Ultimate Guide to the Guitar Family of Instruments

Guitars belong to the plucked string instruments. It is a subcategory of string instruments that are played by plucking the strings. It is a way of pulling and releasing the string in such a way as to give it an impulse that causes the string to vibrate. It is done by either using a finger or a plectrum. Most plucked instruments belong to the lute family, such as the guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, sitar, banjo, pipa, and more. All of these consist of a resonating body and a neck. Their strings run along the neck and can be stopped at different pitches.

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If you want to learn more about these instruments, read on as we’re giving you the ultimate guide to the guitar family of instruments.

The Different Instruments in the Guitar Family

Here are the different types of instruments in the guitar family:

1. Acoustic or Classical Guitar

an acoustic guitar

An acoustic or classical guitar is a musical instrument in the guitar family. Its strings vibrate a soundboard on a resonant body to project a sound wave through the air. Its strings may be plucked individually using a pick or fingertip. It can also be strummed to play chords. When a string is plucked, it vibrates at a fundamental pitch, which is determined by the length, mass, and tension of the string. 

The soundboard of the acoustic guitar or top also has a strong effect on the loudness of the guitar. Most of the time, woods that are good at transmitting sounds are used for the soundboard. You can learn more about this instrument by reading our Guide to Guitars.

2. Electric Guitar

person playing an electric guitar

This is a type of guitar that requires external amplification to be able to be heard at typical performance volumes. It has one or more pickups, which are used to convert the vibration of the strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound of electric guitars is sometimes shaped or electronically altered to reach different timbres or tonal qualities from that of an acoustic guitar. Most of the time, it is done by using effects like distortion, reverb, and overdrive. You can learn more about this instrument by reading our Guide to Electric Guitar.

3. Bass Guitar

an electric bass

The bass guitar, or sometimes called electric bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is also a plucked string instrument that is similar in appearance to an electric guitar. It has a longer neck and scale length and usually has four to six strings or courses. 

A four-stringed bass is usually tuned the same as the double bass, which it has replaced since the mid-1950s in popular music. It corresponds to pitches one octave lower than the four lowest-pitched strings of a guitar, which are E, A, D, and G. A bass guitar is played using the fingers or thumb, or sometimes with a pick. It also needs external amplification for it to be heard at normal performance volumes. 

4. Ukulele

a black ukulele

The ukulele is also part of the guitar family of instruments. It has a smaller size and features nylon strings, making it great for beginners. This musical instrument was invented in 1879 in Hawaii. It was influenced by the small guitar-like instruments brought to the island by the Portuguese sailors. There are four sizes available for the ukulele. The most common among its sizes is the soprano, which is about 2 feet long. The other sizes are concert, tenor, and baritone. You can learn more about it by reading our Guide to Ukulele.

5. Banjo

person playing a banjo

This is a stringed instrument that has a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to create a resonator. The membrane of the banjo is usually circular and made of plastic or sometimes animal skin. The early forms of banjos were created by African-Americans in the United States. This musical instrument is usually associated with fold and country music. But it is also sometimes used in pop, rock, and hip-hop songs. Some examples of brands that have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs are the Eagles, The Allman Brothers, and Led Zeppelin. You can find out more about this instrument in our Guide to Banjos.

6. Sitar

a sitar from India

The sitar is also a plucked stringed instrument, and it comes from the Indian subcontinent and is used in Hindustani classical music. It was invented in medieval India and became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. It arrived in what we know it today in 18th century India. This instrument can have 18 to 21 strings. Six to seven of these strings are played, and they run over curved raised frets. The remaining strings are sympathetic strings, and they run underneath the frets and resonate in sympathy with the played strings. 

7. Mandolin

a beautiful mandolin

The mandolin is a stringed instrument that belongs to the lute family. It is generally plucked using a plectrum or pick. It usually has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in harmony, providing a total of 8 strings. But there are also five and six-course versions that exist. You can find many different types of mandolin, but the most common types are the archtop mandolin, the flat-backed mandolin, and the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin. This instrument is usually featured in European classical music and traditional music. 

8. Zither

This is a class of stringed instruments. They are played by strumming or plucking the strings either with the fingers or with a plectrum or pick. Aside from that, their strings can also be sound using a bow or by beating the strings with specially shaped hammers. Similar to an acoustic guitar, the body of a zither serves as a resonating chamber. However, unlike guitars, it does not have a separate neck assembly. Also, the number of strings varies, from one to over fifty. You can check out the following articles to learn more about this instrument:

9. Bandurria

The bandurria is a plucked chordophone that originates from Spain. It is quite similar to the mandolin. It is mainly used in Spanish folk music. It features a round back in the 18th century but had become a flat-backed instrument by the 18th century. It has five double courses of strings and is tuned in fourths. Originally, bandurrias have three strings. But during the renaissance, it gained the fourth string. When the Baroque period came, it had ten strings. 

Today, bandurrias have 12 strings or 6 pairs. Their strings are tuned in unison pairs. You can learn more about this by reading our Guide to Bandurria.

10. Bandola

This instrument is among the many varieties of small pear-shaped chordophones that are found in Colombia and Venezuela. It is also related to the mandolin and bandurria. There are also some mandolin players who convert their instruments to a bandola by adding a fixed bridge and stringing with nylon strings. Find out more about this instrument in our Guide to Bandola.

These are some of the different instruments that belong to the guitar family. In addition to these instruments, there might be more that can be found in different parts of the world. But we hope this guide helped you in learning more about the guitar family of instruments. If you are searching for more similar stringed instruments, you can also check out the following links below: