Fretboard Geek

Introduction to 7 and 8 string guitars

Getting started adding extra strings on guitar can be challenging even for the most experienced players.

If you’re just about to buy your first 7 or 8 string guitar, or you own one and are wondering what the first steps in mastering the extra string should be, this article is for you!

First, let’s take a brief look at their history.

Where does the 7 or 8 string guitar originate from?

Apart from some variations of the classical guitar, the first popular use of 7 strings guitar comes in the early 90’s from none other than the legendary Steve Vai. Out of the many innovations the music legend brought to guitar building with his custom models, the 7 string guitar is probably the biggest one.

If you are familiar with Steve Vai’s music then you realize that the purpose of the 7 string guitar was not to play low tuned chugs (heavy palm muted riffs) as it is generally today. Steve used his signature ibanez UV7 to extend his innovative musical ideas further, reaching out for more complex leads, arpeggios and only sometimes to play heavy rhythms.

The same model, used later by the likes John Petrucci and Korn, took the instrument to great heights and made it popular among prog metal and nu metal, which also helped to make the instrument more popular by leading the torch as far as the most popular metal genre of the late 90s and early 2000s.

The 8 string electric guitar comes right from the metal area during the late 90s from pioneer bands in their genres like Meshuggah, Deftones and Animals. There are many variations of the 8 string guitar, some are great for chugging and reaching tunings up to E one octave down, while others, like the Tosin Abasi signature guitar, can be also a good choice for some lead work.

Getting started with the 7 string guitar

  • What is the extra string?

On a standard tuned 6 string guitar the notes of the strings are E, A, D, G, B, E.

The formula of the strings interval wise consists of –  three intervals of a fourth (low E to A, A to D and D to G), followed by a major third (G to B), followed by one more fourth (B to the high E).

On a 7 string guitar we add an extra low B string, is is tuned an interval of a fourth (low B to the Low E)

  • How is it built differently?

The main difference in the build of the guitar is the wider neck and longer scale.

Most six-string solid body electric guitars have scale lengths that fall somewhere between 24.5 and 25.5 inches, while on seven-string guitars span a it’s generally between 25.5 inches to 27 inches or above.

The wider neck and longer scale both serve the purpose of fitting in the extra string and the thicker string gauge used. By having a longer scale, 7 string guitars make sure that the strings, even though they are thicker, are not hard to fret due to the loose tension the longer neck creates.

Also, one thing to point out is that the wider neck is built usually with an angle that even guitarists with small hands can play without any trouble. So if that’s the case for you, there’s nothing to worry about.

  • How to get started with the techniques used?

The 7 string can be used for much more than metal music. The techniques used for a 7 seven string are the same as for a 6 string guitar, with the only exception that you should be extra careful with muting and playing clean–the low tuned 7th string can sound muddy if played accidentally.

  • How to start learning the fretboard?

The good news is that all the chord shapes you already know and use apply to the 7 string guitar except with a new string added at the bottom.

To help you out in mastering the fretboard in a practical way we just recently added drills for the 7 and 8 string guitar to our web app.

All you need to master the extra strings can be achieved by going through our 14 drills and keeping score of your progress.

  • How to get great at it?

As with all instruments, you have to work inside the possibilities and limitations it offers. However, there are some points we would like to point out that can advance you a lot on your path to mastering the 7 string guitar.

1- Don’t just sit on the 7th string

Whenever you are playing a low heavy riff, try to add up higher notes for more dynamics. It is very easy to get lost in a drop tuning chugging chords and notes only on the lower strings. That ends up being too repetitive for the listener.

2- Be careful with the overdrive and low end

It’s very easy to make a 7 string guitar sound muddy and too fat at times.
Try to dial down on the low end and the drive when playing both lead and rhythm. Sometimes just chucking the strings and palm muting properly can make the guitar sound heavier

3- Add the 7th string to normal chord shapes

Aim to build up on the experience you already have on the 6 string guitar by adding the 7th string to the shapes and voicing you already know.
The best way to advance faster is toadd information over what you already feel you are good at.

Getting started with the 8 string guitar

The 8 string guitar shares many similarities with the 7 string in almost all aspects. In this section we will point out some of the main differences and some similarities.

  • What is the extra string?

The tuning for an 8 string guitar and for an eight-string it’s usually the same but with the addition of the lowest string tuned to F#. So the “standard” tuning is  F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E.

Some 8 string models can go as low as E one octave down, so it’s not uncommon to find that different bands use different tunings depending on songs.

  • How is it built differently?

What you might find different build-wise on a 8 string are the following

  • The scale length is at least 27 inches to assure the right tension for the extra string
  • The neck is wider and some models are not very lead guitar friendly, as bending strings can feel a bit odd with some models
  • String gauge varies a lot, the low E can be between 0.72 to 0.86 generally.
  • How to get started with the techniques used?

The same concepts apply as with the 7 string. Muting efficiently is still the most important aspect of “controlling” your 8 string guitar.

  • How to start learning the fretboard?

Most of what is valid for the 7 string guitar is also true for the 8 string guitar.

However, the 8 string guitar sometimes needs a different approach in playing and in practising, since there are many new shapes and chord voicings you can use with 2 extra strings.

You might find our new drills for the 8 string guitars very useful to get familiar quickly with the fretboard.

  • How to get great at it?

To become great at playing an 8th string guitar you should double down on all the tips we shared for the 7 strings.

The more strings you add and the more drop tunings you use the easier it is to get caught up in playing only in the lower register and especially on the lowest string. Make it your priority to go beyond that!

Is mastering the 7 and 8 string harder than the 6 string guitar?

Short answer–not really.

The 1 or 2 extra strings can make things harder in terms of technicality and musicality, but a little effort goes a long way.

For example, on an 8 string guitar you do have more string to take care off and there is more work load in memorizing shapes. However, the tonal characteristics of the 8 string make it more limited in the genres, which makes the learning more focused on only some specific aspects.

Same thing applies to 7 and 6 string guitars. The difficulty only depends on what you want to achieve on the instrument you choose.

We are here to help out

We offer FREE ACCESS for 7 days to all our 14 drills. Try them out with your 7 or 8 string guitar on hand and see the difference a structured system makes in improving your knowledge of the fretboard!

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