If you’ve ever spent some time around a guitarist, you’ve likely heard some interesting words being used in conversation. As musicians are creative by nature, it isn’t uncommon to hear words used in an odd manner.
What’s even more baffling to outsiders is that these words have their own meaning outside of traditional contexts. If you want to be a guitarist, you’re inevitably going to encounter these slang words out in the wild.
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60 Cycle Hum
This is probably the most perplexing phrase to a non-guitarist. Believe it or not, “60 Cycle Hum” isn’t just the name of a popular podcast and YouTube channel.
Rather, this term refers to the humming interference often experienced with single-coil pickups. These pickups (though unique) have a sensitivity to electromagnetic fields that may be present in a room.
“Ax” is another name for a guitar. The body resembles the ax-head, with the neck resembling the handle.
While “can” could easily refer to a toilet/bathroom, it's plural usage amongst musicians changes the meaning. This word refers to a pair of studio headphones, which feature an overhead design with cupping earpieces.
Cans have been used by children to act as makeshift telephones, with sound traveling across a wire. If you think about it, headphones are essentially the same thing, just connected to a source of sound.
The word “chart” is something you’ll encounter in jazz settings as well as academic music settings. Charts are generally shorthand pieces of music that you can use to follow along with during a song.
Most charts will consist of the chords used throughout. Jazz charts often feature a themed melody that is signature to the song itself.
“Chickenpicking” is probably one of the more bizarre compound words to be found in guitar circles. Any non-guitarist would have a real hard time figuring out what this term means.
You’ll hear this primarily used in relation to country guitar, which utilizes this technique explicitly. It’s a form of hybrid picking that, strangely, is able to emulate the sound of a clucking chicken.
“Chops” is a fairly common word used amongst guitarists of all styles and genres, and extends beyond the guitar. This word is primarily used to mean skills.
The word “dry” is used in all avenues of music, and you’re bound to run into it at some point. While the meaning of this word isn’t exactly forthcoming, this word is the best description for its context.
Dry essentially means a signal that isn’t affected by anything else. This would be a guitar tone without effects of any sort.
“G.A.S.” is one of the more interesting terms used throughout the entire electric instrument world. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that its usage can likely be heard coming from any type of musician.
The reason for this is because G.A.S. refers to a condition that no musician is immune from. G.A.S. essentially stands for “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” and relates to the need to buy more gear.
People with this syndrome are constantly drooling over gear in hopes that it will make them better players. You’ll find variations of this, with people having G.A.S. for vintage gear as well as new gear.
Does this sound familiar? If it does, just know that you aren’t alone.
There, unfortunately, isn’t a rehabilitation resource available for G.A.S. However, the help and support are out there if you need it.
If you receive the compliment that your playing was “greasy,” be sure to give thanks. This essentially means that your playing was extremely slick.
The invented word “guitbox” is another endearing term for a guitar.
Wonder where the word “box” comes into play? It refers to the body of the guitar and could mean an acoustic guitar or semi-hollow/hollowbody electric.
This term likely stems from the word “jazzbox,” which is used to describe a jazz guitar. These are typically hollowbody guitars that produce a large, warm tone.
Like “guitbox,” the word “guitfiddle” simply means guitar. This specific term gets its name in relation to the similarly stringed nature of the violin/fiddle.
If you play jazz music, you’re going to come across the word “head” quite a bit. This refers to the signature melody of a piece, which typically appears at the beginning of the song.
You’ll often find the head on a chart, along with chords and other necessary notation.
Musicians always seem to find a solution to the most perplexing problems. The “humbucker” is a great case in point.
This is a style of pickup that cancels the humming interference often experienced with single-coil pickups. If you look at one, you’ll notice that it essentially consists of 2 single-coil pickups wired together.
The word “jam” is one of the most widespread slang terms found even outside of the context of music. This essentially means playing music with people, but can also mean improvising.
In fact, there’s a whole genre of music dedicated to the art of jam. These jam bands embrace the spontaneous nature found in every moment of unpredictable music.
Usage of the word “kill,” including “killing,” refers to someone playing exceptionally well. You won’t find this being used in the literal context, but if you do, keep a wary eye out.
If you’re new to the guitar, seeing the word “licks” can be confusing. This is especially the case when you see it used in conjunction with music, without any reference to a tongue.
Licks are essentially musical passages and are quite often associated with lead guitar. Every guitarist has their own unique bag of licks, which just means that everyone has their own phrases.
When you cook a spaghetti noodle, it loses its rigid shape and goes every which way it can. If you hear the word “noodle” in regard to the guitar, it essentially means to improvise without direction.
Noodling is a necessary thing to do if you want to become great at improvising. However, skilled improvisers tend to jam with an intention, rather than being completely rudderless.
The problem is that most people don’t know that they’re actually noodling.
Like “licks”, the word “riff” means also means a musical passage. This one refers to a rhythm guitar part or a key guitar part that a song may be hinged upon.
“Safety Meeting” is typically something you’ll hear at set break. Members of a band will meet to discuss and partake in whatever may be on the agenda.
“Shred” or “shredding” simply means to play extremely fast.
Like “kill,” slay essentially means that you had an exceptionally great performance. Nobody in the audience was left standing (again, non-murderous, and in the best way possible).
The word “standard” in jazz circles refers to a song that is common knowledge amongst players.
Have you ever been told to “put some stank on it”? This essentially means to add emotional inflection, whether it be funky, soulful, etc.
“Stankface” is a face guitarists make while playing. It refers to how a face looks when smelling something highly odorous.
“Stompbox” is another term for a guitar pedal.
Unlike the head, found in jazz music, the “turnaround” is found at the end of a blues progression. It helps to turn the progression around to the beginning.
While the term “tweaker” could refer to somebody with a substance abuse issue, the musical meaning is vastly different. This is somebody who constantly makes adjustments to their gear.
It could also refer to somebody who has a penchant for tweaking guitar pedal knobs.
“Unplugged” usually means to play acoustically, without electric guitars. However, it could also be said when playing an electric guitar that isn’t plugged in.
“Wet” essentially means a guitar signal that is affected by guitar effects. You’ll hear this, especially with the use of delays, reverbs, compressors, and more.
Best Slang For Guitarists, Final Thoughts
This has, by no means, been a comprehensive list of common slang vocabulary used by guitarists. New phrases are constantly being coined.
In fact, this language may even have regional dialects, with different meanings in different locations. For the most part, these words will help you to easily communicate with other guitarists.