Guitar Vocabulary & Slang Terms For Starters (2019)

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Beginner guitarists have a lot on their plates. In addition to the chords and scales you’ll be learning, there’s a whole new language of guitar-specific terminology you’ll want to become familiar with. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of unusual guitar terms, as well as the common guitar vocab you’ll run into on a regular basis.

Guitar Slang Terms & Definitions

  1. Action – height of strings above the fingerboard. Different actions are better for different playing styles. Higher action requires more finger strength, while lower action can cause fret buzz.
  2. Acoustic Electric – acoustic guitar with electric capabilities, powered by one or a combination of several types of pickups.
  3. Alternate Picking – attacking one or multiple strings with a down-up-down-up pattern. Often notated with upward (^) and downward (v) pointing marks, this fundamental picking technique increases the rate at which notes can be played and aids in economy of motion.
  4. Alternate Tuning – an arrangement of the open string notes outside the usual E-A-D-G-B-E. They are used for different playing styles and chord voicings, and range from simple two-string alterations to more advanced arrangements such as the G♯-C-E-G♯-C-E of major thirds tuning.
  5. Amp/Amplifier – increases the strength of the electrical signal of guitar pickups. While amplifiers and speakers are separate devices, the term “guitar amp” often refers to a combination of the two in a single unit that both amplifies and emits the guitar’s electric transmission.
  6. Barre Chord – a fretting hand technique in which one or more fingers are used to hold multiple strings on a single fret. The most common barre chords use the first finger as a means of moving simple major and minor shapes up and down the fretboard, while many jazz voicings utilize tricky 2- and 3-finger barres.
  7. Bend – to stretch one or more fretted strings up or down, modulating the tone to a higher pitch. Often used in guitar solos and riffs for unique expressions and variations on common melodic themes.
  8. Body – in acoustic guitars, the body is the sound-chamber from which tones are produced. In electric guitars, the body houses the electronic equipment. All guitar bodies hold the bridge, to which strings are anchored, and are attached to the neck through one of various means.
  9. Bolt-on Neck – a neck attached to a guitar’s body using screws or bolts. Allows for easy neck replacements and adjustments, but can restrict playability at the upper frets in some designs.
  10. Bracing – the means by which an acoustic guitar body is internally supported against the tension of the strings using wood struts on the soundboard, back, and sometimes sides. Styles of bracing differ among guitars and can greatly affect an acoustic’s tone and durability.
  11. Bridge – a guitar part that sits at the lower bout and supports the strings while transmitting their vibrations to the soundboard. Bridges have varying designs and functions between acoustic and electric guitars, and differ even amongst guitars of the same type, though their general purpose, along with the saddle of acoustics, is to hold the strings above the fretboard.
  12. Capo – a type of clamp used to hold down all or several of a guitar’s strings. With both screw- and spring- systems and full- and partial- designs, capos are often used for easy key modulations and alternate chord voicings.
  13. Chord – a group of two or more notes played in unison. Though the simplest chords are often considered the three-note triads, dyads, or intervals of two notes, are the basis of power chords common to rock music.
  14. Classical Guitar – a type of acoustic guitar strung with nylon strings, with quieter, softer tones. Generally made with wide, flat necks and smaller body sizes. Classical guitars are heard extensively in flamenco, bossa nova, and classical music styles.
  15. Cutaway – refers to a guitar body style in which either one or both shoulders of the upper bout are sunken next to the neck. Acoustic electrics often feature single cutaways, while many electric guitars have double cutaways, which allows for easy upper fret access.
  16. Dreadnought – a common acoustic guitar body shape designed by C.F. Martin and Company in 1916. One of the largest body styles, these loud and powerful guitars named after battleships are perhaps the most popular body style in modern acoustic production.
  17. Drop-D Tuning – an alternate tuning in which the 6th string is lowered a whole step from E to D. Although used in a variety of genres from country to jazz, dropped tunings are most common in metal, punk, and other heavy music styles.
  18. F-hole – a stringed-instrument sound hole cut into the soundboard in the shape of an “f”, usually found in mirrored pairs. Typically used in the construction of hollow body and semi hollow body electric guitars.
