15 Guitar-like Instruments and How They Sound

Published Categorized as Guitar Information

Are you looking to migrate to another guitar-like instrument? Do you feel like you’ve seen all there is to see with a guitar?

Then step forth and explore some of these related instruments for yourself!

1. Appallachian Dulcimer

To begin, we have a stringed instrument which is altogether rather divorced from the guitar. Sure, there are still strings, a neck, and frets of some kind, but the sound and mode of play is entirely different.

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This instrument arrived in America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants who came during the early 19th century looking for a new life. They brought these stringed instruments which have now become deeply associated with American folk music and country. In particular, we are reminded of the Appalachian music of its namesake, the mountainous region where much early American folk and gospel originated.

It is difficult to compare this musical instrument with the guitar, hence why it is difficult to say whether it is much more difficult to play either one. It is not merely the difference between a bass guitar and an electric guitar.

2. Balalaika

The balalaika is a plucked string instrument with its origins in Russia and neighboring Eastern European countries. One of the first things people note is the triangular shape of the body which has a very characteristic tonal quality.

Unlike the Appalachian dulcimer, this instrument is properly fretted and features three strings, two of which are tuned the exact same, the latter then being tuned a perfect 4th higher.

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Owing to the particular tonal quality of this instrument, there is a rather short sustain. Thus, the player will need to repeatedly pluck and tremolate the note in order to create the melody. Nowadays, they are strung with nylon strings, creating a clear and distinct sound that can cut through in any acoustic setting, the kind of context in which these musical instruments would be most comfortable.

Often, these are solo instruments, though they can also be used in a special balalaika orchestra (seen below).

3. Turkish Oud

Closely related to other native string instruments like the bouzouki and the bandura (both of which are direct influences on the oud), this instruments features a large and rotund pear-shaped body alongside a short and fretless neck crowned with a headstock bent backward toward the player.

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Like other instruments in this area of the world, the instrument features different numbers of strings depending on the region, somewhere between 11 and 13 usually.

Unlike its brethren, though, this instrument is meant to sound higher pitched and have an altogether brighter timbre – this is a solo instrument that is meant to cut through.

This is a great instrument for anyone wanting to migrate away from the guitar and try something a little different, though be warned that the lack of frets certainly takes some getting used to, even though this is a plucked stringed instrument like the guitar.

4. Bandura

Like other stringed instruments here arrayed, this is an instrument that is meant to be plucked, though make sure you pay heed to all those extra strings! The large pear-shaped body might fool you into thinking this is a direct relative of the Turkish oud, though this is actually a traditional Ukrainian lute-like instrument.

There are many variations of this folk instrument, hence why it might already be familiar to you (if Eastern European folk music is your scene).

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Unlike the guitar, there is a metric abundance of strings on display here – a minimum of sixty-four, in fact, all of which cover a total of five octaves. The longer strings that go up to the fretboard are the bass strings, while the shorter ones are called prystrunky.

5. Bouzouki

Now, we come to the bouzouki in all its glory. Originating from Greece, this is a surprisingly versatile instrument considering just how firmly it is rooted in the Cypriot folk tradition. Similar to the guitar in its use of frets, this guitar-like instrument is also a little different in that it uses a vastly different tuning and temperament.

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As plucked string instruments go, this is a very welcoming one if you are looking to emigrate from the guitar. The only thing to be wary of is, as previously stated, the slight change of temperament.

The frets, rather than moving up in strict tones and semitones, will occupy spaces between these notes known as microtones. Though they have been adopted in rock music, there is comparatively very little of it.

6. Lyre

There exist certain forms of the lyre that look more like a traditional guitar while still bearing the same whimsical harp-like timbre of the original instrument.

This is a relatively easy instrument to pick up if you are migrating from the guitar, though the contours of the instrument might take some getting used to.

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Unlike the ancient lyre from years of yore, this instrument has a fretboard, so anyone actually migrating from the guitar will likely feel far more welcome when playing this newer form of the instrument. Also, like the modern-day guitar, it has six strings, albeit tuned in a different way.

