Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.
Playing a 7-string guitar takes some getting used to if you have only played a 6-string guitar. This is something I have experienced myself and there are some tips I could give you that will make the process easier for someone who recently purchased one for the first time.
A 7-string guitar is basically a 6-string with an additional string added to the top of the guitar, just above the low E string. It is tuned to a B, so it can be referred to as the low B string. Some people may also tune it down to an A but, in any case, it’s still a 7-string and takes some getting used to.
There are a number of different companies that manufacture 7-string guitars and you will find them available at different price ranges. They are mainly intended for heavy metal or hard rock but you may use them for other genres of music as well. In this article I will lay out some of the difficulties you may encounter when first learning how to play one and give you some tips on how to work through them so that you can be up and running as soon as possible.
Large Neck Radius
If you are used to playing a guitar with a small neck radius, you may have a hard time with transitioning over to any guitar with a larger neck radius. I had a hard time at first when I bought a new guitar with a 12 inch neck radius after really only having experience playing guitars with a neck radius of about 9,5 inches. But eventually I got used to it. My 7-string though, has a neck radius of 15.7 inches. So that’s a significant jump even from a 12 inch neck radius, never mind a 9.5.
I found that I was not having as much difficulty playing songs that involved fingerpicking as I was using a pick. A greater distance between the strings can actually make fingerpicking easier. My biggest problem was getting used to using a pick on a guitar where the spaces between the strings were greater than what I was used to. However, it did still take me some getting used to with the fingerpicking.
The key to overcoming this is to do various picking exercises while doing chord progressions. You may even find some songs within your current repertoire that would be helpful in that respect. What I did was to pick out different songs that placed an emphasis on certain strings. For fingerpicking a song that starts on an A string, I would play “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin. For a song that started out using the low E string, I did “Highway Song” by Blackfoot. And for a song that started out on the D string, I would play the Beatles song “Mother Nature’s Son.” This helped me to become accustomed to finding the three lowest strings on the guitar.
As to using the pick, I would take a similar approach. To get used to playing a song that starts on the A string, I chose “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. It was not only good training for finding the A string with your pick but a good song to practice to get used to using a repeating pattern that involved picking across 4 strings. For the Low E string, I played Aerosmith’s “Same old Song and Dance.” For one that started on the D string, I chose “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Now I’m not saying that you need to play the same songs. I am just stating that it is easier to progress if you concentrate on songs that start out on the different strings to get used to finding them with either a pick or by fingerpicking
The Low B Gets in the Way
When you play a 6-string guitar, you are used to the low E being on the top. Well, it is not anymore. There’s a new string in town and that’s the low B. You may find yourself going to hit the low E string but accidentally hitting the low B string instead. This can be totally frustrating. You may feel that you are in the process of learning an entirely different instrument from guitar, instead of just learning how to play a guitar with an extra string. You may even have buyer’s remorse for having purchased the 7-string. But you can work through this.
The trick here is to just not even use the low B string at first. Play some of the songs you currently play on the 6-string guitar and totally bypass the low B. This will get you accustomed to working around it and not accidentally hitting it all of the time. Also learn to play the chords you would normally play on a 6-string guitar. This will also help you to learn how to avoid hitting the low B accidentally.
Overcoming the Frustration
Obviously, when trying to take on something new, you may encounter the feeling of frustration if you discover that it is more difficult than you may have originally anticipated. But just dig in and do a lot of repetitive practicing and you will get through it. I have to tell you that when I first got my 7-string guitar, I was frustrated whenever I would accidentally hit the low B string or make a mistake when trying to play songs I normally play flawlessly on a 6-string. But I became determined to work through it and I eventually did.
Incorporating the Low B Into Your Playing
After trying to work around the low B, it is time to start integrating it into your playing. You can start by doing some of the things you would do with songs that use the low E string a lot. Use it as a drone as you alternate between chords on the higher strings. Experiment by trying to come up with some new riffs that use the low B.
Maybe you can use different arrangements for the songs you currently play or change the key of songs in order to use low B more. You can even tune your G string down to an F sharp and that would make the 6 lowest strings the equivalent of the tuning of a baritone guitar. You can also do extended scales now that you have an extra string to play scales on. You can also play more songs in the keys of either B Major or B Minor
The 7-string guitar is more than just a 6-string guitar with one string added. This is because it will require a different approach to playing it, as opposed to playing a 6-string. There may be times of frustration involved when trying to get used to it and it may even lead to buyer’s remorse if you start thinking that maybe you should not have bought one in the first place. That’s how I felt at first but I eventually got over it as I began to progress in my playing. So if it is giving you a hard time, you arent’ the first and only one to go through the frustration of learning it. You just have to work through it. I hope my tips will help you with that.
© 2020 Bob Craypoe