Definitions and Terminology

There are quite a few terms which you may or may not know that appear on this site, and in order to get the most out of findingyourtone.com, you need to know what they mean.


Refers to the distance from the strings to the fretboard. If the action is low, it may be easier to play, but fret buzzing can occur. If the action is high, the strings may be too far to press down correctly.

Active Components

Active Components are those which can control the flow of electricity, and receive power from another device.


How hard or soft you pick or pluck the strings. Using a pick generally produces more attack than finger-picking.

Barre Chord

A “moveable” chord in which one or more finger is placed across multiple strings, so a chord can be played without worrying about open strings. This allows a chord to be played up and down the fretboard.


The “low” sounds, but not as low as the “boomy” tones from a subwoofer, known as sub-bass. The bass frequencies typically reside in the range from about 60 hz to 350 hz.


Where the strings attach to the body of the guitar. Two common types are hardtail, and tremelo. Hardtail bridges are solid, and don’t allow any bridge movement. Tremelo bridges allow free movement, and have an arm attached, called a whammy or tremelo bar, which alter the tension of the string and change the pitch.


True Bypass – With true bypass, the signal passes through the device unaltered, without entering any of the effect components.

Buffered Bypass – Increases the signal back to pickup level, and (usually) will not color your tone in any way.


The signal path from the guitar to the speaker, which includes all pedals, effects, and amplifiers.


When a signal is raised higher than the device can handle, the extra amplitude is cut, or clipped. If viewed in a diagram or oscilloscope, you will see a flat line along the top and/or bottom of the diagram showing the effects of the clip.



Refers to the change of a waveform by a device. The signal is amplified further than the device has capacity for, so the tops and bottoms of the peaks are cut off, or “clipped”, and higher-order harmonics are added lending to the “dirty” sound.

Effects Loop

A chain of effects which lies usually between the pre-amp and power-amp stages. Many amplifiers have an effects (or FX) input and output where the effects are typically placed. In some cases it can be placed between two pre-amp stages. Using an effects loop keeps the signal cleaner, and many effects work better after some amplification.


Eddie Van Halen

Expression Pedal

A foot pedal control which alters an effect or aspect of sound. Used by rocking the pedal back and forth.


When sound exits the speaker, and enters again through the input device, back out the speaker. With a guitar, when the gain is too high, and the guitar is too close to the speaker, the magnetic elements in the speaker can interact with the magnetic pickup in the guitar causing this infinite loop.


An extreme form of distortion. The waveform starts to take the shape of a square wave that can be seen on an oscilloscope. Songs like “American Woman” by The Guess Who and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” are defining examples of quality fuzz.


The ratio of the output signal to the input signal. High gain results in a higher outputted signal. Gain and volume are commonly used interchangeably, but they aren’t really the same.


In terms of guitar strings, gauge describes the thickness of a string in thousandths of an inch. A gauge of .012 is 12 thousands of an inch. Most people drop the decimal point, however, and would usually call them 12’s.

High-Cut Filter

See “Low-Pass Filter”

High-Pass Filter

An electronic filter that allows frequencies above the cut-off level to pass through unchanged, but lowers the signal of everything below the cut-off. A high-pass filter is the same as a low-cut filter, the naming convention just varies. A high-pass filter might be used to cut the low rumbles of bass in a signal.


See “Treble”

Hollow Body Guitar

A guitar with a hollow sound box and pickups. These are different from acoustic-electric guitars, which are basically acoustic guitars with added pickups.


A pickup with two coils. The coil’s magnets face opposite directions of each other, and are wired out of phase to defeat the “hum” that a single coil pickup would receive. Since the coils have an alternating current, they individually pick up the hum from the electricity moving through the device. Having the coils wired in this way allows the pickups to cancel out the hum.


When a group of frequencies has a higher amplitude than the surrounding frequencies. Some pedals like the Ibanez Tube Screamer have a mid-hump, so the mids of the spectrum are boosted higher than the lows and highs. The opposite of a hump is a scoop.


The accuracy of pitch. When your guitar’s intonation needs adjusted, you may find, for example, that a note is pitched correctly when playing an open string, but the twelfth fret note is flat or sharp. The intonation is typically adjusted by loosening or tightening screws on the bridge, and comparing the twelfth fret pitch to the twelfth fret harmonic.


The amount of electrical signal, measured in decibels. The number 0 is considered the highest level, and anything above 0 will cause clipping. This is distinguished from volume in that level is measured before it reaches the speaker.

Low-Cut Filter

See “High-Pass Filter”

Low-Pass Filter

An electronic filter that allows frequencies below the cut-off level to pass through unchanged, but lowers the signal of everything above the cut-off. A low-pass filter is the same as a high-cut filter, the naming convention just varies. A low-pass filter might be used to cut the shimmery highs of a signal, or to cut everything besides the bass frequencies of a kickdrum.


See “bass”

Midrange Frequency

The largest and most important frequency in music, the midrange frequencies occupy the range of about 500 hz to 5 kHz. The range that the human voice, and most instruments, including the guitar reside in. Lowering the midrange of your guitar too much will result in a hollow, boxy sound, but overemphasizing them will give your music an oppressed, strangled sound. As always, it’s a delicate balance, but ultimately up to your personal preferences.


See “midrange frequency”

Open Chord

A chord that can be played by using one or more strings that aren’t fingered.

Open String

Playing the string without pressing any fret.

Passive Components

A component that is incapable of producing gain, or controlling the flow of electricity.


Pitch is the perception of audio frequency. A lower frequency is perceived as a lower sounding pitch, and a higher frequency is perceived as a higher sounding pitch.


Reverb, or reverberation, is when a sound continues in an enclosed space after the initial sound has stopped. This is created when a number of echoes build up in an area and mingle together. Spring reverb uses a signal sent through a spring, with a pickup connected at the other end. The motion of the spring is converted to an electrical signal then mixed with the dry signal.


When a group of frequencies has a lower amplitude than the surrounding frequencies. The opposite of a scoop is a hump.

Single Coil

A pickup that uses one magnetic coil to produce a signal. Single coils have a brighter, more crisp tone compared to the humbucker. Because only one coil is used, they pick up surrounding electrical and magnetic interference, which causes a hum or a buzz. 

 Solid Body Guitar

A guitar that doesn’t have any soundboxes built in, and instead relies on using pickups to convert the vibrations of the strings to an electrical signal. Because they have no soundboxes, they are very quiet by themselves, and must make use of an amplifier.


Stevie Ray Vaughan


How long the note will carry on or last after being picked or plucked. High sustain means the note will ring out for much longer than usual.


There are two major forms of tremelo, but they are quite a bit different from each other. The first form has to do with picking style. This occurs when the guitarist picks a string at a rapid pace. An example of this is Dick Dale’s “Misirlou”. The other form is a type of guitar effect in which the volume of the guitar is raised and lowered, usually rapidly. An example of this is The Black Keys’ “Howlin’ For You”.

Truss Rod

A metal rod inserted into the neck of a guitar to support and adjust the curve of the neck. This can be adjusted if the neck has an unusual amount of bow, or not enough. There is usually a bolt, typically beneath the headstock, which can be used to adjust the truss rod. Great care has to be taken when adjusting the truss rod, and it is recommended that this only be done by a professional.


A rapidly alternating change of pitch. This is achieved on the guitar by rapidly bending and unbending a string. This effect is also created using a whammy bar. 


Volume is the power level of the signal, or how much power the amp is using to increase the signal.