Stringed instruments are musical instruments characterized by strings stretched over a frame and sounded by plucking, strumming, or bowing. These instruments serve as the basis for many styles of modern music, and have been used for centuries in countless cultures.
In this article, we will explore the many different types of stringed instruments, their components, and applications:
Definition of stringed instruments
Stringed instruments are instruments that produce musical tones by means of vibrating strings under tension, as opposed to wind or percussion instruments. Stringed instruments are found in most cultures, from the ancient Egyptian lyres and harps to modern stringed orchestras and bands.
In general, these instruments can be divided into two broad categories: fretted (frets) and unfretted (non-fretted). Fretted instruments are those with metal strips called frets that help determine pitch. Examples of fretted stringed instruments include the guitar, bass guitar and banjo; while some examples of non-fretted stringed instruments include the violin and cello. Orchestral string sections in classical music typically consist of both fretted and unfretted strings.
Types of Stringed Instruments
Stringed instruments are an ancient and fascinating way to make music. From the violins of the symphony to the bluesy electric guitar, these instruments produce beautiful sounds of all kinds. There are many kinds of stringed instruments – each with their own distinct sound and style. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of stringed instruments out there:
Acoustic guitars are the most common type of stringed instruments and can be found in many different styles, shapes and sizes. They typically have six strings each tuned to a different note or pitch, although there are 12-string models available as well. Acoustic guitars work by vibrating strings made of steel or nylon that are stretched across the body of the guitar, resulting in sound being amplified inside the guitar’s hollow chamber.
The two main types of acoustic guitars are classical guitars and steel-string acoustic guitars. Classical guitars have nylon strings which give them a mellower sound compared to steel-string varieties, while steel-strings provide a brighter sound along with more power for rock music styles. Most acoustic guitars do not plug into an amplifier but rather rely on the natural reverberation within their body to make them audible. This can be enhanced with additional pieces of equipment such as:
used in live performance settings or when recording in a studio.
Electric guitars are perhaps the most popular type of stringed instrument. They plug into an amplifier, which is used to magnify the sound, and then amplified to a desired level. Electric guitars come in many different models and with their own unique tonal characteristics.
Electric guitars generally feature magnetic pickups which ‘pick up’ vibrations from the strings and send them as electrical signals to an amplifier.
The types of electric guitar body styles may vary according to manufacturer, but they all generally have hollow bodies. Some examples include:
- Flat top
- Jazz box
- Double cutaway solidbody
- Semi-acoustic electric guitar (commonly known as the semi-hollow body)
- Multi-scale neck electric or extended range design.
The most common types of electric guitar pickups are single coil pickups (found most commonly on Fender electric guitars) and dual coil pickups (most commonly found on Gibson guitars). Pickups can vary in tone from warm and round tones given off by single coils to higher pitch brighter tones given off by dual coil pickups. However both types of pickup can be used combined together for a range of varied sounds perfect for any musical style.
Bass guitars are a type of stringed instrument that produces low-pitched notes and are used to provide the low harmony and rhythm in many musical styles. The bass guitar is played with the fingers or a pick. Most bass guitars have four strings, though there are five or six string instruments available. The standard tuning for four-string bass guitars is E A D G, referring to the lowest pitched string at the top (E) and progressing to the highest (G). For five-string basses, additional strings give a wider range of notes with a lower B added below E.
Bass guitars come in two main types: electric basses and acoustic basses. Electric ones use magnetic pickups to convert their tones into electrical signals that can be amplified and integrated into any sound system. Acoustic instruments are those played without an amp or loudspeaker cabinet; instead, they use their hollow body to resonate sound through air and rely on natural pickups similar to those found on electric models.
Actually learning how to play a bass guitar requires dedicated practice, just like any other instrument, but many people find that they enjoy it more than they expected! There are tutorial videos readily available online which provide guidance and instruction on fundamentals such as fingering techniques and chords. Knowing an array of styles from jazz to rock, reggae, country and beyond also makes it easy for bassists of any level to explore all kinds of music skillsets – both alone and in bands!
Violins, often referred to as fiddles in folk music circles, are small, wooden stringed instruments that are held between the shoulder and chin. These instruments feature four strings which usually consists of a G, D, A and E. Violins are very versatile instruments that not only have been used in classical music since the Baroque period but also for a variety of different styles such as jazz and bluegrass.
