Extended range guitars, whether 7 or 8 string variants, have become incredibly popular with modern musicians. The extended range allows musicians to play lower music without detuning, retaining a focused and aggressive tone while still being able to pump out chunky riffs on the lower strings.
However, because of the factors at play with extended range instruments as well as the extra design considerations that need to be taken into account when producing them figuring out how to select the best 8 string guitar for your needs can be a real challenge. Thankfully, this article is here to help. It will give you all the information that you need in order to select the best instrument for your situation, as well as giving you a few great recommendations.
- What Should I Look For in an 8 String Guitar?
- On Scale Length
- Top 5 8-String Guitars
What Should I Look For in an 8 String?
Getting the obvious out of the way first, any guitar regardless of string count needs to be built well. This includes things like nut and fret work, the quality of components (saddles and intonation adjustment mechanisms in particular), and the quality of assembly. Also, it should be noted that aesthetic features like flamed tops don’t impact the tone in any noticeable way and raises the price significantly.
You’re also going to need to know the difference between active and passive pickups. Active pickups use a battery, generally a 9-volt battery, in order to boost the signal. Generally these pickups have a high-level of clarity when used with high levels of distortion at the expense of having an underwhelming clean/light gain tone. Passive pickups are the inverse, sacrificing clarity when used with higher levels of gain in order to have more versatility.
On Scale Length
Scale length is the length of the neck, and it has a big impact on how your guitar feels to play. An instrument with a longer scale length is going to be under more tension, which will result in strings that take more effort to play. However, an instrument with a longer scale length will also help to retain tension on the eighth string. This is important to maintain clarity, even though it does result in an instrument that can be more physically taxing to play.
A smaller scale length isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you just need to keep in mind that your sound may not be as tight as a result. Thankfully, this can be compensated for (at least to a point) with your EQ. Essentially, it’s a matter of personal preference as well as the combination of your guitar and the rest of your rig.
Asking “how much should I pay” is the wrong question. The first thing you need to do is think really hard about what you want and what your level of mechanical skill is. A cheaper guitar may need some set-up work, but after it gets that set-up work it may end up being an instrument on par with its more expensive counterparts. Likewise, if you don’t know how to set-up a guitar you may find that buying a better instrument with (hopefully) a higher level of quality control may end up being a better investment.
As to what you want, the first place to start is making a list of your favorite 8-string players. Then, look up their rigs (which you can easily do right here on the website). Now that you have a basic idea of what guitar your favorite eight string players use try to find a guitar that is somewhat in line with that. Generally, Ibanez is a good place to start with this, though there are a wide variety of manufacturers that make great extended range guitars.
Top 5 8-String Guitars
Founded in 1957, Ibanez is one of the most prolific producers of budget minded guitars currently in operation. While the company is currently known for their electric guitars, they actually got their start important Salvador Ibanez guitars, acoustic instruments made in Spain. They imported guitars for 15 years before making their own, eventually branding them Ibanez as a nod to the guitars the originally imported.
During the 1950s Ibanez actually pioneered a variety of different instrument designs, though in the 1960s they started to copy American designs. Many of these instruments were actually pretty solid in their own right, but because they copied their American designs so closely they were eventually sued for infringing on American copyrights. This is what’s known as the “Lawsuit Period”, which many companies actually went through during the 60s to 70s.
The modern variation of the company still produces instruments inspired by American manufacturers, but they also have a variety of notable instruments in their own right (two great examples of which are the Iceman and the Ibanez JEM).
Another great example of a quality instrument designed by Ibanez is the Ibanez RG8, a great budget minded 8 string guitar that doesn’t skimp on quality.
The most notable thing about this instrument is that Ibanez typically has very thin necks when compared to the competition. This is an important thing to keep in mind, because the thinner neck does facilitate faster movement from string to string at the expense of making some more complex passages a bit harder to pull off cleanly. This is entirely a matter of personal preference, though if you have larger hands you should double check that the instrument is going to be a good fit for you by trying out a few Ibanez guitars.
As far as the scale length of the instrument is concerned, the Ibanez occupies the sweet spot in regards to 8 string instruments at 27”. This really isn’t that big of a difference when compared to common 6 string guitar instruments and it’s still long enough to ensure proper tension across all eight strings.
Something else to keep in mind with this instrument is that it does have a bolt-on neck. Basically, a bolt-on neck is less expensive than a set-neck instrument at the expense of some sustain. However, the effect of this really depends on the overall construction. If a guitar is well constructed (which varies from guitar to guitar, even with guitars of the same model) it’s still going to sustain well, just not as well as a set-neck instrument. With that being said, when you consider the price of many set-neck instruments odds are you’re going to find that the difference isn’t worth the increased cost.
The pickups are okay for the price, but the hardware of the instrument is where the instrument really shines. The only real cons associated with this instrument is that it does not come with a case.
