Hello Troubadourians! I recently had an email conversation with a reader – I’ll call him “Adam” – answering his questions about signal chain order and advising him on gear purchases he was planning. During the conversation I used some terminology that to me was very descriptive, but to Adam I might as well have been speaking Klingon. Fortunately for both of us, Adam wasn’t too embarrassed to ask me what several of the “Guitar-Geek” slang terms really meant. I had made the mistake of assuming that just because he was a guitarist he would automatically know all of the lingo that guitarists throw around so easily and frequently. So, I figured that there were at least some of you who read this column who were in the same situation as Adam – surrounded by guitar players who toss off terms like “blackface” as though it were a birthright (guilty as charged), and were too embarrassed to ask us what the hell we were talking about.
In this month’s column, I’ll try to translate some of the most used (over used?) Guitar-Geek terms for you. If you can think of others you’d like me to translate for you, feel free to email me your questions. I’ll give you as thorough an explanation as I can without making you feel like a dork. Here goes…
A ’53 blackguard through a tweed Bassman with Jensen’s and a blackface twin with JBL’s. This refers to a Fender Telecaster model guitar manufactured in 1953. These guitars had a single-layer pick guard made from black phenolic resin and are commonly known as “blackguard teles.” Prior to 1960, Fender amps were covered in a tweed material. A “Bassman” is a model, originally designed for bass, with four 10-inch speakers made by Jensen. Guitarists soon found out that this amp sounded even better for guitar. In fact, most “Bassman” amps are used by guitarists! This amp is the standard for the “tweed tone” many guitarists prefer. Fender amplifiers from the early 1960s have cosmetics consisting of a black faceplate with black knobs, black Tolex covering, and silver grillecloth. These amps are known as “blackface Fenders” and are believed by most guitarists to represent the de-facto standard for a clean electric guitar tone. This tone was often enhanced by replacing the stock 12-inch speakers (made by Eminence), with more powerful models made by JBL. A “twin” would be an amplifier model with two 12-inch speakers in a configuration that combined the amplifier chassis and speakers in the same cabinet.
A ’59 ’burst with PAFs through a cry baby into a 50W Plexi and a 4×12 slant cab with greenbacks. This refers to a Gibson Les Paul model guitar manufactured in 1959 that has a sunburst finish. Les Paul guitars from this era were equipped with then new “humbucking” type pickups. Early versions of these pickups had a decal on the underside that read “Patent Applied For” hence the nickname PAF’s. These guitars are widely considered to be the Holy Grail of electric guitars. A popular effect is the “wah-wah” pedal, which allows the player to alter the tone of the guitar by moving the pedal with their foot. The most popular of these are known by the model name Cry-Baby. Mid ‘60s amplifiers made by the Marshall Company in England had a faceplate made from Plexiglas. These amps are known for their aggressive distortion tone and came in 50 watt and 100 watt models. The amplifier “head” was plugged into a separate cabinet containing four 12-inch speakers. Marshall 4×12 cabinets came in two configurations, one with all speakers facing forward and one with the two upper speakers slanted slightly upward. The latter became known as “slant cabs.” The speakers in these cabinets were made by Celestion and had labels on them that were green, hence the nickname “greenbacks.”
A pre-war herringbone Dreadnaught with scalloped braces and a cut-through saddle. This refers to a Dreadnaught-size guitar made by the Martin Guitar Company sometime between 1931 and 1941. Herringbone purfling was standard on the Style 28 (D-28) guitars, which also have internal bracing that has a “scallop shape” feature that is believed to enhance the tone. Other features of these guitars from this era are a neck with 14 frets clear of the body and a slot for the bridge saddle that was cut all the way through the bridge rather than set into the bridge as in later models.
A slope-shoulder, 12-fret, slothead with Brazilian. This refers to a guitar of similar vintage to the one above but could be even older than 1931. “Slope shoulder” is the name of the body style and is evident by the rounded curve of the upper bout where the neck joins the body. These guitars have only 12 frets clear of the body – the same as would be found on a classical guitar – and as with a classical guitar, they have a slotted headstock where the tuning keys are located. “Brazilian” in this case refers to the type of wood that the back and sides of the body are made from, not the type of bikini wax that it has. Brazilian rosewood is considered by many players to be superior in tone to other species of rosewood. The “pre-war” Martin guitars including the Style 28, Style 35, Style 41, and Style 45 were all made using Brazilian rosewood. This body style was made by both Martin and Gibson but the description above would usually refer to a Martin guitar. Gibson slope-shoulder guitars were usually closer to a Dreadnaught size and shape than the Martin guitars and are more often referred to by their model names such as B-15, B-25, or B-45.
This is by no means a complete reference for translating Guitar-Geek Speak but is does serve as an introduction to the vernacular of the guitar community. The full lexicon of terminology could fill far more space than I have available in a monthly column. If you have heard of a specific word or phrase used to describe an instrument, tone, effect, or concept that you just don’t understand, send me an email at the address found at the bottom of this column. No question is too simple or too complex. You’d be surprised at how many musicians just smile and fake it when talking about this stuff and throw around terms that they really don’t understand. Let me clear it up for you. Or, if you just want to “geek-out” with me, that’s okay too. I love this kind of stuff so give me your best shot.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)