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Before the development of the electric guitar and the use of synthetic materials, a guitar was defined as being an instrument having "a long, fretted neck, flat wooden soundboard, ribs, and a flat back, most often with incurved sides." The term is used to refer to a number of chordophones that were developed and used across Europe, beginning in the 12th century and, later, in the Americas. A 3,300-year-old stone carving of a Hittite bard playing a stringed instrument is the oldest iconographic representation of a chordophone and clay plaques from Babylonia show people playing an instrument that has a strong resemblance to the guitar, indicating a possible Babylonian origin for the guitar.
When you play a guitar, bass, ukulele, mandolin or any other instrument in this big family, it's the vibration of the strings that creates your sound. That's common knowledge, of course, but have you ever stopped to really think about the implications? It's all too easy to dismiss your strings as just another part of your instrument, but the truth is they're more like its heart - and since playing the instrument means touching its strings, they also have a huge impact on the way it feels to play. With all that in mind, it's easy to see why the choice of strings is such an important one: it can make a massive difference in every aspect of your instrument, especially playability and tone. Picking out a new set of strings involves a number of choices, and those will depend on the specific instrument, so don't forget to filter the lineup by selecting a category. In most cases, that'll leave you with an easy-to-browse range of options - although if you're a guitarist or bassist, you'll still have hundreds to look at... and it might take a little more filtering to narrow things down further. Choosing your gauges will go a long way, not to mention material, which ranges from nylon for classical guitars to phosphor-bronze in acoustics and steel, nickel or even cobalt for electric guitars. Another aspect of strings to consider in your decision is coating. Traditional coated strings have a smoother feel than their uncoated cousins and usually last much longer, but they're also wider and that can make them sound different. If you like the idea of coated strings, but don't want to give up the tone you get with uncoated ones, then check out Elixir and Cleartone strings: these two manufacturers have mastered the art of ultra-thin, "barely-there" coatings that behave more like traditional strings. We've only just scratched the surface of what's available in this section, and there's a lot to see no matter what instrument you play. Different materials and gauges, coated or uncoated - it's up to you. You can buy your strings one at a time, go for a set or even stock up with multiple sets of strings at once. Still not sure where to begin? Try starting with the top-selling and best-rated strings and go from there. Finding the perfect set will probably take some experimentation, but there's no better guide than other musicians to get you on the right track.
Almost all guitars have frets, which are metal strips (usually nickel alloy or stainless steel) embedded along the fretboard and located at exact points that divide the scale length in accordance with a specific mathematical formula. The exceptions include fretless bass guitars and very rare fretless guitars. Pressing a string against a fret determines the strings' vibrating length and therefore its resultant pitch. The pitch of each consecutive fret is defined at a half-step interval on the chromatic scale. Standard classical guitars have 19 frets and electric guitars between 21 and 24 frets, although guitars have been made with as many as 27 frets. Frets are laid out to accomplish an equal tempered division of the octave. Each set of twelve frets represents an octave. The twelfth fret divides the scale length exactly into two halves, and the 24th fret position divides one of those halves in half again.
The acoustic bass guitar is a bass instrument with a hollow wooden body similar to, though usually somewhat larger than, that of a 6-string acoustic guitar. Like the traditional electric bass guitar and the double bass, the acoustic bass guitar commonly has four strings, which are normally tuned E-A-D-G, an octave below the lowest four strings of the 6-string guitar, which is the same tuning pitch as an electric bass guitar. It can, more rarely, be found with 5 or 6 strings, which provides a wider range of notes to be played with less movement up and down the neck.
Repetitive open-tunings are used for two non-Spanish classical-guitars. For the English guitar the open chord is C major (C-E-G-C-E-G); for the Russian guitar which has seven strings, G major (G-B-D-G-B-D-G). Mixing a perfect fourth and a minor third along with a major third, these tunings are on-average major-thirds regular-tunings. While on-average major-thirds tunings are conventional open tunings, properly major-thirds tunings are unconventional open-tunings, because they have augmented triads as their open chords.
