5 Best 7 String Guitars: When 6 Wires Aren't Enough
By Mason Hoberg
With the advent of heavier genres of music that are utilizing increasingly low tunings, a 7-string guitar is quickly becoming a must have accessory if you want to play along with your favorite modern heavy rock and metal acts. As guitars (and basses) with extra strings have become more popular it’s gotten harder and harder to know what brands are producing quality instruments and what brands are just trying to capitalize on the latest craze.
If you’ve ever had a hard time trying to choose the best 7 string guitar for your needs, you’ve come to the right place! This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed purchase, as will as give you five great recommendations to help aid you in your search!
- Why Would I Need A 7-String Guitar?
- What Should I Look For In A 7-String Guitar?
- Uses of 7-String Guitars
- The Five Best 7-String Guitars
Why Would I Need A 7-String Guitar?
A 7-string guitar allows you to utilize a string that is tuned lower (generally a fifth) than the 6th string on a regular guitar. This is helpful for getting tones that are lower than what you’d find on your run of the mill electric.
A 7-string is pretty much required if you want to play certain types of hard rock because there’s a limit to how low you can tune your guitar before you lose definition and sustain. Sure, it’s possible to tune your guitar down to B standard (the same intervals as standard tuning but much lower) it just generally results in a flabby and muddy tone. You can somewhat compensate for this by using a heavier gauge set of string (strings that are bigger around) but there’s a limit to how much that’s going to help you.
What Should I Look For In A 7-String Guitar?
7-string guitars really aren’t that much different from any other guitar, you just have to be more careful. Just like acoustic 12-strings, 7-string guitars are under more pressure than they’re six string counterparts. So you need to make sure that you’re going to find something that’s going to hold up under that extra tension. Most brands compensate for this, just make sure that you invest in a reputable brand. Epiphone is a great example of this, and they’ve turned out their fair share of great 7-strings that won’t hurt your wallet too bad. Maestro? Not so much.
Apart from that, just check for the things you’d look for in any other guitar. Make sure that every note frets cleanly up and down the neck. Check for things like rust or stiff tuners. And definitely look as close as you can to make sure that there isn’t any structural damage like cracks or warping.
Uses of 7-String Guitars
While 7-string guitars are generally used by musicians in heavier genres of music, they do actually have some use to the average musician as well. 7-string guitars are great if you want to use some different chord voicings for jazz, and having that lower string is definitely a huge help if you want to bust out some walking bass lines.
The only downside is that most 7-string guitars are built with hotter pickups, meaning that the pickups themselves are geared more towards heavy music. It’s really easy to switch out pickups however, and if you don’t feel like trying your hand at it there are actually a few companies turning out 7-string guitars aimed at jazz musicians.
The Five Best 7-String Guitars
As always, we try to make sure that we have something on our list that appeals to everyone. We try to make sure that people who can’t justify dropping $3,000 on a guitar can still find something off of our articles that will work for them. Just keep in mind that the best option for you may not be the best option for your neighbor, and vice versa.
Having trouble deciding which 7-string guitar is the right choice for you? If so, you’re in luck! The five recommendations below are all great buys and have all gotten huge amounts of praise from both members of the Reverb community and the buying public at large.
While everyone knows Ibanez, what many might not know about the company is that they were actually among the first to bring legitimacy to Asian made instruments. They were also among the first companies to gain a strong foothold in the Western market, namely the United States and Europe.
The precursor to Ibanez, the Hoshino Gakki company was actually a division of the Hoshino Shoten company that focused on selling instruments. The Ibanez name came from the companies absorption of Salvador Ibanez Spanish guitars. The modern incarnation of the company began in the late 1950s, where they started launching their own innovative instrument lines. This in turn led to the lawsuit period, where Ibanez was among a host of other instrument manufacturers that copied venerable American instrument designs and marketed them under their own name. Ibanez also produced a line of guitars under the Mann name to avoid North American authorities.
Following the lawsuit period, Ibanez once again began producing their own instruments. This led to the Iceman and Ibanez Roadstar guitars, both of which have gone on to receive critical acclaim in their own right.
A perfect example of Ibanez’s commitment to innovation and providing an affordable instrument, the Ibanez RG7421 is a great entry level seven string. The most notable feature of this instrument when comparing it to similarly priced instruments is that it has a slightly limited control scheme. It only has one tone and one volume, which while that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a quality instrument it is something to be considered.
