If you’re asking yourself, “How many strings does a guitar have,” then you’ve come to the right post!
What Is a Guitar? Let’s Try and Define It
It might seem weird, but we first need to define what a guitar is.
After all, this instrument has gone through multiple changes before becoming what it is.
But with this said, defining it has also become increasingly difficult.
We can say that the guitar is a string instrument with a fretted fingerboard, (usually) six strings, and is played either using fingertips, nails, or a plectrum.
Of course, I also need to add that a guitar can be acoustic or electric.
But in both cases, the guitar covers the midrange and high-end of the audible spectrum.
The instrument can also hold both a backing and lead function.
As you can imagine, the definition has broadened up, especially in the past few decades or so.
One of the features that make it difficult to define it is the number of strings, so let’s dive into that.
The Standard: Most Commonly, Guitars Have Six Strings
As I already mentioned at the beginning, guitars most commonly have six strings.
The most common tuning is E standard, and it goes like this:
This, of course, can change depending on musicians’ preferences and needs.
In some rare cases, tunings can go up, like the F standard or open E.
But alternative tunings are usually lower than the E standard.
Guitars With Coursed Strings
Coursed strings are two or more strings that are close together and, in practice, serve as one string.
These are, in almost all cases, tuned in unison or in octaves.
The purpose of this is to make things sound fuller.
Mandolins are known for coursed strings, but there are some guitars and basses with this feature.
12-string guitars are also pretty common.
However, they do not extend the range in the classic sense but rather “double down” on your common tunings.
The bottom 4 have additional strings that are an octave higher.
In the case of the G, or 3rd, string, we have a G4 note, which technically extends the range, but not much.
The top two, E and B, are doubled and have identical strings in unison in their respective courses.
Aside from 12-strings, guitars with courses aren’t that common.
That, however, doesn’t mean that there aren’t luthiers and musicians experimenting with this concept.
Essentially, there are no limits here, and you can double any strings that you want.
One example is Matt Pike of Sleep and High on Fire who has a 9-string guitar.
This instrument has regular three bottom strings while the top three are doubled.
You can check out this guitar in action below.
Extended-range guitars come with more than just six strings.
These instruments are different compared to the previously mentioned guitars with coursed strings.
The idea here, obviously, was to extend the range of the regular guitar.
If you’re wondering what’s the most strings you can go with, no one really has the answer.
In short, the sky is the limit.
Nonetheless, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common extended range configurations.
I’ll also take some time to explore those unconventional, experimental instruments as well.
Out of all extended-range variants, 7-string guitars are the most common.
The added bottom string extends the range by additional five semitones or one perfect fourth interval.
The most common tuning for a 7-string guitar is B standard.
Essentially, you just add the B1 note to the E standard tuning of a regular 6-string guitar, making it look like this:
Of course, you’re free to tune it the way you want to.
Some popular alternatives are drop A, A standard, or even drop G.
Most commonly, 7-string guitars have a scale length of 25.5 or 26.5 inches, but it can be longer.
The 7-string guitar as we know it was first developed as a collaboration between Steve Vai and Ibanez.
However, it was the guys from Korn who popularized them.
Taking it one step further, 8-string guitars have become really popular during the late 2000s and 2010s.
The range was, once again, extended downwards, with the bottom string going an additional perfect 4th interval lower.
So the most common tuning of these guitars goes like this:
These instruments have mostly found their use in modern metal.
While they were usually something that custom builders did, 8-string guitars are now commercially produced as well.
In fact, I’d say that they’re pretty common and that they’re part of the modern guitar world.
Some of the most popular 8-string players are Tosin Abasi, Fredrik Thordendal, Martin Hagstrom, Rusty Cooley, and Mick Gordon.
While we’re at it, here’s Mick Gordon blasting through “BFG Division” from 2016’s “Doom” soundtrack.
Things get pretty weird with 9-string guitars, blurring the lines between guitars and basses.
As far as the tuning goes, you might already have a clue where things are going.
And yes, you’ve guessed it – we once again push it another perfect 4th interval lower.
So the tuning looks like this:
Just for a reference, C#1 is three semitones lower than the bottom E string of a 4-string bass guitar.
Once again, we have Mick Gordon and Tosin Abasi as important names worth mentioning here.
But then there are also players like Lucas Mann, Rob Scallon, Josh Travis, and others.
Here’s how Mick Gordon used the 9-string guitar.
Other Extended Range Examples
As I already mentioned, when it comes to extended-range guitars, the sky is the limit.
The problem here is that it gets hard to refer to some of these instruments as guitars.
Some modern guitar players have pushed things into weird territories, getting it near 20 strings.
So, obviously, it’s really difficult to say whether these are guitars or guitar and bass hybrids.
Here are Jaded Dines and Stevie T having a time of their lives playing 18-string and 19-string guitars.
Fewer Than 6 Strings
Going outside of regular standards usually means that you’re adding strings.
But there are some extremely rare cases of guitar players preferring to go with fewer than 6 strings.
Some are just playing 6-string guitars with fewer strings on them.
Names that come to mind are Max Cavalera and Keith Richards
However, we also have Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit who has an actual 4-string guitar.
No, this wasn’t a bass but rather a baritone guitar with pickups that focus on guitar frequencies.
For many years, he used a custom-made Ibanez with some pretty weird tunings.
But in 2023, it was revealed that he got another one of these, this time a custom-made PRS.
As I already mentioned, going with fewer than 6 strings is pretty uncommon, and it falls into the super-experimental territories.
However, this just shows how far less strict definitions of instruments are getting these days.
So before you ask how many strings a guitar has, first think of what a guitar actually is.
How Many Strings Does a Guitar Have: Conclusion
The short answer to this question is that most guitars have 6 strings.
But, as I’ve discussed in this article, there are many exceptions in which guitars have both fewer and more strings than 6.
I hope this article has cleared up this question for you.
And, as usual, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have any questions about this or another guitar-related subject!
And if you want to learn more about the guitar on this blog, check out: