Below is an on going glossary from our print editions. We will be updating this page regularly but if you’re looking for something you don’t see please use the submission form below.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep shredding forever.
ABY – a pedal that enables you to switch between two guitar amplifiers. The A & B represent the two amps while the Y signals both amps to be turned on at the same time.
ABCY – a pedal that enables you to switch between three guitar amplifiers. The A, B, and C represent the three amps while the Y signals all three amps to be turned on at the same time.
Action – the height of the guitar strings over the fretboard.
ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) – a standard for the transfer of digital audio between equipment. Originally developed by Alesis but has since become widely accepted.
AD/DA – a converter that accurately converts analog voltage (from your guitar pickups, for example) into digital numbers, something your computer understands.
Amplifier (amp) – a device that increases the strength of the electrical signal coming from the guitar or bass pickups and is set up as either a combo amp or stack.
Amp head – contains the amplifier that passes the signal via a speaker cable to a cabinet to produce sound. It is attached to a loudspeaker cabinet to form a stack.
Anechoic chamber – a room designed to absorbed all reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves.
Archtop – a steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top that creates a strong bass tone popular with jazz musicians The archtop guitar was designed by Orville Gibson in the 1890s to modernize the guitar by enhancing the power and quality of its tones.
Balafon – a xylophone of resonating gourds under wooden bars which are struck with mallets; believed to have originated in Mali during the 12th century.
Barre chord – a chord on a guitar that’s played by using one or more fingers to press down multiple strings across a single fret.
Bass – a stringed instrument that is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family; sounds of lower frequencies.
Bidirectional – (microphone directionality, also referred to as “figure eight”) picks up sound equally from front and back while rejecting sound from the sides.
Blumlein – a stereo recording technique invented by Alan Blumlein that, upon replaying through headphones or loudspeakers, recreates the spatial characteristics of the recorded signal; uses two figure eight ribbon mics to produce an authentic representation of a performance in a room.
Breakbeat – a repeated sample of a drumbeat, usually forming a fast syncopated rhythm, that’s used as a rhythmic basis for hip hop, rap, and dance music.
Bridge – a device on the lower body of a guitar that supports and raises the strings up off the fretboard.
Buffer size – the amount of time it takes for your computer to process any incoming audio signal.
Bypass – an option on effect pedals that allows the signal of the guitar or bass to be routed directly to the amplifier without any of the effects.
Cabinet (cab) – the part of a guitar or bass amplifier that houses the loudspeaker.
Cajón – a box-shaped percussion instrument, originally from Peru, that can be played with the hands, brushes, mallets, or sticks.
Capacitor – an electrical component used in tone control circuits that stores electrical energy temporarily in an electric field.
Capo – a clamp that can be placed on the neck/fretboard of the guitar to change the pitch of each open string
Cardioid – (microphone directionality) a heart-shape pattern that mostly picks up sound from the front, a little bit from the sides, and rejects sounds from the back; often used for vocals.
C-clamp (or g-clamp) – a type of clamp device typically used to hold a wood or metal workpiece; often used in carpentry and welding.
Channels – inputs that utilize different signal paths, allowing you to experiment with different sonic characteristics like clean or distorted.
Chisel – a long-bladed hand tool with a beveled cutting edge and a plain handle that is struck with a hammer or mallet, used to cut or shape wood, stone, metal, or other hard materials.
Chord – a group of typically three or more notes played together to create a harmony.
Chord progression – a group of changing chords that repeat during a song.
Chorus pedal – an effect used to create a richer, thicker sound that simulates the slight variations in pitch and timing that occur in a vocal chorus.
Clean (tone) – an unaltered quality of sound achieved by not using any distortion or other guitar effects.
Clipping – a waveform distortion that occurs when an amplifier is overdriven and attempts to deliver an output voltage or current beyond its maximum capability.
Closed chord – a guitar chord that doesn’t include any open notes.
Combo amp – a guitar or bass amplifier that contains both the amplifier and one or more speakers housed in one single unit.
Common time (4/4 time) – the most common time signature, with four beats per measure.
Condenser microphones –use a pair of charged metal plates, one fixed (the backplate) and one movable (the diaphragm), forming a capacitor; work best as room mics, overheads, and vocals.
Cutaway – an area on the body of the guitar that curves around to avoid the high end of the neck, leaving easy access to the higher notes of the fretboard.
Delay – an effect, often created with a pedal, that delays the sound of the guitar to create a repeating, decaying echo.
Diaphragm – a thin material in a microphone that moves in reaction to external sound pressure variation. There are three different kinds: moving-coil, condenser, and ribbon.
Digital audio workstation (DAW) – a computer program specifically designed for music production.
Diode – a two-terminal electronic component that conducts primarily in one direction, having low resistance to the flow of current in one direction and high resistance in the other.
Direct input (DI) – an electronic device that enables sound from a guitar or bass to go directly through the mixing board.
