How Many Strings Does a Guitar Have? You Might be Surprised

Asking, “How many strings does a guitar have?” may seem like a relatively straightforward question with a simple answer.

But that can’t be further from the truth.

So, let’s get to it: How many strings does a guitar have?

Well, a guitar typically has six strings, but there are also 12-string, 18-string, and even 21-string guitars. That’s right — I said 21 strings! It makes my non-strumming hand hurt just thinking about it.

The number of strings on a guitar varies depending on the type of guitar and the style of music it is used for. For example, a 12-string guitar is typically used for country or folk music, while a 6-string guitar is more common for rock or blues.

And as for that 21-string guitar? Well, that’s also called a sitar, and it’s used heavily in Indian music.

Most beginners only need to worry about 6-string guitars, but if you still have additional questions, you’ve come to the right place. At Really Simple Guitar, we’re all about educating beginner players and equipping them with the best knowledge to excel in their guitar-playing journey.

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How Many Strings Do Electric Guitars Have?

An electric guitar typically has six strings. That’s the most common number for any type of guitar.

The six strings on an electric guitar are commonly tuned EADGBE, which is the most straightforward configuration for running scales and shaping chords.

But not all electric guitar models have six strings. In fact, you will be surprised by how many strings manufacturers commonly add to make what’s called “extended range guitars.”

Seven-String Electric Guitar

After six-string models, the seven-string electric guitar is one of the more common configurations — especially for metal players.

A white, 7-string electric guitar

We’re actually quite familiar with 7-stringers and have put together a guide to find the best seven-string guitar model in your budget.

A seven-string guitar adds a thicker string —typically a low B — placed in the seventh string position. That extra bass is crucial for metal players who want those thick, rumbling power chords to shake a venue.

We’d only recommend buying a 7-string guitar if you’re really into metal and heavy rock music. There isn’t much application for it on the pop or blues scene, although blues legend Robert Johnson was known to use one during his live shows.

Twelve-String Electric Guitars

While more commonly used on acoustic guitars, you can find twelve strings on electric guitars that produce delightfully exciting tones.

An acoustic and an electric 12-string guitars

The most common twelve-string guitars feature the lower four strings tuned in octaves, and the top two strings doubled, meaning two B strings in the same octave and two E strings in the same octave. It would be next to impossible to create a thin enough string to go up an octave to a high B or E on the guitar.

This does make tuning easier because you essentially only have the same five notes to worry about as you would on a six-string guitar.

Like their acoustic counterpart, twelve-string electric guitars feature wider and/or larger headstocks to accommodate twice as many tuning knobs.

It is perhaps surprising to a beginner that the neck on twelve-string guitars is almost the same as six-string guitars. That’s because the strings essentially sit on top of each other. You’re pressing down on two strings simultaneously when you shape a chord, producing a tone with unique chorus vibes.

Twelve-string electrics are used primarily for rhythm playing, as solos wouldn’t be the easiest to execute.

Exotic & Unique Electric Guitars

Six strings make sense.

I think most people can even get around 7 strings.

And because 12-string models are just a doubled-up version of their six-string counterparts, no one really bats an eye out for them.

But there are some odd modern guitar models with WAY more strings that most players would even bother with.

Here’s a quick roundup:

Eight-String Electric Guitars

Eight-string guitars — similar to seven-strings — are commonly used in metal bands thanks to the bassier notes.

These guitars are tuned F#BEADGBE, which can confuse those coming from six- or seven-string models because open strings typically aren’t sharp or flat.

Like all extended-range guitars, an eight-string model gives players an even more comprehensive range of tones.

That’s why some jazz players have turned to these guitars — especially the players who are skilled enough to comp chords, run solos, and walk bass lines simultaneously.

Nine-String Electric Guitars

OK, now it’s just getting ridiculous, right? Nine strings?!

Well, if one group of players goes crazy on the number of strings, it’s metalheads.

Nine-string guitars are tough to come by (here’s one selling at Guitar Center) because they have a niche application.

Metal heads will make low, clanking tones with it that are more percussive than clear in terms of tonality.

Mike Gianelli offers up a perfect example of that description:

A nine-string guitar is commonly tuned C#, F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E.

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How Many Strings Do Multi-Neck Guitars Have?

A double-neck electric guitar.

It’s time to get out your calculators! Multi-neck guitars add a new layer to the great question of how many strings you will find on a guitar. It could be 12 strings. Or it could be 18. Or even 30!

These musical instruments have actually been around since the Renaissance Period, but they’re more commonly associated with modern music and even classic rock n’ roll.

A multi-neck guitar is exactly what it’s called — a guitar with two separate necks. Sometimes, the strings on the neck are strung over different pickups, like humbuckers on one side and single coils on the other, giving a player a massive range of tone.

Other times, though, it incorporates different tunings or a different number of strings.

A typical configuration on a double-neck guitar is to have a six-string setup on one neck and a 12-string setup on the other. This allows a gigging musician to play rhythm on the 12-string during a song, then switch to the six-string for solos or a different tone.

If you’re a beginner, you won’t have to worry about finding a multi-neck guitar on the market (spoiler alert: they’re expensive!). But it’s always good to know about these instruments when conversing with fellow players.

