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Speling 101

Did you ever notice how a lot of guitar folks can’t spell? I have to think that either the public education system in America is just horrible or that musicians aren’t wired for spelling. There is a plethora of guitar terms that come up over and over again in ads and posts that are just screaming for correction. And no, I’m not holier than thou. I can just spell better than thou. But I’m a writer, I’m supposed to be able to spell. I’m sure you’re a much better musician than I am. Here are a few glaring examples. Resonant is an adjective (describes a noun) NOT resonate. Resonate is a verb. A guitar resonates when it rings out. But a guitar that resonates is resonant. Easy, right?  Heel. The place where the neck meets the body (on a guitar body-not your body unless you’re built upside down). Not heal. Heal is when the blisters on your phalanges (the tips of your fingers) that you get from playing too long get better and stop hurting.  Fretware. I think you mean fret wear. Ware is a thing-like silverware, housewares or, to quote the Byrds-“sell your soul to the company who are waiting there to sell plastic ware”. I’m pretty sure they meant vinyl records. Wear spelled w-e-a-r  means damage to something from use. Cord. The thing you plug the guitar into the amp with. Chord. The multi-note thing you play on your guitar that has a name like C7 or D9. The next time I see an Ebay ad that says “comes with the original coil chord,”  I’m going to come to your house and strangle your cat with it. (This is a joke, cat lovers. Don’t write me nasty emails). Finally. tremolo and vibrato. This isn’t a spelling issue but more of a definition issue and I’m guilty of perpetuating it as well. You can blame Leo Fender for this according to the conventional wisdom. Tremolo is the modulation of volume to create a pulsing effect. Vibrato is the modulation of pitch to create a pulsing effect. The vibrato channel on a Fender amp has tremolo function. The patented “synchronized tremolo” on your Strat is a vibrato device. Most amps have tremolo, few have vibrato-old Magnatones are the exception here. I don’t know of any guitar with built in tremolo but anything with a Bigsby or a Maestro or sideways or Kahler or Floyd or any other whammy bar equipped device is a vibrato and not a tremolo. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll stop calling a Bigsby a trem and you stop writing me asking about how “resonate” a guitar is. If you’re old enough to remember cigarette commercials on TV, there was an ad for Winston cigarettes that said “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” At some point a member of the teaching community pointed out that the grammar was poor and that the word “as” would be correct instead of “like”. Winston’s ad agency (probably headed by Don Draper) responded with an ad that said “whaddya want, good grammar or good taste?” The clever grammar police retort? “Good grammar is good taste.” I would extend that statement to include spelling as well. So, in the words of the immortal Stephen Sondheim: “Smoke on your pipe and put that in.”

Says right here it's a tremolo. But it isn't. It's a vibrato. Thanks for the obfuscation, Mr. Fender.

9 Responses to “Speling 101”

  1. Ashley Major says:

    Blimey Charlie, Aving a bad day mate ??

  2. rob says:

    As I recall from my youth, the actual lyrics were “…Winston tastes good like a cig..cig..cigarette should.” Whoever wrote that jingle was a genius. It stayed in my head as a 13 year old and as soon as I read the post above, sure enough it was right there again.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    I never get to have any fun.

  4. Chris W. says:

    The one that gets me is using “route” to describe the cavity that pickups and wiring sit in. In my opinion, “rout” is the more proper word, but that in itself is questionable. “Rout” is a verb with one meaning listed as “to hollow out or furrow, as with a scoop, gouge, or machine”. There doesn’t seem to be an official noun related to that particular verb usage, but like the kids say, “I can noun any verb I want”.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    If you ever stopped to think how many brain cells you’ve used inadvertently memorizing the lyrics to 3,000 songs from your youth. Songs you never wanted to memorize. Ads and jingles that crept into your gray matter. I can listen to an oldies station for a solid hour and know the lyrics and tune (and harmonies) to every song including “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy.” Talk about wasted brain cells. Yikes.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Forgot that one. Also ferrells (or farrels) for ferrules. I’m sure there are others.

  7. bassame says:

    That was a good one Charlie, but probably falls on deaf ears. I think the problem is more deep-seated. The people who mis-spell in their guitar ads are the same people who obfuscate about the condition and originality of their guitars. It is a rebel, follow-no-rules persona, sort of a Keith Moon (or Richards) fantasy self-image.

  8. bigsby'd says:

    Input jack on a guitar really sets my people free.

  9. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Charlie — I’ve been absolutely digging the blog. You have some great posts including some terrific offbeat stuff like this one on spelling! Finally a place to air a pet peeve. Ever since Fender put the word “relic” on the map, the past tense of the verb has been written “reliced” or “relicing”. That sounds more like a return case of the crabs than a guitar-making process. Now there are about five or six verbs in the English language that end with the letters “ic” and they all take on the letter K in the past tense to make a hard “c” sound: mimicking, frolicking, panicking, picnicking, trafficking, etc. Maybe this blog can be Ground Zero for a new and improved spelling: relicking! (Though even that could be mistaken for what a dog might do your face more than once! Still it reads better and it’s an improvement over being repeatedly liced!!)

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