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A Gibson Guitar Glossary: Part 1

Michael Leonard

You may be a new guitarist. You may be an experienced guitarist. Yet guitar terminology can still often be confusing, even to some “experts.”

Feed your brain and expand your understanding by learning about these guitaristic terms from Gibson and beyond…

A is for…

Action: A simple start, referring to the height of the strings above the frets and fretboard.

Altered tuning: The result of changing the tuning of one or more str ings from the standard “Spanish” tuning of (low-to high) EADGBE. Slide players often play in “open” tunings, where non-fretted strings will play a chord – read Gibson’s guide to find out more. Open tunings are used often in blues. DADGAD tuning is a bit different – it gives a more exotic sound, often reminiscent of North African and Arabic music. Jimmy Page used DADGAD to record Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Page calls DADGAD his “CIA tuning” – “Celtic/Indian/Arabic.”

ABR-1: The ABR-1 bridge was the brainchild of legendary Gibson president Ted McCarty in 1954 – you may know it better as the Tune-o-matic bridge. What did ABR-1 mean? Adjustable Bridge 1.

Gibson Bridge

Alnico : What does Alinco mean when you see that name for a pickup? Alnico is an acronym referring to a family of iron alloys which add aluminium (Al), nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co) - hence “al-ni-co.” Yet Alnico pickups sometimes also include copper and titanium. Alnico alloys are highly magnetic, perfect for guitar pickups.

B is for…

Barre chord: From the French term barré. For guitarists, it’s the technique of placing your fretting index finger over two to six strings in the fingering of a chord. For ballet dancers, a barre is the bar they hold onto while practising. But be clever: don’t call it a “bar chord” – that’s probably something sloppy you play after a few too many beers at your local gig.

C is for…

Capo: It’s capodastère in French, and capo d'astro in Italian. In Italian, it means “head of fretboard.” Italian musicologist Giovanni Battista Doni reportedly first used the term in his book Annotazioni of 1640. Capos come in all styles, and can help your songwriting and playing. Here are some Capo Tips and Tricks.

D is for…

Dropped D: The practice of lowering the sixth string (E) by a whole tone, one octave lower than the fourth string. Good for heavy riffage. Rock songs tuned in Dropped (or Drop) D include: The Beatles’ “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” and Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick.”

E is for..

Electric Spanish: All those classic Gibsons you love, like the ES-335, ES-345 and ES-355? “ES” simply means “Electric Spanish.” When Gibson first launched “ES” guitars the company wanted to differentiate from Hawaiian-style guitars, which were played flat on the lap. The numbers? Simply the price. A Gibson ES-335 was originally $335, an ES-355 was $355.

F is for…

Flat-pick: The original term for a plectrum or pick - used for plucking or strumming your strings. You usually see the term used for vintage country and blues players these days – it’s to differentiate their style from fingerpickers (fingernails) or thumbpickers (those that use curled, thumbnail-alike picks that wrap around your fingers.)

G is for…

Glissando: “Yeaaah, nice glissando, Mr Slash!” What does that even mean? “Glissando” is simply playing a note and then moving the finger to a different fret, keeping the finger pressed firmly against the fretboard as you move. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, to glide. “Slid note” does the trick. See also “Legato.”

H is for…

Humbucker: A Gibson term, now commonplace, devised for the pickups designed by the legendary Gibson engineer Seth Lover. Early guitar pickups “hummed” inherently. Seth devised the solution for Gibson – his pickups “bucked the hum” - and pretty much changed guitar pickup design forever. Read more about humbuckers.

Harmonics: Chime-like sounds achieved in two ways. Natural harmonics are played by touching a string at any equidistant division of the string length (typically 5th, 7th, and 12th fret), directly above the fret with your fretting hand, and striking hard with the picking fingers.

For artificial harmonics, touch a string with the index finger of the of your picking finger 12 frets higher than any fretted note - then pluck the string with either the thumb or third finger of the right hand. It’s easier to see it than explain it!

A good example of harmonics? Alex Lifeson’s intro/outro on Rush’s “Red Barchetta” on which he plays harmonics at the 12th, 7th, fth and 4th frets.

I is for…

Iridium: The New York club where the late, great Les Paul would perform every Monday night in his later years. Read the account of Les Paul’s right-hand man, Lou Pallo, about great nights at the Iridium. There’s still great guitar music at the Iridium, every week. The name? Iridium is the chemical element with symbol Ir and atomic number 77. It’s a very hard yet brittle, silvery-white transition metal of the platinum family. Iridium is the second-densest element (after osmium) and is the most corrosion-resistant metal known.

J is for…

Jumbo: Gibson’s first 16-inch (width) flat-top guitar lines followed Gibson’s fabled archtops. In 1934, the first Gibson “Jumbo” went head-to-head the Martin’s D-series as the biggest and best acoustic guitar. Even bigger “Super Jumbos” soon arrived: hence Gibson classics such as the SJ-200.

Gibson SJ-200

K is for…

Kramer: Kramer guitars are part of the Gibson Brands family. Read more about Kramer. For shred-leaning players, Kramer guitars have long been a top choice. Eddie Van Halen, Richie Sambora, Mick Mars, Jennifer Batten, Tom Morello, and Vivian Campbell have all played Kramer. Fans are also serious about their Kramer love – go to the Kramer Fan Forum.

L is for…

Lloyd Loar: Lloyd Allayre Loar (that’s five “L”s already) remains a legendary visionary in Gibson guitar history. He was a sound engineer and master luthier (that’s another L – luthier= guitar maker) in the early part of the 20th century. The Gibson L-5 was the first guitar with f-holes, inspired by Loar’s own mastery of the violin. Loar is long gone, but his place in guitar design is secure. His Gibson L-5 lives on.

M is for...


Gibson’s Min-ETune system is a compact, battery-powered robot tuner that tunes your guitar in seconds. Read and watch more about the Gibson Min-ETune™ and how it will help you play better.

Plenty of guitar lovers are wowed by Min-ETune™. Here’s’s demo which shows you how easy it is to switch to, for instance, DADGAD tuning to play Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

In part 2, we’ll cover the latter-half of the alphabet, from N to Z. Please comment and add any terms you want explained.

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