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When it comes to musical instruments the guitar is clearly my favorite, sure I play the drums when I feel like punching something and I do enjoy my bass from time to time, but there’s nothing like a guitar, both acoustic and electric.
Or so I thought…
The truth is that I was ignorant and it took me a while to realize that the world of musical instruments doesn’t stop there, and there are so many different types of guitar-like instruments worth my attention.
So, what instruments are similar to the guitar?
There are more than 300 different instruments that are part of the string family that can be found around the world, including the guitar. More specifically, the guitar is a plucked stringed instrument that belongs to the lute family, just like the bass guitar, banjo, mandolin, guitarrón, ukulele, sitar, and many more.
If you are also not aware of how versatile plucked stringed instruments are and you are scared of leaving the comfort zone of your guitar then let’s explore instruments similar to the guitar, and discover which would be the easiest to learn and how to choose the right one for you!
What Type Of Instrument Is The Guitar?
The guitar is a chordophone, also known as a stringed instrument, which means that it produces sound from vibrating strings.
To be even more precise unlike violins, violas, and other similar bowed stringed instruments the guitar is a plucked stringed instrument, belonging to the lute family.
While it most likely originated in the 16th century in Spain, the guitar is not the first plucked string instrument in human history. Even before the guitar, we have the Guitarra Latina, a four-stringed late medieval instrument.
Before Guitarra Latina, we have other stringed instruments predating the guitar, and according to Alisha Nypaver, a college music educator, “the earliest surviving stringed instruments to date are the Lyres of Ur, plucked chordophones, which currently exist in fragments that date back to 4,500 years ago.”
So, multitudes of plucked stringed instruments have been around for a long time, many of which were invented and perfected by various cultures. Many of them are the ancestors of the modern-day guitar therefore it’s safe to assume that they share many similarities.
What Musical Instruments Are Similar To The Guitar?
The most common guitar types that the mainstream western world is familiar with are the acoustic, classical, electric, and bass guitar.
So, let me introduce you to other plucked stringed instruments, some of which are closely related to the guitar while others can be characterized as distant cousins.
The banjo was first created by enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Caribbean and colonial North America.
Today the banjo is closely associated with American folk music, but you can actually hear its distinct twangy sound in genres like jazz, bluegrass, and of course country.
This instrument definitely shares some similarities with the guitar, perhaps somewhat smaller the banjo’s body is round and instead of wood the resonator is formed by a thin membrane of animal skin, vellum, or plastic.
It’s of course a stringed instrument, but unlike the guitar that has 6 strings, the banjo comes with 4 or 5 strings that are usually plucked with the fingers or a pick.
The great thing about the banjo strings is that they are usually much easier to press down compared to the guitar because of the lighter gauge.
Mandolin or mandoline was developed in Italy during the 17th-18th century. While this instrument does remind me of a violin because of its size or perhaps because it’s also tuned like a violin, however, it also shares a few similarities with the guitar.
First of all, it’s a stringed instrument that’s part of the lute family and second of all, it’s a fretted instrument that you can strum or pluck like a guitar.
Instead of 6 or 12 strings, the mandolin has 8 strings arranged in pairs that are usually tuned in fifths and not forths like with the guitar.
Because they are quite similar I think picking up the mandolin will be an easy task for someone who knows how to play the guitar, easier than picking up the banjo in my opinion.
Their sound is quite unique and versatile and is often used in folk music, jazz, country, and even rock. Let’s not forget that you can also find them in a classical setting like in the video above!
It’s hard to miss the similarities between the guitarron and the guitar, but you may be surprised to find out that the Mexican guitarron was “independently developed from the sixteenth-century Spanish bajo de uña.”
The guitarron does belong to the guitar family and it’s actually an acoustic bass, traditionally played in Mariachi groups.
It’s a six-stringed instrument and it has a similar shape to the guitar but its body is much larger and the back instead of being flat is bulky and protruding.
This instrument is fretless and the neck is quite small especially compared to its body. Because of its grand size the guitarron has more volume and doesn’t need electric amplification. The Guittarron sound is quite deep and very impressive!
Just like the guitar, the sitar is a stringed instrument of the lute family, and you have to pluck or strum the strings to produce the sitar’s unique sound.
This instrument is said to be originated in India, where it’s still very popular, as well as in Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
When it comes to construction the sitar has a large pear or gourd-shaped body made from teak a close-grained hardwood that is strong and resistant to any rotting. The neck is much longer than the guitar’s neck, and altogether it can be up to 4 feet long.
