Tech Tip:Glossary: Important Gear-Related Terms



12AX7, 12AX7A
Preamp tube found in almost every tube amplifier and preamp ever made. The 12AX7, also known as the 7025, is prized for its ability to overdrive smoothly and easily.



Action refers to the distance between the strings and the fingerboard of a guitar. A guitar with low action - strings close to the fretboard - is generally easier to play than a guitar with higher action, though low action can rob tone, cause buzzing, and make bending more difficult.



Acronym for Alesis Digital Audio Tape, a digital 8-track recording format that uses SVHS tape to store audio data. Multiple ADATs can be linked to form systems of up to 128 tracks.



A type of acoustic or acoustic-electric guitar with an arched top, which first became popular during 1930s. Many acoustic archtops, such as the Gibson ES-175, are amplified by body-mounted or floating magnetic pickups. Solidbody and semi-solidbody electric guitars can have arched tops too: famous examples include the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson ES-335.



A type of guitar vibrato system developed in the 1940's by Paul Bigsby. The Bigsby, which is mounted on top of the body, uses a bar attached to a spring to move a hinged tailpiece, raising and lowering the pitch.



Decorative material placed along the edges of the body or neck of a guitar.



A guitar design whereby the neck is attached to the body with bolts. Common on Fender-style electrics, it is also used on some acoustics, including certain Taylor models.



Speaker enclosure housing one or more speakers. Usually identified by the number and size of the speakers it contains; for example, a 1x12 holds one 12" speaker; a 4x10 is equipped with four 10" speakers, and so on. Other common types: 2x12, 4x12, 2x10, 1x15.



A mechanical device clamped onto the neck of a guitar and placed before a fret to transpose the "open" positions on a guitar.



A brand name that has become a generic term for a resonator guitar. The design, which predates the electric guitar, is meant to increase the volume of the instrument with the aid of metal plates mounted to the top of the guitar.



An electromagnetic device that creates a magnetic loop between a guitar string and pickup, causing the string to vibrate indefinitely. Used to mimic the sound of violin, woodwinds, and synthesizer. Famous examples can be found in the work of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, and Collective Soul.



Tube used in the power section of British and American tube amplifiers, including some Marshall models.



1] Equalization, the control over the level of specified frequencies; also known as tone control. 2] A device used to control equalization.



The piece of wood on the face of the neck, into which frets are placed.



Fuzz Box
Floor-mounted effect that produces fuzz. Also used as a generic term to refer to any distortion unit.



The diameter of a string or set of strings for guitars and other stringed instruments. Common electric guitar string gauges: Super light (.009-.042), light (.010-.046), medium-light (.011-.048); Common acoustic guitar string gauges are light (.012 and down), and medium (starting at .013).



Part of the neck above the nut, it houses the tuning keys on most guitars.



While technically any acoustic guitar is a hollow-body, the term usually refers to archtop electric guitars. Examples include the Gibson ES-175, Guild Manhattan, and Epiphone Emperor.



Lipstick Pickups
Single coil pickups with metal covers that are close in shape to lipstick tubes. Best known for producing the twangy tone of Danelectro guitars.



Locking Tuners
Tuning machines that hold the guitar string in place with a screw lock, commonly mated to a "floating" or "locking" tremolo bridge. This helps maintain tuning stability by preventing the strings from moving. The most popular brand of floating, locking tremolo is made by Floyd Rose.



Machine Heads
Tuning machines, a.k.a. tuning keys, tuning pegs, or simply, tuners.



Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI allows you to send musical data, such as note value, loudness, controller values, and more, between instruments, effects, and computer devices.



Noise Gate
A dynamic control device that attenuates an audio signal when that signal falls below a certain threshold. For guitar, gates are most often used to eliminate noise during silent passages. When the guitar is playing, the gate opens, letting the sound be heard. When the guitar stops, the gate closes, cutting off all sound. Gates are also used extensively on snare drums during recording sessions.



A ridge of slotted, hard material found at the top of the guitar fingerboard, over which the strings pass. Nuts can be made of bone, graphite, plastic, brass, or even steel.



Any piece of gear that is added to a main system. Most commonly used to refer to rack effects in P.A. and guitar rigs.



1] noun. Smooth distortion associated with the sound of tubes. 2] noun. A pedal or amp channel that produces distortion. 3] verb. The process of creating distortion ("Turn up the volume to overdrive that amp, dude!")



Pedal (a.k.a. stompbox, effect box)
Almost any floor-mounted effect can be referred to as a pedal, though the term is more accurately applied to effects that actually incorporate a pedal in their design, such as volume pedals, wah wahs, whammy pedals, and the univibe.



Refers to the position of a sound wave in its cycle. Sound waves are often referred to as "in phase" and "out of phase." Sound waves that are out of phase tend to cancel each other out, and generally cause problems for musicians, though they have a unique sound quality that is often sought after for creative purposes.



Any device that reads the vibration of the strings and converts it into an electrical signal for amplification. Magnetic pickups, most common on electric guitars, come in two types: single coil and humbucking. On a magnetic pickup, a magnet, known as a pole-piece, "reads" the vibration of the metal guitar-string. Acoustic guitars usually use piezo pickups. Piezos read the vibration of the bridge and turn it into electrical energy. The most common electric-guitar pickup configurations include three single-coils, as found on a Fender Stratocaster; two single-coils and a humbucker, as found on many Stratocaster derivatives; two single coils, as found on a Fender Telecaster or Gibson Les Paul Special; two humbuckers, as found on a Gibson Les Paul Standard. Guitars with humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions and a single-coil in the middle are popular for metal and hard rock.



A rotary control electrical device. Used on guitars, amps, and effects (a.k.a. knob).



RCA Jacks
A standard type of unbalanced audio connection; often found on home stereos and recording devices such as the ADAT.



An effect that simulates the acoustic reverberation of a physical space. Guitar amps traditionally carry spring reverbs. Digital reverbs emulate a variety of spaces or reverberant devices, such as plates, rooms, halls, etc.



Scale Length
The distance between the nut and the bridge saddle - that is, the section of the string that vibrates. Common lengths include 25 ½-inches (also known as Fender scale and found on the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster) and 24¾-inches (known as Gibson scale and found on the Gibson Les Paul). Scale is a major factor in determining a guitar's tonal character and physical feel. Longer scale guitars have tighter strings and produce a more percussive sound.



Tab, Tablature A means of musical notation that illustrates each note's fingering position on the guitar neck. Tablature typically accompanies standard notation, and usually does not represent rhythmic values.



Tremolo System
A device used to alter the pitch of the strings by increasing or decreasing their tension relative to the bridge. Varieties include Bigsby, floating, locking, (Fender) vintage, and others. There are almost as many slang terms for the tremolo bar as there are for throwing up. Popular alternates include: trem, trem bar, tremolo system, twang, wang, wang bar, whammy, and whammy bar.



Rapid variations in pitch. Vibrato can be achieved with fingers, finger vibrato, and wrist vibrato, by use of a tremolo bar, or with electronic devices.



A pedal or automatic device that employs a filter set to sweep through a frequency spectrum to alter tone in real time. A wah-wah or "wah" pedal is named for the sound produced when it sweeps from high-pass filter to low-pass filter position. Examples include Cry Baby, Vox, Morley.



A type of balanced connection with three pins in a cylindrical plug. Usually used for microphones or the line-inputs on pro level mixers, tape recorders and effects.