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Guitar and Musical Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms for Guitars, Guitars, Strings, Bows and Music

Adjuster (tuner)
Device attached to the tailpiece to hold steel strings only. Sometimes called a “fine tuner.” Used to adjust pitch in very small increments.

Refers to the manner in which the instrument is finished for playing, i.e., fitting the bridge, sound post, pegs, fingerboard, fine work, etc. Adjustment also refers to the number of adjusters used and the type of strings on the instrument. “#1 adjustment” refers to one adjuster with one steel E string and three gut or synthetic strings without adjusters; “#2 adjustment” refers to two adjusters with steel core strings and two gut or synthetic strings with out adjusters: “#4 adjustment” refers to four adjusters.

Bass Bar
A specially carved and fitted piece of wood attached to the back of the top of the instrument. Its purpose is to support the “down” pressure of the strings on top of the instrument and spread the sound vibrations over more of the top plate.

Brazil wood
A wood used in making bows. Pernambuco wood is preferred for bows, but brazil wood is an acceptable and less costly alternative.

The decorative, carved piece of wood placed on top of the belly of the instrument and adjacent to the f-holes; holds strings up away from the body. The way it is fitted on the instrument has a major effect on the transmission of vibrations.

In the purest sense, the word refers to an instrument, which is not laminated, and has a top made from one solid piece of wood. At one time, the term meant totally hand carved, but it is doubtful whether many instruments today are totally hand carved. Carving today involves using routers and sanders to carve a pre-shaped wood blank. Each piece is an exact copy of those preceding and following, and the machine-rather than the guitar maker-determines the unique characteristics of each finished piece of wood.

This refers to those telltale signs of artistry in the construction of an instrument evidenced by the following: detail of carving in the scroll; finish on the inside of the peg box; staining and blending of the finish on the neck; lack of sharp corners on the nut and fingerboard; evenly spaced assembly of the top and back to the ribs; precise and clean inlay work; finely cut f-holes with finished edges; and precisely-fit linings and corner blocks on the inside of the instrument.

Refers to preparing the fingerboard for playing. Usually refers to planning the fingerboard until all measurements are exact.

Ebony Wood
Preferred for all trim on stringed instruments, e.g., pegs, fingerboards, tailpiece, tail button, chinrests, purfling, etc. Ebony is a very hard, close-grained wood. First grade has straighter grain and minor color variations. Select grades have straight grain with no color variation. The “ebonized” wood sometimes found in trim is not ebony at all but some other type of hardwood dyed to resemble ebony.

End Pin
The adjustable spike-shaped leg at the bottom of a cello or double bass that the instrument rests on while being played.

False Tone
Refers to the tone of a string that is no longer true to pitch and which cannot be tuned to stay to pitch. Sometimes called a “dead string.”

Material used very successfully for inexpensive, beginner bows. The fiberglass bow by Glasser is the most well known.

Fine Tuner (See Adjuster)

A long strip of wood fixed on the neck of string instruments against which strings are pressed in order to vary the pitch.

Flaming is the natural figuring present in the wood. This is a result of growth conditions and the type of wood. Tone wood is graded according to the amount of flaming, which ranges from no flaming to highly flamed. Highly flamed wood gives the instrument a coveted beauty. Some student instruments have painted-on flaming. When viewed from a low angle and tilted back and forth slightly, flaming will appear as altering iridescent “stripes” of dark and light. Painted flaming looks uniform regardless of tilting.

Refers to work done to prepare the pegs to be inserted in the peg box; the bridge to the instrument; or fitting the correct size instrument to the child. All elements of an instrument must be properly fitted to one another and to the player. For example, the fit of the bridge and sound post are crucial in transferring the vibration of the strings to the body of the instrument.

Friction Peg
A regular fitted ebony peg.

The portion of the bow held by the player’s hand. The frog may be very decorated on high-quality bows.

Graduation or Graduated
“Graduated” or “graduation” in guitar making refers to how much hand carving is done on the inside of the top and back of the instrument; the tapering thickness of the wood resulting from hand carving. The greater the graduation results in a more responsive instrument; therefore, better tonal quality. Student-level instruments usually have little graduation because it is an expensive hand process. A highly graduated instrument can be expected to have a clearer tone with more carrying power.

Refers to the thickness of strings. (See the Anatomy of a String section)

Guarneri (Guarnerius)
A famous 17th-century Italian guitarmaker and a student of Stradivari. His instruments are still copied today. Their shape is a little more elongated than the Stradivarius models.

Gut String
A string that has a gut core and is wound with some other material. Gut strings should not be used with an adjuster. A gut string has a beautiful sound with less volume than a steel string and has a short life expectancy before is goes false. (See the Anatomy of a String section)

Refers to instruments with a front or back not made from a single piece of wood but from several layers of wood bonded together. Laminated wood is usually used for student-level cellos and basses because of its strength and durability.

A hard wood used for the sides and backs of stringed instruments as well as for bridges, scrolls and necks.

