Fretted instrument terminology
An Illustrated Glossary
© Frank Ford, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001

Archtop- A guitar, usually with "f-holes," moveable bridge and tailpiece, generally associated with jazz music. It does, of course have an arched top, as opposed to the flat top of a folk guitar.

Armrest - Usually a banjo accessory designed to make playing a bit more comfortable

Backstrip - A decorative inlay in the center of the back of a stringed instrument, especially an acoustic guitar.

Ball End String - A steel guitar string, usually

Bar Frets - An obsolete style of fret with a rectangular cross section

Bearclaw - A "figure" in spruce top wood that's supposed to look like bear claws. Looks more like chicken tracks to me.

Belly Bridge - The "modern" steel string guitar bridge that has a bulge toward the rear add stability to the guitar top.

Binding - The inlaid corner trim at the very edges of an instrument body or neck.

Birdseye Maple - Maple with tiny, round spots of figure.

Biscuit - A wooden disc in the center of the aluminum cone of a resophonic guitar. The biscuit supports the bridge.

Blind Saddle - The shorter "routed" saddle used on most steel string guitar bridges.

Block Inlay - Big rectangular fingerboard inlay position markers.

Book Matched - The tops and backs of stringed instruments are usually made of two pieces cut from the same board, and joined so they show symmetrical matching of the grain.

Bottleneck - A cylindrical slide used primarily by blues guitarists.

Bout - The upper or lower outside curve of a guitar or other instrument body.

Bowl Back
- A fretted instrument back, usually of a mandolin, in the rounded shape of a bowl or melon.

Box - An acoustic guitar body (rarely, the body of another type of acoustic instrument)

Break Angle
- The angle of a string as it passes over a bridge, saddle, or nut.

Bridge - Conducts the vibration of the string to the main vibrating part of the acoustic instrument.

Bridge Pins
- Little tapered pegs made of plastic, wood, bone, ivory or other hard, tough material. Bridge pins are used to anchor the strings in the bridge.

Bridge Plate - A reinforcement of hardwood under the top beneath the bridge of a flat top guitar or similar instrument

Button - The portion of the back that extends out and reinforces the neck joint at the heel. The tuner knob. The place to hang a strap.

Cantilevered Fingerboard - the upper end of the fingerboard is cantilevered, or elevated to avoid having it touch the top of an archtop, f-hole guitar, mandolin or similar instrument.

Capo - A simple device that clamps on an instrument neck to raise the pitch of all the strings at once.

Celluloid - The plastic traditionally used on stringed instruments for binding and pickguards.

Check - A "seasoning" crack in wood, ivory, finish, etc.

Chipboard Case - The minimal instrument case, made of reinforced cardboard.

Classical Guitar - The guitar used for playing classical music, it has nylon rather than steel strings.

Clown Barf
- Multicolored Celluloid

Compensation - Many fretted instruments need to have the vibrating string length adjusted so they will play more correctly in tune. Frequently the bridge will be "compensated" by moving it or by cutting the saddle to achieve the desired vibrating string length.

CNC - Computer Numerical Control - the method by which "machine made" instruments are made.

Cross Brace - The major braces in a steel string guitar top which cross to form the letter "x."

Cutaway - The section of an instrument body that is designed for reaching higher frets over the body. The body of such an instrument appears to have been "cut away" to provide access to the fingerboard.

Dot Neck - A fretted instrument neck with a simple inlay pattern of dots at the conventional fret positions.

Dovetail - A classic woodworking joint and the traditional method of neck attachment for fine steel string and acoustic guitars and mandolins.

Dreadnought - Martin's biggest and strongest sounding guitar size. Copied everywhere!

Ears - Sometimes called "wings" they are little additions necessary to make a wide peghead out of narrow wood.

Edge Dots - Markers inlaid into the side of the fingerboard for easy position reference. Sometimes called "side position markers."

End Block
- The reinforcement inside the end of a stringed instrument where the sides meet. The end block also provides support for the end pin.

