Guitar-Like Instruments & Which You Might Consider Learning

Table of Contents

If you’re a guitarist wondering what other guitar-like instruments are out there;

Or if you’re an aspiring musician wanting to know what options you have besides playing the guitar,

You’ve come to the right post!

I’ve played the guitar and other guitar-like instruments for 15 years and counting, I own a mandolin, banjo, ukulele, violin, and guitar, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned about them.

Guitar-like instruments are part of the more technically termed plucked string instrument family.

These are instruments that usually have frets and can be plucked with fingers or finger picks or strummed with a pick.

So what are some popular guitar-like instruments?

The most popular guitar-like instruments that you might consider playing are the:

  • bass
  • banjo
  • ukulele
  • mandolin
  • and guitar hybrids

Of course:

There are plenty more plucked string instruments similar to the guitar that you can find on Wikipedia.

But Iv’e listed the most popular ones above.

Let’s discuss each in turn and why you might consider learning the instrument.

The Bass Guitar: a Totally Different Instrument Or Just Another Type of Guitar?

20 Amazing Bass Lines of All Time! (Instantly Recognizable)
a bassist playing popular bass riffs

Some people think the Bass is just another type of guitar.

But I don’t think so.

Basses have 4 strings (unlike the guitar which typically has 6) and thus also have a different standard tuning than guitar.

This means a guitarist can’t simply pick up a bass and play it the same way he plays a guitar.

Sure, the guitarist will have the ability to press down the strings and pluck the notes, but he won’t know the bass like he knows the guitar because (in my opinion) it’s a totally different instrument.

The bass and the guitar also serve different functions musically and are played differently.

The bassist in a musical ensemble often establishes the beat (almost like a drummer) and typically only picks the strings instead of strumming them.

The guitarist usually plays a leading role in music and may pick or strum.

While each role is important, you rarely find a solo musician playing the bass.

But there are countless solo guitarists.

That said, learning the bass is a natural segue from learning the guitar.

And it may be the instrument for you to learn if you’re interested in the supporting role that a bassist usually plays in a band.

The Banjo: Just an Instrument for Bluegrass or a Guitarist’s New Best Friend?

Jonny Mizzone on the banjo with the rest of his band, Sleepy Man Banjo Boys

The banjo is a 4 (or 5) string instrument with a standard open G tuning (GDGBD).

Banjos are similar in length to full-size guitars but have smaller, round bodies.

Their strings are usually a lighter gauge than most guitar strings and are thus a little bit easier to press down than guitar strings.

Banjos are more often plucked than strummed as opposed to guitars which are equally suited for both plucking and strumming.

You might think of banjos as instruments only played in folk, bluegrass, or country genres.

But they are move versatile than you might think; popping up in all sorts of genres from pop and alternative to electronic dance music.

They also have a rich sound that blends nicely with guitar.

And they are very popular so beginner instruments are inexpensive and learning resources are abundant.

If you’re interested in getting started with the banjo, this is fantastic entry-level instrument.

And this is a well-reviewed guide for learning the banjo.

The Ukulele: An Inexpensive Toy or an Instrument Worthy of Mastery?

Classical gas / Mason Williams, Feng E
The amazing Feng E playing Classical Gas on the Ukulele

You can find cheap plastic ukuleles at toy stores anywhere.

Because these low-quality, barely functional instruments are widespread, the ukulele may seem like a less legitimate instrument than say, the guitar.

This simply isn’t the case.

Just like guitars or any string plucked instrument, ukuleles have a wide range in quality and craftsmanship from <$100 to thousands of dollars.

(I purchased a ukulele similar to this one and it has served me wonderfully the past 10+ years.)

Ukuleles are smaller than the guitar, with 4 nylon strings instead of 6 (wound) steel strings, and a standard open tuning of GCEA.

Their smaller size means:

  • They are more portable than guitars.
  • Their nylon strings are easier to press down than guitar strings and don’t rust like guitar strings can. This is important if you live in a very humid environment.
  • Their fret boards are smaller making them simpler to maneuver particularly for people with smaller hands.

Though there are many benefits that come with a smaller instrument like a ukulele, this instrument has some downsides.

Ukuleles simply aren’t as versatile as guitars.

Their Hawaiian roots make them perfectly suited for Hawaiian style playing and less suited for other genres.

Nevertheless, those skilled with the ukulele (like Feng E in the video above) can adapt it for nearly any genre.

The ukulele might be a good instrument for you to pursue if you’re interested in a smaller instrument with a higher pitch range that’s well-suited for Hawaiian/islander style playing.

The Mandolin: A Violin with Frets or a Miniature Guitar with More Strings?

Genre Hopping with Chris Thile
Virtuoso mandolinist, Chris Thile “genre-hopping” on his instrument

The mandolin is smaller than the guitar and has 8 strings (tuned in pairs) as opposed to the guitar’s six strings each tuned separately.

The mandolin’s standard open tuning (GDAE) is the same as a violin so you can easily play any violin song on the mandolin.

