I've always been dyslexic when it comes to this turn of phrasing - Top strings connote the strings at the top of the fret-board in my mind. Even after years of playing, I sometimes have to wrench it back into my head that those are the bottom strings when I hear someone say it...

I assume the strings are said to be ordered like this because the 'top' strings contain the 'high' notes and the 'bottom' strings contain the 'low' notes. Is that the explanation?

  • 1
    See this related question for more (music.stackexchange.com/q/42434/16897) Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 20:04
  • Jimi Hendrix played it upside down.
    – wogsland
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 22:56
  • Be careful about using the terms "top" and "bottom" strings--lefty flip basically flips the guitar upside-down, and not everyone re-strings their guitar afterwards.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 14:52

2 Answers 2


Yes, by convention when schematically drawing the strings of an instrument, the strings are drawn ordered top-down from the higher pitched to the lower pitched. So, in a drawing, the 1st string of an instrument is actually at the top and the last string (the 6th in the case of a guitar) is represented at the bottom.

As a mnemonic, if you know a little about music notation, remember that higher pitched notes go higher in the staff than the lower pitched notes.

That being said it would be better if 'top' and 'bottom' would be avoided to name the strings. The actual string number as per the convention of the instrument, or 'high pitch'/'low pitch' should preferably be used to avoid that confusion.

As a side note, the equivalent of 'treble' and 'bass' as synonym for 'high pitch' and 'low pitch' provide in some languages convenient short names, but I don't suppose that is common in English. However guitarists refer frequently the "high E" and the "low E" to name the 1st and 6th strings of the guitar, which is a rather convenient and unequivocal terminology.

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    There's the added point that when you look down at your hand whilst playing, that makes the notation the 'right' way up.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 20:06
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    @Tetsujin - looking down at your hand makes the first you see - (closest to you, but fattest) string the 'highest'. Which makes it erroneous. Unless you're in Australia, standing on your head...
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 20:44
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    I think tetsujin means when you look down so that you see the "front" of the neck, which makes the high string the one at the top (despite it being closest to the ground)
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 21:05
  • I have seen English maintenance guides that refer to the treble and bass side of the neck. It’s not as common as “high” and “low” but it does see use. Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 21:19
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    @Tim - If you hold a sheet with tab on it [or get someone else to] so it's parallel with the guitar neck whilst you're playing, they'd both be the same way up [ie upside down but best for reading from that pos]. You'd also have to hold a book the same way up if you were to read it from that position.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 7:32

To simplify the issue, I refer to the strings with my students as thick and thin. There is never any confusion...


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