Three-stringed musical instruments are rare, especially in Western culture. Most string instruments, like the guitar, cello or violin, have between four to six strings. Having a higher number of strings allows the musician to play through a wider range of octaves, which is one of the reasons these instruments have prevailed over their three-stringed cousins. Three-stringed instruments are prevalent in the Orient.
The spike fiddle is a peculiar instrument. As the name suggests, it is bowed, like a fiddle, but it bares a closer resemblance to a banjo. The exact origin of the instrument is unknown, but is believed to have originated in Arabia or Persia. Today, it is used in Turkey and North Africa.
The shamisen is a Japanese three-stringed instrument. It produces a unique sound that could be described as a cross between a sitar and a banjo. The length of the shamisen is similar to a guitar but it looks almost identical to the spike fiddle. Unlike the spike fiddle, the shamisen is picked, like a guitar, rather than bowed.
The balalaika is a Russian folk instrument. It has a short neck with three strings, metal frets similar to a guitar, and a large, triangular body. Its short neck and small sound hole produce a sound similar to the ukulele, and much like a ukulele, it is strummed and plucked with the fingers. In traditional Russian folk music, the balalaika is often accompanied by an acoustic six-string guitar and an acoustic bass guitar.