:

  • Action: refers to the space between the strings and the neck, dictated by the scale length among other things.
  • Alternate Picking: a technique where every other note you pick down and then up. This technique allows you to pick notes faster by allowing you to be more efficient.
  • Barre Chord: a way of making a chord where you press your index finger down covering an entire fret and then make a chord shape higher. It allows you to make different chords up the neck without changing the shape of your fingers.
  • Bend: a fretting hand technique where you push the string up or pull it down close to the fretboard to make the string tighter and raise the pitch of the string.
  • Finger Style: a way of playing where rather than using a pick, you use your fingertips or nails. Typically finger style is more challenging and requires a lot of control for your rhythm hand.
  • Hammer-on: a fretting-hand technique where you quickly place your finger down on the string without picking again, causing a note to sound. This is used to go from a lower note to a higher note.
  • Intonation: how in tune your guitar sounds as you’re playing higher up the neck – different guitar bridges will affect this.
  • Open Chord: a chord shape that uses the open strings for the notes in the chords. Open chords sound full and allow for a ringing of the strings which sounds especially pretty on acoustic guitar.
  • Palm Mute: a strumming technique where rather than letting the strings ring out, you keep your palm over the strings to dampen the sound a little. You want to create a balance between being able to hear what chord you’re playing while still muting the strings (this can be tricky as a beginner).
  • Pull-off: the opposite of a hammer-on where rather than placing your fretting hand finger on a string, you’re taking it off a string. In this case, you’re going from a higher note to a lower note.
  • Setup: getting your guitar maintained. When you purchase a new guitar, you have to take it to a luthier to be properly positioned, tuned, and adjusted to ensure playability. Over time, your guitar needs to be set up again because of changes in humidity, temperature, and usage.
  • Slide: a fretting hand technique where you pull your fingers up or down a string in a sliding motion to create a distinct sound.
  • Strumming: a rhythm hand technique where you sweep your pick or thumb down multiple strings at once, which allows them to all ring out together.
  • Tab: a way of charting music that indicates the fingering notes rather than the music pitches. For guitar, each line indicates a guitar string and the number shows you the fret.

Terms of Guitar Genres

Now, enjoy some terms unique to different guitar genres, expanding your guitar genre vocabulary beyond what you are used to:

  • Blues: a music genre and musical form that originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s, incorporating spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads from the African-American culture.
  • Classical: serious music following long-established principles rather than a folk, jazz, or popular tradition.
  • Country: a form of popular music originating in the rural southern US, featuring a mixture of ballads and dance tunes played characteristically on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and pedal steel guitar.
  • Flamenco: a form of song, dance, and instrumental (mostly guitar) music commonly associated with the Andalusian Roma (Gypsies) of southern Spain.
  • Jazz: a type of music of black American origin characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and usually a regular or forceful rhythm, emerging at the beginning of the 20th century. Brass and woodwind instruments and piano are particularly associated with jazz, although guitar and occasionally violin are also used
  • Metal: a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, heavy metal bands developed a thick, monumental sound characterized by distorted guitars, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and loudness.
  • Rock: a form of popular music that evolved from rock and roll and pop music during the mid and late 1960s. Harsher and often self-consciously more serious than its predecessors, it was initially characterized by musical experimentation and drug-related or anti-establishment lyrics.

Terms on Guitar Maintenance and Care Terms

Eventually, you are going to need to know about how to properly maintain your instrument. This is where these essential terms of maintaining a guitar come in!

  • Action: refers to the space between the strings and the neck, dictated by the scale length among other things.
  • Bridge maintenance: maintenance of the part of the guitar where the strings transmit their vibrations to the soundboard. Made of either wood or metal, both are apt choices for bridge material.
  • Fretboard conditioning: conditioning the fretted surface of the neck where you do the playing, sometimes known as the fingerboard.
  • Guitar cleaning: cleaning and caring for the guitar when it is not in use to ensure that it lives a long and happy life.
  • Guitar tuning: tuning all of the strings on the guitar whenever it requires it, whether that be to stay in standard tuning or to use some alternate tunings.
  • Humidity control: controlling the humidity that a guitar is subjected to. The higher the percentage (or relative humidity) the more moisture there is in the air. Most guitar manufacturers will specify that the best range of ideal humidity for your guitar will lie somewhere between 40 and 60%.
  • Intonation: how in tune your guitar is with itself. A guitar with bad intonation will sound out-of-tune, even if the strings are perfectly in tune.
  • Nut lubrication: the lubrication of the small grooved piece of bone that the strings sit in between the fretboard and the headstock to ensure that it keeps doing what it does best.
  • String changing: changing the strings whenever they need changing, whether this be regularly or every so often.
  • Truss rod adjustment: adjustment of the steel rod that fits inside the neck of some guitars whose tension can be adjusted to straighten the neck.

Terms of Guitar Accessories

How are you going to navigate the world of guitars without the accessories to boot?

  • Amplifier: a device you plug an electric or acoustic guitar into to access a range of different guitar tones. Amplifiers also allow you to play at higher volumes depending on their size and power.
  • Capo: a device that clamps onto the fretboard acting as the nut. Allows unfriendly keys to be changed to friendly.
  • Case: a case within which to keep your instrument and the various accessories you bring along.
  • Metronome: a device used by musicians that marks time at a selected rate by giving a regular tick.
  • Picks/Plectrums: 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 thicknesses.
  • Slide: a metal 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.
  • Stand: a robust device with which to hold your guitar up when it is not in use.
  • Strap: a piece of fabric used to hold the guitar in the air around your shoulders, either when you are sat down or stood up.
  • String winder: a swivel device with a handle with a fixture that fits over the tuning keys.
  • Tuner: an electronic tuning device.

The Essential Terms of Guitar Scales and Chords

Now, we move on to fundamental terms in scales and chords, brushing briefly through some essential music theory for guitar:

  • Arpeggio: a broken chord, usually played evenly low to high and back again.
  • Augmented chord: a chord, made up of two major thirds. The term augmented triad arises from an augmented triad being considered a major chord whose top note is raised.
  • Barre chord: 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.
  • Chord progression: a succession of chords, the foundation of harmony in Western musical tradition from the common practice era of Classical music to the 21st century.
  • Diminished chord: a triad consisting of two minor thirds above the root. It is a minor triad with a lowered fifth.
  • Major scale: one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music; one of the diatonic scales.
  • Minor scale: three scale patterns – the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale – mirror the major scale, with its harmonic and melodic forms.
  • Pentatonic scale: a musical scale with five notes per octave, in contrast to the heptatonic scale, which has seven notes per octave.
  • Power chord: a colloquial name for a chord in guitar music, especially electric guitar, that consists of the root note and the fifth, as well as possibly octaves of those notes.
  • Seventh chord: a chord consisting of a triad plus a note forming an interval of a seventh above the chord’s root. When not otherwise specified, a “seventh chord” usually means a dominant seventh chord: a major triad together with a minor seventh.

Guitar Tuning Terms

Where would we be without terms related to guitar tuning? How would we communicate? This guitar tuning vocabulary offers all you need to know.

  • Alternate tuning: tuning your guitar in different ways than standard tuning, which can make it easier to play certain riffs or power chords in the open position or with just one finger on the fretboard.
  • Capo tuning: capos can be used to change the pitch of open strings without adjusting the tuning keys.
  • DADGAD: an alternative guitar tuning most associated with Celtic music.
  • Drop D: an alternative form of guitar tuning in which the lowest string is tuned down from the usual E of standard tuning by one whole step to D.
  • Full-step down: tuning the guitar down two semitones.
  • Half-step down: tuning the guitar down one semitone.
  • Open C: an open tuning for guitar where the open-string notes form a C major chord.
  • Open G: an open tuning that features the G-major chord.
  • Standard tuning: the typical tuning of a string instrument.

Terms on Guitar Notation and Tablature

Now, for some guitar notation vocabulary!

  • Bar line: a vertical line used in a musical score to mark a division between bars.
  • Chord diagram: a diagram indicating the fingering of a chord on fretted string instruments.
  • Clef: any of several symbols placed at the left-hand end of a stave, indicating the pitch of the notes written on it.
  • Fret number: the number of the fret intended to be played.
  • Key signature: the notation of the signature of a song in the staff.
  • Note duration: the length a note is played, as noted in notation.
  • Staff: a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces that each represent a different musical pitch or in the case of a percussion staff, different percussion instruments.
  • Tab: a form of musical notation indicating fingering rather than the pitch of notes, written on lines corresponding to, for example, the strings of a guitar or the holes on a flute.
  • Time signature: an indication of rhythm following a clef, generally expressed as a fraction with the denominator defining the beat as a division of a semibreve and the numerator giving the number of beats in each bar.

Terms on Guitar Effects and Pedals

Finally, a brief set of definitions about guitar effects and pedals if that’s your thing.

  • Delay: a time-based audio effect that takes an audio track and plays back delayed duplicates to create echoes.
  • Distortion: refers to the altering or deformation of an audio signal’s original waveform.
  • Looper: records your guitar as you play a riff or chord sequence and plays it back to you over in a loop.
  • Reverb: when a sound occurs in a space that sends sound waves outwards in all directions.

Conclusion: The Journey of Guitar Mastery

Sometimes, not knowing the right guitar terms when you’re a beginner can shake your confidence and make you feel like less of a legitimate musician. The truth is that there are always going to be new words, pieces of gear, and lingo that you don’t know.

Hopefully, you’ve now come to realize that learning some key terms helps to quickly communicate with other musicians, so you can be in sync and make the best music possible. 

Part of the fun of music is that there’s always something new to learn, and no matter where you are in your journey, that’s not anything to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s something to be embraced!

FAQs Guitar Terms

What are terms for guitar?

Some other terms for guitar include: citole, cithern, steel guitar, bass guitar, gittern, acoustic guitar, uke, stringed instrument, cittern, ukulele, Hawaiian guitar, electric guitar, and cither.

What are slang words for guitar?

“Axe” is possibly the most common slang word for a guitar. Surprisingly, the term dates back to the mid-’50s when jazz musicians used it as a slang word for saxophone. Over time, it became a go-to term for the electric guitar.

What are the 12 parts of the guitar?

Each of these parts is in either the head, neck, or body of the guitar. These include the saddle, sound hole, bridge, bridge pins, pickguard, soundboard, fretboard, frets, nut, tuning pegs, sides, and heel.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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