Parts Of The Guitar - Glossary

A-Style
An A-style body has a pear shaped body which is symmetrical.
Abalone
Colorful shell material commonly inlaid on instruments for decoration.
Action
A term generally used to describe the strings height above the fingerboard on an instrument.
Active
Pickups with active circuitry have powered pre-amps.
Archtop
An instrument with an arched or carved top as opposed to a flat top.
Binding
Binding is a protective, often decorative strip of material that is placed along the outer most edges of the top, back, fingerboard and/or peghead of some instruments which seals (caps) the open end grain. Binding comes in a variety of colors and materials.
Bolt On
Normally refers to an instrument who's neck is attached by bolts rather than being glued in place.
Bookmatched
Most tops and backs of instruments are 2 pieces of wood glued together to form one panel. When that panel is bookmatched the wood which it came from has been cut into slices and 2 consecutive slices (pages) are laid open like the pages of a book to form one panel.
Brace
Braces are glued to the top and back of most instruments to strengthen and support these rather thin panels. Layout, thickness, height, width and material can vary greatly amongst instruments.
Bridge
Bridges vary in shape and style but their main purpose is to transfer the strings vibration to the top of the instrument. It is the job of the bridge to anchor the strings to the top and contain the saddle which makes contact with the strings and sets intonation.
Bridge Pin
Bridge pins are used to anchor the strings to the bridge.
Celluloid
A common plastic used on instrument pickguards, tuning machine buttons and binding. It has a minty, spearmint smell when scraped or sanded and is highly flammable. Some celluloid has suffered from severe deterioration.
Checking
A common cracking found in lacquer finishes, particularly on older instruments or those that have been subject to extreme temperature changes. As the instruments wood expands and contracts the finish is put thru a great deal of stress and frequently develops fine cracks within the finish.
Compensation
Saddles often have their crown shaped to lengthen or shorten the strings length from nut to saddle just as we move the individual saddles on an electric guitar. This fine adjustment to string length will produce more accurate intonation.
Cutaway
An instrument which has been cut away on it's treble bout to allow easy access to the frets over the body. A Florentine Cutaway comes to a sharp point, a Venetian cutaway is rounded.
Ears
The additional wood added to the sides of a neck blank in order to enlarge the width of the peghead for shaping or reduce the width of the billet needed to make a neck.
Ebonized
Contains no Ebony. Manufacturers sometimes stain or paint wood black to give it the appearance of ebony.
End block
A block of wood, normally mahogany, which reinforces the area of the end pin/input jack. The sides are joined at the end block.
F-hole
Rather than having a round soundhole some instruments have holes similar to the shape of the cursive letter F. This is quite common on archtop guitars, some Mandolins and of course Violins.
Fretboard
The playing surface of the neck which contains the frets.
Floating Pickup
A pickup that is suspended over the body rather than being built into it. Commonly found on Arched top guitars, mounted either to the end of the fingerboard or suspended from the pickguard.
Frets
The nickel bars of the fingerboard that determine string length and note when the string is pressed. Fret wire is also made of brass and stainless steel.
Grain run out
A problem created when cutting wood at an angle to it's grain weakening its strength.
Intonation
An instruments ability to play in tune at various positions through out the neck. Instruments are built to a particular scale length which dictates at what intervals the frets must be placed and where the saddle is to sit in order for correct note pitch.
Kerf Lining
This lining is glued around the parameter of the top to side joint and the back to side joint inside the instrument. It provides a solid gluing/mating surface between the two. Once the top has been glued to the sides a channel is normally routed to accept purfling and binding which makes this lining necessary if the two are to remain joined.
Laminated
The backs, sides and tops of some instruments can be made from several pieces of wood which have been laminated to form one piece, usually at the determent of it's sound. Layered, multi-colored binding would also be considered laminate binding.
Machine Heads
Are also known as tuners or tuning machines.
Neck Block
The neck block is found inside of the body, at the base of the neck. Neck blocks provide the necessary stability and base in which to mount the neck to the body.
Nut
Found at the end of the fingerboard near the tuners. Usually formed from bone, ivory, plastic, ebony, or graphite. The nut determines string spacing and string height by small grooves cut into its surface.
Passive
A passive pickup contains no active circuitry or pre-amp.
Peghead
The tuners of traditional guitars are mounted to the peghead. It's also the thing most likely to break when an instrument falls over. Before the age of geared tuners, friction pegs (like those found on Violins) were used to tune the instrument. They were mounted on the head, the peghead.
Pickguard
Also known as the scratch plate. It is a thin covering attached to the top of an instrument to prevent scratching the top with a pick (or your fingers) when playing.
Pot (Potentiometer)
A rotating switch most commonly used for volume and tone controls. The difference between a volume pot and a tone pot is the way you wire them. The tone pot will normally have a capacitor attached to one of the lugs.
Purfling
A decorative piece of wood, shell or other material located around the edge of the body, soundhole, peghead etc., just inside of the outer binding. The Herringbone design used by Martin would be considered purfling, as would the colorful abalone shell used on some fancier models. Purfling can be one solid piece or many thin pieces laminated to provide more complex and creative designs.
Relief
Relief or neck bow is controlled by the truss rod. Relief gives strings more room to vibrate before contacting the frets.
Rosette
A decorative strip or inlay found around the soundhole.
Saddle
On flattop instruments with pin or tie back bridges, the saddle transfers the strings vibration to the bridge. Saddles are also responsible for setting intonation.
Scale Length
The distance between the nut and saddle before compensation is added. To determine your scale length you can measure from the center of the 12th fret to the nut edge of the fingerboard and double it.
Set Neck
A set neck is a neck that is glued to the body.
Tailpiece
On instruments without bridge pins the strings are commonly anchored to a tailpiece. This normally mounts to the end block and pulls the strings down towards the top after passing across the bridge.
Three on a plate
Three tuners that are mounted on a single plate, as opposed to 3 individual tuners
Truss Rod
A rod which runs thru the center of an instruments neck just below the fingerboard. Adjustable truss rods can adjust the amount of tension placed on the neck to resist the strings pull. See truss rods for more information.
Thumbwheel
A small wheel used on adjustable bridges (those usually found on archtop guitars or mandolins) to adjust the bridges height.
T.O.M. Tune-o-matic
This bridge is commonly found on Les Paul style electric guitars, it sits on two thumbwheels and has six individual saddles which permit intonation adjustment of each string.
Veneer
Sometimes refers to the thin wood or plastic laminate placed on the peghead to provide decoration and strength.
Volute
A diamond/triangular shape carved just behind the nut area of the peghead on a Martin D-28 or similar neck. It serves to strengthen the neck where the peghead begins by adding a bit of mass at that point.
Zero Fret
An additional fret which sits exactly where the front edge of the fingerboard would normally end and the nut would sit. With a zero fret the strings lie directly on this fret and it (not the nut) determines the height of the strings from the fingerboard in the first position.