Because most Strats have a vibrato bridge, nonvibrato versions like this are usually referred to as “hardtail Strats.”

Hardtail: Technically, the term “hardtail” can refer to any nonvibrato electric-guitar bridge, but it’s more often used to designate a nonvibrato version of a model that normally has a vibrato bridge (e.g., “a hardtail Stratocaster”). Standard Telecasters and Les Pauls theoretically have hardtail bridges, but we don’t usually mention it. See also Stop-tail.

Scale length can be an important consideration for those with smaller hands, but it also affects feel and tone. The Squier Vintage Modified Mustang here would be comfy for younger or more petite players because of its 24" scale, while the 27 3/4"-scale Danelectro Dead-On ’67 baritone would feel gargantuan.

Scale length refers to the distance between an instrument’s nut and string saddles. The most common range for electric guitar is between the 24 3/4" scale of most Gibsons and the 25 1/2" of the most popular Fenders (i.e., Strats, Teles, and Jazzmasters). However, in a successful effort to imbue his guitars with a feel and response somewhere in between these two, Paul Reed Smith made his classic models with a 25" scale. Meanwhile, bass-guitar scales usually range from 34" to 36".

However, guitars and basses are available in both shorter and longer scales. Notable examples include the Fender Mustang (originally available in both 22 1/2" and 24" versions, though the latter became standard), the Gibson Byrdland (23 1/2"), Ibanez’s 30"-scale TMB30 bass, Danelectro’s 27 3/4"- and 29 3/4"-scale baritone 6-strings, and Kiesel’s DCM7 Multiscale 7-string—which goes from 25 1/2" on the treble side of the neck to 27" on the bass side.

Although the differences between these various scale lengths might seem small, the differences in tone, feel, playability, and intonation can be significant. With a longer scale, the frets are farther apart, which requires a greater finger reach. The strings also feel more taut on longer-scale instruments, but while this demands more effort when string bending, it also contributes to stronger attack and snappiness in the overall sound—something many players prefer. Longer scales also enable more clarity and accurate intonation of notes in lower tunings like those used on baritone guitars or in drop-tuned metal. Conversely, many players swear by shorter scales because of their slinkier, more elastic string feel and/or how they comport with more diminutive frames or hands.

Solid woods vs. laminates: When shopping for an acoustic guitar, it’s important to realize the various pieces of the body (the top, sides, and back) can be made of solid pieces of wood or thinly sliced pieces of wood glued together as laminates. Entry-level and moderately priced acoustics are almost always made of laminates or a combination of a solid top and laminated back and sides. To the untrained eye, it’s almost impossible to visually discern the difference between solid and laminated guitars. Even trickier, the product descriptions for laminated guitars do not usually mention the word “laminated.” If an acoustic guitar’s description doesn’t explicitly state it’s made of solid woods, you can safely assume it features laminated woods as a cost-cutting measure.

So which is better? Solid-wood guitars usually have a more multidimensional and characterful sound—and the tones usually develop to be even richer over the years as the wood ages. Structurally, laminated acoustics can be less affected by temperature and humidity changes, and this sturdiness can enable them to stand up better to the rigors of the road. Many experienced players also find that select laminated guitars (or, more often, those with a mix of solid and laminated woods) can sound quite good, though they don’t develop the more open sound that solid acoustics do over time.

“Stop-tail” guitars have one or two pieces of bridge hardware: Either a single “wraparound” bridge (like on this Gibson Les Paul Junior), or an adjustable bridge (closest to the bridge pickup on this Les Paul Standard) and a tailpiece that anchors the strings.

Stop-tail: An electric-guitar bridge system usually comprising two pieces—an adjustable fixed bridge (such as the Tune-o-matic bridge on most Gibsons, which features movable saddles for setting individual string intonation) and a “stopbar” tailpiece, through which the strings are anchored and threaded. One-piece versions of the stoptail called wraparound bridges have a single piece that strings are both threaded through and anchored by. See also Hardtail.

The shape of the back of a bass or guitar neck is referred to as its “profile.” Common contours include C-, D-,
and V-shaped designs.

Neck shape (or profile): Neck shape should really be called “back of the neck” shape, and it’s just one factor—alongside nut width and fretboard radius—contributing to an instrument’s feel. Manufacturers often use terms like C-, D-, and V-shaped to denote the profile of the neck when viewed from the heel end. C is most common, while deeper profiles like D and V fill the hand more. While some consider a thinner profile to be “faster,” a larger neck can actually be easier to play because it provides leverage for your fingers.