Ever wonder how many guitar strings are on a typical guitar? Both acoustic & electric guitars typically have 6 strings. The top 3 thinner strings usually “plain strings” while the lower 3 strings are usually thicker & are wrapped or “wound”. When holding the guitar, string 1 is the thinnest & the thickest wounded string is number 6.
That’s the short answer, but historically, stringed instruments have been all over the place in terms of number of strings. We can see some lutes with as little as 4 & up to 35 during the baroque era. As far as the guitar goes, they’ve generally been six strings since the 1700’s. In the modern era however, we’ve pushed the envelop & have brought forth the “Extended Range Guitars” & many experimental instruments.
Stay tuned & scroll down for answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic.
Related: What is the tuning letter for each guitar string?
What Are The 6 Guitar Strings?
The six strings on a standard guitar (both acoustic & electric) are E (the thinnest string), A, D, G, B, and E (the thickest string). All together it’s EADGBE which is considered the standard tuning for guitars. There’s also other tuning like tuning a half step down, dropped D tuning, and more.
How Many Strings Does a Classic Guitar Have?
A classic guitar, also known as a Spanish guitar, typically has six strings. The six strings on a classic guitar are numbered from the highest sounding string to the lowest sounding string, just like on a modern electric. The highest string is usually the first string, followed by the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth strings. Each of these strings has a different gauge size & the lower strings are thicker and have a lower pitch than the higher strings, which are thinner and have a higher pitch.
It should also be noted that these classic guitars typically use nylon strings as opposed to bronze, copper, or steel. This gives them their signature sound & unique feel when played. Acoustic guitars on the other hand are usually made with bronze & copper allows. Finally, the modern electric guitars use nickel plates steel for the most part.
How Many Strings Do Extended Range Guitars Have?
Classical & acoustic guitars with more strings than 6 have been around for ages, but here we are referring to the modern electric guitar. Extended range guitars are designed to offer more sonic versatility than traditional 6-string guitars. The additional strings allow for a wider range of notes, which can give the player access to new sounds and textures.
Extended range guitars usually feature 7, 8, or 9 strings, allowing for lower and/or higher notes than a traditional guitar. Additionally, extended range guitars are often equipped with special pickups, bridges, and other features to ensure the strings can be used in their full range. The extra strings can open up the guitar-playing experience and provide the opportunity to explore new styles and techniques.
Here’s a list of extended range guitar players:
- Tosin Abasi
- Chris Broderick
- Dino Cazares
- Rusty Cooley
- Dave Davidson
- Paul Gilbert
- Matt Heafy
- Jeff Loomis
- Lucas Mann
- John Petrucci
- Devin Townsend
- Steve Vai
Other Guitars & Number of Strings
Here we’ll explore different types of guitars using various string configurations. Overall though, going beyond 6 strings allows for an increased range of tonal possibilities. They can allow easier access to higher notes, and offer greater harmonic complexity. They are however a bit harder to master & more difficult to produce so are more of a niche instrument. Let’s dive deeper & cover some facts!
The Russian or “Gypsy” guitar is a distinct instrument that looks similar to a Spanish guitar but features a 7th string. This instrument was developed in the 19th century & traditionally played without a pick. It’s known for a particular sound that’s percussive, bright, and with resonant sustain. This is due partly due to the way that it’s played, using heavy strumming, snappy fingerpicking, and heavy palm muting.
The Gypsy guitar is comparable to the classical guitar we all know, however it does feature a slightly smaller body & wider fingerboard to accommodate the 7th guitar string. Being a 7 string also means it requires a tuning other than E standard so instead uses “open G” tuning. Today, the Russian Gypsy guitar is gaining recognition outside of Russia, with many musicians around the world becoming interested in this unique style of playing and incorporating it into their own musical creations. The instrument is also increasingly being used in various musical genres, such as folk, world music, and jazz.
Mexican Guitarra Séptima
The guitarra septima translates directly to the 7th guitar. It’s a guitar that features 14 strings that are doubled up to be played as a 7 stringed guitar. This instrument is typically found in Mexico, particularly in the northern and central regions of the country.
