Arming yourself with one of the best 8-string guitars could be a game-changer for musically adventurous players. Sure, the 7-string guitar is ripe with potential for low-end chug and unorthodox chord voicings, but for those serious about djent or progressive modern metal, the 8-string is where the action is.
Typically tuned low-to-high – F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E – or with the eighth-string tuned down a step to drop E, the 8-string makes a musical incursion into frequencies hitherto the sole preserve of bassists. For standard six-stringers, holidaying in such registers can be exhilarating.
Playing an 8-string guitar requires you to think differently about your playing, adjusting your style accordingly, but through such fresh thinking comes fresh musical ideas, and that’s what it’s all about.
Here we’ve got the best 8-string guitars to cater for all budgets, and some pointers to look for when choosing the right instrument for you.
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- The 10 best metal guitars for shredders
- The best bass guitars: top 4-string and 5-string basses
- Boost your tone with the best pickups for metal
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Best 8-string guitars: buying advice
The 8-string guitar might still be a niche instrument, a specialist’s weapon, but its evolution has accelerated in recent years. The big bang came in the shape of the Ibanez RG2228, which took the much-loved RG S-style shred template and expanded it for 8-strings. It was the first mass-produced model, and it would find early adopters in players such as Animals As Leaders’ Tosin Abasi and Periphery’s Jake Bowen. But in today’s market you’ve got a fair degree of choice in body shapes, builds and pickups.
For players making their first steps into 8-strings, there are some points to note. The first is a question of fretboard geography – to accommodate the lower tunings and maintain string tension, the scale lengths are considerably longer than on regular six-string guitars, measuring from a relatively short 26.5” to 28” or more. This takes some getting used to.
With a nod to playability and intonation, many guitar builders now incorporate multi-scale designs on their 8-string guitars, which is to say their guitars have more than one scale, typically running a very standard 25.5” from nut to bridge on the high-E string to a generous 28” on the low eighth string.
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The fingerboards on multi-scale guitars feature fanned frets to keep intonation in good order. They require a little getting used to, but then so too does the 8-string.
Six-stringers will also find the nut width a change of pace. Where a conventional six-string might measure 43mm across the nut, to accommodate the extra two strings an 8-string typically measures around 54mm, which is quite the stretch. There is no “correct” nut width, just that which feels right to you, with string spacing making sure the fingerboard is not too crammed nor too spaced out.
Of all the demands made on the 8-string guitar’s anatomy, the neck gets the most abuse. You will find that most of these guitars have necks reinforced with either graphite or titanium rods. Some manufacturers opt for a sandwiched construction to aid stability. If your prospective 8-string lacks stability in the neck, you are invariably in for tuning problems further down the line.
It’s always worth fretting playing some open strings and gently applying some pressure to the headstock to see how far the guitar will go out of pitch; you should meet plenty of resistance from a solidly built instrument.
Active vs passive pickups
Given that the market has been driven by djent and progressive metal players, with the likes of Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes, Stephen Carpenter and Fredrik Thordendal, it’s no surprise that today’s 8-string spec reads like an arms race of high-output humbuckers.
There is a school of thought that says active electric guitar pickups – that is pickups that have an onboard battery-powered preamp – are best suited for the 8-string. Their high-output, low noise performance, makes them ideal for metal situations, with bright harmonic response and a slight compression that evens out your guitar’s signal. But, as with the guitar’s feel, is a matter of preference, and every player makes their own unique demands of their tone.
For a while the active EMG-808 was the only humbucker option for 8-string players. It wasn’t until Winter NAMM 2010 that there would be an alternative, when Seymour Duncan introduced the active 8-string Blackout set. But nowadays there are plenty of options from the likes of Fishman, DiMarzio and Bare Knuckle, each with their own dynamics and response.
Just so long as your pickups are capable of articulating all the notes in your chords, it matters not if you have an active or passive set. There are plenty of high-output passive humbuckers that’ll just eat up gain, and you won’t have to worry about changing the battery. Again, whatever sounds best to you; there is no shortage of crushing tone either way.
The best 8-string guitars on the planet right now
Given that the Jackson Soloist is one of the archetypical hot-rodded S-styles, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it should wear the extended range format so well. Here we’ve got the reassuringly familiar Soloist body shape, with none-more-solid neck-through construction as good a guarantee of sustain as you’ll get.