Another important thing to note is that most modern Ibanez guitars utilize an AANJ neck joint (all access neck joint), which while this is a bolt-on configuration it does offer significantly better upper-fret access than a standard bolt-on configuration. The joint itself is also rounded and slimmed, which further increases upper fret access. It does reduce sustain in a way similar to that of any other bolt-on design however, which is something to be considered if you’re weighing the pros and cons of this instrument compared to one with a set-in neck.
The neck is a five-piece configuration made from a combination of maple and walnut, with a rosewood fretboard. Ibanez necks are known for being very slim, which is also the case here. If you’re a fan of chunkier necks be sure to try out this guitar in person before you commit to buying it. The body is made from basswood, which is known for being a light-weight tonewood that doesn’t negatively affect sustain.
Most of you looking at this type of guitar know that it’s going to be geared toward heavier genres. However, for those of you who are looking a seven-string for different applications be sure to note that these are high-output humbuckers. This means that the pickups themselves sound better when used in conjunction with high levels of gain, whereas low-output pickups function better with lower levels of gain and clean tones.
With that out of the way, the Ibanez RG7421 is able to conjure up very passable metal tones given that it’s played through the right amp. It retains a lot of clarity when used with high distortion, and the humbuckers have a lot of bite without having a tendency to sound piercing.
As far as quality is concerned, the Ibanez RG7421 does not have any commonly cited structural flaws. Ibanez is also known for having pretty good quality control, so odds are you’re not going to have to worry about receiving a poorly constructed instrument.
The Ibanez RG7421 offers a pleasing entry level 7-string that any musician should be able to get a serviceable tone out of. Unlike a lot of other cheaper Asian made instruments, it’s uncommon for Ibanez to produce a poorly made instrument. If you want a quality entry level 7 string, it would be hard to go wrong with this Ibanez RG.
Jackson JS22-7 Dinky
Jackson Guitars was founded in 1980 for the venerable guitarist Randy Rhoads. Rhoads actually approached the company with an idea for an individualized guitar. He actually collaborated with the company’s founder Grover Jackson (as well as Tim Wilson and Mike Shannon) to create the iconic modern update to Gibson’s Flying V guitar that was used to great success during his time with Ozzy Osbourne.
The guitars were especially popular throughout the 80s, and quickly gained a reputation for pumping out high-quality, American made, custom produced instruments. In the 1990s the company updated their designs to serve a new market. In order to allow average working musicians and hobbyist musicians to use their instruments they began producing Asian-made versions of their instruments that were significantly more affordable.
The Jackson JS22-7 Dinky is a great example of the company bringing their venerable designs to the beginner’s market, and all things considered really is a great entry-level seven string guitar.
The first thing to note about this instrument is that the neck is a bit chunkier than the similarly priced Ibanez we also reviewed for this article, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your preference. The neck joint is a bit heftier than the AANJ (all access neck joint) that’s featured on the Ibanez, which can make accessing the upper registers a bit more difficult for those of you with larger hands.
A larger neck is a double-edged sword, because it makes vertical movements (from string to string) a bit harder but it also makes it easier to play complex passages with more accuracy. This is why you see a lot of jazz guitarists and finger-style musicians using guitars with a wider neck.
Scale length is also an important factor in how a guitar will feel. A longer scale length results in a more bell-like tone, where a shorter one gives you a bit more warmth. Scale length’s effect on tone isn’t universal of course, because it’s only one part of the equation. Something that’s an objective change is that scale length does effect tension. So a longer scale length guitar will feel harder to play at the same pitch than a shorter one.
The Dinky has a scale length of 26.5”, which can make it feel a bit stiff when tuned to standard pitch (BEADGE). However, this does mean that the guitar is well suited to being played in lower tunings, because by having that longer scale length it’s able to retain enough tension at these lower tunings that you don’t have to worry about your tone becoming muddy.
Like many guitars in this price range, the electronics on the Dinky are mediocre when compared to a more expensive instrument. With that being said however, the hardware and overall quality of the body is impressive for the price point. Beginner musicians certainly aren’t going to find the guitar lacking. And if you’re a more experienced musician you may actually be able to save yourself some cash if you use this guitar as a modding platform. The hardware and wood is on a similar level of quality to guitars in the $300 to $400 range, so if you switch the pickups with a better sounding yet still affordable option (Guitar Fetish pickups are perfect for this) you’ll likely end up with a pretty competent sounding guitar for a relatively low investment.
