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What's the Difference Between A Three String Cigar Box Guitar and A Four String?

A three string cigar box guitar has the root, 3rd and fifth of the chord. In other words, when tuned open to a chord, all you need is these three notes. There is no third in this tuning although you can tune the first string to the third of a major chord if you like, but it makes it harder to play many songs tuned this way, that's why most people tune it as follows:

root

fifth

root (octave)

Some people prefer a three string cbg because they are easier to play. A three string guitar can be played with fingers or a slide. One finger across all the strings is a chord. If you tune your guitar G D g low to high and strum all three string s with no fingers, you're playing a G chord (G5). A finger across the second fret is an A chord. The 4th fret is a B chord, etc...

A four string cigar box guitar has the above notes but adds the third on the first string:

root

fifth

root (octave)

third

This allows many different variations of playing songs simply by adding the third note on the first string.

I use a 4 stringer tuned to g; G D g B. I usually play the melody on the third string (g) but I often play the melody on the 3rd and 4th string which adds a nice extra harmony note to the melody. I believe its better to have the extra 4th string there in case I want to take advantage of it but some people prefer a 3 stringer. It's also easier to play many songs with four strings because I don't have to jump all over the neck to play the melody if I play it on the 4th string. If your songs have minor or 7th chords, a 4 string cbg is much much easier to play and than a 3 string.

Many people find that playing a 3 string cigar box guitar is more difficult than a 4, 5 or 6 string guitar because the strings are slightly farther apart. It only takes a few minutes for a guitar player to acclimate to this.