3-Stringed Instruments

By Jason Jensen ; Updated September 15, 2017

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.

Spike Fiddle

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.

Shamisen

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.

Balalaika

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.

About the Author

Jason Jensen began his professional freelance writing career in 2010. He is an ACT-certified personal trainer and longtime vegetarian with an enthusiasm for fitness and nutrition. Jensen has also worked as a musician, freelance photographer, audio engineer and Web designer.