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Variants on Guitar: Part 2

Variants on Guitar: Part 2

In the previous article on this topic, we looked at the various types of the common guitar that are available, which mainly differ in how to sound is amplified to its audience. Now we’re going to look further afield at some other similar ones that are generally considered instruments in their own right. This family is known as the plucked string instruments, because they all involve the plucking of strings to produce their sound. You’ll notice that the main differences between these instruments is the way that their sound is amplified, the material of the instruments body, or the material used for the string of the instruments.

One quite well known instrument that is likened to the guitar is the banjo. The banjo has between 4 and 6 strings and traditionally a circular body. The body is a metal frame, with a thin membrane of plastic stretched over it, with no hole, as you’d find in an acoustic guitar. The membrane was originally animal skin, and some in this form can still occasionally be found today. The instrument was first conceived in America as part of traditional African-American country music, and was later popular as part of minstrel shows in the 19th century. The sound of the banjo has become an iconic part of old American music, and is still used in country and bluegrass genres of music, as well as by folk and Irish groups. There were African instruments of similar design at around the same time, which is where the idea probably originated, but with the main difference being in the neck, with no modern fingerboard for choosing notes until it was produced in America.

In Middle Eastern and Greek music, the bouzouki is popular, and in Greece many of their biggest icons are bouzouki players. At festivals or concerts, members of the audience will often bring flowers to throw at the bouzouki player as a sign of appreciation for the music. Similarly in India, the Sitar is very popular, used particularly in Hindustani music. These have a very distinctive tone and harmonic quality, mainly due to their use of sympathetic strings. These are strings that are not played directly by the instrumentalist, but that react to the playing of another string. They typically then play a harmonic variation on the note that was played. The neck of the guitar is also long, wide and hollow, meaning that the sound of the strings being played also resonates more than usual.

There are also many more classical alternatives to guitar, which play in a similar way, but use the materials that were around in the times they were made, also giving them a distinctive tone. The double bass can be played in much the same way as a bass guitar, being plucked, as well as playing with a bow, but has a more classical sound due to its much larger hollow wood body and its use of longer, wider strings. A classical instrument which uses plucked strings but is often not thought of is the harpsichord. This looks like a piano, but actually has a more similar tone to a guitar, due to the fact that both make sound through the plucking of strings. 


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