A beginners guide to the 7 string guitar
The 7 string guitar can often be looked at by guitarists, especially those like me, who have only ever played a 6 string as something of an anomaly, something to be looked at but never touched for fear that we embarrass ourselves on it, only to be left shouting “no wait, I really do play guitar! I’m just confused!” as we fear people are judging us when we do pluck up the courage to pick one up. But after my foray into the 7 string realm, I can honestly say I have been wrongly avoiding these awesome instruments for too long!
With this blog I’m aiming to outline a few of the key differences between a 7-string and a 6-string guitar, the pros and cons, and I’ll also recommend a few that I’ve had the pleasure of checking out. For those who already enjoy 7-strings, read on, you might just find a new guitar to add to your rig, or for those like me who have never touched one in their life, follow me as we uncover the secrets of this mystical beast… or you know, just read the blog…? Up to you!
First off, when I first picked up the 7 string guitar I felt like it was all a bit new to me. Even after playing guitar for over 20 years I still found myself saying “What is this alien string I see before me? How do I play it? What do I do? Where am I?”. After years of seeing 7-strings in action with the likes of Meshuggah and earlier on in my nu-metal days as a fan of Korn, I always marvelled at the 7-string looking at it with a sense of longing, wondering when I’d ever get “good enough” to play one. But after playing one for a few seconds, I quickly realised that A. anyone can have a go, and B. this 7th string is just a B octave – after a few minutes it all fell into place and I was shredding (strumming, who am I kidding?) away confidently, enjoying teh fact I could add a whole range of new notes into my solos. The mystique fell away in an instant and I actually realised just how useful the 7 string could be! However, I did notice some inherent differences very quickly.
The differences between a 7-string and a 6-string guitar
The main difference (aside from the actual 7th string), and something guitarists will instantly detect upon picking one up is that the neck is slightly wider than what they might be used to. This is obviously to accommodate the extra string. But after a few licks here and five minutes noodling on the guitar, you’ll quickly adjust to the different size.
The addition of the 7th string also takes a little getting used to, as there’s a whole extra string that you have to play when hitting those riffs. You also have to try not to strike that extra string when hitting bar chords etc. so your hand will sit at a higher position on the body of the guitar. But overall, it’s fairly easy to adjust to the new set up.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a 7 string guitar?
As far as disadvantages go, there aren’t a lot of them. Some guitarists might find that the neck of the guitar is too big – which is always subjective really. Yes, the fretboard is thicker, but your hand will get used to it in time. Possibly the only real disadvantage of a 7 string comes in the form of choice. As far as pickups go, there really isn’t a lot out there to choose from, the same goes with strings and choice of guitars. Only a few companies produce 7 strings, and although they make fantastic, roadworthy options, you only have a few brands to choose from. If you’re a Gibson Les Paul fan, you’re not going to get a 7 string version (however ESP do a nice Les Paul style), but if you love Ibanez or PRS – you’re all set. In terms of musical styles and stylistic choice, often 7 strings are used by metal guitarists – which is not really a disadvantage, but depending on what type of music you prefer, you may not want to bring a “metal” looking guitar to your blues night.
The advantages of a 7 string guitar far outweigh any disadvantages that may be associated with this style of guitar. As far as range of sound goes, you now have a whole new string to play with, and best of all, it’s lower and fatter than everything else on your guitar. For metal, prog and jazz players this is a dream come true. Having that extra room to play with really comes in handy. For riffs, everything sounds so much fatter without having to tune down, and for soloing, you get to bust out some extra notes. When you do tune down however, say to drop A for example, the sounds you get are so low it’s sends rumbles through your stomach.
The best 7 string guitars starting from under £250 to £700+
Here’s a selection of some of the best 7 strings available, unsurprisingly, Ibanez feature quite heavily as they’re one of the pioneers of 7 string guitars. Without further delay here’s the best 7 string models we could find.
