- How many strings does a regular guitar have?
- Learn about 10 different types of guitars and their strings
- A brief overview of the history of guitar strings
- Also check out our guide to how many strings a harp has.
The guitar has become a modern symbol of freedom, rebellion, and rock music.
It’s visualized in its most popular avatar, an electric guitar or a flat top acoustic. However, as an instrument, it has a storied history and many arresting versions.
Your mind may immediately come up with “six” when you think of how many strings a guitar has.
Well, that’s true for most guitars, but the actual number varies on the subtype of the instrument. Plus, there are custom-built instruments that really push the envelope.
From the 5-string baroque guitar to a 12-string electric guitar and the weird contraption we call a harp guitar, the guitar has many unique versions with varying tunings and string configurations.
We call any guitar that sits outside of these ‘standards’ (so 6 strings for acoustic/electric and 4 strings for bass) an ‘extended range guitar’, or ERG for short.
Whether you are simply curious or have just started learning the guitar, you can benefit from a general idea of the overall configuration of different versions of the instrument.
In this article, we talk about guitars, guitar strings, tunings, and trivia from the evolution of this fascinating instrument.
How many strings does a guitar have?
Most standard acoustic and electric guitars are equipped with six strings of different thicknesses. The standard tuning for six-string guitars is E, A, D, G, B, and E.
The thinnest string is the first string (tuned to high E) and the thickest is the sixth string (tuned to low E).
6-string guitars are off-the-rack instruments you find in abundance at your local music store. Most students will start learning on a 6-string guitar in standard tuning.
But there are many variations of the instrument that can have more than six strings, and many players will have custom guitars made for them with unique configurations.
Guitar strings vibrate when you strike them with a pick or pluck them with your fingers. The thickness, length, and tension of a string determine the pitch or note it generates.
Each string is supported by two points, at the nut by the headstock and at the saddle by the bridge.
You can alter the length of the string by holding down a note on the fingerboard i.e. by fretting a note. This act of shortening the string by holding a fret down raises the pitch of the note, this is how we control pitch on the guitar and therefore create music.
If you pluck the guitar moving from the thickest to thinnest strings without fretting the instrument, you will hear notes in an increasingly higher pitch.
Do all guitars have six strings?
Not all guitars have six strings. There are 6, 7, and 12-string acoustic guitars and 6,7, 8, 9 10, and 12-string electric guitars.
You can also find ‘tenor guitars’ that are relatively smaller four-string guitars. Guitars with six and twelve strings are fairly standard in rock and pop music.
Guitar variants with more than six strings are also commonly found in ethnic cultures or by people seeking novelty, variation, or enhanced control/expression.
Extra strings are used for extending the range of pitches the instrument can reach, which can help facilitate new and creative melodies, chord voicings, or create thick and warm textures and richer sounds thanks to those lower, bassier strings.
We will look at how many strings are featured in the different variations of the guitar in the next section.
10 types of guitars and how many strings they have:
1. Standard acoustic and electric guitars: 6 strings
Standard acoustic guitars typically have six strings tuned E, A, D, G, B, and E (also called standard tuning). Acoustic guitars can have nylon or steel strings.
Based on the make/model of the instrument, 6-string guitars have 19 to 28 frets and a range of approximately four octaves. These are the most popular guitars and are generally the ones students will use to learn the instrument.
How many strings does an electric guitar have?
An electric guitar most commonly has six guitar strings of different thicknesses. But with each passing year the use of 7, 8, and sometimes 9 strings is becoming increasingly common, particularly within heavier styles of music such as metal.
Electric guitar strings are made from steel, nickel, or a combination of the two.
They generally feature a standard EADGBE tuning but can also be tuned to several open, low, or drop tunings.
2. 12-string guitars: 12 strings
Acoustic or electric 12-string guitars, as the name suggests, have twelve strings. The strings are tuned in six pairs. This pairing is called a course or dual course.
Simply put this uses the same strings as a regular 6 string, but each one is paired with a thinner string 1 octave higher.
12-string guitars are tuned Ee, Aa, Dd, Gg, BB, and EE. All theory, scales, and chords used for a 6-string guitar are transferrable to a 12-string.
They are considered mainstream instruments. But despite having twelve strings, these guitars don’t have a very wide neck.
The dual courses (pairs) are very close to each other making them feel very similar to that of a 6 string.
The guitars sound harmonically lush and louder than 6-string guitars. They are famous for a chorus effect or shimmer because the string pairs vibrate slightly out of phase.
3. Extended Range Guitars (ERG) – 7+ strings
Guitars with 7 or more strings are called extended range guitars.
7 or 8-string electric guitars are growing in popularity but have niche uses. They are commonly played in low or drop tunings.
ERGs have an extended bass range with the additional string tuned to low B and/or F#.
You can also go in the other direction, for example instead of using a low B on a 7 string, you can instead keep E as your lowest string and introduce a higher E onto the guitar. Although this method is far less common.
They are commonly used in prog-rock, jazz, modern rock, heavy metal music, and other genres.
Stephen Carpenter (Deftones), Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders), and Misha Mansoor (Periphery) are notable ERG users.
Acoustic guitars with 7 to 10 strings are used in Russian, Brazilian, or Western classical music.
