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!”. 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. 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!
Taking the Plunge
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. I was also enjoying the 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. Primarily because 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. However, 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. 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. So without further delay here’s the best 7 string models we have to offer.
The Ibanez GRG7221 7 String Guitar 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. The black hardware throughout also 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.
The Ibanez 2018 RGMS7 7 String Guitar takes the form and finish of the RG Series and marries it with highly versatile pickups. This makes this an outstanding performer on the stage and in the studio. If you’ve dipped your toes into the waters of extended range models and fancy one that offers a little more dynamism, then this is the ideal model for you. The mahogany body generates the robust mid to low-end energy you’d expect with a black knight finish to match the brooding energy.
Where the RGMS7 truly shines is in its multi-scale 5-piece maple/walnut neck. This is reinforced to uphold stability with steadfast precision. The multi-scale design across the jatoba fingerboard affords equalized tension across every fret. The transition from a more conventional design is easier than you might think, as the ergonomically designed fret layout is delightfully accommodating for the hands. You’ll be sailing through licks and riffs in no time!
A pair of Ibanez Array-7 MS humbuckers offer a wide-ranging tonal palette for you to play with, making the most of the extended range afforded by the additional string. Control over the pickups couldn’t be simpler, making this a very straightforward axe to use. Simply plug in, turn up the volume, tweak your tone to suit, select from one of five pickup positions. Then tear through sets at will.
The body is home to a Mono-Rail bridge system, which offer absolute string-to-string isolation. Therefore, each string vibrates individually without affecting or being affected by the other strings. Whether you’re performing elaborate sweeps or with a more percussive style, you can rest assured that your intonation and sustain will remain flawless throughout.
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. However, 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.
Departing briefly from Ibanez, we’re taking a look at the awesome Jackson Pro Series Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT7FM Guitar. Firstly, Jackson need no introduction, they make legendary guitars that are the stuff of dreams for rockers and metallers. Secondly, Misha Mansoor is one of the leading lights in the world of Djent, Metal, and Prog. This is in addition to being one of the foremost players of extended range models. The Pro Series signature model offers sublime playability with blistering tones and considered appointments. A must-have for the stage and studio.
The deep double-cutaway body shape offers a sleek figure-hugging feel against the body during performances, whilst the flame maple top allows the oceanburst finish to shine. Connected to the body is a glorious maple neck, which is paired with a sumptuous ebony fingerboard. Along the edge of the neck you’ll find Luminlay side dot position inlays that guide your way on the darkest of stages.
A pair of Jackson’s MM1 (Misha Mansoor) pickups offer everything from bellowing low-end depth to bouncing mids through to searing highs. Control comes in the form of master volume and tone knobs, whilst the unique 5 position switching arrangement exposes a vast arsenal of tones to perform with. Whether you want crisp cleans or saturated chunk, everything is within easy reach.
The setup is exactly as you’d expect from a company such as Jackson and a guitarist who tours relentlessly. Whether you’re a Periphery fan or not, this guitar is a force to be reckoned with.
The Ibanez RGIM7MH RG Iron Label Electric Guitar nears the top of our price range in this category, and not without good reasons. The mahogany body is shaped to a classic RG deep double-cutaway, a staple of the series for over two decades. The weathered black paintwork creates a cool yet understated finish with cosmo black hardware to complement it nicely.
Ibanez know a thing or two about crafting necks to an enviably high standard that match playability and rigidity to perfection. The RGIM7MH boasts a five-piece maple and bubinga neck with lightning fast nitro wizard profile. The 24-fret rosewood fingerboard bears the multi-scale design we highlighted above on the 2018 RGMS7.
The tonal engine room of the RGIM7MH is powered by a pair of EMG-808 active humbuckers. To say they are ferocious would be an understatement. Dial back the master volume pot and they clean up nicely. Conversely, push them hard and play through your amp of choice with some overdrive at the ready and you’ll see what they do best. From weighty percussive prog to unabashed death metal chops, this is a guitar that yearns to flaunt its abilities.
To view a full range of 7 string guitars, visit the Dawsons website.
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.