Curious beginners will often wonder why there are two E strings on a guitar. But if you ask the fastest shredder in town, chances are even he or she won’t be able to explain why. This is because guitar players across various levels won’t bother themselves with a system that has existed even before their grandparents were born.
Once you delve deeper into the beautiful complexities of music, you will understand more about theory and how it translates to the guitar’s design. Every feature of the guitar as we know it today, went through a long process of evolution. In fact, it is still changing today and we have seen countless axes with more than 7 or 8 strings, as well as unique-shaped bodies and fretboards that challenge the norms of guitar design.
However, humanity has been recording the 6-stringed guitar tuned EADGBE for almost a century now and its distinct sound is now immortally etched into our consciousness. We can come up with countless innovations, but the guitar’s fundamental form and tuning will always be the standard in music.
Guitar tuning history: why there are two E strings on a guitar
For more than a thousand years, stringed instruments such as the cello and violins were tuned in fifths, which meant that the interval between each open string is a perfect fifth. Sometime in the 16th century, a 5-stringed Italian folk guitar known as the “chitarra battente,” was introduced and paved the way for modern guitar tuning.
The 5 course guitar featured an ADGBE tuning which consists of a series of perfect fourths with a major third between G and B, as opposed to the perfect fifth intervals that violins and other smaller stringed instruments utilized.
The chitarra battente resembled the tuning of the top five strings on present-day guitars and this version of the guitar first became popular in Europe, before eventually spreading all over the world. In the 18th century, the low E string (6th string), which is two octaves apart from the high E string(1st string), was added to complete the standard six strings that we use today.
The standard tuning has already existed for hundreds of years even before the 6-stringed version was invented because it provided the best playability while perfectly adhering to music theory. Adding an extra low E string was not just for experimental purposes, it was a
product of necessity, which consequently brought completion to the modern guitar’s design.
Why is the guitar’s standard tuning EADGBE?
The guitar’s standard tuning combines intervals of perfect fourths and a major third. This is primarily because the EADGBE tuning is more natural and convenient for our fingers.
Since the guitar has a much longer scale than violins and mandolins, they have to be tuned in a way that it ergonomically corresponds with the most common chords and scales. This allows guitar players to easily employ multiple fingering possibilities.
Moreover, tuning a guitar in the same manner as its shorter scale stringed counterparts, requires the first string to be tuned to a high B. This is impractical since guitar players will have a hard time tuning the high E string to that pitch and the level of pressure can also cause the string to break.
What are the advantages of having two E strings on a guitar?
Even though the low E string was only added later on, it became a widely-used ingredient in music and also signaled the arrival of the modern guitar. It is difficult to imagine guitars and bass guitars not having a low E string because of its overwhelming presence in a vast majority of songs throughout history. But why the need for two E strings? Does it affect the sound of a guitar? What if the guitar had only one E string?
Because a guitar has two E strings from top to bottom, this provides balance especially when you strum a full chord. Without a low E string, most of your chords will lack the much-needed root note that acts as an anchor to your set of combined notes. On the other hand, the absence of a high E string, could make your chords sound incomplete.
Tone-wise, two E strings can also create more harmony within the instrument. By having low and high frequencies at the top and bottom of a guitar, it sounds beefier and more brilliant, which is a great compliment to the other four strings placed in between the two E strings.
Without a doubt, the guitar has played a huge part in shaping modern music and building a guitar with less than 6 strings will be considered pointless. Whether you are playing smooth solos or rocking out on some heavy riffs, the top and bottom E strings are definitely indispensable.
For the inquisitive minds who are wondering why there are two E strings on a guitar, it is highly recommended that you stick to your guitar’s standard number of strings as this will provide you with more possibilities for your creative pursuits.