Though the idea is as old as the traditional 6-string guitar itself, does adding extra strings for expanded range the makings of the ultimate guitar for heavy metal music?
By: Ringo Bones
Even though the idea of adding some extra strings to the instrument to expand its range is as old as the traditional 6-string guitar itself – indeed it is, in fact, much older than the one cobbled up by Andres Segovia. Renaissance and Baroque era lutenists often added extra bass courses to their advanced lessons to facilitate a more ambitious musical counterpoint. More recently, George Van Eps conceived a 7-string Gretsch in hopes of rivaling the piano’s harmonic richness. During the mid-1980s, Steve Vai created a 7-string Ibanez so that he could “shred” unimpeded across five-and-a-half octaves and Jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter employed 7-string and 8-string Novax guitars to play simultaneous bass and guitar lines.
But the more recent 7-string and 8-string solid-body electric guitar mania springs fourth from a more visceral desire – to play heavy metal guitar riffs so low in pitch and lethal they make your fillings rattle. Ever since rap hip-hop and hardcore punk metal hybrid bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit got lucky enough to get regular mainstream FM radio airplay during the late 1990s, guitar companies have ever since issuing an unprecedented number of electric guitars with low B-strings (61.7 Hz). During the heyday of hair-metal, 7-string and 8-string solid-body electric guitars was usually an expensive custom item, but ever since the Y2K scare came and went, 7-string and even 8-string solid-body electric guitars in the 500 US dollar to 1,500 US dollar price range suddenly became something that any self-respecting progressive avant-garde 21st Century era heavy metal band can’t do without.
The most popular 8-string solid-body electric guitar in current manufacture is by Ibanez – as in their Ibanez RG8 8-string electric guitar, though the first mass-produced 8-string guitar was made by Ibanez Guitars in Japan – as in the Ibanez RG228 – primarily as a toe-in-the-water exercise to capitalize on the low-frequency-guitar-riffs mania of the late 1990s. And ever since, the 8-string solid-body electric guitar has been in widespread use by modern heavy metal guitarists who first got their major record label deals back in the mid-1990s. Such as Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström of Meshuggah, Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, Stephen Carpenter of Deftones, Justin Lowe and Trent Hafdahl of After the Burial and others. The 8-string solid-body electric guitar is particularly associated with the “djent” sound popularized by Meshuggah and other contemporary metal artists.
The 8-string guitar’s standard tuning, from low to high, is F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E. Other alternative tuning interpolations are available and, more often than not, 8-string guitar users chose other tuning permutations to suit according to his or her playing style. Many prefer to tune the low F# string to a low E (41.2 Hz) which gives the 8-string guitar the same range as a 4-string bass guitar and to provide the 8-string guitar with a fuller sound three different E-strings were used as “sympathetic resonance strings”. While some progressive metal and alternative metal guitarists tend to tune their 8-string guitars in either open-D tuning or a more exotic Jazz-based major-thirds tuning.