To the untrained eye and ear, the lyre might often be mistaken for a guitar, though we know the difference, don’t we?

7. Dutar

The etymological sense of this instrument is actually rather simple, coming from the Persian word for “two strings”. Of course, this instrument is renowned for use in Persia and features, yes, two strings. But, it didn’t actually originate in Persia. Rather, its earliest traces are in Central Asia, though it has quickly spread throughout that corner of the world and become a firm favorite in many different cultures.

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The Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmen, for example, are better known for strumming and plucking the instrument in a varied way as you might with an acoustic guitar. The Uyghurs of Western China, however, are more strict and tend simply to pluck it.

Any more native to guitar might find this instrument a little alien at first but will no doubt warm to it over time, even despite the lack of strings and the long and slender appearance in comparison with some of the more pear-shaped instruments mentioned above.

8. Ukulele

Appearing much like a smaller version of a guitar, this string instrument actually only has four strings, all of which are tuned to separate notions than you might otherwise be used to from a guitar. This alternate tuning is, however, not too difficult to grasp and should be absorbed quite quickly, especially since many of the guitar’s shapes translate to the ukulele.

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A G chord, for example, used the same D shape that you might use in open cowboy chords on a guitar, and there are plenty more points of transposition where that came from.

So, anyone looking to migrate from guitar to ukulele does not need to do too much preparation before they make the trip – these two instruments are relatively closely related and in a lot of ways mimic one another.

9. Cuban Tres

As the name so clearly suggests, the origin of this instrument lies in Cuba and, while it obviously resembles a guitar quite a bit, there are also some important differences. It is a chordophone, which is an instrument with three pairs of strings instead of six strings that are independently tuned.

Moreover, this instrument is far more important as an accompanying instrument than a solo melodic instrument, hence why it is often hit and beat like a drum. The supporting rhythm is vital in both Son Cubano and other Afro-Cuban genres of music, at least traditional varieties of them.

Fun With Cuban Tres: Metodo del Tres Cubano

So, anyone looking to migrate to this instrument from the guitar might well be welcomed, though they had best accustom themselves to playing more of a supporting role than a lead role. This is already something that the guitar is great at, though the instrumentalist in question might already favor its melodic capabilities.

10. Bordonua

Here we have another stringed instrument that resembles a guitar, though here the body is far larger and deeper. This really is an encumbrance, so be prepared for a real handful if you are looking to migrate here from the guitar.

This instrument is actually intended as a bass guitar-like instrument from Puerto Rico but that has its deeper origins in the Spanish acoustic guitar, especially with instruments like the guitarron.

Aguinaldos y Seises para Bordonúa: Una Colección de Canciones Folklóricas de Puerto Rico (Spanish Edition)

Compared to the guitarron, though, this instrument is far more slender, especially toward the top. In this way, it does resemble an elongated acoustic guitar, so anyone looking to migrate here from the guitar is likely going to feel fairly comfortable in what they do. You will often find it with three sound holes, one in the center and two smaller ones in the two corners at the top.

11. Charango

In terms of its relation to the guitar, this instrument doesn’t look unlike a ukulele which, in turn, is not dissimilar to a mini guitar. Similar to a chordophone, this instrument has five strings, each of which is doubled up, providing an interesting, chorus-like effect to the strings which is reminiscent of a 12-string guitar in some ways.

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Traditionally, these instruments aren’t even fashioned out of wood, but rather from the shells of Armadillos which are then used as a sandbox. Nowadays, though, and especially in the cheaper market, these instruments are now fashioned from exclusively wood.

These instruments welcome both plucking and fingerpicking much like a guitar, so anyone who enjoys playing in both these ways on the guitar will no doubt feel comfortable enough to at least learn the basics of this instrument.

12. Sitar

Much like the guitar, this instrument is a loose descendant of sorts from the lute, an instrument that functions on the premise that you pluck or strum the strings to achieve your ends. This instrument, however, has its origins in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

In terms of construction, the sitar has a large gourd-shaped body made from a hardwood called teak. The most obvious difference to anyone used to guitar will be the shape of the body in relation to the neck, the latter of which is incredibly long and the former incredibly small.