End Piece - The decorative inlay in an instrument's sides where they join at the end.

Endpin - The little button at the bottom of an instrument that holds the strap so you can play standing up.

Endpin Jack - An electrical connector that doubles as a strap holder at the bottom of a guitar or other instrument; sometimes called a "strap jack."

F-holes - These soundholes are shaped vaguely like the script lower case "f" and are found on violins, arch top guitars and mandolins.

Fan Brace - The conventional bracing system for classical guitars.

Fiddleback Maple - Figured maple with regular parallel curls. "Flamed" maple.

Fifth String - The short string on a five string banjo

Fifth String Capo
- An accessory device mounted on the neck of a five string banjo to hold the fifth string at a desired fret.

Figure - A distinctive wood grain pattern.

Fingerboard - The hard front surface of an instrument neck against which the strings are pressed to form different notes.

Fingerpick - a pick worn on the finger to maximize efficiency and tonal projection

Fingerrest - An elevated support for the fingers of the picking hand. Primarily found on arch top guitars and mandolins.

Fingerstyle - Yes a style of guitar playing, using the fingers. Also, a flat top steel strung guitar with a clear tone, especially suited for this style of playing.

First String - Usually, the string that's tuned highest

First Position
- The lowest hand position (nearest the nut) used in normal playing, as for "open" chords, i.e., those using open strings.

Flame - The "fiddleback" figure in maple or other hardwood. A series of parallel "curls" in the grain.

Flamenco Guitar - A nylon strung guitar similar to a classical guitar.

- an instrument pick that's (you guessed it) flat.

Flattop - A flat top guitar, a steel strung folk style guitar.

Flight Case - The heaviest, strongest travel case, often custom made, and always expensive.

Fretboard - The front surface of the neck which holds the frets against which the string is pressed to form different notes. Frequently called "fingerboard."

Frets - The little metal bars that cross the fingerboard. The string is pressed downward until it touches a fret, effectively shortening the vibrating length of the string and producing the different notes.

Gig Bag - A soft padded instrument case made of fabric.

Hardshell Case - The standard case for a fine instrument. As the name implies, it is rigid and strong.

Hawaiian Guitar - A "steel guitar." A guitar with elevated strings, designed to be played horizontally with a steel.

Hawaiian Nut - This tall nut raises the strings very high above the frets for Hawaiian steel guitar playing styles.

Headstock - The end of the neck that holds the tuners. Sometimes called "peghead" or "head."

Heel - The portion of an instrument's neck that curves downward where the neck joins the body.

Heel Cap
- A decorative lamination at the end of the heel of an instrument's neck.

Herringbone - A classic decorative element associated with Martin guitars. Any Martin guitar with the herringbone pattern wood purfling around the top.

High/Low Position - "High or low position on the neck" refers to the pitch of the notes being played, not the physical location.

Hollow Body - A type of electric guitar with a thin body with an air cavity similar to an acoustic.

- Imitation ivory used as binding or other trim on stringed instruments.

Kerfing - Lining made with saw cuts for easy installation.

Ladder Brace - The simplest top bracing system for guitars.

Lap Steel - A small solid body electric steel guitar commonly played on the lap.

Lining - The reinforcement inside where the top and back are joined to the sides of a stringed instrument.

Loop End String - A string with a loop for hooking onto a tailpiece, as on a banjo or mandolin.

Mitered Purfling - Purfling lines that meet at an angle in the corners.

Mother-of-Pearl (MOP) - An old W.C.Fields expletive. Also, the natural iridescent inlay material that comes from a variety of mollusk shells.

Neck Block - The heavy wooden piece inside where the neck joins the body. The neck block must be heavy and strong to keep the neck in alignment.

Nut - The piece the strings cross over at the peghead end of the instrument. The nut holds the strings in position, and usually defines the end of the vibrating length of the strings at the end opposite the bridge.

Pearl Border - A special decorative purfling made of abalone or other shell inlay.

