When I think of seven-string guitars, an army of guitarists wielding Ibanez instruments come to mind. To be sure, when Ibanez partnered up with Steve Vai in 1990, they successfully launched the first-ever mass-marketed seven-string. Eventually kitted out with its own handle and immaculate fretboard art, the Ibanez Universe signalled something new, forward thinking, and fresh. As it turns out, some of the best new ideas are in fact throwbacks to something very old.
Let’s go back to a simpler time. The Baroque period, in fact, around 1600-1750. (This is a world where bass guitarists would have fit right in as most guitars of this period had but four strings). Now as then, there was a need for gear to do more. In this case, the styles of music demanded the ability to achieve higher octave ranges. So, you really have two options: make the neck even longer (if you’ve ever seen guitars from back in the day, you know they already look awkward enough) or make the fretboard wider to accommodate higher and lower strings. It’s in this period that guitars start to scale up in their number of strings.
By the nineteenth century, one of the most well known seven-string guitars emerged out of Russia and was widely popularized by composer and instrumentalist Andre Sychra. Wound to an open-G tuning, the instrument is arguably the most significant signpost in the evolution of seven-string acoustic guitars.
While seven-string electrics didn’t hit their stride until the decade leading up to the turn of the new millennium, jazz player George Van Epps had a few custom partnerships with Epiphone and Gretsch featuring a six-plus-one string design. Eventually in 1968, Gretsch sought his endorsement for a high-end hollow body model with seven-strings, which went for a high-end list price of $650.
As seven-string designs became more common in modern rock, designers eventually circled back to that original desire sparked in the Baroque period. The desire to do more. Hence the evolution of designs that feature eight (or more) strings. And herein lies the crux of gear and musicality: how does the scope of our gear impact our creative potential? In this case, I can think of no better answer than a quotable item from the father of the modern seven-string solid body himself, Steve Vai: “Six is enough, and eight is enough too. Whatever you want. Four can be enough. One can be enough, if you’ve got the imagination for it.”
So, whether you find yourself jamming with a pair of spoons this weekend or a guitar that has more strings than you have fingers to count, have a great #RiffCitySunday. But seriously, if you are playing spoons, come check us out and we’ll get you set up with something more exciting.