4. Acoustic or electric bass guitars: 4 to 6 strings
Bass guitars can have four to six strings based on the make/model. This applies to acoustic and electric bass guitars. Four-string bass guitars are the standard. They are tuned to E, A, D, and G, and students or beginners will most commonly use them to learn bass.
5 and 6-string bass guitars are considered extended range instruments. 5-string bass guitars add a low B into the mix while six-string basses add both a low B and high C.
There are some custom-built bass guitars with seven to fifteen bass guitar strings, but they are extremely niche iterations of the instrument.
Check out ‘Is Bass Easier Than Guitar?’ to learn the difference between the two instruments.
5. Lap steel guitars or Hawaiian guitars: 6 strings
Lapsteel or Hawaiian guitars are short-scale, square-neck electric guitars with six strings. These guitars are laid flat, which means a player will rest them on their lap or a case supported by legs.
They are tuned to an open chord or open tuning. The C6 open tuning is the most common tuning for lap steel guitars, but there are a variety of string layouts and tunings for the instrument.
6. Russian classical or gypsy guitars: 7 strings
Russian Guitars originated in, you guessed it, Russia in the 18th century. They are similar to a western 6-string acoustic guitar but have one additional string.
These guitars are tuned D, G, B, D, G, B, D, forming the chord G-major. Classical Russian guitars use nylon or gut strings. Gypsy-style Russian guitars have steel strings.
7. Eight-string baritone acoustic guitars: 8 strings
There have been a few notable 8-string baritone acoustic guitars made by Ibanez (AEL108MD), Guild (BT-258E), and Taylor (GT8). Unlike extended range electric guitars, these instruments have two doubled strings (A and D in standard baritone tuning) as on a 12-string guitar.
They are tuned to B E aA dB F# B. The doubled strings add chime to the midrange but don’t overwhelm the sound with a clang.
Plus, they hold their tuning better, which is a common problem with 12-strings guitars, and are easier to handle for most standard 6-string guitar players.
Read What are Baritone Guitars (Who Plays Them, & Why Use Them?) to know more.
8. Guitarlele: 6 Strings
A guitarlele is what you get when you cross a guitar with a ukulele. It also goes by the name of guilele, ukitar, and kiki.
These smaller-than-usual guitars have a 42 cm scale length and six strings. Musicians usually use high or low-tension nylon/classical strings for a guitarlele.
It is tuned to A, D, G, C, e, and a, the same as a standard guitar tuning transposed up to A (up a fourth). Or, you can think of it as a nylon guitar with a capo on the fifth fret.
9. Double-neck and multi-neck guitars: A lot!
Multi-neck guitars refer to acoustic or electric guitars or bass guitars with more than one fingerboard neck. They are fairly common and have been used by guitar players like John Petrucci, Joe Bonamassa, Michael Angelo Batio, Billy Sheehan, and many others.
It is hard to put a finger on the number of electric guitar strings in a multi-neck guitar as there are numerous possibilities to customize them.
They can have between two to five electric or bass guitar necks with a varying number of strings on each neck.
Double-neck guitars are the most common archetype of a multi-neck.
But they can be a combination of a 6-string guitar neck and a 4-string bass neck. Some famous double-necked guitars have a 6-string guitar neck with a 12-string guitar neck or a fretless 6-string guitar neck.
10. Harp Guitars: 7 to 17 strings
A harp guitar is a guitar with one or more unfretted “floating” strings that can be played open. The floating strings do not pass over the fretboard and thus cannot be fretted.
These strings act as bass notes and are used to create drones. Harp guitars can have 7 to 17 strings based on the design.
Harp guitars are for the most part acoustic instruments. They have been used by the likes of Andy McKee, Matt Thomas, Jimmy Page, and Antione Dufour.
There are some electric versions of the harp guitar used occasionally by virtuosos like Michael Hedges and John McLaughlin.
A brief history of guitar strings
Guitars are derived from the lute and are classified in the chordophone family of musical instruments.
Chordophones are instruments that make a sound when you vibrate a string stretched between two fixed points. Clearly, the strings are an integral part of the instrument.
It’s hard to pinpoint the origins of this instrument as historians cite various plucked instruments as the antecedents of the modern guitar.
But it is generally agreed upon that some early versions of the guitar had four strings and baroque guitars in the fifteenth century had five strings.
Guitar strings were made from the gut of sheep or other animals back in the day.
They were called catgut strings but have little to do with cats. Catgut is still used but lost favor after the introduction of synthetic core strings in 1947, a few years after DuPont invented Nylon.
Steel and metal strings debuted in the United States, a country with a penchant for metallurgy and a quest for louder guitars. Metal strings had their genesis in the Larson brothers who are credited for making the first steel string flat-top guitar.
Steel strings didn’t catch on right away. It took many decades before the design could be perfected close to what we call the modern guitar.
They were first featured in a Gibson L5, an acoustic jazz archtop guitar. Martin & Co started using them in the late 1920s.
As we saw, guitars can have a wide range of strings based on the design. The next time someone asks “how many strings does an electric guitar have,” you can quote all the variants from this article until they are enlightened, or they roll their eyes, which is more likely to happen.
We’ve covered the bulk of it, but I’m sure there are exceptions. The answers may change but one thing that remains constant, the thicker the string the lower the pitch. And the lower the pitch, the cooler the sound.
Yours truly, A Bass Player.