#10 Terminologies EVERY Guitarist Must Know!

A big part of being a great guitarist is understanding how the guitar works. A fundamental part of being an awesome guitarist, is speaking the language of awesome guitarists. This is why I have gone over the top 10 terminologies every guitar player must know!

1. Pitch

Let us start with pitch. The pitch describes how low or high the sound is. You would describe a high sound to have a high pitch and a low sound to have a low pitch.

More importantly, this high or low pitch translates to notes on a scale making it possible to judge and determine scales, chords and arpeggios.

2. Harmonics  & Overtones

Harmonics are also known as overtones. If you play a note on the guitar (that is tuned well) you will hear the true note resonate out of the instrument. You know this is the true sound of that said note because it is the most prominent sound. However, this note will also be accompanied by many other composite frequencies. These frequencies are not true to the note in question. Whereby, your ears do not focus on them, as they are less prominent.

The above mentioned harmonics are accompanied with every note and they are not intentional but make up the whole sound. I would generally refer to these as the overtones (even though they are the same as harmonics) and you can minimise these overtones to ring a more true tone with new strings and a better set up.

Furthermore, you can also intentionally pluck a note to emphasise these harmonics. If you develop this technique these harmonics will over power the natural note with a high pitch version of that sound. You can do this is two ways. A pinched harmonic and a natural harmonic.

Pinched Harmonic

A pinch harmonic is a technique used to emphasise the harmonics in your playing. This will include a more intense striking of the note that is facilitated by your thumb to get the note to ring out at higher pitch.

Natural Harmonic

Whilst a natural harmonic is a technique that emphases the harmonics by slightly tapping your finger on the string at the same time it is being plucked.

3. Sustain

Generally sustain means to keep going. In a guitar this means how long the sound can keep carrying once a string has been plucked. A guitar that has been set up well and made from dense wood such as mahogany will hold a note for longer.

4. Resonance

Resonance is the terminology we use to describe how vibrational energy caused by the strings transfers from one surface to another. Resonance happens as the vibrational waves connect to the surface of the guitar. This energy transfers out making the whole guitar vibrate. Resonance is the intensity of these vibrations. A guitar that resonates well will have a loud and clear tone.

5. Playability

The playability is about the feel and comfort of the guitar and so the frets and fretboard is a huge factor. It is also important to know that how a guitar feels is personal preference. It is what your used to. For me a good playability is a smooth ebony fretboard with a low action with a slight bowed neck.

6. Relief

Neck relief is the terminology we use that describes how the guitar neck is shapes. The shape am I referring to the angle of the neck.

You could say the neck has too much relief, which means the neck needs moving forwards slightly to strengthen it out. Whilst you can say, the neck does have enough relief meaning the neck needs moving backwards to strengthen it out.

Refers to a small amount of concave bow intentionally created in the neck of a guitar or bass by adjusting the truss rod without buzzing to accurse. Overall a well-set relief will mean you guitar will have better intonation that facilitates resonance and tone.  

7. Back Bow, Up Bow

When a guitar has relief, it is describing the angle that the neck bends. When you say there is not enough relief you are saying the guitar is humped. Less relief is when the neck is to low.

Adding relief (increasing the amount of bow) to the neck, increases the space between the strings and the frets, allowing them to vibrate freely without buzzing. If there is too much relief, the strings will be too far from the neck, the instrument will be uncomfortable to play, and intonation could be compromised.

8. Action

Guitar action or guitar action height is the height of the guitar strings over the fretboard. Guitar action plays a big role in how a guitar feels to play. If the action is too high, the guitar will feel uncomfortable to play.

9. Humbucker Pickup

A humbucker is also known as a double coil. It is a type of electric guitar pickup that uses two coils . This greatly affects how clean your sound is because the second coil is used to clear up excess buzzing noise that is picked up through the pickups which is caused by electromagnetic interference.

10. Tone

Guitar tone is the sound that is made after you have plucked a guitar string. However, the common terminologies we use to describe the tone would include:

  • Grainy tone
  • Smooth tone
  • Twang tone
  • Bright tone
  • Warm tone
  • Mellow tone

Overall, many factors affect tone such as wood type, construction techniques, pickups and strings. These are all taken into consideration when a guitar is being used as signature sounds for certain brands. For example, Les Pauls are known to be smooth sounding with some warm to it whilst Fender Strats are often twangy with a bright tone.

Rich Wilde Music

My name is Richard Wilde and go by @richwildemusic on all major social channels. I am an artist, guitar player, and producer. I have been playing guitar for over 15 years and have come to learn the "tips" and "tricks" to enhance guitar playing, recording guitar, setting up guitar, and overall get that professional sound.

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