Why aren't six strings enough? This was the question we posed to one of guitar's all-time greats a few years ago.
Steve Vai, in his infinite, sage-like wisdom, responded, "Six is enough, and eight is enough too. Whatever you want. Four can be enough. One can be enough, if you’ve got the imagination for it."
And that's really what it came down to when whittling down our list of 15 of the best seven-string and eight-string players in guitarville right now: Who has the imagination to take that extra string or two and do something with them that couldn't be replicated simply by down-tuning or pitch-shifting?
It would have been very easy for seven- or eight-string guitars to be sitting in a museum somewhere as novelty items—you know, Spinal Tap-esque relics of an age when guitarists went "one lower." But these 15 names are a testament to the myriad ways in which the seven- and eight-string guitar has evolved over the years, in ways that even its modern progenitor couldn't have foreseen.
"When I was [playing seven-strings], I had a feeling there was going to be a group of kids who were really gonna take that low string and do something with it that I wasn’t doing," Vai said. "I also felt that maybe some jazz and classical players would take it up. I had no idea that they were going to do what they did."
STEPHEN CARPENTER | DEFTONES
Whether utilizing seven strings or eight, Deftones have packed some serious subsonics into their music over the years. "Hexagram" off the band's 2003 self-titled effort is the epitome of their haunting take on alternative metal, with Chino Moreno screaming maniacally over Stephen Carpenter's off-kilter seven-string riffing.
A true guitarist’s guitarist, Jeff Loomis is no stranger to readers of this magazine for his work as a solo artist and with Nevermore and Arch Enemy. Loomis' seven-string skills are put to great use on a monster track called "Jato Unit." Big octave melody lines, low palm-muted riffage, wide arpeggios, whammy bar dives, syncopated rhythms—this one is a great song to sharpen your skills, and, if you're a proficient six-string player making the transition to seven for the first time, it's a great one to cut your teeth on. Make it to the end and you can truly call yourself a seven-string guitarist.
TOSIN ABASI | ANIMALS AS LEADERS
When Tosin Abasi recorded what was essentially a solo album under the name Animals as Leaders, his goal was to expand the pallet of heavy, progressive music into something that was more compositionally challenging for him and more accessible to linsteners. “I wanted to make music that was more universal,” he told Guitar World in 2009. Tosin may be better known for rocking the eight-string these days, but "CAFO" from Animals as Leaders' eponymous debut is as fine an example of seven-string mastery as you'll come across in the modern metal-scape.
OLA ENGLUND | THE HAUNTED, FEARED
If you're even slightly familiar with music driven by electric seven-string guitars, Sweden's Ola Englund needs no introduction. He's played a seven-stringer for years with the Haunted and—especially—Feared and has an ever-evolving line of signature models through Washburn (plus his own line of axes). And then there's his popular YouTube channel, which features his trademark gear demos, many of which have appeared on GuitarWorld.com over the years. "By constantly putting out material/videos/tutorials, I’ve been able to maintain a steady growth in followers," he told iMusician. "It’s not that hard actually, just work your ass off and don’t be an asshole and you’ll be fine."
CHRIS LETCHFORD | SCALE THE SUMMIT
In a genre that's often put down for self-indulgence, instrumental-prog-rockers Scale The Summit have found that perfect niche between musicality and technical fireworks. In other words, the band, which features seven-string guitarsts Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier, puts the focus squarely on the songs. “The most compliments we get are that we’re not just a guitar wizardy band,” Chris Letchford told theaquarian.com. “Yeah, our stuff is really complex, technical music, but it’s still not over-the-top, shred-based. That would push a lot of people away.” Below, check out the official video for "Blue Sun" from the band's 2015 album, V.
MISHA MANSOOR | PERIPHERY
Misha Mansoor has become a guitar hero in his own right. Since 2005, he has played guitar (and often produced) with his band, Periphery, a groundbreaking progressive-rock unit that fuses soaring vocal melodies and complex instrumental interludes into polished, compact, space age–sounding metal. With their distinctive three-guitar sound, glitch electronic overlays and throaty chug provided by the lower strings of their seven-string guitars, Periphery have spawned a whole underground industry of imitators.
Keep an eye or two out for Wisconsin-based (or is it Boston?), Strandberg Guitars-playing Sarah Longfield. The guitarist, who posted an extra-popular cover of Meshuggah's "Pravus" to YouTube a few years ago, formed the Fine Constant as an outlet for her innovative—and pleasing-to-the-ear—original music. Longfield also records under her own name, and her latest album, 2017's Collapse // Expand, has been burning up the interwebs. You can check it out here and sample a wee bit of it below.
ADAM "NERGAL" DARSKI | BEHEMOTH
Nergal is the lead guitarist, vocalist and mastermind behind Polish metal warrirors Behemoth. Over their lengthy career, they've been putting out some of the most technical and inspired metal to ever be exported from their country. Nergal has his own signature model through ESP Guitars, the HEX-7. "ESP made the perfect axe for me," Nergal says. "It kills, it slays."
