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A Gibson Guitar Glossary: Part 2

Michael Leonard
|
11.27.2013

You may be a new guitarist. You may be an experienced guitarist. Yet guitar terminology can still often be confusing, even to some “experts.” In our Gibson Guitar Glossary: Part 1 we covered letters A to M. In part 2, we’re covering terms beginning N-to-Z.

Feed your brain and expand your understanding by learning about these guitar terms from Gibson and beyond.

N is for…

Nuts : You’ll already know that this is the guide-piece of plastic, nylon, bone, ivory or other material between the headstock and fretboard. Nuts may seem insignificant, and most guitarists are happy with their factory-installed nuts for many years of good playing. But if need (or want) to replace your guitar’s nut, you can consider the different materials’ qualities. Bone generally gives volume and a wide open tone. TusQ is a synthetic material that sounds close to bone. You’ll maybe want graphite or Graphtech if you have a vibrato-equipped guitar… There are many choices, including brass and steel.

Gibson Custom use PLEK “robot” machines for cutting nut slots and finishing frets.

Whatever your guitar, don’t neglect your nuts! Dirt and grime can build-up over time – it will impede the strings’ ability to slide without resistance within the nut’s grooves. Whenever you restring, be sure to clean your guitar’s nut with a thin nail file or even dental floss. Keep your nut clean, keep your nut mean.

O is for…

Open Tuning: A tuning that plays a chord without you having to fret any strings. Often (but not always) the same as altered tunings. Open G tuning was a revelation for the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and his unique guitar style – “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Beast of Burden,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy” and “Start Me Up” are all in Open G. Watch a Gibson Skills House lesson from Arlen Roth about Open G playing .

Jimmy Page uses Open C for Led Zeppelin’s “Friends.” Mick Ralphs also used Open C for Bad Company’s “Can't Get Enough.” Says Ralphs, “It needs the Open C to have that ring… it never really sounds right in standard tuning.” Open D is a favorite of Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, who used it to record the main rhythm guitar track on “Even Flow.” Derek Trucks favors Open E for his stellar slide playing.

Watch Derek Trucks playing slide in Open E tuning, and explain his influences.



You’ll need to “re-think” your fingers, but open tunings can be incredibly rewarding.

P is for…

P-90:
Gibson’s first super-successful single-coil pickup. It debuted in 1946 and is still going strong in various guises. A P-90 is brighter than the following humbucker pickups that Gibson also pioneered. Explore P-90 fansites, and you’ll get people arguing over the merits of “soap bar” or “dog ear” P-90 designs.

PAF: Or “Patent Applied For.” In reality, this is simply an early Gibson Humbucker - invented by Seth Lover in 1955 as an engineer for Gibson. Gibson first filed a patent on the design on June 22, 1955. After that, Gibson Les Pauls were equipped with these new pickups, with a sticker on a bottom plate of a pickup that said Patent Applied For. But the patent was only issued on July 28, 1959. In the four years to get a patent number, the unnamed pickup was been dubbed “PAF” by many guitarists. The unique sound of a “PAF” is still recreated by Gibson today.

Piezo: Piezoelectric pickups work differently to magnetic pickups such as a humbucker. The science is too complicated for here, but piezo pickups will give an “acoustic” sound on an electric guitar. Watch Gibson’s 3 Guys and Guitars discussing piezos… and how you even pronounce “piezo.”

Q is for…

The most unfriendly letter in the alphabet? But wait. Q is also for Quarter Note. If you’re learning tab or notation, a quarter note is a note of one beat’s duration. You probably play quarter notes naturally, without even thinking – but here is some theory and exercises for quarter notes if you need.

R is for…

Relief: The term guitar builders and repairers use to describe the bow of a guitar’s neck. A guitar neck is typically not perfectly straight – it has a dip about midway, and this is “relief.” If you have fretbuzz, you may need to alter your action (typically, via the guitar’s bridge). But you may need more neck relief. Go to a pro to get your guitar playing like silk.

Rosette: The term for a decorative strip or inlay found around the soundhole on an acoustic. Rosettes are purely cosmetic, but can be elaborate. The rosette on the Songwriter Deluxe Custom is one of Gibson’s finest. It is a double-ring rosette with an abalone-filled middle, with both outer rings consisting of six-ply binding.

