Guitar Terminology

When you first learn guitar, there is an entire vocabulary of brand new words you come across. Here are some of the most basic of them explained:

Parts of the guitar



This is a guitar neck

The neck is the “middle” of the guitar, with one end attached to the body, and one end attached to the headstock. The strings stretch over the fretboard attached to the front of the neck. The neck is where the fretting hand is placed when playing the guitar.



The body is the large end of the guitar, at the bottom of the guitar when it’s placed vertically. This is where the bridge, pickups and controls are attached. As well as holding a lot of the hardware and providing a weight to balance the guitar, much of the guitar’s resonance and sustain comes from the body. The body is where the picking hand goes when playing the guitar.



The headstock is at the top of the guitar, and is where the tuning pegs attach to the guitar.


The fretboard is the thin piece of wood attached to the front of the neck, where you press to sound a note. The middle strips on the fretboard are known as “frets”, and pressing on the fretboard is known as “fretting” a note. Most guitars have dots on the top and sometimes also on the front of the guitar – these are known as “fret markers”. There are often two dots on the twelfth fret.



The bridge is located on the body. It holds the strings in place, and transfers their vibration to the body. The small pieces that touch the strings directly are known as saddles.


The nut is located right at the join of the neck and the headstock. The nut holds the strings in place at the end of the neck – the strings can sit in little slots. Nuts can be made of plastic, metal, graphite, wood or bone.


The pickups are the devices that sit inside the body of an electric guitar, directly below the strings. They contain magnets with coils of wire around them, and turn the vibration of the strings into an electric signal.


The controls are knobs and switches that change the tone of the instrument. Must guitars include a selector switch, which changes which pickup(s) the guitar gets it’s signal from. Some guitars, such as the Les Paul jr, will have only one pickup, meaning that there is no selector switch. Some have mini-toggles instead. A guitar will usually have at least one volume knob, and often will have a tone knob as well. The volume knob(s) change how much signal the guitar sends out, while the tone knob(s) will make that signal either darker or brighter in tone. There are other controls that electric guitars can have, including a rhythm circuit or a kill switch, though these are much less common.

Output Jack

The output jack, often mistakenly reffered to as the input jack, is where you plug your instrument cable so that the guitar’s signal can reach your amplifier, effects unit, or recording device.


Other terminology

What do we mean by high and low strings?

When guitarists talk about high and low strings, they refer to the pitch of the string, and not the physical position on the neck. This can be confusing to some players at first, because the low strings are located on the top half of the fretboard, and the high strings are on the bottom half. The high E string is the one located at the very bottom, while the low E is located at the very top. It might seem slightly absurd at first, but it doesn’t take very long to get used to this naming convention.


A riff is a phrase of music, usually repeated. The name originates from Jazz musicians, but has become rather universal to all contemporary genres. In Rock and Metal guitar, the word riff generally refers just to rhythm guitar patterns.


A lick is also a musical phrase. Most guitarists use it for melodic phrases used in an improvised or pre-written solo or fill.

Open Strings

When a string is sounded without any note fretted, it is said to be open. An open chord is a chord that includes open strings.

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