This means the mandolin is popular in genres in which violin is popular like:

  • country
  • bluegrass
  • folk
  • and classical

As you can tell from this genre list, mandolins are not quite as versatile as guitars.

Because mandolins are not as popular as guitars, they are also typically more expensive than guitars of similar quality.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I bought my first mandolin.

I purchased a $100 instrument only to discover that it barely functioned.

And while you can get away with buying a $100 guitar that sounds fine and works for a beginner, I don’t recommend it for mandolins.

(I eventually saved up and bought a $600 mandolin years later. It has a wonderful sound and I still play it 10+ years later.)

If you’re interested in purchasing a mandolin, I wouldn’t spend anything less than this on one.

Another unfortunate result of their lack of popularity is that there are fewer learning resources available for them.

However, there is one great learning resource I can recommend whole-heartedly!

It comes from none other than mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile.

Though the production of the resource is dated, the lessons are timeless.

You can check it out here.

Despite these potential difficulties with mandolins, they have several great qualities.

The benefits of smaller size that I mention above for the ukulele apply to the mandolin as well.

Plus, they have a higher pitch range than guitars with a light, fun sound that can be beautiful when playing a high-quality instrument.

If you’d like a more in-depth discussion on whether the mandolin is the right instrument for you, check out my article here.

Guitar Hybrids: What They Are and Why You Might Consider Them Instead of Learning a New Instrument.

Guitar hybrids are instruments tuned the same (or very closely) to the standard tuning of a guitar but have one or more features of another instrument.

For instance, guitar hybrids include:

  • the banjo-guitar (AKA the banjitar)
  • the guitar-ukulele (AKA the guitalele)
  • the mandolin-guitar (AKA mando guitar)

The Banjitar

The Deering Banjo Company Goodtime Six Banjo Guitar |
A review of a Deering Banjitar

A Banjitar has the body of a banjo and 6 strings like a guitar (instead of banjo’s usual 4 or 5) tuned to the guitar’s standard tuning.

Banjitars provide the guitarist with a banjo sound without the need to learn a new instrument.

This is a reasonably priced beginner instrument if you’re looking to get started with the banjitar.

The Guitalele

Yamaha Guitalele Review - How does it sound?

A guitalele has the body of a ukulele with 6 nylon strings like a classical guitar instead of the ukulele’s typical 4 strings.

Guitaleles are actually tuned like a guitar but up a 4th (as if you were to capo the guitar on the 5th fret) to ADGCEA.

So the guitarist can play the instrument with the same chord shapes as the guitar but the chords and notes will be in a different key.

Guitaleles are sometimes mistakenly called traveler guitars.

But keep in mind, their different tuning and nylon instead of woven steel strings distinguish them from less than full-size (traveler) guitars.

Because guitaleles are less expensive than many other guitar hybrids, they’re a great instrument to learn if you’re on a tight budget.

You can find an excellent beginner guitalele here (the same instrument reviewed in the video above).

The Mando Guitar

Gold Tone F-6 Mando-Guitar - Sound Demo (no talking)
A demo of the beautiful mando guitar

Mando guitars have the bodies of mandolins and 6 (or 12) strings like a (6 or 12 string) guitar instead of the mandolin’s usual 8 strings tuned in pairs.

They have the same standard tuning as a guitar but one octave higher.

This enables the mando-guitarist to play in the same tonal range as a mandolin to get that mandolin sound.

Remember, mandolins’ smaller size, lesser popularity, and increased difficulty in production mean they are typically more expensive than guitars of similar quality.

I recommend this instrument package which comes with a high-quality instrument and hard case (the same instrument demoed in the video above).

The Gouzouki

Ozark Guitar Bouzouki / Irish Bouzouki

You can learn all about this instrument in our guitar bouzouki (also known as the bouzar) hybrid article.

Guitar-Like Instruments Vs. Guitar Hybrids: The Final Verdict

Most people interested in guitar-like instruments shy away from learning the guitar because:

  • Guitars can be big and bulky.
  • Guitar strings can be difficult to press down for beginners.
  • They prefer the sound or tonal range of other instruments like the banjo, ukulele, or mandolin.

But as I’ve explained in this article, an aspiring musician can easily overcome each of these hurdles particularly with guitar hybrids.

All the guitar hybrids mentioned above:

  • are smaller than full-size guitars,
  • have lighter-gauge or nylon strings,
  • and can have the tonal range of other guitar-like instruments.

Plus, learning resources for guitars are abundant and knowledge of the guitar’s fret-board is highly versatile.

In short:

I recommend learning a guitar-hybrid instead of learning a totally different guitar-like instrument.

Related Questions

Which stringed instrument is easiest to learn?
I believe the traveler’s guitar or the guitalele are among the easiest to learn. I think most would agree that string plucked instruments (like the guitar) are easier to learn than string bowed instruments (like the violin). Of the string plucked instruments, guitars in general have the most abundant learning resources and the most versatility. Additionally, the guitalele and less than full-size guitars have smaller fret boards that are easier to maneuver than a full-size guitar’s. Plus, guitaleles have nylon strings which are easier to press down than the woven steel strings of full-size guitars.

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