The Complete Guide To 7 String Guitar: Origins, Uses, And Advantages

By Christoper Horton •  Updated: 07/06/21 •  7 min read

It has been a long time since the first 7 String guitars first popped up. In fact, it’s been over 30 years now! But where did they come from? How do you utilize a 7 String guitar? We Have all the answers for you, today!

7 String Guitar: Where Do We Start?

There was a time not too long ago, when “7 String guitar” was kind of a bad word. There was a stigma attached to it, that came mostly from Nu-Metal bands and their use of 7 Strings. Bands like Korn put the 7 string guitar in the limelight for the first time really. For quite a few years, they were associated with over-simplified playing… even though it was a virtuoso that designed it!

The 7 string as we know it today went through quite a few different iterations before it became the guitar we know today. For the most part, the 7 string guitar has been around for almost 230 years in different forms. In fact, they have been used by Jazz guitarists for years as well. But these were rare cases, and not a mass produced guitar. These were cool guitar for sure…

But we are going to focus fire on the solid body electric models that popularized the idea. You know, the one that Steve Vai made popular.

7 string guitar
Ibanez Steve Vai Universe UV777BK

7 String Guitar Origins: Early Ideas

The first 7 string guitar was made by a luthier named Kirk Sand in 1983, and designed by Lenny Breau. But the 7th string was not a lower string, but instead a higher string above the high E. This string was tuned to A. There were tons of problems with this idea, especially when it came to scale length. The high A string had too much tension at a normal scale length of 25.5, and constantly found itself being broken. The idea was abandoned.

Steve Vai took up the idea in the mid 80’s. But after several prototypes with Ibanez Guitars, he finally took inspiration from Jazz 7 strings. He suggested adding a 7th string, but lower. Rather than the original idea of the 7th string being a high string. This still gave you extended range. Ibanez put the guitar into production in 1990.

Standard Tuning (from low to high) for a 7 string guitar is:

Steve Vai used the Universe 7 string for a couple of album cycles in the early 90’s and late 80’s. Most notably on the legendary album “Passion And Warfare” in 1991. This put the 7 string guitar in the spotlight, and in the hands of a virtuoso.

The Complete Guide To 7 String Guitar: Origins, Uses, And Advantages

These new Ibanez 7 string guitars were the first mass produced solid body guitars of their kind. Vai did some interesting things with them, but soon abandoned them. Vai has gone on to use them again recently, but soon after his vision was realized, he put the 7 string guitars on the shelf in favor of his 6 strings. This left the used guitar market flooded with a ton of Ibanez Universe guitars.

Some other big names ended up using the Ibanez Universe, such as John Petrucci, Reb Beach, and a few other shredders from the 80’s. Ibanez halted production in the 90’s since the demand was non-existent. Vai has been quoted saying that he knew someone would find a use for 7 string guitars, one day.

That day came a lot quicker than he thought.

Resurgence: The 7 String Makes It’s Return

The 7 string guitar was dead in the water by 1993, with even it’s creator leaving it behind. With so many of the guitars floating around the market though, a few different bands picked them up. But by far the most notable of these bands is Korn.

The Complete Guide To 7 String Guitar: Origins, Uses, And Advantages
Head and Munky of Korn

Korn seemed to come out of nowhere in the 90’s. The band was from Bakersfield, California. Their debut album took Metal, Rock, and hip hop influences to the absolute extreme. Munky and Head from Korn had been told that the 7 string guitar was made for technical players, not people looking to just “riff”. The duo took on that challenge, tuning the 7 string down a full step to A standard.

Korn’s debut album became a huge success, and for the first time in a few years, Ibanez was back in the spotlight and making new 7 string models. Ibanez even made signature guitars for the guitarists of Korn, called the K7 . This pushed several other bands to take up lower tunings, and 7 string guitars. By the 2000’s tons of bands had embraced the idea of 7 strings.

Modern Day: 7 String Guitar Becomes a Household Name

These days, almost every “Metal” guitar company makes a few 7 string models. They have gained huge huge popularity and are used by technical players, as well as people similar to Korn, that use them for “riffing”. bands like Periphery have breathed some new life into the instrument.

This puts the 7 string guitar right back where it started, in the hands of technical players and Progressive Rock/Metal virtuosos. Companies like Schecter, Ibanez, and Dean make tons of 7 string models every year. These continue to sell extremely well!

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of playing a 7 string guitar? How do you use one?

7 String Guitar: Uses

A lot of people get really intimidated by the idea of 7 strings, but there are tons of ways to utilize the extra string. Most players these days tune down, and that’s one way to use them. With the advent of Fan-Fret 7 strings, it’s never been easier to tune down really low.

But the standard tuning that we mentioned earlier is still really valid. This is personally how I like to use my 7 string. Standard tuning gives you not only lower range, but it also gives you different ways to play scales and modes. You can use the low B as an anchor point for starting a run, or you can use the lower notes to end a run. Either way, it adds a different flavor to your playing.

Some players view a 7 string as “just a six string with an extra string”. I think this is a pretty inaccurate approach. The 7 string is a totally different instrument, and should be looked at as such. I believe you should look at the 7 string as a new guitar experience, and use the lower string for more than just riffing lower notes. But hey, that’s just me.

No matter how you want to use it, the 7 string guitar definitely opens up different possibilities! This can boost your creativity, as I have said before regarding tunings. I use the 7 string as a different “color” for my instrumental palate. I think this is a huge advantage!

7 String Guitar: Is It For You?

Maybe it is! Like everything else, I think you should go out and try them for yourself. 7 string guitar is definitely not for everyone, but i certainly don’t think you should be intimidated by them. It’s actually really easy to acclimate to the extra string. My first 7 string took me about 5 days or so to get used to.

For some people, the added range opens up tons of creative possibilities. I have also met accomplished guitar players that tried them out, and had no use for them. So in the end, it depends on the player and your style.

Christoper Horton

Christopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects at home in Georgia. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.

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