With a scarf joint and two graphite rods, that neck feels it’s not going anywhere. The nut width is a generous 53.85mm, so the laurel fretboard doesn’t feel crammed, and with a 12"-16" compound radius it is gently curved low down where you’re typically fretting chords and flattens out up top for lead playing. For 8-string neophytes, it is a most welcoming proposition, and the multi-scale fretboard might confuse the eye at first but it’ll make sense under your fingertips, with that low F.
Tone-wise the Soloist takes no prisoners, with a pair of active EMG 909 humbuckers in bridge and neck positions. There’s a searing bite to that bridge humbucker, while it mellows out some of that high-end sizzle in the neck. The middle position with both fully engaged adds awesome texture to your riffs.
The Omen-8 has been around for what seems like forever and yet it remains a favorite for its wallet-friendly price point, solid build and excellent feel. This would make an excellent debut 8-string. The factory setup ships the Omen-8 with a set of Ernie Ball strings running 010-.074, with that heavy low eighth string offering a nice balance between the approachable 26.5” scale length and the string tension needed to hold up under heavy riffing.
The balance and the weight feels bang-on. With its carbon fibre reinforcement, the maple neck feels good and solid, and allied to the fairly flat 16” rosewood fingerboard, complete with 24 extra-jumbo frets, it makes for one very shreddable 8-string. A pair of Schecter’s overwound passive humbuckers might not excite you in the way a pair of active Fishman Fluence pickups might but they do an excellent job of translating low-tunings and high-gain scenarios into something that’s simply musically devastating, which is good to know, as that is very much the design brief here.
No list of the best 8-string guitars would be complete without an O.G. pick from Ibanez, and this Prestige model has the immaculate build and finish we would expect from its Japanese-built models, that’s exemplified by the Prestige fret-edge treatment that gives its ebony fretboard such a luxurious feel.
While the RG silhouette will always race a flutter in the heart of every shredder, Ibanez has gone for a sober finish on a guitar that is wholly geared towards playability and tone. The five-piece Wizard neck is a slimline sandwich of maple and wenge, super smooth, super quick, measuring 55mm wide at the nut but just 19mm deep at the first fret. That’s fast.
The hardware is quality throughout, with a set of locking Gotoh tuners up top and a Gibraltar Standard II-8 hardtail bridge a triumph in minimalism, and little touches such as the Luminlay side dot fret markers are just the icing on the cake. The DiMarzio Fusion Edge humbuckers are hot, dynamic, and the coil-tap switch profoundly expands the RG5328’s tone menu. This is one versatile 8-string that ships in a factory tuning of 1D#, 2A#, 3F#, 4C#, 5G#, 6D#, 7A#, 8F.
Not all 8-strings need follow the Superstrat format. Take the new ESP LTD Javier Reyes signature model. The Animals As Leaders riff-master has gone for an offset double-cutaway body that’s ergonomically rounded in all the right places, with a bolt-on maple neck with a low-profile heel joint, and chamfering in both cutaways to enhance upper-fret access.
The Pelham Blue finish calls to mind classic Gibson guitars of yore, and is contrasted nicely with the gold hardware, but this sense of classicism belies the fact that this is a guitar that is driving 8-string guitar design further.
The JR-208 has a full 27” baritone scale length, that keeps those bass strings good and tight so you can really dig in, but once you acclimatise to a neck length that’s more bowling lane than Les Paul, the chances are you’ll find the thin U-profile neck and judiciously flat 15.7” fretboard radius a very comfortable platform for musical adventure.
Strandberg’s designs for 8-string guitars are so forward thinking that to look at a gifted, groundbreaking player such as Sarah Longfield playing them is like being Neanderthal Man watching someone ordering groceries on their iPad. Of course, the headless design reprises the ‘80s Steinberger template but we are seeing it here in an all new light.
Everything seems new and exciting (body shape, bridge design, Fishman Fluence pickups). Everything is premium (Jescar stainless steel frets, roasted maple ‘board, Fishman Fluence pickups). And more to the point, everything about the Sarah Longfield Boden 8 is so playable, with the chambered basswood and maple-topped body offering a lightweight and manageable playing experience that is only enhanced by a very flat 20” fingerboard radius.
