If you’re new to the guitar world, you might find yourself coming across conversations that sound about as foreign as any other foreign language. Sure, music has a lot of terminologies to learn, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Over the years, a lot of slang has developed about music and guitar culture in particular. If you want to sound like you know your stuff, especially early on, then getting your guitar slang in check is important. So, it’s time to get out our guitarist slang dictionaries and learn your stuff, such as, “This is Spinal Tap!” SO, without further ado, here is a guide to Guitarist Slang.
Starting with one of the most used guitar slang of them all. The ax. Not only does the guitar resemble the shape of an ax, but it feels like it as well. Getting on stage and playing to your heart’s content, is nothing short of Vikings battling it out against Norse gods.
If you go guitar shopping, it is pretty much a given that you are expected to ask the salesperson if you may observe and test out the axes on hand.
G.A.S. is an abbreviation that is used quite often. Specifically, if you enjoy reading guitar magazines or websites, however, it is not really a term that those new to playing guitar will often hear.
The term abbreviation stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. What this means is that the guitarist has a compulsive need for buying all things guitar-related, especially pedals.
Owning ten guitars is great and something most of us could only dream of but is excessive. A proper recording setup usually only requires two to three guitars. An acoustic and two electrics (or with single-coil pick-ups, such as a Strat, and one with humbuckers, such as a Les Paul) usually get the job done.
A personal note
I have fallen victim to these “shopping sprees.” And I find that I constantly need to choose between my five guitars which to play. Unless they are set up completely different from each other, there isn’t much need for so many.
Shredding is the type of slang that could come off sounding silly or cheesy if used incorrectly. Learning to play Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven does not count as “shredding.”
Shredding refers to be being able to not only play fast but correctly as well. This means technique, speed, and sound. There are plenty of musicians that know how to shred. Like Jow Satriani, John Petrucci from Dream Theatre, Steve Vai, and Mark Tremonti from Alter Bridge.
When you’re playing rock, you’ll hear people talk a lot about riffs. Licks are not riffs. So, what is a guitar lick? It’s a memorable, catchy melody that is played on the guitar.
It is not a piece of the song that is repeated throughout, like a riff. But a small section that is added to the song to make it better. Usually during a solo, pre-chorus, breakdown, or bridge.
Jimi Hendrix is by far the most notable lick writer with some excellent examples like All Along the Watchtower, Foxey Lady, Purple Haze, and Voodoo Child.
The slang six-string just refers to a guitar, similar to the way ax is used. Sure, guitars come in many different shapes, sizes, and the number of strings. But the most common of the bunch are six-string guitars. In recent years seven and eight strings have become more prominent, especially in the metal scene.
But, for most folks, the most recognizable “six-string” line comes from Bryan Adams, when he sings about his six-string in one of his most successful songs, “Summer of 69”.
If you hear a guitarist talk about guitar tones, which is the sound of the guitar, you might have heard them talk about their “clean tone.”
A clean tone refers to the guitar sound coming through the amp without being overdriven, distorted, or even alternated much. A clean tone won’t have any distortion, overdrive or fuzz added. Although reverb, chorus, and delay can be part of the clean tone.
Guitarists love using the word dirty when talking about their playing or tone. However, this common guitar slang word can go two ways.
Firstly, a dirty tone refers to the sound of the guitar coming from the amplifier. These tones are usually high-gain tones with a lot of overdrive, fuzz, or distortion.
Another way the word dirty or filthy can be used is when talking about a riff or lick. A dirty riff might mean that it sounds cool or different and is pleasing to the ears.
Many metal purists will proclaim that djent is not a real genre, which is why it has made it on the list as slang. Djent is a sub-genre of metal, but not really. You can hear a lot of djent in real sub-genres of metal like metal-core, post-metal, and progressive metal. Meshuggah is thought by some to be the founding fathers of djent.
The word djent comes from the sound the guitar makes, which is just a chug-like sound and motion on very low strings, typically played on 7 or 8 string guitars.
A guitarist will refer to his setup as his rig. This just means the complete collection of guitars, amps, pedals, and other equipment. Talking about your rig is easily the most “guitarist” thing to do. Guitarists love comparing rigs, checking rigs, and expanding rigs.
I have never used the words pups. But I have heard a friend use the word, which is how I stumbled upon it. So, I felt it deserved a place in a guide to guitarist slang. Pups are the pick-ups of your guitar.
A friend of mine was replacing his pick-ups and asked me to join him on a trip to the shop to get some pups. I thought he meant a puppy but was pleasantly surprised when we pulled up at Guitar Center.
If you’re an up-and-coming band, you might have encountered this. A paid rehearsal is when you play a show, where only a few people show up. And by few, I mean less than 10.
With so few people, it might not feel like a concert and more like a rehearsal. This is where the slang comes from. But from experience myself, playing for so few people can be fun, engaging, and intimate.
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A Guide to Guitarist Slang – Final Thoughts
That about does it. I hope this gave you some insight into the slang often used by guitarists. The more time you spend with guitar players and musicians in general, you will find there are more musical slang words.
It’s good to know what these words mean, especially if you are serious about becoming a knowledgeable guitarist.
Until next time, rock on dude!