The violin is considered to be one of the easiest stringed instruments to learn due to its size and pitch range. Although it can take a while to develop proper technique when playing the violin, they generally require less maintenance than larger instruments such as the cello or double bass. Violins come in all shapes, sizes and colors with many players utilizing customized pieces that may include an exotic body shape or unique cabinetry.
Violinists traditionally use rosin on their bow to ensure even sound production across strings and fingerboards. Many beginners also utilize an electronic tuner which helps them stay within standard pitch ranges as they develop their ear for tuning over time. All beginning players should start with a properly fitted chin rest for comfort before advancing their playing abilities further!
The cello, sometimes referred to as the violoncello, is an instrument of the strings family. It’s a larger and deeper-voiced version of the violin that produces a lower pitch. The cello is played with a bow and has four strings tuned in perfect fifths—from low to high: C, G, D and A.
The body of the cello resembles that of a violin but is much larger—ranging approximately 36-44 inches (varying by instrument). The strings are tuned in fifths much like a violin, but on the middle two strings (G and D), the interval between them is an octave instead of a perfect fifth. Cellos produce different tone colors depending on how far up or down its large string length bridges are positioned for each note.
Cellos are generally categorized by their size—from smallest to largest: piccolo/fancy (1/4 size), quarter (1/2 size), three-quarter (3/4 size), full-size (4/4) and extended range five-string models which feature an additional low A string below E. Generally speaking, cellos are played while sitting down with knees bent and feet flat on the floor to support it’s larger size up against the body when using a metal endpin stand or chair spike stand.
Cellos are used extensively in both classical and popular music including orchestras, quartets, solos and recording sessions across many musical genres including rock, jazz, vamp surf, soul, Latin funk and pop music as featured instruments by soloists such as Yo Yo Ma or John Bon Jovi – just to name a few!
Banjos are stringed instruments that have a drum-like body and skin head, a long neck, and four to six strings. They are most commonly made of wood – usually maple or mahogany – but you may also see some with aluminum or plastic frames. If there are 5 strings, the fifth is usually an extra short string that isn’t fingered but creates a buzzing sound when strummed.
Invented in other parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, the banjo’s popularity in America was first established in the Appalachian Mountains through its use in folk music. There are three main types of Banjos used for American folk music: open back (or clawhammer), five string bluegrass/tenor, and four string plectrum/art deco banjos.
- Open back banjos have a flathead tone ring and metal tension hoop around the drum head similar to what you’d find on most snare drums; they often have intricate flower or 11-inch pot designs stamped into the metal parts of the instrument. They tend to have a unique sound that’s perfect for old timey or traditional clawhammer styles of playing.
- Five String Bluegrass and Tenor Banjos also have metal tension hoops around an interior resonator which provide increased volume with bright ringing tones that stand out when playing with other acoustic instruments such as guitar, fiddle, and mandolin outdoors; their short scale length offers quick fretting action for fast blues riffs but makes them difficult for more complex chords compared to larger scale length instruments.
- Four String Plectrum/Art Deco Banjos offer fast playability due to their longer fretboard scales; they often have fancy art deco designs carved into theirs headstocks and tailpieces with an interior resonator providing extra brightness to their sound; these banjos typically feature vintage style friction tuners and stiles bridges that lower volumes so they don’t dominate the mix like louder five-string models do over quieter instruments outdoors.
Mandolins are small stringed instruments with a pear-shaped body, divided into a flat back and curved belly. Mandolins have 8 steel strings and typically have four double sets of strings tuned in fifths. They have a fretted neck with a flat fingerboard and metal frets which divide the neck into semitones. The tuning machines, spread on both sides of the headstock, are traditionally of the open gear variety.
Mandolins are primarily plucked with either a plectrum or fingers and strummed for rhythm accompaniment. The sound of mandolin is bright and clear, with ringing notes even at low volume settings. Most mandolin models will feature two f-holes in its upper section near the tailpiece to allow sound to project through while playing, similar to other stringed instruments like violins. They lend themselves well to creating intricate melodies, as well as providing rhythm accompaniment in several genres such as bluegrass, pop or rock music.
