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Seven Strings - For Some (Highly Effective) Guitarists Only

by Emily Wheeler

I recently commissioned and took delivery of a 7-string guitar from guitar luthier, John Buscarino. For over eighteen years I have played various styles of music, especially classical and jazz, on 6-string guitars. Crossing over to playing the 7-string guitar seemed logical and necessary to me.

Throughout my musical career, I have been aurally attracted to low pitches. Frequently, I would hear low pitches in my head but would be unable to execute them on a 6-string guitar. Although I had very little experience playing 7-string jazz guitars, I decided to "jump in the water and learn to swim". I ordered a 7-string guitar.

As 6-string guitarists around me heard of my plans, I received a number of warnings and unsolicited advisements:

"Are you sure about this?"

"You know, once you go 7-string, you'll never be able to play your 6-string guitars again. Do you really want that?"

"Isn't there plenty to play and learn on a 6-string guitar? Why complicate matters with another string?"

I asked myself, "What's wrong with six strings?" At times, I felt like a traitor to the 6-string community. I appreciated the well-intentioned counsel, but ultimately ignored it and purchased the guitar anyway.

The initial transition to the 7-string guitar presented me with more physical challenges than mental. Understanding new chord fingerings and expanded scale and arpeggios fingerings was not complicated. Training my right hand to feel the fourth string as the middle string, however, was awkward at first. Also, using my left-hand fingers to mute strings within chord voicings became more challenging due to the wider fretboard. With practice, these challenges were attenuated.

Although I rarely use the seventh string when playing in jazz quartets or larger groups, the seventh string it gets a lot of use when I play solo guitar as well as in jazz duos and some trios. The seventh string allows me to orchestrate chords more expansively, walk bass lines in a more pitch-appropriate register, and generate interesting textures.

I should emphasize that playing a 7-string guitar has also been musically inspiring. John Buscarino built me a guitar that matches my physical stature, personality, and musicianship-absolutely perfectly! I can finally play the musical ideas I have been hearing in my head for such a long time. While not all guitarists need or would enjoy playing a 7-string, those who want to access a lower register will find that 7-string guitars enhance their musical palette.

If you are so inclined, go for it!

Emily Wheeler began playing guitar at the age of five under the direction of her father, Mel Bay author Mike Christiansen. She received her bachelor's degree at Utah State University in Guitar Performance. While there, she was the recipient of various awards including the 1999 - 2000 Outstanding Guitarist Award, 2000-2001 Outstanding Music Theory Student Award, and the 2001- 2002 Outstanding Music Student Award. Emily received her master's degree at Bowling Green State University where she studied under the direction of well-known jazz guitarist and arranger, Chris Buzzelli. She currently teaches at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas.

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