Guitar Terms Explained – Nut Width? Intonation? Action? What is this? – Don’t Worry, We Got You Covered

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This is a list of commonly used terms that are in our articles. Many guitarists – especially beginners – may not know what they mean. It is very important to understand the terms when it comes to choosing a guitar for you.

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Use the table of contents to select the term you want to investigate:

General Terms

These terms are used with both acoustic and electric guitars.

Action

The distance between the strings and the frets. On a guitar with a close action, the strings are closer to the frets. On a guitar with high action, the strings are further away from the frets. 

photo displays low vs high action on guitar
On the right side, you can see low action (usually easier to play), and on the left, you can see high action (usually play better).

Attack

Used to describe the initial sound of the guitar. Ex:  A pick adds more attack than a guitar plucked with bare fingers.

Bass

Used to describe the low sounds of a guitar. Also used to describe a bass guitar, which is tuned to lower octaves to provide low-end balance to a sound mix.

Mix

The overall volume and tone of multiple instruments played in unison. Ex: A band with a bassist, drummer, two guitarists, and a keyboard player will have a thicker mix than a band with only a drummer, bassist, and a single guitarist.

Nut

A piece of hardware located at the top of the neck that is usually made of bone, metal, or plastic. It helps transfer the vibration of the strings to the guitar as well as maintain a secure distance between strings when it comes to string spacing. 

photo reveals what is a nut of guitar and what kinds of different nuts there are

Bridge

A hardware component generally made of wood (acoustic) or metal (electric) that supports the strings as they travel over the body of the guitar. It helps transfer vibration throughout the guitar body, and supports the saddle(s). 

photo reveals different guitar bridge-types

Nut width

The width of the neck at the nut. This is measured by the distance between the high E string and the low E string. 

photo reveals what guitars nut width means

String Spacing

A measurement taken either at the saddle or around the 14th fret that shows the distance of the string spread as it gets closer to the nut. It is measured by the distance of the low E string and high E string. The measurement depends on the manufacturer, and this information can usually be obtained via their website. 

photo reveals what  guitar string spacing means

Saddle

A piece of hardware and the first point of contact located on top of the bridge of a guitar. The saddle can be a single piece of bone or plastic on an acoustic or metal on an electric. The saddle has 2 specific functions: 1. Transfer the vibration of the string to the guitar body. 2. Keep strings spaced evenly and securely while playing. 

photo reveals different  types of guitar saddles

Fingerboard radius

Also known as fretboard radius; it is the measurement of the curvature of the fingerboard across the neck from low E to high E. It only takes into account the curvature of the fingerboard, not the back of the neck.

Scale length

Determined by measuring from the nut to the 12th fret of the guitar and then multiplied by 2. Some also measure scale length by measuring the distance between a nut and brdige.

photo reveals what is guitars scale length

Intonation

Technically defined as “pitch accuracy”; in the world of guitars, this is the pitch of a note when fretted along the fretboard. Ex: a guitar with poor intonation will sound out of tune when chorded and strummed even if the open strings are in tune. 

Truss rod

A metal rod that runs through the middle of the guitar neck to add support and keep the neck from bending under the pressure of the strings. Most modern guitars employ an adjustable truss rod to adjust the neck relief, while some older guitars have a truss rod that is not adjustable. 

photo reveals truss rod access of acoustic and electric guitar
The most common ways to access a truss rod

This video explains how to use a truss rod and different ways to access a truss rod:

YouTube video


Neck relief

The intentional concave curvature of the guitar neck, when set correctly, allows the strings to vibrate freely without buzzing against the frets. You can adjust neck relief with a truss rod (check the video above).

Sustain

How long a note rings out after being plucked. A guitar with “good” sustain will allow a note to ring out longer  while a guitar with “bad” or “short” sustain will allow the note to decay quickly into silence. 

Binding

Strips of decorative wood, plastic, or other material that is added to the edge of the guitar where the top and back meet the sides. It can also be applied to the neck and headstock. 

photo demonstrates guitar binding

Cutaway

Used to describe the body of a guitar where the areas at the neck joint are “cut away” to allow access to higher frets. Cutaways are most common on electric guitars, but are also found on many modern acoustic guitars as well. May be referred to as a “single cutaway” (ex: Gibson Les Paul) or a “double cutaway” (ex: Fender Stratocaster). 

photo reveals differences between double and single cutaway guitars

Acoustic Guitar Terms

These terms generally apply only to acoustic guitars.  

Dreadnought

A body style developed by C.F. Martin & Company in 1916 that was characterized by a larger body size with a louder volume. This is the most common type of acoustic guitar body today that is copied by nearly every acoustic guitar manufacturer. 

photo displays a dreadnought guitar
Dreadnought acoustic guitar

Sound board/Top

Referred to more commonly as the “top”; it is the piece of wood that makes up the top of an acoustic guitar body. This is the main part that resonates to create the sound of the guitar when a string is plucked or strummed. 

photo reveals what is a sound board and top of the guitar

Bridge pins

Small, rounded pieces of plastic, bone, wood, or metal that are grooved on the bottom. Their function is to anchor the strings to the bridge to keep them in an exact position. Also responsible for helping transfer vibration to the bridge and soundboard of a guitar. 

photo reveals what are the bridge pins of an acoustic guitar

Sound hole

The opening on the surface of a soundboard to enhance volume and resonance. Acoustic guitar soundholes are usually near the neck joint, but can be any shape, size, or location on the top of the guitar (such as “F-holes”).

photo reveals acoustic guitar sound hole
Here you can see a sound hole of an acoustic guitar.

Rosette

A decorative piece of plastic, wood, or other material that goes around the sound hole of a guitar. They also help add structural integrity to the instrument by acting as a sort of brace to prevent the wood around the sound hole from cracking. 

photo revals what is a sound hole rosette

Flatpicking

A style of guitar playing where the player uses a flat pick to strum and pluck the strings of an acoustic guitar instead of the fingers. This term is typically associated with bluegrass and American folk music. 

Here you can see and hear some Flatpicking:

YouTube video


Electric Guitar Terms

These terms generally apply only to electric guitars.

Volume/tone pot

Short for “potentionmeter”; a rotating control that controls the volume, tone, or other additional function of an electric guitar by increasing or decreasing resistance within the circuit. 

photo reveals what are tone and volume knobs and pots on a guitar

Pickups

Magnetically wound coils that sense vibration of the guitar strings and convert it to electrical signals. Variations can be found on acoustic-electric guitars as well. 

photo revals what are pickups of an electric guitar

Toggle switch

A switch that is used to change the flow of electricity in an electric guitar’s circuit. These switches typically allow players to isolate certain pickups in a guitar or even individual pickup coils (coil tapping). Toggle switches have a wide variety of applications on electric guitars. 

photo reveals what is a toggle switch on a guitar

Conclusion

Who crafted this post:

reveals one of the experienced guitar players who write for guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 23 years. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist.

A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia.

reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Editing: Teemu Suomala

Playing guitar since 2009. Mainly focused on electric guitars, although plays acoustics too. Started this blog in January 2020.

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