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Guitar Slang 101: The Crash Course for Beginners

Guitar Slang 101: The Crash Course for Beginners

Graphic by Allyson Millard

There’s no doubt that talking to a veteran guitarist about music can sound completely nonsensical to the less experienced. “That cat has got some filthy chops” certainly means something completely different to a veterinarian than to a guitarist, and “It took a few days of shedding to find out that stick could djent” means nothing to anyone but a guitarist.

If you’ve found yourself navigating the comments section on YouTube or TikTok feeling like you’re left out of an inside joke, this is the place for you. This isn’t your standard guitar dictionary; we’re going beyond the basics of parts and technical terms to delve into the realm of full-on guitarist slang


Guitarist Vocab You Should Know 


Ax or Axe (n.)  A particularly awesome guitar.

Ex. “Have you seen Eddie’s new axe?”

Break (n.)  See “Solo (n.)”

Capo on 2 (phrase)  A common placement for a capo for a plethora of pop songs, including Oasis’ infamous hit, “Wonderwall.”

Ex. “Throw that Capo on 2 and let’s play some campfire classics.”

Cats (n.)  Musicians, specifically jazz players.

Ex. “Those cats are cookin’!”

Changes (n.)  A series of chords, also called “chord progressions” or simply, “progressions.”

Ex. “Bridget is going to play some changes for me to improvise over.”

Chops (n.)  Skills.

Ex. “Trust me, Louis’ got chops.”

Clean (adj.)  A description of a guitar tone free of distortion or other effects. Colloquially, can also be used in place of “good” when describing a lick.

Ex. “This guitar sounds so good when it’s clean,” “Your solo was so clean!”

Dirty (adj.)  A description of a guitar tone, generally with added effects such as distortion. Colloquially, can also be used in place of “good” when describing a lick.

Ex. ”Just wait until the fuzz kicks in, that’s when it gets dirty,” “Oh man, that solo was dirty.”

Djent (n.)  A musical genre known for its heavy drop tunings and complex rhythms. Commonly used in the inside joke “But does it djent?” as a qualifier for guitar reviews.

Ex. “I love my Orangewood guitar — can you believe that it actually djents?”

Feel (n.)  A part of one’s guitar playing that goes beyond technical skill, it’s acquired when one starts playing with intuition. Used often in the phrase “playing with feel.”

Ex. “John’s playing just has so much feel; you can really feel the emotion.”

Filthy (adj.)  See “Dirty (n.)”

Frankenstein (n.)  A guitar that’s built from a combination of mis-matched guitar parts. Also referred to as “partscasters.”

Ex. “I just sourced a boutique pickup to install on my Frankenstein."

Gear (n.)  A piece of equipment for a guitarist.

Ex. “Having too much gear is a good problem to have.”

Gig (n.)  A scheduled performance.

Ex. “Do you know how much we’re getting paid for this gig?”

Jamming (v.) – Playing music with other musicians. Can also be used colloquially to simply mean, “playing” or “practicing.”

Ex. “Let’s call up the rest of the band so we can start jamming!”

Lick (n.)  A melodic line played on guitar often found in a solo.

Ex. “Can you add one more quick lick into that solo?”

Neon (n.)  The absolute most difficult thing you could possibly play on an acoustic guitar.

Ex. “Let’s leave ‘Neon’ for a later lesson and start with something beginner-friendly.”

Noodling (v.)  improvising, or playing completely free-form.

Ex. “I have no idea what I’m playing; to be honest, I’m just noodling.”

Pocket (n.)  A proverbial (and ephemeral) place where all of the musicians are playing in perfect timing with one another.

Ex. “Oh my god, we were totally in the pocket for that whole song!”

Pups (n.)  A truncated version of the word “pickups.”

Ex. “I’m so glad I got the pup in my acoustic, it’s so nice to plug in and play.”

Pots (n.)  Another word for the knobs on the guitar, referring to the potentiometers that they are connected to.

Ex. “There’s nothing worse than scratchy pots.”

Shed (v.)  To practice or rehearse until the point of perfection. Originates from the term “woodshedding,” which refers to a proverbial place where one could practice in private.

Ex. “Sorry, I’m not free on Tuesday. I’ve got to shed for the whole night.”

Shred (v.) – Lead guitar playing of outstanding quality.

Ex. “Sophie’s a virtuoso on guitar, she can really shred.”

Solo (n.)  A moment in a musical composition in which one instrument (for our sake, hopefully the guitar) takes the spotlight.

Ex. “Is it safe to say that ‘Don’t Speak’ is the coolest acoustic solo ever?”

Stick (n.)  Another word for “guitar.”

Ex. “Pick up your stick and let’s start playing!”

Riff (n.)  A melodic line, chord progression, or refrain that’s repeated throughout a musical composition. 

Ex. “Alex is working on a riff for her new song and it already sounds awesome!”

Rig (n.) – A guitarist’s full set up. 

Ex. “Just one more purchase and I’ll complete my dream rig.”

Piece (n.)  A musical composition.

Ex. “Have you heard the piece that Hannah just wrote?”

Tag (n.)  A repeated musical idea, specifically ending a song.

Ex. “Should we play a 4-bar tag to end this track?”

Wonderwall (v.)  To surprise someone by playing Oasis’ infamous track, “Wonderwall.”

Ex. “Orangewood just Wonderwalled us in their latest TikTok again.”

DAW (abb.)  An acronym for “Digital Audio Workstation.”

Ex. “Garageband is probably the best DAW to start out with.”

GAS (abb.)  An acronym for “Gear Acquisition Syndrome,” a colloquial term for buying too much guitar-related equipment.

Ex. “I hate to say it, but I think you’ve got some serious GAS.”

NOS (abb.)  An acronym for “New Old Stock,” meaning vintage parts that were never opened from their original packaging.

Ex. “Can you believe it? I just picked up a NOS Orangewood in their Almost Perfect sale!

NGD (abb.)  An acronym for “New Gear Day.”

Ex. “Every day is NGD when you have GAS.”


Apply Your Knowledge 

Now that you’ve got this vocab under your belt, it’s time to head to your next jam session (or comment section) with confidence that your verbiage will help you fit right in. Need to take your favorite guitar slang for a test run? Leave a comment on our latest demo video to try some out.