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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, though many of these are more about adding a droning sound in the background of the soloing.

13. Guitarron

The similarities between the guitarron and the guitar are impossible to deny, even down to the name itself. It is, however, a known fact that the guitarron developed independently of the guitar from the sixteenth-century Spanish instrument bajo de uña.

That being said, the guitarron does belong to the guitar family, though it is technically an acoustic type of bass that is most often played within the context of Mariachi groups.

H. Jimenez 5 String Guitarron (LV2),Black

Like the guitar, the guitarron is a six-stringed instrument in a similar shape to the guitar, though the body is far larger with a protruding back surface and a neck that is also fretless. Anyone looking to move to this instrument from the guitar should, thus, bear this in mind – this is a metaphorical and literal beast of an instrument.

14. Mandolin

The mandolin originally developed in Italy in the 17th/18th century, sharing slightly more similarities with a violin than a guitar. For one, the mandolin is tuned the same as a violin and has the same number of strings, albeit doubled on the mandolin.

That being said, this is an instrument that is intended to be plucked, something that it shares with the guitar. Unlike the violin, this is also an instrument that bears frets.

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Considering these similarities, it wouldn’t be anywhere outside the realm of possibility for a guitarist to pick up a mandolin and give it a go. The sound, though singular and unique, has seen applications in many different contexts, not limited to folk but spreading forth to jazz, country, and even rock music. Classical music is also adorned with mandolin on occasion!

15. Banjo

First developed by enslaved Africans and descendants in the Caribbean and colonial North America, today the banjo is far more closely associated with American folk music. Its signature sound is not limited to this, however, but can actually be found in various other genres including jazz, bluegrass, and country.

There are obviously similarities between the guitar and the banjo. They are both stringed instruments with broadly similar body sizes in relation to the neck size. A banjo, though, tends to use four or five strings, differing from the guitar’s six.

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One of the things players of banjo and guitar tend to prefer about the former is the lighter gauge of string which makes pressing down on the strings altogether far easier, requiring less strain on the fingers and wrists.

So, anyone looking to migrate from the guitar to the banjo should prepare themselves not to have to press down too hard on the fretboard and also to wear some finger plectrums at the end of the digits.

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to migrate forth to another guitar-like instrument using all that you have learned today.

FAQs Guitar-Like Instruments

What instrument is similar to a guitar?

There are several instruments that bear a significant resemblance to a guitar, including a ukulele, a guitarron, a mandolin, a sitar, etc.

What is the name of the mini guitar?

Presumably, this is in reference to the ukulele, an instrument that many people take the liberty of calling the “mini guitar” despite the fact that they are tuned differently, have a different number of strings, and despite sharing similar chord structures, are so different in size as to warrant an entirely different playing style.

What is the instrument like a guitar but big?

This might refer to, say, the bass guitar, a guitar-like instrument that is tuned lower and intended for the purposes of bass. It might just as easily refer to the guitarron, an instrument of Spanish origin that is used for similar purposes in mariachi music.

What is the ancient guitar-like instrument?

There are several instruments that fit the bill, though the most likely are the lute and lyre, though the latter is more similar to a harp

What are 3 instruments that are similar to the guitar?

There are actually a whole bunch of instruments that are similar to guitar, ranging from those that are pretty similar to those that are down-right identical. The mandolin fits the former category, though it also has a lot in common with the violin with which it shares the same tuning and temperament. The guitarron fits the latter category more, though it is far larger than the guitar and is primarily intended for use as a bass instrument in mariachi music.

What instrument looks like a huge guitar?

This might refer to, say, the bass guitar, a guitar-like instrument that is tuned lower and intended for the purposes of bass. It might just as easily refer to the guitarron, an instrument of Spanish origin that is used for similar purposes in mariachi music.

What instrument looks like a guitar and violin?

This will likely be the mandolin, an instrument which is essentially a fusion of these two instruments, sharing the tuning, temperament, and size of a violin, with the frets and the plucked nature of a guitar.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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