The horizontal lines represent the frets on the guitar and the vertical lines represent the strings. The numbers listed let you know what fret number it is referring too. If there is an X it means don't play that string and if there is a 0 it means to play that string but do not press down on it anywhere. The black circles show you where to press down.
Another chord you come across every day, the E major chord is fairly straightforward to play. Make sure your first finger (holding down the first fret on the third string) is properly curled or the open second string won't ring properly. Strum all six strings. There are situations when it makes sense to reverse your second and third fingers when playing the E major chord.
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For example, in the guitar (like other stringed instruments but unlike the piano), open-string notes are not fretted and so require less hand-motion. Thus chords that contain open notes are more easily played and hence more frequently played in popular music, such as folk music. Many of the most popular tunings—standard tuning, open tunings, and new standard tuning—are rich in the open notes used by popular chords. Open tunings allow major triads to be played by barring one fret with only one finger, using the finger like a capo. On guitars without a zeroth fret (after the nut), the intonation of an open note may differ from then note when fretted on other strings; consequently, on some guitars, the sound of an open note may be inferior to that of a fretted note.
If you know how to play an E major chord, then you know how to play an A minor chord—just move the chord whole shape over a string. Make sure your first finger is curled, so the open first string rings clearly. Avoid playing the open sixth string when strumming the A minor chord. There are situations when it makes sense to reverse your second and third fingers when playing the A minor chord.
With the C major chord, put that shape on the guitar for thirty seconds, take it off, shake it out, and repeat the process a few times. As you’re making the shape, remember to come right behind the frets on the tips of your fingers. When you’re starting out, you may have to place each finger down one at a time, but that’s natural. You’ll get better with time and eventually be able to go right to the chord.
The sound of an acoustic guitar is arguably the most well known in all of modern popular music. Without electronic components, the guitar relies solely on the interaction between the strings and the sound box to produce every note. Because of this, the strings of your acoustic guitar can significantly influence its sound. To get the most out of your guitar, keep an eye on the condition of the strings. You don't need to wait until your strings break to replace them. When they get old enough that their tone starts to change, it's time to re-string. Depending on the guitar, you may choose either nylon or metal strings. Nylon strings are the modern substitute for gut strings, so they're usually found on older styles of guitar such as baroque or flamenco. If you play the classical guitar, take care to fit it with the correct strings: since classical guitars are sized and tensioned differently from other varieties of acoustic guitar, they can be damaged by standard strings. Similarly, classical guitar strings won't work with other guitars. For metal-stringed guitars, there are several options available, each with its own acoustic character. The three most common types of metal strings are bronze, phosphor-bronze and silk-and-steel. The staple string for many guitarists, bronze produces a bright, quickly-fading tone that's lively and well-suited to any style of music. Phosphor-bronze is similar, but with added warmth and longer sustain. For a completely different sound, consider silk-and-steel. These strings create a tone that's gentle and mellow. Lower in tension and available in lighter gauges, silk-and-steel strings are easier to play and are great for vintage guitars that need special strings. It's also important to keep in mind the gauge of the strings you're choosing. Higher gauges are thicker, producing increased volume and extended sustain with an overall warmer tone. The trade-off of the rich overtones of heavy-gauge strings is that they are more challenging to play, requiring more force to fret, pick and strum. If you are an experienced guitarist, you likely have a preferred gauge already. If you're a beginner, it's a good idea to start with a lighter gauge to make the learning curve more forgiving. In the end, the right combination of material and gauge is a matter of personal preference. You may need to try several different acoustic guitar strings before you find the perfect ones for you, but the results will certainly be worth it.
If you’re interested in playing lead guitar or performing guitar solos, you’ll want to check out the Lead Guitar Quick-Start Series. It’s a collection of 12 lessons that cover everything you need to know to start exploring lead guitar. You’ll learn basic picking technique, the major scale, the major pentatonic scale, the minor pentatonic scale, how to play a guitar solo, and much more.
There are many different styles of play. Chords are played by strumming all of the strings. Classical guitarists pluck the strings with their fingers and always play sitting down. Slide guitarists slide along the strings with a slide made of metal or glass. Whether you're interested in classical, bluegrass, flamenco, folk or blues, the acoustic guitar is something you can enjoy playing alone or in a group.