The guitar is one of the most popular instruments in the world. It shows up in almost every genre of music.
But the guitar isn’t the only stringed instrument and isn’t even the only chordophone (the name for plucked or strummed string instruments).
There are plenty of other stringed instruments that are either guitar-like or very similar to guitar. Many of which you will likely already know of or will recognize.
While the list is very extensive, let us take a look at some of the more well-known or just interesting guitar-like instruments around the globe.
The banjo is perhaps the most well-known and recognizable guitar-like instrument. First created by African slaves in the Caribbean and North America, the banjo was originally a folk instrument. These days it is perhaps more associated with genres like bluegrass and country.
Although the banjo is quite similar to the guitar, there are several significant differences. A banjo’s body is round and features a plastic, sometimes animal skin, or a membrane stretched over a resonator.
And instead of the normal six strings of a guitar, banjos often only have four or five strings. The five-string banjo also has the unique feature of having the fifth string starting at the fifth fret instead of going all the way to the headstock.
Five-string banjos are also tuned differently. Instead of going from lowest to highest, the fourth to first strings are tuned low to high, with the fifth string being tuned the highest.
Banjos are also not tuned to the same E, A, D, G, B, E as guitars. Banjo players usually favor open tunings like open G (G, D, G, B, D).
Banjo strings are also much lighter than guitar strings. Combined with the design of its body, this gives the banjo its recognizable thin, twangy, almost tinny sound.
Perhaps the only other guitar-like instrument as famous as the banjo, the ukulele is a small stringed instrument from Hawaii. It is based on other small, Portuguese guitar-like instruments like the machete and cavaquinho.
The ukulele is quite similar to the guitar, often being called a mini guitar. It has a similar body shape and fretboard to an acoustic guitar.
Obviously, the main difference is the smaller size of a ukulele compared to a guitar. But ukuleles also only have four strings as opposed to the six found on guitars. This alone arguably makes them easier to learn than guitar.
Ukuleles use nylon strings, similar to classical guitars. They also don’t use the same tuning as a guitar.
While there are plenty of different tunings used on ukuleles, the most common tuning is C. Starting from the fourth string, the tuning is G, C, E, A. The G is also tuned an octave higher. So, just like with a five-string banjo, ukuleles start high before going from low to high.
The ukulele’s sound can be described as soft, sweet, and happy. It has become very popular among indie artists and Youtube musicians, as well as beginners for how easy and unintimidating it is to learn.
The most famous ukulele song is probably Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s wonderful rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. You might have also heard a ukulele in every Kickstarter pitch video where it has become a bit of a meme.
The mandolin is a stringed instrument in the lute family. It originates from Italy, some time between the 17th and 18th centuries.
The mandolin is a fairly small instrument, only slightly larger than a ukulele. The body has a pear shape and a curved, bowl-like back.
Mandolins usually come with eight strings, although five and twelve-string versions also exist. Mandolin strings are also not tuned to individual notes like a guitar.
Instead, the strings are tuned in pairs, just like you would tune a twelve-string guitar. Mandolins also typically use the violin tuning of G, D, A, E.
The mandolin’s sound can be described as romantic. One of the most famous pictures is of Don Giovanni serenading a woman in Mozart’s opera of the same name.
Led Zeppelin is probably the most famous band to use the mandolin. It is the main instrument in the songs Going to California and The Battle of Evermore.
The most guitar-like instrument on this list, the guitarron, is basically an oversized acoustic guitar. Even though the guitarron is so similar to the guitar, it was developed independently from the 16th-century Spanish instrument bajo de una.
Although its body is a similar shape, the guitarron has a much larger body than a guitar, with a curved back instead of a flat one. Its neck is also much smaller compared to its body.
The guitarron also has a fretless fretboard. The standard guitarron tuning is A, D, G, C, E, and A.
Because of its size, the guitarron has a very deep, booming sound and a lot of volume. The guitarron doesn’t need amplification because of its sheer volume.
The guitarron normally forms part of Mexican Mariachi groups, and it is usually associated with traditional Mexican music. The guitarron can be found outside traditional Mexican music and has been used by groups like The Mothers of Invention and Eagles.
The kobza is a traditional Ukrainian instrument. It has some relation to the mandolin as both are in the lute family and are relatives of the mandora.
It also has a very similar look to the mandolin. With a similarly pear-shaped body, although slightly larger, with a longer neck.
The kobza also has between six and twelve strings. These are normally tuned individually but can also be tuned in pairs. Open G (G, C, D, G, A, D) tuning is used fairly commonly among kobza players.
The kobza has a rather eerie and mysterious sound. It definitely has a medieval feeling sound.
While not as popular anymore, the kobza is starting to see a resurgence in popularity among folk musicians. It is also being resurrected by musicians at the Kyiv Conservatory.
The Turkish oud is by far the oldest instrument on this list. The first reference to the “modern” oud dates back all the way to the 11th century.
It closely resembles both the kobza and the mandolin. This is mainly because it is the originator that would later influence the creation of the instruments like the mandora, which would eventually lead to the creation of the kobza and mandolin.
It has a very similar pear-shaped body design, although the body is slightly larger than that of a kobza. The neck is also quite similar, with the notable difference that the headstock is bent backwards.
The oud normally has eleven strings, although it can have ten to thirteen. It is also a fretless instrument.
The oud can have different tunings depending on the tradition. The Turkish oud is typically tuned C#, F#, B, E, A, D. Strings can be tuned individually or in pairs.
The oud has a rather midrange-y sound that is very reminiscent of an Arabic or Persian sound. It has a very nice resonance and sustain.
The oud is mainly found in traditional folk music and it isn’t really heard in western music.
The balalaika is a traditional Russian instrument and is most associated with Russian folk music. Its most recognizable feature is its triangle-shaped body.
Unlike the guitar, the balalaika only has three strings. The strings are also normally tuned with two strings being the same note, and the third tuned a perfect fourth higher. The standard tuning is commonly E, E, A.
Balalaikas are traditionally played in balalaika orchestras. These orchestras feature different balalaikas, usually a prima balalaika accompanied by a mixture of secunda, alto, bass, and contrabass balalaikas.
The balalaika has a fairly thin sound with not a lot of sustain. Fast picking and strumming are usually utilized to compensate for the fast decay of notes.
The balalaika has made many appearances in western music. Jethro Tull and The Beatles have used balalaikas in songs, and the balalaika is also featured in Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. The score to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel also prominently features the balalaika.
There are also plenty of hybrid instruments that combine one instrument with the guitar. This is usually done to give the instrument characteristics of both instruments while making it function more like a guitar.
The hybrid instrument usually has the body of the non-guitar, with the neck being more like that of a guitar. It will also normally have six strings tuned closer to that of a guitar’s tuning.
Probably the most famous hybrid guitars are the guitalele, the mando guitar, and the banjitar. These are a ukulele, mandolin, and banjo combined with a guitar.
This is just a handful of the instruments out there that are similar to the guitar. There are many more guitar type instruments that are just as, if not more, interesting than the ones on this list.
Which one is your favorite? Would you consider picking one of these up as your next instrument?