  19. Finger pick – a plectrum design that slides over the player’s fingertips and extends to a rounded point past the nail. They are frequently used with a plastic pick on the thumb and metal picks on the fingertips, adding definition and clarity to fingerstyle playing.
  20. Fingerpicking/Fingerstyle – a guitar playing technique in which the strings are, in contrast to strumming, plucked individually or together using the thumb and fingertips, with or without the addition of plectrums. Found in many genres of music, especially folk, classical, and flamenco.
  21. Flatpicking – a guitar technique using a plectrum, otherwise known as a pick or flatpick, to strike the strings, as opposed to fingerpicking or strumming without the use of a pick. Flatpicking can also refer to a specific style of bluegrass guitar playing.
  22. Fret – Fret, as a noun, refers to a raised bar, typically of metal, on the fingerboard of a guitar. When used as a verb, to fret means to hold a string or strings down at a position behind a fret or frets. For example, “to fret an open voiced E minor chord” means to hold down the 4th and 5th strings behind the second fret.
  23. Fretboard/Fingerboard – the part of the guitar over which the strings run and on which fretting occurs. Usually made of wood, though some modern manufacturers have begun to produce guitars with synthetic fingerboards.
  24. Hammer-on – to play an unplucked note by forcefully impacting, or “hammering-on”, the fretboard with one or more fingers of the fretting hand. Can be played alone, played in combination with pull-offs, such as in the tapping technique, or played immediately after a plucked note.
  25. Harmonics – refers to high-pitched overtones produced from a guitar’s strings. “Natural harmonics” are played by lightly touching a plucked string above specific frets, whereas “artificial” or “pinched harmonics” are played by fretting a note and then plucking the string with a pinching motion at a certain point in front of the fret.
  26. Head/Headstock – the topmost part of a guitar containing the tuning machines and often a brand name or logo.
  27. Hollow Body – a type of guitar descended from the first electric guitar prototypes. With hollow bodies in the style of thin acoustic guitars and one or more electric pickups, these are cornerstone instruments in the blues genre.
  28. Intonation – refers to the proper setup of a stringed instrument, wherein each position of the fretboard produces an accurate pitch. Prospective guitar buyers should always check instruments for correct intonation.
  29. Lead/Lead Guitar – an occurrence in music featuring one or more guitars breaking from the rhythm section to play prominent melodies, solos, and riffs.
  30. Neck – as the name implies, the neck is the long, narrow middle section of a guitar connecting the head to the body. It is attached to the body by one of various means, and holds the fretboard as well as the nut.
  31. Neck-through Body – an electric guitar design in which the neck extends and widens through to the end of the guitar body and is then affixed with wings on both sides. Neck-through bodies are generally found in high-end guitars and are attributed with great tone and sustain.
  32. Nut – the nut is a replaceable guitar part made of synthetic or natural materials such as bone and ebony. Located at the upper end of the fingerboard, the nut sets the string height above the first frets, string spacing, and distance of the 1st and 6th strings from the edges of the fretboard.
  33. Nylon Strings – a type of string often used on classical guitars, often with the 1st through 3rd strings of pure nylon and 4th through 6th strings made of nylon wound with metal. Nylon strings require less finger strength to play and produce a softer tone than their steel string counterparts.
  34. Open Chord/Open String – when a string is open, it is played without holding any frets. An open chord is a voicing that contains one or more open strings. The first chords learned on guitar are typically in open position and are the most commonly heard in popular music.
  35. PIMA – used in musical notation to denote the fingers of the strumming hand used in fingerstyle guitar. From the Spanish words for the fingers: Pulgar (thumb) Indice (index) Medio (middle) Anular (ring).
  36. Pentatonic – a scale with five notes per octave, famously heard in many rock and blues solos.
  37. Pick/Plectrum – usually in reference to flatpicks, opposed to fingerpicks. Picks vary in size, shape, and material, but in general are small triangular tools held between the thumb and first finger of the strumming hand used to strike the strings in a variety of ways.

Alan Jackman

Meet Alan, the guitar-slinging, blog-running, lesson-giving machine. By day, he shreds on the six-string like a rockstar, and by night, he shares his knowledge with the masses on his online blog. With Alan, you'll learn how to play the guitar like a pro!

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