The Ibanez RG8 offers a great value for musicians looking for a mid-range 8 string guitar with quality hardware.
Schecter C-8 Deluxe Diamond Series
Founded in 1976, Schecter Guitar Research (generally known simply as Schecter) is currently one of the most notable manufacturers of modern electric guitars geared towards high-gain applications. An interesting fact about the company that many may not know is that they actually got their start manufacturing replacement parts for Fender and Gibson such as necks, bodies, knobs, pots, and pickups.
The first guitars actually produced by the company were instruments based on Fender designs. The instruments were thought to be on par with the best instruments produced by the company, and their currently produced American made instruments are thought to be on a similar level of quality.
The Schecter C-8 Deluxe 8 String may be great option for musicians on the hunt for an affordable 8 string guitar. The most notable feature of this guitar is that it features a string-through body design. A string-through body design helps to increase levels of sustain, which while the difference isn’t huge it is still a nice inclusion. It also doesn’t raise the price of a guitar to the same level that a set neck does, making it a cheaper way to increase your sustain. The neck is a bolt-on however, so while it does have a pretty impressive amount of sustain for the price point odds are that a set-neck instrument will offer at least a moderate improvement should you choose to pursue a greater investment. This guitar is one of the few in its price range that feature a string-through body design.
The Schecter C-8 features 24 jumbo frets, which may or may not be a deal breaker for some of you. There are musicians who require more frets in order to have access to higher passages, though this isn’t going to be a huge deal to the majority of you. There aren’t a ton of songs that really require anything beyond the 24th fret. The scale length of the C-8 is 28”, which does a lot to help retain the tension of the 8th string. While this is longer than many 8 strings it’s not going to be a huge difference unless you have very large hands.
The C-8’s body is made from basswood. Basswood is a cheaper tonewood, but there isn’t anything objectively awful about it. It’s very light, and considering that the majority of an electric’s instrument tone is going to come from its construction and pickups the body wood isn’t going to have a dramatic impact on the end tone. There’s actually probably going to be a larger variation between different brands using similar pickups (i.e. Ibanez passive pickups vs. Schecter pickups) than there will be between guitars made of different tonewoods.
The pickups are on par with “Duncan Designed pickups”, which while they aren’t on the level of nicer (and more expensive) pickups so long as you competently EQ your amp you aren’t likely to be overly disappointed. The Schecter C-8 is a great option for those looking for a solid entry-level 8 string guitar that will hold up to consistent play.
Founded by Grover Jackson in 1980, Jackson Guitars (commonly known simply as Jackson) have gained a reputation as being one of the best options available for musicians looking for affordable guitars geared towards heavier genres of music. The more expensive guitars produced by the company feature a long list of notable endorsers, such as: Adrian Smith, Dave Mustaine, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Healey, and Kirk Hammett.
The company actually originated by after its most notable endorsee, Randy Rhoads, approached the company with his idea of a personal guitar. This resulted in the creation of the Jackson Concorde, which was a redesign of the Gibson Flying V.
While the endorsees of the company almost exclusively use the more expensive instruments, Jackson’s Dinky series has been a favorite of musicians for years. The guitars combine a sleek and functional aesthetic with a host of great features for their price point. A perfect example of this is the Jackson JS Series Dinky Archtop JS32-8 DKA 8-string.
The most notable feature of this guitar is that it has a string-through bridge design, which is relatively uncommon in this price range. Essentially, a string-through body enhances the sustain of an instrument by increasing the tension the strings are under as well as giving them a more solid foundation. This helps to eliminate “tone suck”, which can happen when the strings aren’t attached to a heftier material (think a cheap pot metal Fender style bridge, which you’d generally find with guitars in the $100 to $250 range).
Another notable feature of this guitar is that it has passive humbuckers, which while they don’t sound quite as clear as active pickups do help to retain a more musical voice. We’ll get into this in more detail in the section below, but just remember that just because a guitar has active pickups it won’t necessarily have a poorer sound quality when used with high levels of gain.
The guitar also has a pretty moderate scale length of 26.5”, which helps to facilitate faster passages without losing clarity with the thicker strings. Jackson also outfitted this guitar with a single volume and tone control, which while these don’t offer quite as much control over your tone they do help to keep costs low. Lastly, the guitar also features a bolt-on neck. While a set-neck helps to increase sustain, the bolt-on configuration does do a lot to help keep costs low without having a huge impact on the overall tone.
This guitar is a solid investment so long as you don’t plan on down tuning the instrument. The guitar is considered to play well in standard tuning, but because of its lower scale length some users state that the string tension can suffer when used to play songs in drop tunings.
This guitar is a good option for those who are looking for an affordable 8 string. The high-output passive pickups are also good at producing a musical tone under high levels of gain. The Jackson JS Series Dinky JS32-8 is a very solid choice for players looking for an affordable 8-string.