The Fluence Modern humbuckers, with their switchable voicings, are a perfect pairing for a guitar such as this. And sure, the Boden 8 Sarah Longfield Edition is not cheap, but for the dedicated 8-string player, and those who, like Longfield, need a pro-quality instrument to deliver on the extended-range format’s promise, it is very much worth the outlay.
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The Silver Mountain finish is going to divide opinion but there is no question that it nails the ’80s shred style, and it is beautifully applied to body and neck alike. Schecter has always been a redoubtable presence on the 8-string guitar market and the Silver Mountain applies all of the company’s experience in a guitar that is built for future-forward metal styles.
The mahogany neck is described as a deep insert neck, which is a set neck but feels very much like a neck-through build, with exceptional resonance and sustain and very generous access to the upper frets. There’s a set of locking tuners and an industry standard Hipshot bridge to keep things solid. This, allied to the 25.5” to 27” multi-scale design, gives the Silver Mountain a real state-of-the-art feel.
The tones are rich, thick and warm, the big old slab of mahogany rounding out the inherent brightness and gnarly output of Schecter’s in-house pickups. Incidentally, these are another very impressive pairing, even if the name Sonic Seducer is as goofy as it comes. As per the Ibanez RG5328, the volume, tone, 3-way selector and coil-tap setup gives the C-8 Silver Mountain a wide variety of tones to play with.
Like the Omen-8, the JS32-8 places what was in times of yore a boutique custom-built instrument within the reach of beginners, and does so while making the 8-string format playable and fun.
You won’t have the bells and whistles in Jackson’s JS series, but entry-level models such as this nonetheless stick to sound principles of guitar design. The neck has a player-friendly 12”-16” compound radius and an approachable 26.5” scale (just an inch longer than standard Fender scale), but crucially it is graphite-reinforced and typical of a build that does well to get the basics right.
The Jackson humbuckers are hot enough to tease out harmonic squeals and a rhythm guitar tone that could cause structural damage. The Dinky body remains one of the most ergonomically pleasing S-style shapes in guitar design. Great value, great fun, and a fine candidate for buying and modding.
The Eclipse sticks out here like a sore thumb. In a market dominated by S-style guitars, it is the only 8-string singlecut among our picks. But that’s not why it should stick out; turn your attention to the bridge and you’ll discover a very smart EverTune F model bridge, so named and so lauded because it does not go out of tune.
For an 8-string guitar, where tuning can be an issue, the case for an always in tune instrument is compelling. Once set up, you need not adjust the headstock tuners – tuning and intonation remains fixed. It’s a triumph of design. If you are a player who likes to use a heavy 0.08 eighth string, do check before buying that the EverTune model can take the string; the EC-1008 ships with a 0.065 as the eighth-string and the heaviest gauge ESP/LTD use on its 8-strings is 0.074.
Otherwise, well, it’s an Eclipse – a mahogany singlecut with a maple top, set mahogany neck – albeit one with a 54mm-wide nut. The EMG pairing is a classic for ESP/LTD, just think Hetfield-esque rhythm tones transposed down into the bass player’s register. It’s a very classy 8-string.
Ibanez’s metal-focused Iron Label Series offers good value for weaponized guitar spec, and the RGMS8 is a seriously powered 8-string S-style. For just over 500 bucks you’ll get a multi-scale instrument, running from a conventional RG scale of 25.5” on the first string, down to a baritone 27.2” on the low eighth string.
The RGMS8 also borrows some construction inspiration from its more expensive siblings, with it, too, using a five-piece maple and walnut neck in an über-svelte Ibanez Wizard III-8 profile. Measuring 20mm deep at the first fret, with a very gentle taper to 21mm at the 12th, it’s similarly built for speedsters, but also makes the RGMS8 very accessible for players fretting chords on an 8-string for the first time.
The five-way switching system allows for full exploration of the impressive Array humbuckers. You can access the neck pickup in series or in parallel, both pickups in series, both pickups’ inner coils, and the bridge pickup in series. Those parallel and outer coil positions give the RGMS8 some very persuasive clean tones, particularly if you augment them with a little modulation. Like the Jackson JS Series Dinky, this would make a good candidate for modding further down the line.