Acoustic Guitar Lingo - Learning Some Vocabulary

Talkin the talk!
Acoustic Guitar Lesson

Learning about the acoustic guitar is an ongoing process.  Many luthiers (guitar makers) continue to explore new woods, materials and methods for creating and innovating new guitar designs.  Here is a starting list of acoustic guitar "lingo" or terms that you can use to get familiar with the acoustic guitar.  Studying these will also help you to have a more intelligent conversation with other guitar enthusiasts, players and sellers.   I can also help you become a more educated customer which could ultimately help you save money.  Whether you are looking to find the best beginner's guitar or a more professional model, education always helps in any investment.   Learning acoustic guitar terminology can also help improve communication and your learning curve if you are taking online acoustic guitar lessons.  

So jump in!  

Feel free to leave some ideas or comments for new terms that we have not listed yet, or terms that you would like to see defined here (your input is very much appreciated). Comments are moderated so they will be saved until we get to review and approve them.  Also, we will continue to add to this list as we have time.

Abalone: a mollusk (sea creature like a clam) that has mother-of-pearl used for decorative inlay in some guitars.

Axe: slang guitar talk for a guitar.

Binding:  piece of wood, polymer, or other material that is glued around the perimeter edges of the guitar body to protect the edges and to provide a stable joint between the back and top with the sides.

Body: the acoustic “sound box” of the guitar made usually of tonewoods which is comprised of a top, sides and back. It is used to amplify the vibrations and sounds from the strings and add tones and overtones to the sound.

Book-matched (book-matching): the process of using two mirrored pieces of wood to create the top or back of an acoustic guitar. It is often unnoticed, but most tops and backs of guitars are made of 2 pieces of book-matched wood that are spliced, seamed or glued together, side-by-side with a spring joint.

Bridge:  Usually made from a piece of rosewood or other durable tonewood, the bridge holds the saddle and bridge pins which allows for 1 end of the strings to be secured to maintain a consistent scale length and set the height of the strings at an optimal level from the neck (called relief) in order to optimize volume and playability.

Fingerboard (fretboard): Usually made of rosewood or ebony, a semi-rounded layer of wood on top of the neck, divided mathematically by frets for accurate fingering and chording the strings of a guitar.

Finish:  the luster or coating of polyester, lacquer or shellac which is sprayed onto the surface of the finished guitar to give it protection and an aesthetically pleasing look.

Fret: space on the fretboard between the fret wires used to finger strings and temporarily change their length and resulting pitch / frequency of vibration.

Fret-bar: Bars that intersect the fretboard transversely in order to divide the frets for chording and fingering.

Fret wire: A wire alloy made of 18% nickel silver (but actually does not have silver in it) or stainless steel used in making the fret bars on the fingerboard.

Head or Headstock: the area at the narrow end of the guitar which contains the tuning machines, the trademark of the luthier (or manufacturer), and often some exquisite artistic inlays.

Heel:  curved piece of wood which is laminated onto the base of the neck to help fasten and secure the neck to the acoustic guitar body.

Heel Block:  piece of durable wood inside the acoustic guitar body between the lower bouts providing support, gluing area, strength and an area for an end pin or stereo end-pin jack installation (for acoustic electric guitars).

Inlay: Artistic work of setting materials into the headstock, neck, fretboard, body, rosette, back and/or sides of the guitar using various materials for artistic expression. Common materials that are used include, but are not limited to, mother-of-pearl, abalone, plastics, and exotic woods.


Kerfing:  with respect to acoustic guitar bodies, it refers to flexible wood strips that have many transverse cuts and is used to increase gluing surface to attach the top and back to the sides of the acoustic guitar body.

Lower Bouts:  Area at the bottom of the guitar body where the shape curves outward – amplifies lower tones.

Mother-of-pearl:  iridescent coating on the inside of abalone shells created by secretions from glands in the living the abalone muscle. It's beauty and play on lighting makes it ideal for inlay art work and decorations.

Neck: long piece of wood between the headstock and body, where the fretboard rests for holding and fingering guitar chords and scales.

Neck block:  piece of durable wood inside the acoustic guitar body between the upper bouts, providing a joint for stable neck attachment to the body as well as strength, structure, and gluing area for the sides, back, top and kerfing.

Pick Guard:  thin piece of plastic / polymer that is placed over the top (surface) of the guitar just to the side of the sound-hole to protect the wood from being scratched and worn by strumming with a pick (plectrum).

Purfling:  decorative material made of wood, plastic or other substance and is added on either side of the binding of the guitar body to produce more decorative appeal around the binding.

Relief (set):  the distance from the strings to the fretboard usually adjustable by a truss rod. A higher set may increase the ability for more volume, but can decrease the ease of playability. A lower set may increase playability but can cause “fret buzz” or “string buzz” if set too low.

Rosette:  A decorative ring and reinforcement around the sound hole usually made from some kind of plastic, abalone, mother-of-pearl, or decorative / ornate woods.

Saddle:  Originally made from natural bone or ivory, it is a thin (usually white or off white) piece of hardened polymer (like Ivoroid) that is responsible for creating a cutoff for one end of the strings and transferring the string vibrations to the guitar body where they can be amplified.

Sound Hole:  Usually round or similar shaped hole cut into the top of the guitar to allow the amplified sound from the guitar body a place and direction from which to project.

Tuning Machines (tuning keys or machine heads):

geared tuners installed in the heads of most guitars that allow a player to increase or decrease tension on the strings, thereby increasing or decreasing the pitch of the string respectively.

Truss rod:  an adjustment rod made of steel that is embedded in a routed canal in the neck, underneath the fretboard and can help increase and decrease the relief or set of the neck.

Upper Bouts:  Area at the top of the guitar body where the shape curves outward – amplifies or accentuates upper tones in the Eq range

Waist:  Area on the body between the upper and lower bouts where the shape curves inward toward the interior of the guitar. The deeper the waist curves into the body, the “stiffer” the top becomes and closes the vibration potential / range of the tones down more so than in a shallow waisted instrument.



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I am a little curious as to who did the Inlay work on the " 1 millionth Martin & Co. " guitar? Was it mr. Cox? From Parishville - Hopkinton , NY

Fisher, I believe it was Larry Robinson, per the Martin Guitar website.

For a beginner, the learning of guitar is quite a hard task, as I personally have experienced, and keeping in mind of the names and terms for different keys is harder. Acoustic Guitar Lingo is a good remembrance for the guitar students.

Good points ghsv. . .and yes, starting any instrument is difficult at first. I have learned to play about 7 different instruments over the years, and guitar was the most difficult the initial 2 or 3 months. Persistence is necessary to get comfortable with an acoustic 6 string, at least it was for me.

Thanks for the that really deep information about guitars because I really like your work. Thanks


best beginner guitar

Thanks for the kind words Gary! A lot of work goes into these pages and a lot of research as well! Stop by again some time.

Yeah Aaron, I see that you do a lot of work on research and also have a great experience of guitars too.

Hi Gary,

Thanks again for the kind comments and hope you get a lot out of the rest of this site!

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