By Francis ‘The Grin’ Gray
The level of complexity in the guitar is on the rise, but this is not exactly recent. Jazz has been doing it long before Django Reinhardt lost the use of his two fingers, but the seven string guitars have been left in obscurity until this current generation. Andreas O. Sichra built the first seven string guitar in Russia before he died in 1861, where it has stayed in the peripheral of music until somewhat recent. What changed? Metal has risen a step to the left of mainstream music, among those who listen for something more than what the radio has to offer. The loyal listeners from many walks of life normally find what they are looking for in the many sub-genres in metal, which has no shortage of tuned down guitars. I will also state that the extra string is not exclusive to Jazz and Metal. Steve Vai is known better for using the seven string Ibanez Jem, and they are well known to be used in Samba music, or so I am told. I am sure there is more but let us move on. I ask, how is this different then Jimmy Page using a twelve string double neck guitar? To answer my own question, it is simply the tuning. I don’t KNOW if Page used any funky tunings, but on standard tuning, that extra string is a low B, which easily speaks to the metal fan. Sichra tuned his guitar to D-B-G-D-B-G-D. Then we have eight string guitars at F#-B-E-A-D-G-B-E. Up until now, I assumed it would go one string higher and there was not a lot of tone to be found below G. 10, 11, 12 stringed guitars? Where does the madness end, but I still give my blessing to the “no rules” idea in music.
Famous users of these notoriously wide necks have been mostly endorsed by Ibanez, which is fair. Maybe a Stratocaster, but could you honestly see a Les Paul with seven or eight strings? I’m sure it exists. ESP guitars have a few seven strings, and personally, I would lean closer to the telecaster style. Schecter guitars are also known for the option and Halo guitars are definitely not shy about adding an extra saddle to the bridge. Even B.C. Rich and Agile guitars are not exactly “Johnny come lately”. These options are not limited to guitars, but for bass as well. There is not a whole lot of tone present at the natural low B string. If you ask Fieldy from Korn, he would even tell you he is closer to a second drummer then a bassist. For this point I will bring up an infamous video I am sure you have seen at least once. Behold the Arctopus has been known on youtube as one of the worst bands out there, but to be completely honest, I like some of their stuff (Deluge of Sores). Never really researched them until now, but one has to ask themselves after seeing Colin Marston’s bass guitar. At what point does it stop being a bass? If you are curious or interested, perhaps check out http://www.warrguitar.com/ and ask them what they are all about. To help break the ice, ask what kind of amp to you plug those beasts into.
There are many who can pull off phenomenal riffs with a traditional six string. Guthrie Govan, Paul Gilbert, and Alex Lifeson to name a fantastic few. Matthew Bellamy from Muse is one name that would not come to mind, but you may have at one point mistaken their song “Citizen Erased” with perhaps a Korn tune. By 50 seconds in, it become a little more obvious that it is indeed Muse you are listening to. His Mason guitar is tuned A-A-D-D-G-B-E. Trivium’s “Shogun” album, seven string guitars were used for all songs except two, but Matt Heafy states playing those same songs can be done with tuned down six strings. Chris Broderick has his own signature 7 String Soloist with Jackson, but he can still bust out Johann Sebastian Bach with ease. Muhammed Suicmez hails from Germany and tosses your stereotypes out the window. I honestly wasn’t expecting the guitarist from Necrophagist, but there he is rocking a seven string Xiphos. John Petrucci, Devin Townsend and Wes Borland if you remember him, all rock seven strings, but how about eight strings. Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström of Meshuggah fame, are better known for their use of the eight string guitars. The tone is very specific to their songs and the people love it. Supporting them when they come through my city, will be Tosin Abasi and Animals as Leaders. There is no denying Abasi’s ability to shred. I do remember hearing a rumor that he was approached to do a solo album and in turn, denied the offer. I feel this speaks to his modesty, but I am not here to be a fiction monger. Dino Cazares has been around bands, and no that is not a fat joke. I know him best from Divine Heresy, but others would know him from Fear Factory. He was even one of the main 4 composers on the Road Runner United album. One man who is an Enemy of Reality because as he bends the strings, so too does space fold just oh so slightly. Jeff Loomis has played with Chris Broderick and another seven string slinger, Pat O’Brien who now resides in Cannibal Corpse. All three of these shredders have split the bill in the band Nevermore. If you don’t know Loomis, you won’t have any idea what you are up against. Lastly, I have to save this slot for a personal favorite eight string slinger of mine. I highly enjoyed his time in Emperor, but when he released his solo album “The Adversary”, it gave me the guitar idol I have always been missing. His style is something I would love to emulate then bastardize in my own style. He goes by the name Ihsahn, and you will find his albums by that name. For those who don’t care for the heavier music, I recommend the song “Unhealer”. It will give you an idea before it gets rough, but I ask you to endure and listen to what inspires me.
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About the Author: Started playing bass at 15. It was Danko Jones who inspired me to play at all, and in a small town I couldn't be picky on what I can get my hands on, so I bought a squire with pride. Obtained a B.C. Rich guitar months later. Moved to the city at 17. At 19 joined my first metal band as a bassist which ended at 20. Joined a bass heavy rock band, which I loved being in whole heartily. I now wait to venture into a new project. For the time being though, I am exploring my abilities as a writer.