Harps are plucked string instruments and one of the oldest musical instruments, with evidence of its existence dating back to at least 3500 BCE. The modern harp is a plucked instrument with an upright frame that serves as a resonator and a triangular sounding board. It is typically strung with gut, nylon or metal strings and is played by plucking the strings either with the fingers or a plectrum/pick.
There are two main types of harps: pedal harps and lever harps, also known as folk or Celtic harps.
- Pedal Harps – have usually 47 strings (considered standard) up to 47-strings. They are larger in size than lever harps and they have mechanical action pedals at the base of their column which enable all strings to be quickly changed in pitch via a foot pedal by someone playing the instrument sitting down. Generally played in an orchestra, this type of harp requires considerable skill from the player to keep it in tune. These can range from beginner level models up to larger professional instruments for more skilled players.
- Lever Harps – often referred to as folk/Celtic Harps, use levers instead of pedals for tuning adjustment purposes. They come in various sizes ranging from 22-strings (mini) to 34-strings (medium) up to 36+strings (large). They are smaller in size than pedal harps and their levers allow for quick tuning without having to go through the laborious process that comes with manually changing each string’s pitch via individual pegs/keys as required on some other types like lutes or bowed religious instruments like kora etc. Lever harping can often be thought of as very similar guitar playing techniques but being percussive rather than free flowing. The sound on a lever is warm and lyrical while used within traditional repertoire not just classical style music.
Ukuleles are small four–stringed instruments that originate from Hawaii and are regarded as an iconic symbol of the culture. Unlike certain four-stringed instruments, such as violins or mandolins, ukuleles feature a box-like body with strings held in place by pressure of the strings’ tension instead of bridges.
Ukuleles come in several sizes and materials, which produce different tones. The traditional Hawaiian ukulele is known as the Tikis, meaning “small”; however, there are other styles that emulate other instruments such as the guitar and bass.
The three main types of ukulele include:
- Soprano (the smallest size)
- Concert, which is slightly larger than the soprano size
- Tenor (the largest size)
Each type of ukulele produces a distinct sound: the lower sounding concert characteristically has higher resonance; while the higher pitched tenor replicates a similar tone to that of a guitar.
In addition to different sizes and tonal ranges, ukuleles can be made from various materials including:
- Solid wood such as mahogany or koa
- Laminate woods like rosewood
- Bamboo blended with other woods like cherry blossom/cedar combo or black/walnut combo
- Composite materials like carbon fiber/resin combination
Depending on your budget and experience level with playing stringed instruments, you can choose from one suited to your needs. With proper practice and dedication for learning any instrument comes great rewards!
An autoharp is a type of stringed instrument that is a combination of a zither and harp, usually strung with electric or acoustic strings. It is played by pressing the keys or chords on the strings, which produces the desired melody. Autoharps feature different numbers of strings and come in varied shapes and sizes. Modern electric autoharps feature different additional features such as volume control, synthesizers, and speakers.
Autoharps come in many styles and shapes, they may have round ends or pointed ends, be tuned diatonically or chromatically, have anywhere between 12 to 36 individual strings. The most common autoharp has 15 chord bars with 21 strings. The autoharp is held across the lap while seated although more professional players may stand while playing it. Traditional acoustic versions use flat lightly-wound steel strings but modern electric versions feature light gauge nylon-wrapped steel core .050″ to .052″ diameter wire for optimal playability.
The autoharp has been used in many types of music including classical music, folk music, blues music and country music as well as in soundtracks for film and television. Autoharps are popular among beginniners due to their relatively low price point.
How to Choose the Right Stringed Instrument
Stringed instruments are incredibly popular and are often used in a variety of musical genres. But when it comes to deciding which one is the right instrument for you, there are several factors to consider. This article will explore the various types of stringed instruments that are available, as well as the pros and cons of each one. It will also provide some tips to help you make the best decision for your musical needs.
Let’s explore the different types of stringed instruments:
Consider your skill level
The type of stringed instrument you choose to learn will depend on your skill level as well as your experience in playing. If you are a beginner or just starting out, you should start with something relatively small and easy such as a ukulele. The smaller size and short strings make it easier for beginners to learn the basics quickly. A full-size acoustic guitar or bass may be too much for a beginner’s hands.