The sitar actually started off as a three-stringed instrument and during the early 18th century two more strings were added. Today, the sitar actually has anywhere from 18 to 21 strings. Which sounds wild when we compare it to the six or even 12-string guitar!
Of course, I need to note that usually six to seven strings are played while the rest of the strings run under the frets so they resonate when the other strings are plucked.
That’s what gives sitar its unmistakable sound, which can’t be really compared to the guitar as you can hear in this video.
Charango actually looks a lot like a ukulele that in turn looks like a mini guitar. This small five-stringed instrument as you can imagine is part of the lute family. It originated in South America in the Andes Mountains, and some believe that it might be the descendant of a Spanish-stringed instrument.
What’s fascinating about the charango’s construction is that instead of wood the armadillo shell is used as a sandbox. Nowadays the use of wood is more commonly used!
This instrument can be played with a pick or just with your fingers by plucking the strings or strumming, as you would do with a guitar.
The charango is most commonly used to provide accompaniment in Latin American folk music, but its unique sound can be found in other genres like pop and various traditional folk songs.
The bordonua is another stringed instrument that is large, with a deep body and it actually is a bass guitar from Puerto Rico that originates from the Spanish acoustic guitar like the guitarron we mentioned earlier.
Compared to the guitarron the bordonua is much more slender, especially at the top, and it kind of looks like an elongated guitar. You will often find it with three sound holes, one in the center and two smaller ones in the two corners at the top.
When it comes to strings the bordonua can have six single strings that you can pluck or strum, but it can also come with four, or five pairs of strings which is the most common type.
It’s definitely a popular instrument in many parts of Latin America and it’s often used in folk music. I think it sounds quite similar to the guitar compared to the guitarron.
7. Cuban Tres
The story of this instrument begins in Cuba as the name suggests. The Cuban tres definitely resembles a guitar, however, this is a chordophone that has three pairs of strings instead of six.
This is a plucked string instrument that is played like a drum that’s why it’s considered a supporting rhythm instrument and it’s used to provide a strong beat to a piece of music.
You can probably recognize its distinct sound if you’ve heard Son Cubano or Afro-Cuban genres.
If not then listen to Pancho Amat, a tres recording masterpiece!
As I’ve already mentioned the ukulele looks a lot like a mini guitar, it’s a plucked stringed instrument that has four strings and it’s quite small.
The construction is also quite similar to the guitar from its fretboard to its curved body. You can strum, pluck or use any guitar technique to actually play it.
This instrument originates from Hawaii and descended from similar small-sized Portuguese instruments like the machete, and cavaquinho among others.
I definitely noticed a rise in its popularity in the mainstream world, especially in indie music, like my favorite musician Dodie:
Various YouTubers also used this instrument to create ukulele covers. I think plenty of people that never touched an instrument before were drawn to its small body because it looks less intimidating, it’s portable and it’s easy enough to learn.
9. Cigar Box Guitar
While there are plenty of unique instruments on this list, this is probably the one that is the most unexpected.
As the name suggests this guitar-like instrument is made out of a cigar box, and it’s the result of the ingenuity of people that didn’t have the money or means to get a proper guitar.
It’s a DIY project that dates back to the early 19th century and people to this day try to recreate a cigar box guitar for themselves. If you are a hobbyist then this could be a great project and in the end, you will be rewarded with a musical instrument.
The cigar box is used as a resonator and while originally it had one or two strings now with the modern revival of this instrument you can find this guitar with three or more.
The name of this stringed instrument comes from the Persian word for “two strings.” The dutar originated in Central Asia and spread across different countries and became part of their cultures.
The Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmen are known for strumming and plucking this two-stringed instrument while the Uyghurs of Western China usually pluck it.
The length of the dutar is one or two meters, the fretboard is really long and slender compared to the small pear-shaped body that is made from a piece of mulberry wood.
While the western world might not be as familiar with the dutar it’s actually a very important musical instrument for many countries and its music is worth listening to.
Just look at this girl’s technique, slapping, and popping!
11. Lyre Guitar
A relatively easy instrument to learn the lyre guitar has a very striking body. It has the contour of a lyre the famous instrument played in ancient Greece and Rome.
I think it resembles the head of a goat, with the two curved arms on each side representing the horns and the guitar-like body the head.
Of course, unlike the ancient lyre, this instrument that was popularized in the 19th century has a fretboard in the middle, and just like the modern-day guitar, it has six strings.
The sound the lyre guitar produces actually resembles the guitar and the strings can be strummed and plucked in a similar fashion.
