What It All Means
This month we explain the unusual terms of guitar construction in plain language.
BEAD: (See Tang). The visible half of a fret which sits on top of the fretboard. Makers often talk about the Bead when they're discussing the thickness of the metal, or how curved it is. Saves confusion with fret which is really the whole thing, including the Tang.
BOBBIN: The foundation for the pickup. The wire is wrapped around it and the polepieces pushed through it.
BOUX: Luthier parlance for the outward curving sections of the traditional guitar shape. If the bit that narrows in the middle is the waist (and I think we can say it is), then the 'shoulders' and 'hips' are the upper and lower bouts.
BRACING: Found in acoustic or semi-acoustic guitars. Braces are the strips of wood fixed to the underside of the front of the guitar, adding strength and 'tuning' the sound. For example, extra strips beneath the bass strings reduce volume on bass notes, while some braces are shaved as thinly as possible to provide just enough support, without damping the vibrations of the guitar top. The most common pattern is the X-bracing, typical of Martin acoustics, stretching from one corner of the body to the other, as the name suggests.
CAMBER: Also known as radius. The curvature of the fingerboard from side to side, (noticeable as an upwards bowed profile if you look down its length). Some players find their fingers slide more comfortably over a slightly curved surface, but recently, adherents of the Van Halen school of tapping (bashing the strings against the frets with your right hand) have wrenched more consistent results from a totally flat profile. In the days when guitars were a straight fight between Fender and Gibson, the latter's necks were always flatter. Experts would say that the lower profiles assisted in bending strings far up the neck. Higher ones created buzzes. If you pushed the G string 'over the hill' towards the A or D strings, then the length of string between your finger and the saddle would actually be resting on the peak. That produces buzzing and can cut the note off altogether.
DRESSING FRETS: Frets wear unevenly — not surprising when we all have our favourite positions on the neck. Dressing is not a matter of oiling, clothing, or frocking them, but of delivering a light filing to get all the frets back to a smooth, even and matched height/finish. Importantly, it concentrates on the top surfaces of the fret so the string makes a good, accurate contact.
FLUTED NUT: Largely decorative trick of carving away sections of the nut between the strings so they stand on raised platforms of bone, brass, etc.
LACQUER: The clear finish applied to guitar bodies to protect the wood and make it shine. Not so much fuss about that, but there is a disagreement over the two sorts used. Cellulose was employed by most manufacturers until the mid-60s. It's air dried (the solvents in the lacquer evaporate of their own accord) and is favoured by traditionalists for being less artificial and allowing the wood to breathe. Polyester has many mass production advantages. It's a two pack lacquer, drying (faster) through chemical reaction and so can be applied in thicker layers.
PURFLING: The decorative strips or binding around the edge of the guitar neck or body.
RELIEF: Contrary to hippy theory, guitar necks should not be as straight as a ley line, but ought to show a very slight dip in the middle. It's to give the strings room to vibrate when they're fretted and plucked. If the neck was perfectly straight, a fretted string would vibrate up and down and so rattle against the remaining frets. Heavier handed players might need more of this relief (no jokes) to allow for their strong twangs, and in a perfect world, there'd be a deeper curve on the bass strings' side of the neck as their vibrations are greater. Luckily, the extra tension of the bass strings often does this with no effort on our behalf. S'nice.
REAMERS/ROUTERS: Specialised tools, usually chisels or drill bits that are invaluable to guitar makers. The former assists in the boring or shaping of holes (say for the passage of pickup wires) the latter scoops out wood, cutting grooves or recesses of various shapes into the surface.
TANG: (See Bead). The root of a fret... the stem which is sunk into the fretboard.
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