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The State of the Art of the 7-String Guitar

by Stephen Rekas

Welcome to the Guitar Sessions® special 7-string guitar issue!

While I don't currently own a 7-string guitar, I hunger to try a nylon-string model for an extended period. I constantly lower the 6th string to D of my classic guitar for the advantage of having just one more whole tone of low-end guitar sound to explore in accompaniment or solo melody-chord arranging. If only I had a string or two more on the bass end, the variety of bass lines and chord voicings would be endless!

So, why all the fuss about an additional string? The Spanish vihuela, a 16th century predecessor to the guitar, had five courses with pairs of strings tuned in unison. I wonder- when the 6-string guitar came along, was there a corresponding fray? Was the vihuela displaced overnight by an instrument with one more string?

Today's rockers tune the 7th string to low B (an octave lower than the B at the second fret of the fifth string) while jazzers take it down another step to A. The low A tuning seems more logical to me as it provides an extra whole tone of range and anyone with ears would recognize that the notes would be identical to those on the fifth string, only an octave lower. The low A tuning would also facilitate reading notes on the seventh string. Lenny Breau, however, commissioned Kirk Sand to build a 7-string guitar with the additional string on the treble side.

While the 7-string guitar has figured prominently in Russian music history for over 200 years, albeit with a different tuning than the currently popular ones, George Van Eps is generally credited with the implementation of the 7-string archtop guitar in the jazz arena. In fact, if I recall correctly, he crafted his own 7-string in the 40s by altering a production 6-string guitar to accommodate a 7th string. The Gretsch Guitar Company soon foresaw the future and began manufacturing Van Eps model 7-string guitars.

Although groups like Korn and stellar players like Steve Vai popularized the 7-string guitar in their concerts and recordings, the rock guitar world hasn't made up its mind about the utility or permanence of the 7-string guitar. Schecter, Peavey, Dean, Gibson and Ibanez have been leading producers of electric 7-string guitars. A very few years ago, 7-string electric guitars were all the rage, but now Internet chat groups are replete with rock guitarists who are quite vocal about their discontent with a certain guitar manufacturing company having discontinued production of their flagship solid-body 7-string.

In terms of simple permanence in an otherwise fickle world, jazz guitarists seem to have most thoroughly and permanently embraced the 7-string guitar. George Van Eps lead was never forgotten among archtop players or luthiers. With the resurgence of interest in the archtop guitar sparked by luthier Robert Benedetto and collector Scott Chinery, American guitar luthiers are experiencing an onslaught of orders for 7-string archtops. Some, like Bill Moll and Jimmy Foster, claim that 50-80% of their orders are for 7-string guitars.

Here at Mel Bay Publications, publications for the 7-string jazz guitar are alive and well. These include:

1. 98220 - The First Chord Book for the 7-String Guitar
by Jerry Sims

2. 99930BCD - Bucky Pizzarelli Master Jazz Guitar

3. 99936 - 7-String Jazz Guitar Chord Chart
by William Bay - A handy yet complete guide to 7-string jazz guitar chords

4. 99749 - Full-Page 7-String Tab Pad
Summary: Designed exclusively for 7-string guitarists, this full-size manuscript pad features nine 7-line tablature staves per page

5. 99750 - Guitar Chord Solo Manuscript Book 7-String Edition
Summary: Each page features six standard 5-line staves with eight blank 7-string chord grids above each line

6. 98307VX - Steve Kaufman/Flatpicking Guitar - To the Next Level
Video performed by Steve Kaufman - Three-time Winfield National Flatpicking Guitar all played on a 7-string flattop guitar.

7. 98371BCD - Master Anthology of Jazz Guitar Solos contains a few solos for 7-string guitar

8. 97113D How to play Seven-String Guitar by Alan de Mause would be helpful to a novice 7-string player. This book is out of print but is available as a download for a moderate fee.

9. 99220AX La Bella Electric Black Nylon Tape Wound 800-7, 7-String Set
1st .014, 2nd .018, 3rd .036, 4th .046, 5th .056, 6th .067 and 7th .079.
Comes with bonus extra first and second strings.

Complete 7-String Guitar Method by Chris Buzzelli See a profile of this new Mel Bay book/CD and sample pages in the Featured Book column of this issue of Guitar Sessions®.

See "A Brief Historical Discussion About the 7-String Guitar" by Ronald L. Grosswiler in this issue of Guitar Sessions®.

So there you have it! I hope you enjoy this special July issue of Guitar Sessions.

Stephen Rekas
Guitar Sessions® Editor

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