Has guitar-building jargon got your brain in a fog? Don’t worry! This guitar builders’ glossary of terms provides some definitions to help clear things up. If you know any I should add, send them to me.
A hollow-bodied guitar with an arched (domed) top and back. The top and back are often carved to achieve the arch. In some cases, many thin veneers are glued together in a press over a pre-shaped “buck” to create the arch. Can be either acoustic or electric. A Gibson ES-125 is an example of an electric archtop guitar.
Strips of plastic, wood, etc glued to the edges of a guitar’s top, back, fretboard or headstock. Binding adds a decorative element, but also servers to protect the edges of two adjoining surfaces.
A bolt-on neck refers to a guitar whose neck and body remain two separate pieces that are held together with fasteners. Ironically, the most commonly used fasteners are screws. However, there are instances in which bolts are used.
Book-matching refers to the process of cutting a piece of wood in half, opening the two halves like the pages of a book, and gluing them together side-by-side. The result is a piece that is twice as wide as the original, where the grain pattern of one side is the mirror reflection of the other side. Usually highly figured wood (eg. flamed or quilted) is book-matched and then used as the top face of a guitar.
The bridge is the mechanism that anchors the strings on the body of a guitar. On an acoustic guitar, the bridge helps transmit the vibration of the strings to the guitar’s top causing it to vibrate. Electric guitar bridges anchor the strings but also usually provide some adjustment for the purpose of intonating the guitar.
A capacitor (also known as a “cap”), is an electronic component. It’s used in the guitar’s tone circuit to filter out high frequencies. When you turn the tone knob on your guitar you’re adjusting how much of the high frequency the capacitor in the circuit is filtering out.
An f-hole (or soundhole) is an opening in the body of a guitar, usually on the top. The original intent was to allow acoustic instruments to project sound more effectively. The name “F-hole” comes from the sound-holes shaped like the stylized letter “F” on violins.
Intonating a guitar is the act of adjusting the individual string lengths so that they sound the correct note when played open and also at each fret. On an electric guitar, this is usually accomplished by adjusting the individual bridge string saddles forward or backward.
Machine heads are also known as “tuning machines” or just “tuners”. Used to adjust the string tension on individual strings.
Neck-through refers to a method of guitar construction where the neck and the center section of the guitar body are one continuous piece of wood. “Wings” are glued onto the side of the body area to form the remainder of the body.
A nut is a piece of hard material that the strings pass over at the headstock end of the guitar. Bone is often used as the material, and shallow slots are made for each string to help fix them in place.
A potentiometer, more commonly called a “pot”, is a variable resistor. Unlike a fixed resistor, a pot allows the resistance to be adjusted by turning the shaft. Pots are used for the volume and tone controls on a guitar. Although there are minor differences, think of a pot as being like the dimmer switch on a light.
A resistor is an electrical component used to reduce the flow of current in a circuit. A fixed value resistor has a defined resistance that can’t be changed. Resistors are commonly found in guitar effects pedals. Although fixed resistors are occasionally used in a guitar’s circuitry, more commonly a variable resistor known as a “potentiometer” is used.
A solid body guitar is just that; solid. It does not have chambers or any hollow cavities. A solid body guitar is often referred to as a “slab body”. A Fender Telecaster is an example of a solid body.
The scale length of any stringed instrument is the length of the strings that are free to vibrate. On an electric guitar, the distance from the nut to the bridge saddle is the scale length. On a properly intonated guitar, all strings are actually adjusted to different lengths to compensate for the different string thicknesses.
A set neck refers to a guitar whose neck and body are held together with glue.
Thinline generally refers to a guitar that has a thin chambered or hollow body that features an f-hole (or two). The “thin” part is in contrast to a full-depth (thick?) body like an acoustic guitar.
When a guitar is tuned to pitch, the strings are essentially trying to pull the headstock forward (like a bow and arrow). A truss rod is installed in the neck under the fretboard. It can be adjusted to compensate for this pulling action and keep the neck straight.
In woodworking, veneer refers to thin sheets of wood usually less than 1/8″ (3mm) in thickness. Veneers are often made from figured woods and glued to the surface of more plain-looking wood. Guitars often have veneers glued to the face of a headstock.
A volute is a design element of some guitars, located on the back of the neck behind the nut. Not all guitars have volutes. Volutes can be decorative in nature, but also serve to add some strength to the neck/headstock transition area.
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