Intermediate players may want to consider an electric guitar or bass, which require more precision and knowledge of specific scales, chords, and note combinations than acoustic instruments.
Advanced players might consider a mandolin, banjo, lute or violin. These stringed instruments require more technical knowledge and experience than the standard guitar or bass due to their strings being placed closer together. Therefore, they are better suited for advanced players who have mastered the technical aspects of playing an instrument and have experience playing with more complex scales.
Consider the size of the instrument
When choosing a stringed instrument, size is an important factor to consider. Most string instruments come in a variety of sizes, and the right size can make playing your instrument much easier.
Stringed instruments such as violin, viola, cello, and bass are available in sizes that are tailored for adults or children. The standard sizing for adults is 4/4 (full-size) and 7/8 (slightly smaller than 4/4). Children’s sizes typically range from 1/16 (very small) to 1/4 (even smaller than 7/8). Choosing the right size for your stature and arm span will help ensure that you have the best playing experience possible.
In addition to full-sized instruments, some companies also produce “travel-size” instruments. Travel-sized violins generally have an even smaller 4/5 or 1/16 size body. While they may not sound as good as their regular-sized counterparts due to the difference in body length and mass of wood used, travel-sized instruments are a great option for those who need something more portable. They are also often less expensive!
When selecting a bass guitar, there is usually no difference between adult and children’s sizes; almost all models are full-sized with four strings that address all ranges of notes on standard tuning. Electric basses come in many different shapes and sizes – it’s important to find one that fits comfortably when standing or seated so you can practice properly with ease!
Size is just one of many factors worthwhile considering when selecting a stringed instrument – take the time to become familiar with different options and features before making your final purchase decision!
Consider the sound of the instrument
The sound and tone of each individual stringed instrument vary due to its materials, size, setup and acoustics. For example, a violin will produce a higher-pitched, thin sound when compared to a cello’s deep resonant tone. A Mandolin will offer percussive plucking tones compared to the mellower and sustained sounds of an acoustic guitar. An electric guitar can often achieve an array of diverse sounds and tones with the simple twist of certain knobs.
You should think about which sound is right for you before choosing a stringed instrument. If you are interested in taking up classical music for example, then instruments like the violin or cello will be your go-to choice; whilst rock or jazz music may require an electric guitar or bass.
It is important to note that different playing styles create unique sounds–So if you are ever having trouble deciding which instrument is best suited to you, try:
- Borrowing one from a friend
- Making use of any available demo models at shops
so that you can get accustomed to their nuances.
Consider the cost of the instrument
When it comes to selecting the right stringed instrument, cost is an important factor to take into account. Different instruments come in varying price ranges, so it’s important to determine your budget and also understand what features you’re looking for in a particular instrument before you make a purchase. Additionally, be aware of the ongoing costs associated with owning and maintaining a stringed instrument, such as strings, cleaning supplies and professional set up or repairs.
Acoustic instruments are the most popular choice for beginner musicians, as they typically offer better sound quality than their electric counterparts at an equal or lower cost. Acoustic strings are often made from steel or nylon and range in thickness from light (.009 – .046) to medium (.011 – .052) gauge options. If you’re looking for something more unique, natural gut strings offer superior playing experience but tend to be higher priced than other string materials.
Electric instruments offer unique sound qualities not available on acoustic models. Electric guitars tend to have single-coil pickups that produce high levels of sustain and “twang” as well as humbucker pickups that have a fatter sound with less susceptibility to noise interference; electric basses often use single-coil pickups while double-coil pickups give a richer tone but more noise susceptibility. Electric strings typically range between (.009 – .054) in thickness and are usually made of steel wrapped around metal windings with higher gauge being thicker and producing less tension on the neck resulting in a looser feel more suitable for bending notes when playing rock music such as metal and punk music genres.
As said earlier, different instruments come at varying price tags so make sure you fully review all features available including cosmetics when considering your purchase option.
In conclusion, stringed instruments are an important and integral part of the musical world. These special instruments come in many sizes and shapes, from the violin to the electric guitar to the harp. Each has its own unique sound and style, allowing for a wide variety of musical textures and styles.
Whether you are a professional musician or an enthusiastic amateur, learning one or more of these stringed instruments can provide hours of entertainment – as well as great satisfaction from playing something you have created.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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