As far as quality is concerned, the Dinky is appropriate for the price point. The guitar might benefit from a set-up out of the box as most guitars do, but once that’s out of the way you’ll be left with a really good instrument for the money. There also aren’t any structural concerns common to the model which would result in the instrument not being well suited to consistent playing and/or practice.
The Jackson JS22-7 Dinky provides a great platform for modification for more experienced musicians, and a competent instrument for beginning musicians provided they invest in a good set-up.
ESP LTD M-17 Black 7 String Guitar
Founded in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya, ESP (Electric Sound Products) was actually founded to provide custom replacement guitar parts. They also did craft guitars, though on a much smaller level than what they do today. An early adopter of ESP guitars was actually Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones.
ESP guitars were first marketed in the United States as custom instruments, and were actually adopted by a pretty wide variety of New York-based instruments. Some of which include: Page Hamilton, Vernon Reid, Vinnie Vincent, and Bruce Kulick. This eventually led to the 400 series, which was the first mass produced ESP instrument sold in America. A little-known fact about the company is that they actually produced bodies and necks (as well as other parts) for other instrument manufacturers, included Kramer, Robin Guitars, Schecter, and DiMarzio. Given the company’s track record, it’s not surprising that the ESP LTD M-17 is a quality instrument.
Something to note about this guitar is that because it has a 25.5” scale length it well be less well-suited to lower tunings than a guitar with a longer scale length. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use this guitar for lower tunings, but you may need to use a thicker gauge of strings in order to maintain a playable level of tension.
The neck is also a bolt-on configuration, which while that is pretty common for this price range it should be noted that this does result in a lower amount of sustain. It does have a string-through bridge configuration, which does help to offset this.
Thankfully, ESP chose to use passive pickups in this guitar. While active pickups definitely have their uses when playing heavier genres of music, cheaper active pickups have a tendency to sound a bit thin and shrill. So the choice to go with passive pickups in this guitar was definitely a wise one.
The guitar utilizes a basswood body and a maple neck, both of which are woods which help to add a bit more utility to the design. Basswood is prized for its low-weight, while maple is prized for its durability. The rosewood fretboard is also a nice touch, as rosewood (while not affecting the tone overly much) has a significantly better feel than the less desirable woods typically used in guitars at this price point.
Some say this guitar has a tendency to lose clarity when higher levels of gain are utilized. With that being said, this isn’t overly likely to negatively affect beginning musicians. If you have a more developed ear, this guitar (just like the Dinky) is made with high enough quality components that it does provide a great platform for modding.
Another problem many users report is that the guitar has a tendency to go out of tune. While the tuners more likely aren’t the best around, this is most likely a problem that can be alleviated with a good setup. The major flaw with cheaply made Asian instruments is that the workers involved aren’t quite as well versed in nut and fret work as those who focus on producing better instruments. This is why cheaper guitars have a tendency to go out of tune, because while these guitars aren’t poorly made, companies tend to keep prices low by utilizing plastic as opposed to bone or TUSQ for the nut. With the ESP, the hardware and materials utilized in its design are a good value for the price.
Sterling by Music Man JP70 7-String Electric Guitar
Music Man’s story began when Forrest White and Tom Walker formed a company called Tri-Sonix. Tom Walker was actually a former plant manager for Fender, having worked closely with Leo Fender during both the pre and post CBS era.
Walker eventually grew dissatisfied with the management at Fender following Leo’s departure, which is why he decided to strike out on his own. Leo Fender was actually an early investor in the company, though due to a non-compete clause Fender had to remain a silent partner in the company (which is likely why many people aren’t aware of his involvement in the company).
The company actually went on to re-brand as Music Man following advice given by Leo Fender. The early products produced by the company were actually amplifiers, the first of which was the Music Man Sixty Five. The Sixty Five was an early hybrid amplifier, utilizing a solid-state preamp section and a tube power section. The company’s first instruments weren’t introduced until 1976, some of which were actually among the first instruments to feature active pickups. Due to low sales, the company was sold to Ernie Ball in 1984. You could say that a large portion of the instrument line’s success was due to Ernie Ball, because under the company’s leadership Music Man went on to secure a wide variety of professional endorsements for their innovative American made instruments.
Something that prospective buyers should know is that Sterling by Music Man guitars are the equivalent to Fender’s Mexican made instruments. True Music Man instruments are all American made guitars that are among the highest quality mass produced instruments in the world. While Sterling instruments are very competently made, they shouldn’t be confused with the company’s main line.
