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Here are some more electric guitar terms that should make it easier for non-guitar fanatics to shop for guitars. As in Part 1 for the March 2011 catalog, I went through one of the recent Musician's Friend catalogs and selected terms that I thought might need definition, clarification, or more explanation.
APPOINTMENTS: The visual aspects of a guitar's body, neck, and headstock that enhance the guitar's look and value. Appointments include binding, inlays, and hardware.
BINDING: Decorative appointment that covers the join of the body and the top or the join of the fretboard and the neck. Ply refers to the number of layers in the binding, e.g., 3-ply or 7-ply.
INLAYS: Designs on the fretboard, headstock, or body of a guitar. Typically the inlay design is carved into the wood, then filled with one of many materials, such as mother-of-pearl, metal, abalon (a mollusk with an ear-shaped shell lined with mother-of-pearl), or plastic. Basic inlays, such as pearl dots, are used to mark positions on the fretboard. More elaborate inlays are created mostly for aesthetic purposes.
BEVELED: Square edges on a guitar body, pickup, or other surface that have been reduced to sloping edges. Beveled edges are usually compared to the visual appeal of facets on a diamond, and make the guitar body more comfortable when slung next to a human body.
FIGURE: Patterns on the surface of wood. The carved maple top on many guitars, such as Les Pauls from 1958 through 1960, are valued for their distinctive figured pattern, referred to as "flamed" or "flametop."
KILL SWITCH: Switch that completely cuts off signal from all pickups. Modern guitarists like to throttle the kill switch rapidly to produce a Morse code or "strobing" effect.
LIMITED EDITION: A guitar with a unique set of features produced in limited quantities. Many times, the serial number is hand-stamped on the back of the neck to indicate where in the limited series that particular guitar was produced, a feature sought by collectors to enhance the guitar's value.
BOLT-ON NECK: A neck that is attached into a fitted slot in the body by means of three or four wood screws running through the back of the body and into the back of the neck. This method of attaching necks was critical in the development of the electric guitar because it reduced production costs, making electric guitars more affordable. A bolt-on neck can be replaced, adjusted, or repaired with far less skilled labor than is required for other neck types.
NECK-THROUGH: A guitar built around a single column of wood that extends from the tip of the headstock through to the strap button at the tail. This column can either be a single piece or several pieces laminated together side-by-side. The "wings" of body wood are glued onto the sides of this central column of wood. Neck-through bodies produce maximum sustain and have the huge advantage of no large heel where the neck meets the body, thus providing the easiest access to the higher register frets. Neck-through guitars are more expensive to manufacture than bolt-on necks.
QUARTERSAWN: Wood cut on the radius of the tree so the rings are perpendicular to the surface of the plank—as opposed to flat sawn wood. Highly sought-after for stringed instrument necks and fretboards, quartersawn wood ensures the neck remains stable—and the sound unchanged—for the life of the guitar.
NECK SHAPE (also NECK PROFILE or CONTOUR): Fender uses the letters V, C, and U today as analogies to describe the "neck profile" or shape and contour of the back of their instrument necks. Necks described by these letters will correspond roughly (although not quite as exaggerated) to the visual appearance of these letters. The V-shaped necks come in two different versions, a "soft" V and a "hard" V. The soft V shape is a bit rounded off, whereas the hard V is somewhat more pointed. The C-shaped neck, the most common shape, refers to several profiles. These are the "oval" and the modern "flat oval" as in the modern C-shaped neck on many current Strat models. The flat oval modern C-shaped neck is slightly thinner from the fretboard to the bottom of the neck than the traditional, thicker '60s C-shaped necks. Many people, however, simply use the letter C when referring generally to these oval shapes. The U-shaped neck is chunky and rounded with high shoulders, as seen in the exaggerated letter U. There is no doubt that it is easier to understand the application of these terms to the necks when you put your hands on them and get the feel; however, the use of these letters is pretty accurate in describing the shape of the back of Fender necks. (Adapted from Fender's website with their permission.)
'50S NECK: The rounded neck found on most Gibson electric solidbody guitars until about 1960. Collectors demand the rounded neck to keep reissues historically accurate. Some players, such as those with larger hands, also prefer the solid feel and resistance—and extra resonance—of a beefier, rounded neck.
'60S NECK: Flatter, slimmer neck than the '50s neck. Also called "slim- tapered" neck. Many players, but not all, as I've noted, prefer a slim to a rounded neck.
SUNBURST: A generic name and description of the type of finish found on many acoustic and electric guitars where the outer portion is red and the colors change to orange and yellow toward the center of the guitar. "Sunburst" is also the unofficial name of Les Paul guitars produced from 1958 to 1960 (also called "Les Paul Standard"), many of which featured a figured or "flamed" carved maple top. The amount of figure or flame varies on each Les Paul.
SATIN FINISH: No gloss or shiny look. Gives the guitar neck a faster, less sticky feel.
TRANSPARENT COLORS (TRANS): A thin lacquer finish that lets the natural wood grain of the guitar's top show through.
FRET SIZE: Determined by how high and wide the fret wire is. Low frets, while easy on the fingers, can make it hard to bend string. High frets result in a higher action. Narrow frets tend to wear faster; wider frets tend to wear longer. Frets that are high and narrow are very popular.
JUMBO FRETS: Also called wide frets or super-size. Refers to width and height of the fret wire. Preferred by some lead players who do lots of string bending. The higher fret wires give the player more room on the fingerboard to bend strings.
SEMI-HOLLOWBODY: An electric guitar, for example a Gibson ES-335, with a solid block of wood running through the center of the guitar. Has tonal characteristics of a hollowbody electric, such as an archtop, but is more feedback resistant. Typically has a thinner body than a hollowbody electric.
"PATENT APPLIED FOR": Stamped on early versions of the humbucker. It was the sound of these pickups on the "Sunburst" Les Paul from '58 though '60—especially when played through a Marshall amp—that produced the creamy sustain and warm distortion featured on many classic blues and rock recordings in the late '60s. PAF is the shorthand term that was claimed as a trademark name by DiMarzio Inc.
Visit Tone Tip: Axe Lingo Made Easy - Part I for more terms.