The Birth Of The 9 String Electric Guitar
8 strings not enough for you? How about 9!
They’re here! The extended range monsters which seem to have divided opinion amongst guitar players, giving rise to online arguments over their purpose and use. Also, let’s not forget our Bass playing friends whose sonic territory is being invaded, how do they feel about it? But hang on a minute…Extended range guitars have been around since the 1800’s haven’t they?
7, 8, 10, 11 and 13 (yes we said 13!) string guitars have adorned the classical music world for eons. The modern electric has taken its sweet time to catch up, beginning in around 1989 when Steve Vai commissioned and received the Ibanez Universe 7 string, using it on the legendary 1990 release Passion and Warfare to great effect. Vai stated he always wanted an instrument that would allow him to play Bassoon parts.
Following this, many more commercially available 7 strings were ‘mainstreamed’ by bands such as Korn, Slipknot, Periphery and in recent years, Animals as leaders.
Then came the 8…
2 years ago the Guitar world was excited, enraged (depending on your point of view) by the introduction of 8 String electrics. There were new signature models for Tosin Abasi and a range of very affordable 8 strings began to circulate.
At Winter NAMM 2013, Ibanez unveiled a 9 string behemoth which set the guitar geeks keyboards alight and sent many of the YouTube clips from the show, viral.
The RG-9 was born
Of course independent luthiers have been building 9 string guitars for some years and a few companies have even made them commercially available. However, the last 2 years have brought the 9 string into tight focus and, dare we say, the “mainstream”. Such an interest has meant that it became commercially viable to produce them at a cost that ordinary folks could afford, whilst also retaining their playability. Ibanez decided to join the party and the back story sheds some light on why it’s taken the electric guitar so long to catch up with their Classical cousins. We spoke with Ibanez recently regarding the new range and this is what they had to say.
“the RG9 was really born from a showpiece prototype at the NAMM Show 2013. A high end Japanese ‘one off’ model was made as a talking point, something special for the show and not intended as a production model… in the spirit of Spinal Tap – (Goes to 11) it was a labour of love, just to see if we could pull it off.”
“…The response was huge, everyone asking about the tuning possibilities, production model availability and shooting videos that went viral.A High end Japanese RG90 & Mid price RG9 were conceived and put into production.”
Clearly there was a lot of design work that went into keeping the neck stable under the considerable tension caused by 9 strings at standard tuning and additionally the production of pickups that could handle the huge frequency range too. Coupling those considerations with ensuring that the guitar is playable by mere mortals too.
It will be these technicalities that have slowed the evolutary process down. That and the demand from players of course, but such demand has been growing ever since Ibanez were first to the commercially available 7 string post. With the commercial advent of a 9 string electric who knows where it will end and what kinds of genres this instrument could spawn.
The RG9 has now landed at Dawsons Music, see what we thought of it in our comprehensive Review.