When Six Strings Won’t Do…

Most guitars have 6 strings, and most guitarists seem to get by quite fine with that many, thank you. But – from the intro to The Eagles’ Hotel California to the iconic guitar part in Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here (both featuring 12-string guitars); from the 7-string, drop-tuned axes used by modern Djent/Math Rock/Prog Rock bands to the hybrid 8-string multi-scale guitar/bass used by innovators like Charlie Hunter – guitars have been clearly been strung with a multitude of other options. So, do more strings mean that a guitar sounds better, offers more options, or becomes easier to play? Let’s find out…

6+: How? Why?

The answer is the same as with most things in life: it all depends! The guitar is one of the most popular instruments in the world and finds uses in a bewildering variety of styles and genres. If you do a bit of research into its origins, you will find that early guitars were set up somewhat differently, usually with 4 ‘courses’ of strings rather than 6 individual strings (a ‘course’ being 2 strings placed very close together, so that they are plucked or strummed as one, producing a pleasant ‘chorus’ effect; mandolins are another example of this kind of stringing).

The modern 12-string guitar is an extension of this concept, featuring 6 courses of strings (rather than 12 single strings). 4 of these courses involve the second set of strings being tuned one octave higher than the primary set. This produces a very interesting sound, almost like two guitars being played at once. 12-string guitars are often used in folk and ethnic styles – but also famously in classic rock.

Check out: John Butler’s performance on a 12-string

Modern 7- and 8-string guitars were developed specifically for heavier styles of music that required guitar players to have an extended low-frequency range on their instruments. Thus the ‘7th/8th string’ is the thickest string on the instrument and allows the player to play notes previously accessible only by bassists or piano/keyboard players. The added string also enables wider harmonic possibilities. This addition of lower strings has also prompted modern luthiers to fundamentally alter the ‘scale’ of the instrument, producing ‘fanned-fret’ or ‘multi-scale’ designs, to allow each string the best intonation for its frequency.

Check out: Strandberg Guitars | Tosin Abbasi

The multi-scale innovation then allowed some other players to fuse the guitar and the bass – these 8- and 9-string designs feature 3 bass strings and 5 or 6 guitar strings. Clearly, the level of dexterity required to play these instruments (imagine a bass line, melody, harmony all coming from the same instrument at the same time!) is orders of magnitude higher than on a normal 6-string guitar and is thus usually left to crackpot geniuses, few and far between.

Check out: Charlie Hunter

Right. So Let’s Bring on the Double Necks!

Excess. Guitar players through the ages can be accused of many things – but not for avoiding that! So, when 6+ strings won’t do, why not add more necks to the instrument? Most classic rock fans will immediately recollect Jimmy Page’s double-neck electric; with a 6-string an