Distortion – a guitar effect in which gain (an increase in power of a signal) is used to create a dirty and fuzzy sound.
Double coil pickup (humbucker) – a type of electric guitar pickup that uses two coils to “buck the hum” (or cancel out the interference) picked up by coil pickups.
Dynamic microphones – microphones that convert sound into an electrical signal by means of electromagnetism. They fall into two categories, moving coil and ribbon microphones.
Equaliser (EQ) – a tone control on a guitar or amplifier that reduces or enhances sounds that lie within a certain frequency.
Euphonium – a large, conical-bore, baritone-voiced brass instrument.
Fingerpicking – the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking.
Flattop – a guitar where the soundboard is completely flat (as opposed to archtop). This is the most common type of guitar, and while the term is most often used to describe acoustic models, it can be used to describe electric guitars (ex. Fender Stratocaster) as well.
Flatpicking (simply picking) – the technique of striking the strings with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers.
Footswitch – a pedal used to activate electrical settings by foot, used with amps and effects units to enable you to operate them while standing up.
Frequency response – a chart with squiggly lines that map out the peaks and dips of speakers at certain frequencies.
Fretboard – a thin, long strip of dark hardwood on the surface of the neck where the fret bars are placed. The strings run over the fretboard and are pushed down to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch.
Frets – the raised metals strips across the fretboard on a bass or guitar.
Fuzz – a distortion effect that was originally created by guitarists in the 1960s using faulty equipment which has been emulated by fuzzbox effect pedals.
Gain – the increase in the power of the signal coming out of your amp, creating distortion.
Germanium – a semi-metallic element used to create the transistors in guitar pedals (often in fuzz pedals).
Grille – the metal mesh around the capsule of most microphones that protects the microphone’s diaphragm from damage and acts as a windscreen.
Handsaw – a wood saw worked by one hand.
Harmony – the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions.
Harp guitar – a guitar with at least one unfretted string lying off the main fretboard and played as an open string.
Headstock (peghead) – the section of the guitar attached to the top of the neck that houses the pegs or mechanism that holds the strings.
High end – a term referring to treble tones in sound frequencies.
High-pass filter (HPF) – an electronic filter that passes signals with a frequency higher than a certain cutoff frequency and attenuates signals with frequencies lower than the cutoff.
Huapangos – a Mexican folk dance and musical style (part of the son huasteco style) most commonly interpreted by a trio, group, or mariachi.
Hybrid amp – a combination of a tube preamp and solid-state power amp in one unit.
Hypercardioid – (microphone directionality, also referred to as “shotgun mics”) an exaggerated version of the cardioid; super directional, eliminating most sound from the sides and back.
Impedance – the effective resistance of an electric circuit, component, or system to alternating and/or direct electric current.
Instrument cable (lead, chord) – the insulated wiring used to connect guitars to amplifiers, guitars to effects units, or amp heads to speaker cabinets.
Interface – a liaison between your instruments and your computer’s digital audio workstation (DAW), with which you can record music and songs on the computer and play them back.
Inversion chords – a chord in which the group of notes are turned upside down.
Jarana – a guitar-like stringed instrument from Mexico that varies regionally.
Latency – the delay between what you’re playing and what you’re hearing back.
Line level – the specified strength of an audio signal used to transmit analog sound between audio components such as CD players, mixing consoles, and audio amplifiers.
Long-scale – a bass or guitar with a standard neck (opposed to short-scale) with more distance between the frets.
Low end – a term referring to the bass tones in sound frequencies; opposed to high end.
Low-pass filter (LPF) – a filter that passes signals with a frequency lower than a certain cutoff frequency and attenuates signals with frequencies higher than the cutoff.
Major chord – a chord that has a root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth. When a chord has these three notes alone, it is called a major triad.
Mariachi – a Mexican musical expression or group dating back to the 18th century.
Master volume – separate from the non-master volume knob, it allows you to turn your settings up or down as you please while controlling the overall output.
Measure (bar) – a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats in which each beat is represented by a particular note value and the boundaries of the bar are indicated by vertical bar lines.
Metronome – a device used by musicians that marks time at a selected rate by giving a regular tick.
Middle (midrange, mid) – the middle part of the range of audible frequencies.
Mic level – the voltage level that comes out of a microphone when someone speaks into it, typically quite small and varying in response to changes in voice level and in the talker-to-mic distance.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) – a technical standard that describes a protocol, digital interface and connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another.
MIDI clock – a clock signal that is broadcast via MIDI to ensure that several MIDI-enabled devices (e.g. synthesizer or music sequencer) stay in sync.
Minor chord – a chord having a root, a minor third, and a perfect fifth. When a chord has these three notes alone, it is called a minor triad.
Moving coil – a dynamic microphone that converts sound waves into mic signals via electromagnetic induction. As the diaphragm moves, an attached conductive coil oscillates within a magnetic field; used for general purpose mic’ing.
