Look around you. There seems to be a seven-string renaissance happening at the moment. Actually, eight-string guitars seem to be going pretty strong, too.
But there's something particularly satisfying about plugging in a seven and riffing out in between the traditional ranges of the guitar and bass.
Don't get me wrong; eight strings are great for getting right down into low-end territory and really shaking the walls. But if one thing really stood out to me at a recent Winter NAMM show, it was the sheer number of companies delving into sevens for the first time, or really embracing them in a big way.
First-time models from Parker, Buddy Blaze and even some one-off Charvel Custom Shop sevens join new models by established seven-string purveyors, such as LTD's new Whitechapel, Suicide Silence and Unearth sigs, some pretty hot Schecters and DBZs and, of course, new models by the company that started the seven-string rock guitar trend, Ibanez.
A lot of great music has been made on seven-string guitars over the past 25 years or so since Ibanez released the Universe at Steve Vai's behest. During the first era of the seven-string, Vai was pretty much the only guy exploring the instrument's potential. It fell out of favor until the mid- to late Nineties, when a bunch of guys picked up secondhand Universes and built their sound around the lowest string.
Then detuning a regular six became all the rage and everyone forgot about the seven for a while. And now it's back. There's a lot of history behind the seven-string now, and here are a few of my personal favorites. Please feel free to share some of your own in the comments or on Facebook.
Steve Vai, "I Would Love To"
There are other Steve Vai songs that make use of the seven-string, sometimes quite obviously ("The Audience Is Listening," "The Riddle," "Ya Yo Gakk") and sometimes quite subtly ("For the Love of God"; listen really closely to see if you can spot where Vai lands on the low B).
But "I Would Love To" was the most radio-friendly, MTV-visible track from his breakthrough solo album Passion And Warfare, and the song makes a great case for the seven-string's use as a wide range guitar, rather than just an excuse to play really, really low notes.
Dream Theater,"A Change of Seasons"
Much like "I Would Love To," John Petrucci's work on "A Change of Seasons" is a great example of how to use the seven-string guitar to play things you couldn't play on either a regular six-string guitar in standard tuning or on a baritone. He zips all around the neck, making full use of the seven-string's range in clean and distorted settings, on supportive rhythms, blindingly intricate passages, wailing solos and crushing riffs. Yet at no point does the choice of instrument distract from the song itself.
Strapping Young Lad, "Skeksis"
Oh, so standard seven-string tuning's not low enough for you? How about Devin Townsend's GCGCGCE tuning? You can hear this used to great and guttural effect on "Skeksis" from Strapping Young Lad's Alien album. Progressive, exhilarating, intense and ridiculously heavy, the sheer technicality of this song foreshadowed the djent movement. I'm sure I can hear this song's influence when I listen to Periphery's Misha Mansoor.
Fear Factory, "Descent"
Fear Factory's Dino Cazares was an early pioneer of applying low tunings to thrash-influenced metal, but by the late Nineties he was going the other way, using seven-string guitars to increase his range upwards rather than downwards. A perfect example is "Descent" from Obsolete, where Dino combines a low bassline with higher arpeggios. The riff itself isn't too tricky from a technical perspective, but it served as a timely reminder to guitarists of the era that there was much more to be done with a seven than just low riffage.
Joe Satriani,"Hands in the Air"
Satch isn't the first guy who comes to mind when you think of seven-string guitars, but he gets a pass on this list, thanks to the riff in "Hands In The Air," one of the most fun riffs you'll ever play for an hour straight. Or maybe that's just me. Joe has had other seven-string songs over the years, including one called—get this—"Seven String."
Korn, "Freak on a Leash"
Korn kickstarted the second wave of seven-string use in the Nineties, and they inspired a lot of less-creative copycats who just ran with the low-end aspect of what the band were known for, but the interplay between guitarists Head and Munky on "Freak on a Leash" offers a great lesson in a more atmospheric use of the seven-string. Creepy high melodies and muddled low chords build tension, then the chorus riff shifts and snakes in a really unique way before the creep sets in again.
Jeff Loomis, "Jato Unit"
Loomis' seven-string skills are put to great use on this monster. 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.
Peter Hodgson is a journalist, an award-winning shredder, an instructional columnist, a guitar teacher, a guitar repair guy, a dad and an extremely amateur barista. In his spare time he runs a blog, I Heart Guitar, which allows him to publicly geek out over his obsessions. Peter is from Melbourne, Australia, where he writes for various magazines (including Guitar World) as well as for Gibson.com.