The guitar is a complex and nuanced instrument that responds with exacting specificity to the player's technique and idiosyncrasies.
The six-string guitar is the most popular form, but driven by curiosity and innovation, it continues to evolve.
When the guitar was still a newcomer on the block in the 15th century, it may have only had six strings.
These days, you can find guitars with a variety of string configurations, especially with the growth of custom instruments.
Let’s look at the various instruments available.
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How Many Strings Do Bass Guitars Have?
Within the context of a band, a guitar and a bass guitar are typically thought of as separate instruments.
A bass player is often responsible for bridging the communication between the guitarist and drummer, offering a tight rhythmic groove with the drums, while providing a harmonic counterpoint to the guitar.
Most bass guitars have four strings.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t basses with other configurations out there.
Let’s look at a few variations on the four-string bass (this list should not be considered comprehensive).
A four-string bass is tuned like so:
E, A, D, G.
A five-string bass adds a lower B note below the E string.
Because of that, five-string basses are often favored in heavier genres where drop tuning is common.
A five-string bass gives you access to lower notes without the need for drop tuning (though you might drop tune anyway).
A six-string bass keeps the B note from the five-string configuration and adds a higher C note above the G string.
In genres – like jazz fusion or gospel – where the bassist plays more complicated riffs or takes a solo, the six-string bass is more common.
Seven-string basses are certainly less common, but they do exist.
They are usually tuned like so:
B, E, A, D, G, C, F.
Why anyone would need a seven-string bass is a matter of speculation, but as I already mentioned, at this point guitar manufacturers are constantly stretching the limits of what’s possible.
In the hands of someone like Davie504, of course, it can sound wild (he also uses a rather unique alternate tuning for this experiment – A, B, C, D, E, F, G):
An eight-string bass is typically just a four-string bass with two courses of strings.
Instruments like mandolin and 12-string guitars typically have two courses of strings tuned in octaves to produce a thicker sound and cover a wider frequency range.
Because of this, an eight-string bass gives you a bigger tone and frequency range overall.
We’re certainly starting to get into ridiculous territory here, since the neck of a bass only gets wider with each added string.
That's the same for guitar, but generally basses have a thicker neck than a six-string guitar already, so you can imagine how wide it can get.
And, if that neck isn’t built solidly, it would likely warp and break under the pressure of the strings.
Anyway, with a nine-string bass, you get access to some crazy lows and some highs that are starting to match guitar.
Of course, I'm sure you're curious how a nine-string bass looks or even sounds like.
So, here’s a demonstration of what you can do with a nine-string bass:
A 12-string bass is unusual in that it’s basically a four-string bass with three courses of strings tuned in octaves.
As you can imagine, each note you play would give you a huge sound.
In the hands of Davie504, it’s a groove machine:
This is basically just a nine-string bass with four necks (with some of the higher notes getting into guitar territory).
It’s far from practical, and it's mostly unnecessary, but it is impressive to look at.
Here’s Davie504 playing one:
How Many Strings Does A Classical/Acoustic Guitar Have?
Most classical and acoustic guitars feature six strings.
And, generally, this is what people are thinking about when they think “guitar.”
There are, however, a couple of exceptions worth mentioning:
12-String Acoustic Guitars
A 12-string acoustic guitars are basically six-string acoustics with two courses of strings tuned in octaves.
The 12-string guitar was popularized in the 60s and 70s by players like Roger McQuinn (The Byrds) and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), although they were typically playing electrics rather than acoustics.
The idea with 12-string acoustics, however, is the same, and they can be heard on songs like “Over The Hills And Far Away” by Led Zeppelin and “More Than A Feeling” by Boston.
The harp guitar is a strange looking contraption, and to this day it’s an unusual sight.
But it’s basically made up of two parts – a six-string guitar and a six-string “harp”.
This isn't to suggest it has two bodies, however, as a harp guitar has a standard guitar body and a long, curved section protruding out from the upper part of the body of the guitar (though appearance can vary).
The harp portion works a lot like a bass, except without frets.
So, a skilled harp guitar player can basically self-accompany, create a rhythmic foundation and even add harmonic interest and complexity.
Harp guitars have 12 strings (six guitar strings, six harp strings) in total, though there are some variations.
How Many Strings Does An Electric Guitar Have?
Most electric guitars come with six strings.
Some of your favorite virtuosos like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman usually play six string electrics, though they are sometimes pictured with other types of electrics.
Now let’s explore additional electric guitars.
A seven-string electric adds a low B below the low E string.
They can be great for heavier genres and drop tuning and even those times when you need a lower bass note to create a bit of harmonic interest.
Modern electric virtuoso Tosin Abasi is often seen with an eight-string guitar.
For most guitarists, this many strings is starting to get into the “excessive” range, but for players like Abasi, it seems to fit like a glove.
Eight-string guitars are tuned like so:
F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E.
Another great eight-string electric guitarist is Charlie Hunter.
His custom guitar basically has three bass strings and five guitar strings, which allows him to be both the bass player and guitar player in any context he plays in.
Nine-string electric guitars add another lower note below the F# – namely, C#.
At this level, you basically have a hybrid guitar/bass.
You can do whatever you want with it, especially as you learn to play with your fingers, but oftentimes it is used for heavier genres like djent.
At 10 strings, you may as well be playing a hybrid guitar/bass.
The rattle of the lowest string gets to be ridiculous, but again, some players of heavier genres love it.
We’ve already talked a little bit about 12-string guitars, so you should have a good sense of how this works.
A 12-string electric is basically a six-string guitar with two courses of strings tuned in octaves.
In live, non-guitar-store versions of Stairway To Heaven, you can see Jimmy Page using a double-neck guitar, where the first neck is a 12-string and the second neck is a six-string.
This gives him some serious versatility when performing the song, since he can switch between both guitars for different parts.
The popularity of custom made guitars has increased, and that means the number of strings (and a guitar's overall configuration) can vary a lot.
At 18 strings, we are headed into seriously ridiculous territory at this point – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
YouTuber Jared Dines is quite possibly one of the most popular guitarists on YouTube, and while he plays a bit of everything, he is certainly known for his love of metal and djent.
There’s nothing quite like an 18-string guitar for djent.
With this many strings, the neck starts to look like a surfboard, and virtually no one has big enough hands to wrap their fingers around it.
With modified technique, however, you can still play it, as Dines demonstrates here:
Jared Dines has a friendly online rivalry with fellow YouTuber and guitarist Stevie T.
So, naturally, when Stevie T was sent a 20-string guitar, it was inevitable that they’d wage a war on each other.
In the video that follows, Stevie T does his best to show how an instrument like this might be played, but of course it’s getting to the point of excess.
I can’t deny that it’s a lot of fun to watch, mind you.
Here’s Stevie T demonstrating how the 20-string works and sounds:
How Many Strings Does A Guitar Have? Final Thoughts
Again, the above list should not be considered complete by any means.
But I think there is a logical and practical limit to how many strings you can have on a guitar.
After a certain point, it doesn’t even make sense.
The human ear is incapable of picking up extremely high and low notes.
And, learning to play an instrument with more strings takes more time to master.
But now you have a general idea of the different types of guitars out there.