MARTEN HAGSTROM & FREDRIK THORDENDAL | MESHUGGAH
While you won't find any extra strings on Meshuggah's 1991 debut, Contradictions Collapse, guitarist Fredrik Thordendal knew from the very beginning that six strings just wouldn't suffice to contain the breadth of his band's music. "For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to have a seven-string guitar so that I’d be able to play those really low notes," Thordendal told Guitar World, "and then Ibanez finally came out with one." By the time of the band's follow-up effort, the aptly named Destroy Erase Improve, the band had added an additional guitarist in Marten Hagstrom, and upped the ante with a retooled brand of progressive metal that has proven immensely influential to the new breed of metal musicians.
For the past few years, founding Emperor guitarist (and former Guitar World columnist) Ihsahn has been pushing musical boundaries on his solo albums, revealing a vision beyond what few listeners could ever imagine—from his inventive rhythmic structures to his rough-and-ready riffs. The progressive black metaller also just released a pair of new playthrough videos, one of which, "Frozen Lakes on Mars" (below), is the first-ever demo of Aristedes' new 080s eight-string guitar.
You knew it was coming. It would be impossible to leave out Steve Vai, the man who brought the seven-string guitar to prominence. In fact, the first mass-produced seven-string guitar was Vai's signature Ibanez UV7. Sure, there are other Vai songs that make use of the seven-string, sometimes obviously ("The Audience Is Listening," "The Riddle," "Ya Yo Gakk") and sometimes subtly ("For the Love of God"). But "I Would Love To" was the most radio-friendly, MTV-visible track from Vai's breakthrough solo album, Passion and Warfare, and the song makes a great case for the seven-string's use as a wide-range guitar—instead of simply an excuse to play really low notes.
As Vai told Mixdown magazine in 2013, he feels a sense of gratitude in seeing where new players have taken the seven-string guitar. "When it first came out, I was the only one playing one aside from Uli Jon Roth. They weren't available commercially. And once it became available I think there were some people that gravitated toward it because they were fans, and some people gravitated toward it because they saw the potential in it for something new. And they sure did do it. When Passion and Warfare and the Whitesnake albums came out, there was a surge in sales."
DAVID DAVIDSON | REVOCATION
One of guitarist David Davidson's primary objectives when writing music for his band, Revocation, is to try to push the envelope and come up with sounds, ideas, chord patterns, progressions and riffs that have been rarely explored within the thrash metal genre. Davidson developed his technique at the Berklee College of Music, where he focused on polyrhythm for jazz; the atonal aspects of jazz have afforded him a different perspective on composing and soloing.
JAMES MONTEITH | TESSERACT
The U.K.'s James Monteith and Acle Kahney are highly respected practitioners of djent—an onomatopoeic label for that subset of progressive metal characterized by weighty, palm-muted riffing, typically on instruments with seven or more strings. TesseracT juxtaposes that steadfast staccato underpinning with trippy atmospheric textures. “When TesseracT performs live, Acle and I generally trade off between playing riffs and the more atmospheric stuff, as well as taking turns soloing,” Monteith told Guitar Player. “Keeping the parts distinct helps to assure that things don’t get overly hectic, and also helps us leave more space in the music."
ALEX WADE | WHITECHAPEL
No list of top seven- and eight-stringers would be complete without deathcore heavyweights Whitechapel. Alex Wade, a guitarist for the Tennessee-based band, helps write the band's imposing, bruising and buoyant music—music that has struck a chord across the globe. In 2014, guitarplanet.eu asked Wade what makes a great guitarist: "Someone who can write well-composed, catchy music. I've been fascinated with guys who just shred. Sure it's impressive, but no one wants to listen to that over and over. My favorite guitarist is Stephen Carpenter from Deftones and he's a good example of a guy that just writes great songs with catchy hooks and doesn't try to impress people."
SCOTT CARSTAIRS & BRIAN JAMES | FALLUJAH
“A guitar player should aspire to be a virtuoso,” says Scott Carstairs, who spearheads the San Francisco Bay Area-based and politically charged band Fallujah. “It takes the whole package: proﬁcient technique, tasteful notes and phrases and a solid tone.” Carstairs possesses that package at an age when most people are happy to be able to rent a car. He and gravel-voiced screamer Alex Hofmann started formulating their progressive metal in 2006, and along with second guitarist Brian James, Carstairs & Co. throw down the guitar gauntlet with every performance.
Yep, they make seven-string acoustic guitars too. Check out the impressive sounds of Bernard Revel and his Lowden Guitars seven-string, below.
AND SINCE WE'RE ON THE TOPIC:
Be sure to check out the fretwork of Per Nilsson ...
... Yvette Young ...
... and the guys in Beyond Creation.
Damian Fanelli, Alan Di Perna and Peter Hodgson contributed to this story.