Best 7 String Guitars: Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to Seven String Guitars
7 string guitars give guitarists far more than an extra few notes – it can feel like a completely different instrument. The extended range allows you to reach lower notes for some heavy riffs and sounds, but it can also be used to come up with chord voicings not possible with a 6 string guitar.
While 7 string guitars are usually played in heavy styles of music, they’re also popular in other styles of music such as jazz. The flexibility a 7 string guitar can give you only becomes obvious once you start playing one.
In this guide let’s look at some of the best 7 string guitars available today in a few different categories. There are a lot of different options available today for 7 string guitars so this guide will focus on a few specific options to give you a good idea what type of 7 string may suit you best.
What is a 7 string guitar like to play?
If you’ve never picked up a seven string guitar before, they can look a bit intimidating. You’ll be glad to know that you don’t need to relearn guitar to play one and it’s actually a very simple change.
The standard tuning for 7 string guitars is: B E A D G B E
This means you can play anything on a 7 string guitar that you normally would play on a 6 string guitar. The high six strings are exactly the same as a regular 6 string guitar so it’s a very easy change when moving to a 7 string. If you ignore the low string, it’s exactly the same as a regular six string guitar – just with a wider fretboard.
The only real difference is the new low B string. If you already know the note names across the high B string, then you’ll have an easy time finding notes on the low B string as the fret positions will be identical (eg: C on 1st fret). The low B also means that you can play normal power chords across the bottom two strings without any problems. If you’ve never tried a seven string guitar before, you might be surprised with how easy it is to get the hang of one.
You can also experiment with different tunings on a 7 string guitar – just like you would with a 6 string guitar. For example if you drop the low B string to an A, you end up with a dropped tuning similar to what you get with Drop D on a six string guitar. Or you can tune all seven strings down like Korn does (they tune all strings down a whole step to A D G C F A D).
What to look for in a 7 string guitar
One of the most important points to consider is the shape of the neck. A 7 string guitar has a wider neck than a 6 string so the shape of the neck does make a big difference to how comfortable the guitar is to play. If you have large hands you won’t need to think about this, but if your hands are smaller, make sure you choose a guitar with a suitable neck.
7 string guitars by Schecter and ESP tend to have thicker necks, followed by Jackson which tend to be a bit thinner. Ibanez 7 strings are popular for their thin necks while still being strong enough to support the extra string tension. Think about what type of neck you like on a 6 string guitar and the chances are your choice will be the same on a 7 string.
You may have seen some guitars like this and wondered what the deal was:
These are called fanned frets or multiscale guitars. I’ll leave the technical explanation on what the purpose of fanned frets are for another guide. For now the only thing you need to know is that some 7 string guitars will have fanned frets. As you can imagine, playing a guitar with fanned frets is very different to normal parallel frets. Some guitarists love them and others hate them.
Fanned frets aren’t as important with 7 string guitars as they are with 8 or 9 string guitars. So in this guide you’ll notice that I’ve chosen guitars with normal frets and only given one option with fanned frets. For most guitarists there’s no need to get a 7 string with fanned frets – just keep in mind that there are options out there if you do want them.
Best Budget 7 String Guitar
This option is good for guitarists wanting to try a 7 string out but don’t feel like it’s likely to become their main guitar. There are quite a few budget 7 string guitars available and the Jackson JS22-7 Dinky is the most affordable 7 string I would suggest looking at. While there may be other cheaper options, I wouldn’t trust the quality of such a low priced guitar.
It’s a very basic guitar as you would expect from the low price, but it’s enough to get started with 7 strings and see what all the fuss is about.
A very popular alternative to the Jackson is the Ibanez GRG7221 and almost make the top pick for best budget 7 string. They’re both in the same price range so if you prefer Ibanez to Jackson it’s a good alternative.
The way I think about this guitar is that it’s a great way to get your feet wet with 7 string guitars. For the price of one or two pedals you can add a new instrument to your collection that can seriously change the way you think about guitar. As I explain later, picking up a seven string guitar was the best thing that happened to my guitar playing. If you’re interested in 7 string guitars the Jackson is a safe bet.
Best High End 7 String Guitar
While there are quite a few really nice high end 7 string guitars, John Petrucci’s Music Man Majesty stands out in quality and features.
Here are some of the features that make it worth checking out:
- Piezo pickup in the bridge allows you to switch to an acoustic sound using the top toggle switch
- Inbuilt preamp gives you a 20dB gain boost by pushing down on the volume knob
- Coil splitting middle position when you push down on the tone knob
- Mahogany neck through with maple top
The ability to switch between the magnetic pickups and the piezo pickup as well as the split coil feature allows you to use this guitar in a very wide range of styles. It can produce a wide range of tones so if you’re a guitarist who likes to experiment with different styles and tones, the Majesty gives you the most control and flexibility.
