Having an extra string is no longer a novelty, but why buy a seven string guitar?
One of the more recent trends in the guitar world is that for seven, or even eight string guitars. Though it may seem like a new development, seven string guitars have been around for a considerable time.
So, why, after this time, is the seven making resurgence? Why buy a seven string guitar?
Well, as with a great many things, to understand where we are, we must first understand where we have come from…
Courses for renaissance horses
Though it might seem like it has been around forever, the six-string guitar is not quite as old as you might think. During the renaissance, the instrument that evolved into the guitar had four ‘courses’ or pairs of strings.
Though the six string guitar became fairly standard in the 19th century, there were still those who wanted a greater range, and so seven stringed instruments were developed.
The Russian guitar was a great example of this, being akin to a classical guitar, but with an extra string, as was the Brazilian guitar. This is used typically in Samba, and has an extra bass string, usually tuned to a low C.
Jazz – nice…
It was in the ‘30s that the seven string guitar began to be used in contemporary genres, however. This was courtesy of Jazz guitarist, George Van Eps, who had a seven string model built by Epiphone, and later Gretsch. Again, the additional string was a 7th, tuned to a low A.
His pioneering design set a bit of a precedent, though, with many other jazz guitarists following his example throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. This was, again, to extend the range, enabling richer chords and more expansive lead lines.
Still, the seven string was somewhat ‘niche’. Until…
Rock – still nice…
In the early ‘80s, solid body electric guitars began to appear in seven string guises. Among those to embrace this trend was Steve Vai, with a guitar featuring a high A string.
Later, Vai worked with Ibanez on the first mass-produced 7-string model, the UV7. This had, once again, returned to a design featuring a low B bass string rather than an additional treble string.
In the mid ‘90s, it was the alternative metal scene that truly popularised the seven string guitar, however. Korn, and other bands adapted the instrument, as it provided lots of weighty low frequencies for riffing and chords, but still all of the standard upper range of a guitar for soloing.
So, why would I want one?
In the face of its history, you may still ask, ‘why buy a seven string guitar?’ There are (and always have been, it would seem) two main reasons for adding an extra string. The first is the additional pitch range it offers, providing greater scope for musical expression.
The second is that the additional bass strings provide weight and power to reinforce chords, and aid low-end riffing.
These days, the vast majority of 7-string guitars are geared towards the heavier reaches of rock and metal. Ibanez and ESP are two of the industries biggest pioneers of 7 and 8-string guitar models, with ranges that encompass the affordable through to the professional.
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.