• • •

How Many Strings Do Acoustic Guitars Have?

A standard acoustic guitar most commonly has six steel strings, just like its electric counterpart.

All beginners who start with an acoustic learn how to play on six steel guitar strings. As they become more comfortable, they might be inclined to invest in a 12-string acoustic, which is way more common than 12-string electrics.

Here are more details when it comes to standard acoustic guitar configurations.

Six-String Acoustic Guitars

The six-string acoustic guitar is today’s most common acoustic configuration, tuned in the standard EADGBE tuning.

In terms of the metal strings, acoustics commonly ship stainless steel strings, offering the best possible tone.

A six-string guitar is the best out of all string configurations for beginners. We would never recommend going with anything more.

12-String Acoustic Guitars

As beginners become more comfortable playing a standard six-string guitar, they most commonly move up to a 12-string because they hear classic songs from Crosby Stills & Nash and other great guitar-strumming troubadours.

The bridge of a 12-string acoustic guitar

More steel strings mean more volume, and that’s certainly the case with most 12-string guitars. The extra strings offer a bright, chorus-like tone that sounds great when you’re strumming through a catalog of songs.

Thankfully, 12-string acoustics are relatively easy to find from all the major brands, including Martin and Taylor — great American-made guitars.

• • •

How Many Strings Do Bass Guitars Have?

Bass guitars typically have four strings, but there is a lot of variation, depending on what you’re looking for as a bass player.

Four-String Bass

As mentioned, four strings are the most common number of strings found on a bass guitar.

Tuned EADG, the four-string bass guitar is perfect for thumbing out a sick bass line, no matter what key the band is playing in.

With four strings, your range is limited, but this typically isn’t a problem if you don’t plan on soloing. Even then, some of the world’s best bass players can deliver incredible solos on four strings.

There’s no one better than Victor Wooten:

Five-String Bass

A five-string bass.

A bass with five strings isn’t that rare as many players prefer to have the extended range — especially funk players.

A five-string bass is tuned one of two ways. First, with a lower note — BEADG. Or second, with a higher note — EADGC. Note that the higher fifth string option is a C instead of a B. If you’re a guitar player coming over to a 5-string bass, you might feel more comfortable tuning it down that half step to a B, so fretting is more familiar.

Six-String Bass

A six-string bass.

Six-string basses actually aren’t that rare either. Many guitar players who occasionally need to take up the bass for a gig or two prefer having a six-string bass because it feels familiar — even if the neck is extra thick!

That being said, six-string bass guitars are tuned differently than a guitar.

It combines the five-string configurations, starting with a low B, then up to an EADG, and ending with a C.

Bass Guitars With More Than Six Strings

As you may have guessed, you can find electric bass guitars with more than six strings.

Seven-String Bass

A seven-string bass is relatively rare, but manufacturers do produce them. You tend to see them used in metal bands, but there are also a handful of bass soloists who use those extra strings for cool arrangements.

A seven-string bass can be tuned in a number of ways, but the most common is to go from an F# to a C.

Eight-String Bass

There are two types of eight-string bass guitars.

The first is similar to a 12-string acoustic guitar. There are eight separate bass strings, but they’re paired up in octaves, and you press down and pluck them at the same time. It’s technically challenging but offers a unique tone.

The other type of eight-string bass guitar is designed for bass soloists who take the stringed instrument to the next level.

• • •

How Many Strings Are On These Exotic Guitars?

A handful of exotic guitars have LOTS of strings on them. I’ll cover a few of them:

Harp Guitar

Harp guitars are best defined as a standard guitar with a bunch of extra strings that aren’t fretted but can still be plucked individually. Because you can’t change the strings’ tone through fretting, harp guitars typically require a lot of strings.

The standard harp guitar can have 18 or more total strings, depending on its size. You’ll commonly find 12 strings on it — six for the standard guitar section and an additional six for the harp.

A recent interesting case is the crazy triple-neck “Hydra” guitar that Ibanez built for Steve Vai, which has a 13-string harp at the back (1).

Sitar

A sitar can have 18, 19, 20, or 21 strings depending on size. Most of those strings are “sympathetic strings,” meaning you can’t fret them and change their intonation. They simply ring over the melody or chords you’re playing on the sitar.

Sitars are primarily used in Indian music due to their unique sound.

• • •

Six Strings Are Standard — But Are Not Required

Next time you’re in a bar, and someone asks you how many strings you can find on a guitar, you’ll have a slightly longer answer.

Men sitting and talking at a bar.

As you can see, six guitar strings are the most common configuration. Still, a handful of other formats on both electric guitar and acoustic guitars offer a more comprehensive tonal range. They are also more challenging to play.

While it’s tempting to want a unique instrument like a 7-string guitar (or even an eight- or nine-string model), always, always, ALWAYS make the most out of your standard six-string first.

Once you’re a more accomplished player, open yourself up to those models with more guitar strings.

• • •

References

  1. Paul Ridden, “Ibanez reveals crazy three-necked Hydra guitar built for Steve Vai,”  as published here https://newatlas.com/music/ibanez-hydra-guitar-steve-vai/

Image Credits

PRS double neck guitar image: Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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