ESP LTD H-308
Founded in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya, ESP is one of the many manufacturers who allow musicians who may not have the deepest pockets to find a guitar they love. The company offers a variety of great budget instruments, and as of today is one of the largest manufacturers of instruments in the world.
Something that many may not know about the company is that they actually got their start by producing aftermarket parts for already established brands. They didn’t start designing and producing guitars until awhile later, though these instruments were very well received. Early ESP guitars were actually adopted by both Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones, Page Hamilton of Helmet, and Vinnie Vincent of KISS.
A perfect example of the company’s ethos, the ESP LTD H-308 8 String is a very viable option for any musician looking for a mid-range 8 string electric guitar. To learn more about how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.
The most notable thing about this instrument is that it features a set-thru neck design. A set-thru neck means that the neck is set into the body and the extends all the way through it. This is a feature that helps to increase sustain because it helps to eliminate resonance dead spots. This does result in a guitar that costs more overall, and the effect it has isn’t that important to your overall tone. However, for those of you who really want a lot of sustain in your guitar the improvement of the set-thru design may be worth it. Just don’t think that if you get a guitar with a bolt-on neck it’s going to sound like a banjo, because it won’t.
Another thing to note about this guitar is that it has a scale length of 25.5”, which can result in the lower strings of the guitar losing some of the clarity you’d find on a guitar with a longer scale length. However, this is of course going to be more of an issue of your rig and personal preferences than any objective shortcoming.
Like many other similarly priced guitars, the H-308 does not have individual tone and volume controls for each pickup. Rather, it has a master volume and a master tone. It also does not come with a hard shell case, so if you do end up deciding to go with this guitar keep in mind that you’ll probably still end up having to sell out some cash for the case.
Something to note about this guitar is that it will likely require a bit of practice to dial in a good tone. The reason for this is that because of its shorter scale the thickest two strings aren’t going to have the same tension that a they would on a guitar with a longer scale length (using strings of the same gauge of course). So in order to get that clarity you’re probably going to have to spend more time dialing in a good tone than you would on another instrument.
With that being said, the EMG 808 guitar pickups that the H-308 are outfitted with are pretty clear and dynamic sounding. Like any other active pickup they do a great job of remaining articulate and tight when used with heavy levels of gain.
The ESP LTD H-308 8 String guitar is a good deal for musicians looking for a mid-range 8 string guitar.
Founded in 1977 by Dean Zelinsky, Dean Guitars (commonly known as Dean) was one of the first widely produced models to cater to guitarists who played genres which used higher levels of distortion. While it may seem weird given the current landscape of western music, there was actually a time where finding a guitar that performed well with high levels of gain actually was pretty difficult. Higher levels of distortion cause a loss of clarity in many pickups, making it hard to utilize the levels of gain we commonly hear today.
The brand gained recognition following its adoption by bands such as Heart, Kansas, The Cars, Molly Hatchet, Triumph, and ZZ Top. The brand featured exotic body shapes as well as a commitment to quality that many manufactures at the time had abandoned, which led to the guitars being adopted by the musicians mentioned above.
Dean’s legacy of providing quality instruments remains unchanged to this very day, as the company is still producing top tier electric guitars (even though they have also expanded into producing budget minded alternatives). A perfect example of Dean’s commitment to quality, the Dean RC Cooley 8 String is definitely worth a look for any musician looking for a professional quality 8 string guitar.
The most notable feature of this guitar is its scale length, which is 26 and 3/8ths. The good part of this is that the shorter scale length results in there being less distance from fret to fret, which facilitates the playing of faster passages. That being said, the guitar may require a higher gauge in order to retain a clearer tone. This is of course going to be a matter of personal preference as well as the other gear that makes up your rig.
Another thing to note is that this guitar has active pickups, which makes it a good fit for higher levels of distortion. However, just like any other active pickups a 9-volt battery is required. They do also have an effect on the tone, which we’ll get into in the section following this one.
It should be noted that because this is a professional level instrument the hardware is going to perform much better than a cheaper one, and odds are the quality control is going to be on a much higher level. This essentially means that barring the possibility of an initial set-up this guitar is going to be free from the issues that can plague a less expensive instrument (poor fret/nut work, hardware degradation, stripped screws, etc.).
The tone is concerned the guitar is representative of the classic active pickup sound. It has a lot of clarity under high levels of gain due to active its active pickups, and odds are if you’re a fan of EMG 808s you’re probably going to like the tones you can pull out of this guitar. Just keep in mind that because it has active pickups it probably isn’t going to be a good fit for genres that require lower levels of gain.
The Dean RC8 Cooley 8 String is a good investment for the musician looking for a quality instrument, just keep in mind that because it has a shorter scale length it’s likely going to require a higher string gauge.