Neck – the wooden stem that extends from the main body of the guitar, supports the headstock, and contains the fretboard.
Omnidirectional – (microphone directionality) picks up sound evenly from all directions; used for ambient noise, gang vocals, and any situation where sound is coming from all directions
Open chord – chords that are played using only the first three frets of the guitar and contain one or more open strings.
Overdrive – the sound made by a tube amp pushed to its limit; players ofter use a pedal to create overdrive.
Palm mute – a playing technique for guitar and bass that is used by placing the side of the picking hand across the strings, very close to the bridge, while plucking the strings to create a dampening effect.
Phantom power – direct current (DC) electric power transmitted through microphone cables to operate microphones that contain active electronic circuitry.
Phasing (comb filtering) –timing differences when combining identical (or nearly identical) signals. This can be a result of static delay between the signals.
Preamp – circuits that increase low-level input signals before they reach the power amp.
Pickguard – a piece of plastic or other laminate material on the body of a guitar that protects the finish from being scratched by the guitar pick.
Pickup – electromagnets that are located on the front of the body. They produce a magnetic field that is disturbed by vibrations in the air (caused by the strings) which in turn alters the signal that is sent through a cable to the amp. The amp then receives the signal and amplifies it. There are two types of pickups: single coil and double coil.
Plugins – software that can add to or enhance audio through a computer.
P-90 – a single coil electric guitar pickup produced by Gibson since 1946. Possesses a bright, thin sound.
Power amp – produces extra gain to increase output signal level.
Power chord – a colloquial name for a chord that consists of the root note and the fifth and are commonly played on amplified guitars.
Presence – boosts the upper mid-range frequencies to make the sound seem more “present.”
Rancheras – a genre of traditional music from Mexico, dating back to before the Mexican Revolution.
Resistor – an electrical component used in tone control circuits that reduces current flow.
Ribbon microphones – a type of dynamic microphone that has a very thin and lightweight piece of metal delicately suspended between the poles of a magnet. As the sound waves hit the ribbon, it vibrates between the poles creating the voltage.
Root note – the note that is the basis for the chord.
Sander – a power tool used for smoothing a surface with sandpaper or other abrasive material.
Scale – a series of eight notes that start and end with the same note.
Short-scale (short-fretted) – a bass or guitar with a shorter neck, which produces different pitches than a standard guitar because of the shorter string length and gauge.
Shruti box (sruti box or surpeti) – an instrument that traditionally works on a system of bellows and is similar to a harmonium and used to provide a drone in a practice session or concert of Indian classical music. It is used as an accompaniment to other instruments and notably the flute, but it’s use has widened with the cross-cultural influences of world music and new-age music to provide a drone for many other instruments as well as vocalists.
Single coil pickup – a pickup for the electric guitar and the electric bass that electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal.
Solder – to use a melted metal or metallic alloy to join metallic surfaces.
Solid state amp (resistor amp) – an amp with no valves that instead uses transistors.
Speaker cable – the wire used for electrical connections between speakers and amplifier sources.
Stratocaster (strat) – a model of electric guitar designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top “horn” shape for balance.
String gauge – the size of a guitar string, most commonly .010 to .046.
Studio monitors – loudspeakers specifically designed for professional audio production applications.
Sustain – a parameter of musical sound over time. It denotes the period of time during which the sound remains before it becomes inaudible.
Tablature (Tabs) – a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches.
Table saw – a circular saw mounted under a table or bench so that the blade projects up through a slot.
Time signature – an indication of rhythm following a clef, generally expressed as a fraction with the denominator defining the beat as a division of a whole note and the numerator giving the number of beats in each bar.
Tone – a steady sound characterized by its duration, pitch, loudness, and quality; the level of equalization set by a tone control on a guitar or amplifier.
Transduction – the conversion of energy from one form to another, such as a signal in one form of energy to a signal in another.
Transistors – a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power.
Translation – how your music mix sounds through different speakers.
Treble – tones of high frequency range, and the counterpart to bass sound.
Tremolo – a wavering effect in a musical tone, typically produced by rapid repetition of a note, or sometimes by rapid repeated variation in the pitch of a note or by sounding two notes of slightly different pitches to produce prominent overtones.
Triad – a set of three notes that can be stacked in thirds.
Tube amp (valve amp) – a type of electronic amplifier that uses vacuum tubes to increase the amplitude or power of a signal.
Tuning knobs (tuner pegs, string posts) – part of the headstock around which the strings are wrapped and tuned.
Velocity sensitivity – how fast or hard the keys of a keyboard instrument are pressed.
Vibrato – a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch.
Voicing – the ordering of the pitches in a chord.
Volume – boosts the signal output of the power amp which will determine the loudness.
Looking for something you can’t find? Submit a request below and we’ll add it to the list when we can diea steady periodic sound. A musical tone is characterized by its duration, pitch, intensity (or loudness), and timbre (or quality).