This is another stringed instrument from Greece and one that I’m pretty sure most of us are familiar with, you’ve probably heard it in this song that makes all foreigners think of their first trip to Greece!
The bouzouki is an integral part of Greek culture and Greece’s folk music like the rebetika of the late 19th century.
It has a long fretted neck and a pear-like shaped body that is somewhat similar to the dutar or a mandolin. There are actually two types of bouzouki, one is with three pairs of strings and the other with four pairs of strings.
This instrument is usually played with a pick, and the steel strings create a metallic sound that provides the rhythm and music that’s needed for Greek dances like Sirtaki.
The bandura is a traditional Ukrainian lute-like instrument. It has a large pear-shaped body which is quite large compared to the fretboard.
You can find many variations of the shape of the bout because it’s closely associated with its predecessors the kobza. The modern bandura actually looks like the small letter “b” only the instrument is rather large.
It has a minimum of sixty-four strings and covers about five octaves. The longer strings that go up to the fretboard are the bass strings, while the shorter ones are called prystrunky.
This stringed instrument is in the same family as the guitar but as you can see it’s quite complex, more so because of the switch system that the player uses to re-tune the shorter strings during the performance to get different tonalities.
This is truly a versatile instrument that sounds like a fairytale.
14. Turkish Oud
The Turkish oud actually resembles the kobza the predecessor of bandura and that’s probably because the Turkish oud was the original influencer.
It’s a stringed instrument that also looks a lot like the bouzouki because they are also closely related. It has a large pear-shaped body and a short fretless neck that the headstock is actually bent backward.
This instrument has eleven to thirteen strings and six courses and it tends to be higher pitched and have a brighter timbre without any noise.
While it may look like the bouzouki the sound it creates is not metallic, and while it may be bright it still has a depth to it.
The balalaika is a Russian stringed instrument known for its characteristic triangular body. The neck is fretted and it has two strings that are tuned to the same note while the third is a perfect fourth higher.
Because this instrument has a short sustain the player plucks and strums the strings quickly to create the melody.
It’s quite an easy instrument to learn how to play and it creates a very distinct bright sound. The balalaika is a folk instrument that is often used during traditional Russian dances.
Balalaika can be a solo instrument or it can even be part of an orchestra also known as the balalaika orchestra.
16. Appalachian Dulcimer
The Appalachian dulcimer originated in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 19th century among Scottish and Irish immigrants, and in a sense, it’s a kind of hybrid between other similar European instruments.
Nowadays the Appalachian dulcimer is strongly associated with American folk music. As you can hear it here:
As you can see it actually looks like a violin that has been stretched out. To play it you have to lay it flat on your lap and pluck or strum the strings with one hand while fretting with the other.
Unlike many plucked instruments on our list, this one is surprisingly easy to play. You might think it’s because it has three strings, but what makes the Appalachian dulcimer so approachable is the diatonic fret pattern, meaning that the frets are set a full note apart whereas the guitar which is set half a note.
Of course, as with any musical instrument to fully master the Appalachian dulcimer, you will need time and practice.
It’s well worth listening to the vibrant sound of this instrument that has a high amount of sustain, and it’s well worth learning how to create it.
What About The Guitar Hybrids?
What makes a guitar a hybrid you may ask?
Well usually hybrid guitars are tuned similarly to the standard guitar tunings and they’ve also borrowed features from other stringed instruments. So, let’s see the three most common hybrids!
The Mando Guitar
This hybrid has the body of a mandolin but all the rest is more closely related to a guitar.
This means that it has six or twelve strings like the guitar, and it also has the same standard tuning just one octave higher E, A, D, G, B, E.
This way you do get that classic mandolin sound, that you can use when playing folk, bluegrass, or country music.
Similarly to the mandolin guitar, the banjitar has the body of a banjo and six strings like a guitar that are also tuned to the standard guitar tuning.
Basically, if you already play the guitar the banjitar will be a natural transition, you can use it to experiment with your sound whether you play rock, blues, or jazz, however, it’s not a very common instrument.
This stringed hybrid is actually the combination of a classical guitar and tenor or baritone ukulele.
The Guitalele has the body of a ukulele but it has six strings like the guitar instead of four. It’s played like a guitar, but with a tuning of A, D, G, C, E, A, with the top four strings tuned like a low G ukulele.
This hybrid is more affordable and it can be a great instrument to learn after the guitar.
What Instruments Have The Same Notes As A Guitar?
