The Number of Strings on a Guitar

How many strings should we put on the guitar?

Every child knows that there are six strings on the guitar. But is it alwasy like this? In fact, there are numerous examples of guitars that have more or even less strings. Sometimes there is a clear reason for that but not always. Let’s clear it up a bit.

When I talk about the history of the guitar in my lectures then I usually start from the Renaissance guitar. Of course, there were guitars and guitar-like instruments before too. But from the renaissance guitar we can see a clear line of development. Renaissance guitar had 4 courses (double strings). Then baroque guitar had 5 courses evolved into a 6-course guitar by the 18th century. Then the classical guitar omitted double strings and the 6-string instrument came into fashion. At the same time with the 5-course baroque guitar the 13-string baroque lute was played.

But as we can read from Stuart Button’s book Julian Bream: Foundations of a Musical Career, the young Julian played anything but the 6-string guitar in the beginning. It was already the first half of the 20th century. At the same time Russians accompanied their romanzas on a 7-string guitar and Brazilians like to use 7 strings as well in their samba and choro tradition. Ibanez’s famous RG7321BK has seven strings too.

More than seven strings? Well, 8- and 11-string classical guitars are played by Paul Galbraith and Göran Söllcher. Then we have the harp guitar. It has it’s own history that dates back to the 19th century. On those instruments the number of strings can be different. For example, a 17-string harp guitar is played by Finn Andrews. Read more about the harp guitars. To conclude the topic of many strings, see Pat Metheny playing his 42-string Pikasso guitar.

Well, let’s see then what is the minimum number of strings that we need? The American 3-string cigar box guitar has it’s own scene and a 150 year old history. And yes, you should see Alvin Quinn playing a 2-string bass guitar!

It doesn’t matter how many strings you have. What matters is, can you communicate to the audience. Any thoughts?

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