Check out the below video of John Petrucci going through the features and demoing the 7 string Majesty:
If you only play heavy styles and aren’t interested in other styles or acoustic sounds, there are other high end 7 strings that may suit you better. But if you want to explore the possibilities of what a 7 string can do, in my opinion this is the top choice to go for.
The Majesty is a seriously impressive guitar and if the price was lower there would be one hanging on my wall right now.
Best Fanned Frets 7 String Guitar
If you plan on tuning your 7 string guitar down and using heavier gauge strings, then you might want to consider buying a guitar with fanned frets. The fanned frets will improve the definition in the low notes and help prevent the muddy/muffled sound you would get with straight frets.
The Jackson DKAF7 is an affordable option to get you started with multi-scale guitars.
If you are interested in multi-scale guitars, I highly recommend testing one out before you decide to get one. You won’t know whether you like the feel of the fanned frets until you try to play one.
Best Signature 7 String Guitars
Most of the best 7 string guitars available today are signature models. So let’s look at some of the best signature 7 strings out there and you can find one that suits you.
Steve Vai played a big role in bringing the 7 string into popularity. The Ibanez Universe he helped create kick-started 7 strings and continue to be seen by many guitarists as the best 7 string guitars you can get. There have been a lot of different (and wacky) styles to the Universe guitars and they won’t suit everyone.
The Ibanez Universe UV70P is a recent model with the classic styling of the original Universe. Here’s Steve Vai explaining it’s features:
My experience with the Ibanez Universe
The first 7 string I played was a Universe (sadly I didn’t own it, it was in a guitar store). I had always been curious with 7 strings and had listened to a lot of guitarists who used them. But the sight of the wide fretboard and that extra string was intimidating for a young beginner.
When I was able to try one out the first thing I noticed was how comfortable the neck felt in my hand. The Universe has a very slim neck and my teenage hands could easily wrap around it. After some initial confusion I was surprised that I could easily play all the riffs and licks I usually played on a 6 string guitar on this beast. Of course I chugged away on the low B string for a while like everybody does the first time they pick up a 7 string (and some never stop chugging on that low B).
After that 5 minute experience with the Universe I was completely sold on seven string guitars. Like Steve Vai often says, it doesn’t feel like a 6 string with an extra string – it really does feel like a new instrument. Over the years I find that whenever I feel like I’m in a rut with my guitar playing, all I need to do is pick up a 7 string guitar and new ideas seem to leap out of my fingers.
While I’m not fortunate enough to have a Universe in my guitar collection, it’s still a special guitar to me. If you see one at a guitar store, try it out. You might be surprised with how fun they are to play.
Out of all the guitars listed here, this one stands out due to the Les Paul styling. At first glance it doesn’t look like a 7 string, but on the second glance you’ll notice the wider fretboard, bridge and pickups. The Epiphone Matt Heafy signature 7 string offers something different to the typical metal-looking guitar in looks and feel. If you try out a typical Ibanez 7 string then try this one, the difference in neck will be obvious. The ’60s Slim Taper “D” profile neck’ isn’t as slim as an Ibanez neck, but still slim enough that your hands aren’t going to cramp up as you stretch for the lower strings.
The active EMG-81/85 pickups suit guitarists wanting to use a lot of distortion while keeping a tight tone. As you would expect from a Les Paul style guitar, each pickup has dedicated volume and tone knobs. This gives you plenty of control over your tone and suits a wide range of styles. Being able to easily switch from a cranked bridge pickup to a mellow neck pickup with a rolled off volume knob is easy with this guitar.
James “Munky” Shaffer
Munky from Korn was heavily inspired by Steve Vai when learning guitar and the first 7 strings he used were Universes. His signature 7 string is based on the Universe but designed to focus on Korn’s style of music. The factory tuning for the guitar is a whole step down so it suits guitarists wanting to focus on lower tunings.
It’s a minimalistic looking guitar and you’ll notice it doesn’t even have a tone knob. The single coil in the neck position offers something a little different to most 7 strings which would have a humbucker in the bridge position. This allows you to get some nice tones for lead or clean playing.
Getting Started With A 7 String Guitar
Once you find a seven string that suits your style and budget, you might wonder how to get started with one. After you chug away on that low B for a while, take a look at the exercises in this guide.
The exercises in that guide are designed to get your fingers comfortable with the wider fretboard and get you used to the new note positions. If you find yourself getting a bit lost while playing solos, these exercises will help you. They’re also great warm up exercises so even if you’re an experienced guitarist, try them out and add any challenging ones to your practice routine.