There is an internationally agreed standard for the tuning of musical instruments, it’s called the concert pitch A440, and it ensures that instruments are in tune, with themselves and with each other.
Naturally, there are concert pitch instruments, which means that when these instruments play a C it does sound like a C on the piano.
The guitar is a concert pitch instrument, and its pitch is tuned to the key of C. Other instruments that are C instruments like the guitar and the piano (or piano-like instruments), also include most instruments that are part of the string family like the violin, viola, cello, and woodwind and wind instruments like the flute, oboe, bassoon, and trombone.
Is The Guitar The Easiest Stringed Instrument To Play?
The guitar is definitely not the easiest stringed instrument to play, for various reasons, at least not in the very beginning.
I’m not going to mention tuning and notes, because you have to go through that with all musical instruments. But with the guitar or most plucked stringed instruments you need to understand how the frets work, you need to get the right positioning, work on your hand coordination and you need to work through the initial finger pain until your skin develops calluses.
Naturally, the longer you practice and play the guitar the easier it gets, and it’s even possible to learn guitar by yourself with the right advice of course. Of course, it’s not the hardest stringed instrument to learn either and the sitar definitely beats the guitar in terms of difficulty.
Are Small Guitar-Like Instruments Easier To Learn?
I would say that the easiest stringed instrument to learn that is similar to a guitar is the ukulele and it happens to be a small instrument for that matter.
Aside from being small and portable, it has four strings and it’s also tuned to an open C chord, which is one of the simplest chords to learn.
I also love the sound of the ukulele because it can make any song sound pleasant with its warm tone. The ukulele is also strung with nylon strings that are much softer on the fingers and are more flexible.
Let’s not forget that the small fretboard is actually great for those of you who have hands that are smaller than average.
Learning the ukulele first and then moving on to the guitar is actually a great idea for those of you who want to learn this stringed instrument. On the other hand, going from the guitar to the ukulele might not be as exciting.
Finally, ukuleles are really affordable and are easy to find compared to other small guitar-like instruments on our list like the charango.
Is Playing The Bass The Same As A Guitar?
The bass guitar is a fairly new instrument the electric bass was developed in the 1930s by Paul Tutmarc and the acoustic in the mid-1950s by Kay of Chicago.
This plucked stringed instrument is part of the guitar family, but it’s not exactly the same as a guitar and if you are a guitarist then switching to a bass might be a bit confusing.
First of all, the bass has four strings, and they have different standard tuning than the guitar.
Unlike the guitar the bass is not commonly used as a melodic instrument, instead, it holds the rhythm like the drums and it’s used to harmonize with the higher registered instruments.
If you pick up the bass and use a pick then it will be easy to use your guitar skills, but if you want to play it with your fingers then it might take you some time to get familiar with the different tension and the new techniques.
So, playing the bass is similar to playing the guitar but it’s not the same.
How To Choose Which Guitar-Like Instrument To Learn Next?
Our list is full of unique and wonderful stringed instruments just like the guitar, but which one should you choose?
While your choice will come down to your own preference and the sound you want to achieve, there are a few things you need to consider,
First, you need to make sure you can find the instrument you’ve set your eyes on. Depending on the country of origin a certain instrument might not be available in your country.
Then you need to consider your budget because even if you do find the said instrument it could be super expensive.
The price can also affect you long-term because you might need to look for very specific strings, or if something breaks down then replacement parts might be too expensive.
Another important thing you need to keep in mind is the availability of learning resources in your own language.
For example, it should be easy enough to find a banjo in America or in an English-speaking country, the same goes for the learning resources whether that’s online classes or an in-person teacher. Entry-level banjos are also quite affordable.
If you are interested in learning how to play the sitar then the level of difficulty is much greater, the budget even for an entry-level sitar might exceed your budget because this instrument is usually quite expensive. As for sitar classes depending on your country you are more likely to find something online and not in person.
Lastly consider what you expect from this guitar-like instrument, what role is this instrument going to play, and what type of music you want to explore.
There are so many unique instruments out there and if you play the guitar then you might be wondering if your knowledge will make it easier to try out another similar plucked stringed instrument.
Well, you definitely have plenty of options, however, you will most likely find a few obstacles along the way because depending on where you live some instruments like the bandura might be more difficult to find.
Other instruments like the sitar might be more difficult to learn compared to a guitar or finding a teacher might end up being your ultimate struggle. For some guitar players, certain instruments like the ukulele may not be as challenging.
Despite these challenges, if you love the guitar and you find that another similar stringed instrument inspires you then it’s worth the try!