S is for…

Slash: It’s also for Saul Hudson, his birth name. Slash is a Gibson Les Paul man to the bone. You can buy Slash co-designed Signature Gibson Les Pauls in all flavors: there’s Gibson Custom’s Slash Les Paul. Or the Appetite Les Paul (pic below). There’s the new Slash Signature Rosso Corsa Les Paul . Read about Slash’s Gibson Les Pauls over the years, or about Slash as a sideman, or theWisdom of Slash, or Slash’s Best Covers. That’s plenty of Slash!

Slash Appetite Les Paul

Slide: See Open Tuning.

T is for…

Tremolo: One of the guitar world’s most misunderstood terms. Tremolo is a variation in volume or, similarly, rapid reiteration. So there is no such thing as a “tremolo arm” – it should be “vibrato,” as vibrato is a variation in pitch. Some Gibson models are fitted with the Maestro Vibrola “Whammy bar” is a catch-all term – a made-up word, but you know what people mean. Here are 10 Great Songs That Make Use of Tremolo, ie a variation in volume.

U is for…

Ultima: You may occasionally see an Ultima, a 1996 Gibson Shop Les Paul with abalone tree-of-life neck inlay option, pearl and gold appointments and a trapeze tailpiece.

Upstroke: In musical notation, upstrokes are often indicated by a V-shaped symbol – how confusing is that? An upstroke is made by dragging your picking hand across the string in an upward motion. You’ll hear it most often in reggae and ska music. Sounds obvious? You may be surprised, if you analyse your own playing, how often downstrokes dominate. Playing upstroke reggae, with your chord falling on the “&” of a “1-&-2-&-3-&-4” beat is an art in itself.

V is for…

VOS: Stands for Vintage Original Specification. Introduced in 2006 on selected Les Paul and SG models, VOS is as Gibson’s proprietary finishing process giving new guitars the gently-aged patina of a vintage classic. Other features include historically accurate long neck tenons for strength and sustain, period correct neck profiles, hardware and electronics, and 100% nitro-cellulose lacquer. Below is Gibson Custom’s SG Special Reissue VOS.

SG Special Reissue VOS

Flying V: One of Gibson’s most radical-ever designs, the 1958-launched Flying V is a classic of modern design. Famous Gibson V players include Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, Albert King, Lonnie Mack and The Scorpions’ Rudolph Schenker. Kirk Hammett says, “I bought my black V in 1979. It was my first Gibson, and it was $450. I raised the money for it washing dishes.” Read: The Gibson Flying V: 20 Essential Facts.

Volute: A volute is an extra sliver of wood sometimes added to the back of the neck just below the point where it meets the headstock. Some players don’t like volutes. But they can arguably keep your guitar stronger if it ever falls over. Gibson used volutes on Les Pauls, 1969-1981.

W is for…

Wah-wah: A wah pedal is essentially a foot-controlled tone control, but can be so much more. Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton were early adoptees of the wah in psychedelic rock. The wah pedal’s repeated “wacka wacka” sound came to the fore in funk – listen to Charles Pitts’ guitar on Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft.”

But a wah can also be used to find a sweet spot of electric guitar tone – vintage rock fans will know that Mick Ronson used a wah as a “tone filter” on David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” with his blond Les Paul. Michael Schenker (UFO, solo) with his Gibson Flying V was also a 1970s master of using a wah as a subtle tone filter. Even now, Kirk Hammett loves his wah for dramatic tones. Learn essential wah techniques.

X is for…

Firebird X: The robot Gibson that can sound like just about any guitar you want. A controversial model, but one that shows the power of 21st century technology. Watch demos of the Gibson Firebird X in action.

Firebird X

Y is for…

Yardbirds: Influential Brit R&B band of the ‘60s that kickstarted the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. When playing bass in the Yardbirds, Page sometimes played an Epiphone Rivoli EB232. Beck used a sunburst Les Paul on the Yardbirds’ Over Under Sideways Down. Beck’s “Yardburst” Les Paul has since become something of a fable. Was this the one he stripped the finished from for The Jeff Beck Group?

Z is for…

ZZ Top: Double Z, so it’s gots to be! ZZ Top’s Billy F Gibbons is a top dawg in the Gibson Les Paul toneyard. From his legendary ’59 Les Paul called “Pearly Gates” to his greasy blues licks over 40 years, “BFG” makes ZZ sound easy.

Watch Billy Gibbons and Slash trade live Les Paul geetar action on “La Grange.”



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