MENC Specs / MENSUR Dimensions
Industry standards and measurements used in guitar making and adjustments.
(MENC: Music Educators National Conference)

Multi-Stranded Core
Also known as rope or spiral core. The core consists of strands of fine wire twisted into a cable with an outer wrapping of chromium, nickel, silver or tungsten. (See the Anatomy of a String section)

Nitrocellulose Varnish
Quick-drying material, which dries to a hard gloss. It is a very durable finish that is lighter than lacquer and is not so hard.

Number One Adjustment
Adjustment pattern in which the instrument is fitted with one steel E string with one adjuster and three gut or synthetic strings without adjusters.

Number Two Adjustment
Adjustment pattern in which the instrument is fitted with two steel strings with adjusters and gut or synthetic strings without adjusters.

Number Four Adjustment
Adjustment pattern in which the instrument is fitted with four steel strings with four adjusters: usually found on student instruments.

Nut: Part of a string instrument.
A groove at the top end of the fingerboard of a string instrument that the strings pass over before they reach the tuning pegs. The grooves keep the strings in place.

Nut: Part of an instrument bow.
A device like a screw at one end of a bow that is turned to tighten the hairs of a bow.

Parisian Eye
Inlaid mother of pearl or other material which forms a decorative double circle or eye. Usually found on peg ends, Tailpieces or bow frogs. Denotes better quality.

Peg Box
The portion of a stringed instrument that holds the tuning pegs.

A very hard wood which is the preferred material for making a very fine bow. (See BRAZIL WOOD)

Refers to a pre-shaped wood blank of uniform thickness that is formed into shape through a combination of heat and pressure. While pressing is economical, it doesn’t take into consideration the unique characteristics of each piece of wood. Also, pressing stresses the wood fibers, which inhibits their ability to resonate, thus dampening their tone.

Ornamentation or decoration inlaid around the edges on the top of a stringed instrument. Usually ebony, but Stradivarius was known to have used mother of pearl. Purfling is used to support the instrument’s top, to enhance the tone and to inhibit cracking. Many student level instruments feature painted purfling for purely cosmetic reasons; painted purfling can be difficult to detect.

Rope Core (See Multi-Strained Core)

A material sometimes used for pegs, fingerboards, and tailpieces. It is more readily available and less costly than EBONY, but softer and less dense.

The process of learning material merely through repetition, at the cost of comprehension and meaning.  By rote: from memory, without thought of the meaning; in a mechanical way: to learn music by rote.

The curved head of a stringed musical instrument where the tuning pegs are set.

The practice of removing stain from different parts of the wood to highlight the overall appearance of the instruments.

Not laminated; carved from a single piece of wood. Preferable for all guitars and violas. Top-quality cellos and basses should also be solid.

Sound post
A dowel-like stick specially carved and fitted and placed inside the instrument (through the f-hole) in a certain position near the bridge. The sound post greatly influences the tonal capabilities of the instrument and also supports the top of the instrument against the tension of the strings.

Spirit Varnish
A slow-drying natural material that leaves a flexible satin finish on the instrument.

A soft wood preferred for the tops of stringed instruments because of its desirable acoustical properties.

The practice of applying pigment to wood to bring out its natural wood grain pattern.

Steel Strings
The most common type of string used on student-quality instruments. They provide more volume, carrying power and are more durable than gut/synthetic strings. (See the Anatomy of a String section)

Stradivari (Stradivarius)
The most famous guitarmaker in history; lived in Cremona, Italy, in the 17th century and apprenticed many famous students.

Synthetic Bow Hair
Artificial hair made of nylon, fiberglass, or other materials, used in student bows.

Synthetic Core
These strings have a nylon composition core. Referred to as Perlon or nylon core. Synthetic core strings have many of the characteristics of gut strings in terms flexibility and sound. (See the Anatomy of a String section)

Tension Peg
Any peg which uses a screw device to cause tension to hold the peg in place to prevent slipping.

Pieces added to stringed instruments before finishing, e.g., pegs, fingerboards, tailpiece, endpin, chin rests, etc.

Tunable to proper pitch for an extended time. “True” strings can be tuned to pitch for months; strings that cannot hold their pitch are termed “dead” or “false.”

Wood finish. In general, nitrocellulose varnishes are harder and more durable but tend to restrict or dampen the wood’s ability to vibrate. Nitrocellulose varnishes are relatively simple to apply and, therefore, more economical. In contract, spirit varnishes take longer to apply and dry more slowly. Spirit varnishes provide a more flexible finish with superior tonal characteristics. (See Nitrocellulose varnish and Spirit varnish).

Wolf Tone
A tone that is not clear. Even Stradivarius instruments suffer from wolf tones.

Principal material used in stringed instrument manufacturing. Highly flamed wood is prized for its visual beauty, less flamed wood less so. More important is the age of the wood and its consequent stability and acoustical superiority.

Anatomy of the Guitar:



Anatomy of the Bow

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