The guitarra séptima is a popular instrument for playing traditional Mexican music, such as ranchera, norteña, and bolero. It is often played in conjunto (ensemble) groups, where it serves as the main instrument and is accompanied by other instruments, such as accordions, horns, and percussion. The guitarra séptima is also sometimes used in mariachi music, where it is played solo or in a small ensemble. The playing style of the guitarra séptima is characterized by fast and intricate fingerpicking, often with the use of a plectrum (pick) for added emphasis. It’s a beloved instrument in Mexico, and is steeped in cultural and musical tradition.
The Brahms guitar is a modern 8-string instrument similar to a cello. It’s basically a conventional guitar but with 2 added strings, 1 above & 1 below the standard E strings. This results in a tuning of AEADGBEA & features fanned frets for ease of playability.
Most important however, is that it features an external resonator box that the guitar attaches to. The instrument was developed by classical guitarist Paul Galbraith (shown in the video below) in collaboration with luthier David Rubio in 1994. The idea was originally conceived by Galbraith who wanted to use it specifically to perform Johannes Brahms’ Theme & Variations (Opus 21).
Related: Tuning an 8 String Guitar
Yepes 10-String Guitar
The Yepes guitar is a type of classical guitar designed in the 1960s by Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes. It has ten strings rather than six, with four of them doubled in octaves. The additional strings provide a wider range of notes and a richer sound, and the tuning system allows for greater flexibility when playing in different keys. Many classical guitarists have used the Yepes guitar, which has contributed to the evolution of the classical guitar repertoire.
The BC Rich “Bich 10” electric guitar model was first released in the 1970s. It has a distinctive double-cutaway body shape and ten strings that are arranged in pairs of two with the same pitch, giving it a distinct and rich sound. The body is made of high-quality tonewoods like mahogany or maple, and the neck is built through the body for increased sustain and stability. The Bich 10 is frequently associated with heavy metal and hard rock music, and it has been used by a number of well-known guitarists over the years.
A classical 12-string guitar is an acoustic guitar with 12 strings instead of the standard 6. The strings are divided into six courses, each with two strings tuned to the same pitch. The first three courses are usually tuned in unison, while the last three are tuned in octaves.
Due to the doubling of strings, the 12-string guitar produces a rich, full sound with a natural chorus effect. It’s popular in folk, rock, and country music, and it’s also used in classical guitar music.
A classical 12-string guitar is built similarly to a standard 6-string classical guitar, with a flat top, curved back, and a wider neck to accommodate the additional strings. Strings are typically made of steel or nylon, depending on the preferences of the player.
Related: How’s a 12 string guitar tuned?
Can A Guitar Have 20 Strings?
Yes, a guitar can have 20 strings or more, though this is uncommon. Individual luthiers or guitar manufacturers frequently custom-make or modify these guitars.
Adding more strings to a guitar can provide a wider range of notes and tonal possibilities, but it can also make the instrument more difficult to play and keep in tune. Furthermore, the wider neck needed to accommodate more strings may not be comfortable for all players.
Extended-range guitars with more than six strings are used by some guitarists in genres such as metal, jazz, and experimental music. It is worth noting, however, that guitars with more than six strings may necessitate specialized playing techniques as well as a different approach to arranging and composing music.
What About Bass Guitars, How Many Strings?
A bass guitar typically has four strings, though five and six string basses are also popular. The 4-string bass is the most common and traditional, while the 5 and 6 string versions add lower and higher notes, respectively.
Bass guitars with more than six strings do exist, but they are uncommon and frequently custom-made. Some basses with seven, eight, or even ten strings have been designed to allow for greater range and versatility in playing, but they are less common than four, five, and six-string basses.
The extra strings on a bass guitar allow for a wider range of notes, which can be useful in genres such as metal or jazz, but they can also make the instrument more difficult to play and necessitate different techniques and approaches to playing and composing music.
To sum it up, a guitar typically has 6 strings, which are tuned to the notes E, A, D, G, B, and E. This is known as standard tuning and is the most common tuning for guitars.
However, guitars can have more or fewer strings depending on their design and intended use. 7-string and 8-string guitars are relatively common, and some guitarists use 9-string, 10-string, or even more strings on their instruments. These extended-range guitars allow for additional notes and tonal possibilities, but they also require specialized playing techniques and can be more difficult to play and keep in tune.
On the other hand, some guitars have fewer than 6 strings. For example, a 4-string guitar is commonly used in bass guitar playing, and a 3-string guitar is sometimes used in blues and slide guitar playing. Additionally, some custom-made guitars have unusual string configurations or alternate tunings that deviate from the standard 6-string design.