Thoughts on Extended Range Guitars
I have mixed opinions on these seven and eight string guitars that are all the rage these days. Today, many guitar manufacturers are producing more seven and eight string guitars than ever. There are even some companies who are commercially selling nine and ten string guitars. This is nothing new, but the extended range guitars have hit the mainstream allowing musicians to easily purchase them in any music shop. Before, these guitars had to be custom designed by companies that specialize in making personalized (and very expensive) guitars. Are standard tuning six-string guitars becoming extinct within the heavy metal music genre?
I am fond of the idea of extended range guitars because it gives you more notes to choose from. I currently own a seven string guitar and love it. How could you go wrong with having more notes?! The seven and eight strings on these fashionable guitars grant you benefits of lower tunings while providing the higher notes for soloing. The low B string on the seven string guitars allow you to play chunky and roaring chords that only a six string baritone guitar —a guitar sold with a lower tuning— can bear. Since their existence, these extended range guitars have donated their brutal tones to many bands which helped them forge great metal albums. The higher notes that are spared by not tuning your guitar to a lower tuning can deliver screaming guitar solos. The eight string guitars fit nicely into avant-garde style metal projects that rely on unique sounds or bands that thrive on pushing the limits. Nine string guitars sometimes add multiple bass strings along with the standard guitar strings for more fun. A guitar-bass hybrid seems blasphemous, but I imagine they are engaging and entertaining to play — if you can fit your hand around the neck, that is.
In theory, these new guitar breeds have been a great addition to the metal genre, but it seems many bands default to extended range guitars because they are perceived as “heavier.” It makes them feel awesome, appear to be a better guitarist, and think of themselves as cutting-edge. Getting on stage with a fatty guitar with nearly a million notes to choose from is bound to dazzle a few. Using a seven string guitar on a metal record was a unique experience and was seldom used in the past. I feel like the overuse of extended range guitars is like overusing the double kick drum; if you use it too much, it loses what made it special. I love the super fast kick drum and blast beats —when the drummer hits the snare, a cymbal, and kick all together really fast— but I don’t think they should be used in every song by every metal artist.
I really don’t think there is anything wrong with these beastly extended string guitars, but in a way it feels like they are completely different instruments. As you can see in the video above, there are artists who own extended range guitars but don’t misapply them; just because he has those extra strings doesn’t mean it needs to be used throughout the song. The modern guitar has been around for a long time and they have always been made with six strings. There is no doubt that many metal-centric guitar newbies will chose the seven or eight strings over their six string counterparts because they are “badass.” I guarantee that some artists will feel constrained by just six strings even though it was never an issue in the past.
Perhaps seven string guitars will become the new standard in the metal genre. In the heavy metal genre, the standard tuning six string guitar is become the exception rather the standard. Extended range guitars are something new and something fresh to many, but when a guitar has 13 strings, will it still be considered a guitar? When do we draw the line on the classic beloved instrument? Ten years from now, will using a good ol’ six string be considered strange as a guitarist using a five string? I have a premonition that guitars as we know them may be going through a transformation.