Ibanez GRG7221-WH Electric Guitar
First up is the Ibanez GRG7221-WH. A lower priced guitar, but by no means an inferior model. Ibanez have crafted a very cool, streamlined looking guitar perfect for the beginner who wan’ts to try their hand at a 7-string or the perfect back up for the touring musician who needs an extra guitar for the road. It’s essentially a 7 string version of the highly popular GRG series, with Std. H-7 pickups that deliver awesome tone at all times. It sounds great clean and absolutely mean when you add some distortion – perfect for metal guitarists. Sleek and simple with 1 volume and 1 tone knob plus a pickup selector – it’s everything you need straight out of the case.
Ibanez GRG7221 Electric Guitar
The Ibanez GRG7221 7 String has been crafted along the lines of the classic Ibanez GRG profile, so for fans of the existing 6 string models looking to take the next step, this is the logical progression for you. Another sleek and streamline model, it may be a no frills look, but the sound coming out of it is anything but. The pair of Ibanez Standard H-7 passive humbucking pickup are perfect for driving through a distorted channel and will easily cut through the din of a practice room. Whether you want huge riffs or intricate solos, the slender GRG profile with 24 frets, ensures smooth playing and the black hardware throughout really looks amazing underneath the stage lights. The poplar body is lightweight without sacrificing tone or sustain, and you can throw it around easily on stage too! Another great professional grade guitar with a small price tag.
Ibanez RGDIX7MPB Iron Label Electric Guitar – Surreal Blue Burst
When this guitar was announced in the beginning of 2016, the guitar world went into a frenzy. Ibanez had really pushed the envelope with the Ibanez RGDIX7MPB Iron Label Electric Guitar, coupling superior playability with gorgeous design. With a colour scheme reminiscent of the great barrier reef, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this guitar is all gentleness and calm waters, but the sound that can pump out of this thing when you want to drive it is far from calm. The DiMarzio Fusion Edge humbucking pickups sound awesome when driven through a distorted channel, but can also provide sumptuous clean tones when you need them. Perhaps the most striking thing about this guitar though, is the design – a slight departure from the renowned RGD series, but still recognisable, the RGDIX7MPB Iron Label incorporates a poplar burl top with a layered ash body finished nicely with a Surreal Blue Burst colour. The contoured body shape adds improved comfort, especially for when those riffs get nasty whilst the extra-long scale Maple / Bubinga wood neck lets you fly across the fretboard with ease. A great guitar for those who want to get serious about the 7-string.
PRS SE Custom 24 7-String Electric Guitar
The design team at PRS guitars decided to take a chance and release their very first 7 string model, resulting in the PRS SE Custom 24 7-string – a formidable player in the world of 7 strings and absolute joy to play. Serious care was taken to ensure that the SE Custom 24 7-string was as comfortable and easy to play as the line of 6 string models that the well-respected brand is known for. You have everything you could want from a PRS, the unique bird inlays, flame maple veneer and mahogany back, just with an added 7th string. Yes, the neck is a bit wider to accommodate the extra string, but it’s hardly noticeable. It has a slender 25” neck that is comfortable to play and you also have 24 frets to shred with. You also have a pair of SE HFS and SE Vintage Bass pickups installed as well as a coil tap – a myriad of sounds await. A perfect option for those who want a 7 string that can look and play the part well across all styles of music.
Ibanez RG927WZCZ Exotic Premium 7-String
Another great option from Ibanez comes in the form of the Ibanez RG927WZCZ Exotic Premium 7-String. It’s not only a great looking guitar with its American basswood body and ziricote top, but a beautiful sounding guitar that is a dream to play thanks to the Jumbo frets and Wizard-7, 5-piece wenge/bubinga neck that will allow the shredders out there to fly up the neck and the riff masters to really get a hold of the strings. This great guitar comes fitted with IBZ-7 humbucking pickups as standard too, so you can get as creative as you need to be. A professional level guitar at an extremely affordable price.
To view a full range of 7 string guitars, visit the Dawsons website.