Peghead - Here's a tough one. It's the end of the neck that holds the tuners, tuning machines or tuning pegs. Sometimes called the "headstock" or "head."

Pegs - Friction devices for tuning stringed instruments.

Pickguard - A plastic or other plate that protects an instrument top from scratches.

Pickup - an electronic device mounted on an instrument which allows the sound to be amplified

Pin Bridge - The standard steel string guitar bridge which anchors the strings to the top of the guitar by means of bridge pins.

Pinless Bridge
- A steel string guitar bridge made without pins. The strings simply thread in from the back edge.

Purfling - A decorative inlay around an instrument just "inboard" from the edge.

Pyramid Bridge - The standard Martin guitar bridge before 1930, these bridges have decorative "pyramid" designs carved at the ends.

Relief - The forward curvature in a neck that allows the strings to vibrate without hitting the frets.

Resonator - The enclosed "back" of a banjo. The diaphragm of a resophonic guitar.

Resophonic - Mechanically amplified stringed instrument in which the strings energize an aluminum cone to produce a characteristic strong and metallic tone.

Ribbon Grain - Mahogany or other hardwood with parallel bands of alternating grain runout.

Ribs - The sides of the body of a stringed instrument. Guitar and other fretted instrument sides are usually called "sides;" violin and cello sides are usually called by the older term, "ribs."

Rosette - The decorative inlay around a circular or oval soundhole. Classical guitars usually have complex wood marquetry rosettes, while steel string guitars tend toward very simple patterns of rings.

Runout - Wood grain that is not parallel to the flat face of a piece of lumber or instrument top.

Quilted - Maple sometimes has a figure that looks like puckered cloth. This "quilted" figure sometimes occurs in mahogany.

Saddle - On fretted instruments, the saddle is the part of the bridge over which the string passes and which defines the end of the vibrating string.

Scale Length - or simply "scale" - The vibrating string length.

Scroll - A classic body design element associated with early Gibson instruments. '

Silk - A cross grain pattern often seen in quartersawn spruce.

Slack Key
- A Hawaiian style of guitar playing, using a standard guitar with altered, lower tunings.

Solid Body - The most familiar type of electric guitar.

Snakehead - A peghead that tapers narrower toward the end, especially that of a Gibson mandolin.

Spanish Heel - A traditional method of joining the neck and body on a classical guitar, commonly associated with Spanish and Mexican instruments.

Steel - A heavy metal bar used in playing "Hawaiian" style guitars with raised strings.

Steel Guitar - Not necessarily made of metal, the steel guitar derives its name from the fact that it's played with a "steel."

String Ramps - Little grooves in a guitar bridge to allow the strings to bear downward on the saddle.

T-Bar - Strictly a Martin thing. Martin's first steel neck reinforcement had a "T" cross section and was used from the 1930s to the 1960s.

T-Frets - The frets used on most modern instruments. They have a sort of "mushroom" shape cross section.

Tailpiece - The string anchor at the end of a fretted instrument with a moveable bridge.

Three Piece Back - An acoustic guitar back made of three pieces to conserve precious materials.

Through Saddle - The longer Martin style bridge saddle, "cut through" at the ends.

Thumbpick - an instrument pick worn on the thumb to increase playing volume and power.

Tie Block
- The portion of the classical guitar bridge around which the strings are tied.

Transverse Brace - Any top or back brace that runs perpendicular to the center line of an instrument. A primitive top bracing system for guitars.

Truss Rod - An internal, adjustable tensioning device for keeping instrument necks straight, patented and first used by Gibson around 1921.

Truss Rod Cover - A decorative plate, usually screwed to the peghead, which covers the truss rod adjusting nut.

Up the Neck - In the world of fretted instruments up is down, and high is low. Go figure.

- A raised curving area carved in the back of an instrument neck at the base of the peghead.

Waist - The narrow part of a guitar or other instrument body

- The major braces in a steel string guitar top which cross to form the letter "x."

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