Why Play a Seven String Guitar?

There are many reasons for playing a seven string guitar.

The top six reasons why I play a seven string guitar are as follows:

  1. A seven string guitar increases the range of notes available to you.
  2. You can play more complex chords and arpeggios.
  3. You can avoid having to drop the tuning on your six string guitar.
  4. You can (more easily) incorporate slapping and thumping techniques to your playing.
  5. A seven string guitar allows you to learn songs written for seven strings.
  6. When you return to your six string guitar, it will feel easier to play.

1. A Seven String Guitar Increases the Range of Notes Available to You

By adding a further string into the bass range, seven string guitars give you access to notes at lower pitch depths while still providing the full pitch range of a standard six string guitar.

If you’re a songwriter, these low frequency bass notes can be put to great effect in setting a darker tone to your music. Particularly for metal or hard rock players, the growl of the additional bass string can be used to great dynamic effect when contrasted against soaring chords or arpeggiated runs.

The additional string also allows you to extend out technique exercises when practising. For example, when practising alternate picking, the seventh string enables you to extend scale and arpeggio patterns beyond the limits of a regular six string which is great for increasing the difficulty level and helping to build stamina.

While the extended width of the fretboard provides a greater challenge for your fretting hand, the greater distance between the highest and lowest strings on a seven string provides a particularly good workout for your picking hand. 

If you’ve got the hang of techniques like hybrid and sweep picking on a six string, it can be a great new challenge to try and apply those skills to a seven string. I found that my technique seemed to become increasingly less polished as I went out of the comfortable width range of my six string guitar. This was probably because by wrist, forearm and elbow weren’t used to this slight extension beyond their usual range of motion. 

Practising on my seven string has allowed me to identify this deficiency in my picking hand and focus on improving my picking technique across the wider string width of my Schecter.

2. You Can Play More Complex Chords and Arpeggios

By adding a seventh string into the mix, your opportunity for creative chords is inevitably increased. The addition of a seventh note in the bass into an already intricate six string chord can add real gravitas.

Even for simpler chords or riffs, being able to contrast the airy, delicacy of the higher strings against a deep seventh string bass line can make for some playful and exciting listening.

Alternately picked arpeggiated runs also have an added degree of majesty about them when you’re commencing in the depths of the seven string bass range and ascending to the heady heights of the treble range. 

Sweep-picking on a seven string is benefited by this added pitch range in a similar fashion, with sweep-picked arpeggios across the full extent of the seven strings sounding truly glorious (and posing an exciting challenge to master).

3. You Can Avoid Having to Drop the Tuning on Your Six String Guitar

It’s often the case that after hearing a great song I’ll download the tablature only to find that the song was written in a tuning which is significantly below standard tuning.

Let’s take the latest song I’ve started to learn on my Schecter as an example: Veil of Maya’s track Fracture. Based on the tab I’ve downloaded and the covers I’ve watched, the song is in drop G (F#1-C#2-F#2-B2-E3-G#3-C#4). 

Attempting to drop tune my Gibson SG to this level would be ridiculous. As my Gibson SG is set up for standard tuning, the strings would be comically spaghetti-like if I tried tuning down to drop F#. The only sound that you’d hear from my SG at this tuning would be the jangle of metal string against metal fret.

Having my Schecter Hellraiser C-7 around means that I have access to lower tunings without needing to put my six string through a major luthier reset just to learn a new song.

4. You Can (More Easily) Incorporate Slapping and Thumping Techniques to Your Playing

Slap and thump techniques are more commonly associated with the bass guitar, but the techniques can be applied to regular guitar just the same.

I appreciate that slap and thumping techniques can be applied on a regular six string guitar, but I found that it was much easier starting out learning this technique on the chunkier string gauge of the low bass string on my seven string guitar compared with my six string guitar set up with standard gauge strings.

I couldn’t bring up the thumping technique without embedding a clip of the master Tosin Abasi (and you’ll note he’s pulling off this excellence on a six string… I have some practising to do.):

5. A Seven String Guitar Allows You to Learn Songs Written for Seven Strings

This was a big driver in my decision to pick up a seven string. As a big fan of bands like Veil of Maya and guitarists like Stephen Taranto, I wanted to pick up a seven string just for the purpose of learning (correction: attempting to learn) their songs.

I have by no means mastered the six string guitar yet and I didn’t pick up my Schecter with the intention of it becoming by daily driver. I was just excited to learn some seven string songs (and who doesn’t love a new guitar day?).

As mentioned above, the song I’m currently trying to learn on my seven string is Fracture by Veil of Maya. The intro to this track is perfect in demonstrating the ability to flit rapidly between the depths of the lowest bass string to the heights of the highest string when playing a seven string guitar. This madness is made even more complex with Marc Okubo’s incorporation of seamless Floyd Rose bends and flutters.

6. When You Return to your Six String Guitar, it Will Feel Easier to Play

After you’ve been playing your seven string for an extended period of time, going back to playing a six string suddenly feels like a piece of cake (in my experience). 

I think this can be accounted to the greater physical width between the highest and lowest strings on a seven string and the wider fretboard. 

As photographed below, the width of my Gibson SG’s fretboard is 4.4cm (1.73 inches) while the width of my Schecter Hellraiser C-7 fretboard is 4.9cm (1.93 inches).

Once you’ve got used to the wider neck and fretboard with your fretting hand and the extended range of motion required of your picking hand, the return to a standard six string feels equivalent to removing a weighted vest.

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