With that being said, the JP-70 is a very good guitar. It’s an objectively good instrument, and when you consider the price it’s pretty hard to beat. It features locking tuners (which have an unparalleled level of tuning stability), a striking finish, and a great tremolo system.
While the tremolo system is more stable than what you’d find on a Fender, or those produced by Bigsby, it should be noted that it’s not going to offer the same level of tuning stability as a Floyd Rose. It’s great for more subtle techniques, but it’s not the best choice for those of you who utilize more aggressive techniques (like dive bombing).
The pickups utilized in the instrument are high-output, but they are passive. Passive pickups are generally retain a more musical response, which does somewhat limit their utility for very high levels of gain. With that being said, they do offer a more dynamic sound at lower levels of gain.
While every musician is going to have their own preferences, the JP-70 is objectively a quality instrument. If you utilize very high levels of gain you may find that the JP-70 doesn’t hold up as well as a guitar with active pickups, for more moderate genres of music (think Metallica and most heavy rock) you should get pretty good results.
As far as quality is concerned, Sterling is arguably one of the best company’s in its price range in this department. There are no reports of the guitar coming with objectively poor fret or nut work, which when compared to similarly priced Epiphones or Jacksons is pretty remarkable. Of course, it’s always a possibility that due to factors outside of the company’s control (such as changes in humidity during the shipping process, or improper storage on the part of sellers) this guitar may need a set-up after you purchase it. However, it’s less likely to happen with this instrument than it is with those produced by other companies at a similar price point.
The Sterling by Music Man JP70 7-String Electric Guitar is arguably one of the best options in its price range, and while it may be outfitted similarly to other guitars at this price point the company’s quality control is arguably the best in this business.
Epiphone Mett Heafy Les Paul Custom 7 String Guitar
In its modern incarnation, Epiphone is one of the best manufacturers of mid-tier electric guitars around. Their instruments have the benefit of decades worth of examples to draw from, and the company is helmed by some of the most experienced members of the industry.
While earlier Epiphone instruments were a bit hit or miss, more recently made instruments are generally a great bang for your buck. They come with a host of features that would’ve been unheard of on an instrument of this price even just ten years ago, and they generally ship with a level of quality that’s unsurpassed in the price range.
Give the recent trend of the company, it’s pretty safe to say that if you’re on the hunt for a mid-priced seven string guitar you’re going to be pretty pleased with the Epiphone Mett Heafy Les Paul Custom 7 String.
The first thing to know about this guitar is that it comes with active pickups, which makes it a very suitable choice for those of you looking to play genres that require a higher level of gain. The only thing to note is that since active pickups are designed to be played with more distortion they have a much tighter frequency response, so under lower levels of gain they tend to sound a bit thin.
The hardware on this guitar is a significant upgrade to some of the cheaper instruments on this list. It’s at the level where after a good setup it will perform very well in a live setting and even a recording session. You won’t have to worry about your guitar going out of tune under normal use, though because it does not have locking tuners it may not hold up to aggressive playing and/or bends as well as an instrument that does feature them would. The bridge on the instrument isn’t very notable as it’s just your standard tune-o-matic, however it performs as well as any other bridge of this type.
A cool feature of this guitar is that like every other Les Paul it does have dedicated volume and tone controls, which is going to come in handy if you like to have more flexibility with your sound. The neck also has a 1960’s SlimTaper D profile, which while a bit chunkier than your run of the mill Ibanez will still facilitate fast and intricate passages.
As far as tone goes, this guitar is one of the better options available for emulating the tone of a musician that uses active pickups. Active pickups have a bit less variance between different models, EMGs (the pickups used in this guitar) especially. So if you have the proper amp and pedals you should be able to cover a wide variety of different genres. It’s tone is representative of a mid-range active pickup equipped instrument, so while these pickups are generally voiced to be a bit thin because they’re generally used in conjunction with higher amounts of gain they are still capable of producing the snarling aggressive tone characteristic of heavier genres.
Like many signature Epiphone guitars, the Matt Heafy is very well received. It’s built to a better standard of quality than your standard Epiphone, most of which are already built pretty well considering the price. You won’t have to worry about the instrument suffering from any structural problems, excluding the famous Les Paul headstock vulnerability (because of the angle of the headstock many Les Paul instruments are vulnerable in this area).
The Epiphone Mett Heafy Les Paul Custom 7 String is arguably one of the best options for an active pickup 7 string guitar in this price range. The instrument has been well received, and though it may potentially need a set-up after you purchase it you will be able to count on this instrument during practice, live performance, and recording.