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Despite being largely associated with metal music, seven-string guitars are very far removed from a contemporary development in guitar design.
Originally created for acoustic and classical guitarists in the Renaissance period in Europe, the earliest electric seven-strings were developed for jazz musicians in the 1930s, finding a wider use there in the 60s.
The 90s brought Steve Vai’s UV7 made by Ibanez, which was the first mass-produced seven-string. It later found favor with mid-to-late nu-metal pioneers such as Korn and Limp Bizkit.
We’ll look at the top five seven-string guitars currently available, across a range of budgets, considered in terms of parts, construction, tones, and playability.
There are quite a few budget seven-strings available – it’s probably the most populated price point. This makes sense, in that seven strings are still a bit unusual, so manufacturers would need to be incredibly certain of their viability before committing to a bunch of high-end models.
This offering from ESP’s LTD offshoot, is the epitome of modern eastern guitar manufacture: a solidly built, highly playable instrument.
This is an ideal instrument for beginners on a budget, or seasoned players just looking to experiment, and don’t want to spend a lot of money on an instrument they may or may not gel with long term.
There’s nothing remarkable about the parts. It comes with a basswood body, which is not a dense wood. The parts are all pretty standard – two humbuckers, three-way selector switch, only two knobs – one for volume, one for tone.
All these parts are solidly put together. For a budget guitar, you certainly can’t fault the craftsmanship that’s gone into it – hat-tip to ESP’s quality control team! There’s no sharpness along the fingerboard, and the higher frets are comfortably accessible.
I plugged the M-17 into a 100 watt, solid state head, with a half stack cab, as that seems the likely amp to be used by the younger demographic of its market. The pickups do a fine job for low end riffing, but don’t cut it so well for lead playing – it was just a bit muddy.
Plugging into a 30-watt valve combo, to see if anything else could be teased out of it proved pretty fruitless. The bridge pickup with a gentle overdrive wasn’t terrible, but even still, it’s a pretty specific point to need to be if you have visions of great sonic adventures.
Although this guitar is fun to play, ultimately, it’s cheap, and it feels it. With the limited range of the pickups, it sounds it too. If you’re playing dirty and loud, no problem. If you’re looking for a more experimental path, the sounds here aren’t particularly refined, so you may want to look elsewhere.
This is an ideal guitar for taking first steps into the world of seven-string guitars.
As pioneers of mass-produced seven-strings, Ibanez’s Gio range comes from China. Maintaining the cost-cutting simplicity and bare essentials approach of the M-17, it’s made with a poplar body, and Ibanez’s own-brand hardware in a sexy, black chrome finish.
Best known for pointy beauties, Dean have a budget, seven-stringed version of their Vendetta. The trans-black finish is incredibly pretty. If you’re looking for a cheap seven-string, but with a little “wow,” this is certainly worth a look.
Renowned for their Superstrats, Jackson’s JS22-7 shows off some impressive curves. The electronics and hardware are basic, but the top makes it feel like it’s trying to be something more.
Schecter has established themselves as a brand for metallers, and brands targeting metallers generally have a number of seven-strings in their range.
As is pretty obvious from the outset, the Omen Extreme-7 is an incredibly beautiful guitar. It looks a lot more expensive than it should. This is largely thanks to the carved, quilted maple top. That sits on a mahogany body, which, although is very fancy at this price, is hardly going to be the same quality of mahogany used on a $2000 instrument.
For a budget guitar, the fingerboard inlays are quite elaborate. It also comes loaded with coil tapped Schecter pickups. It’s hoped that this will give players a wide range of tones to work with, and maybe step out of that metal shadow.
The construction of the guitar is very solid. It doesn’t feel like It’s going to fall apart, and is a good reflection of Schecter’s quality control. The various pieces of black chrome hardware are securely attached, and the neck joint is very clean. It would be a shame for a guitar so aesthetically pleasing to be sloppily put together.
Plugging into a 100-watt solid state amp head, through a half-stack cab, and cranking up the distortion, this thing roars. It’s ideal for thrashing out metal riffs. Lead playing isn’t bad, but in any budget guitar with humbuckers, it can get a little muddy.
On a smaller, valve amp, with a gentle overdrive, tapping the humbuckers into single coil mode definitely helps in terms of clarity of tone, but it can bite. Not necessarily in an in an unpleasant way, but it’s not what a professional musician would want.
A dedicated humbucker or single coil pickup will always sound superior to a pickup trying to do both.
It’s a lovely guitar to play, and if you’re looking for something that will look sharp on stage, on a budget, it’s certainly worth a look. Given the potential range of tone available through coil tapping, it would be an ideal instrument for prog rock musicians on a budget.
Out of the box, this has a nice low action, and the neck has a comfortable feel, even if you’re not used to an extra string.
Also from Schecter is the Demon-7 FR Sharing the curvaceous body top of the Omen, this has simpler parts and configuration, but more options in terms of finishes and the inclusion of a Floyd Rose.
At this price, we see the appearance of Ibanez’s RG range, with the RG7421. Their focus here seems to be keeping the parts and construction as basic as possible, in order to make that famous RG range as accessible as possible.
Echoing the stunning maple top of the Omen, is Jackson’s JS37-Q. It isn’t specified that its carved, so it’s more likely to be a veneer. It favors the straightforward nature, with a similar hardware setup to the Ibanez.
Ibanez’s Prestige range is made in Japan, harking back to the company’s origins, in a time when most of its output is from Indonesia and China.
With the RGD2127FX, Ibanez take a no-frills/ all-quality approach. There are no quilt tops, coil tapped pickups, or inlays made of gold here. This is a slab of mahogany, with a couple of humbuckers, aimed squarely at players who play fast.
The guitar has a basswood body – guitars at this price would usually be leaning towards a mahogany core. The rest of the hardware is predominantly Ibanez’s own brand stuff. Quality materials for sure, but interesting to note that they don’t use them on more expensive instruments.
Although basswood isn’t a particularly dense tonewood, contributing to its light weight, the body of the RGD has some pretty savage contouring, which is definitely a factor in keeping its weight down to 7lb 10oz. This contouring can be seen around the horns, to aid access to all 24 frets, and on the reverse of the body, to aid comfort onstage.
This guitar comes with an 26.5″ scale length, intended to reduce cases of fret buzz, and make bends easier. The neck part of that scale is Ibanez’s Wizard neck: a slim affair to allow faster playing. Said neck also incorporates their fret edge treatment. In the absence of any binding on the neck, this is a commitment to ensuring a free-flowing playing experience for shred.
With everything from the parts and construction of this instrument pointing so squarely at shredding, it went straight into a 100-watt valve head, hooked up to a half stack cab. In terms of EQ, the bass was set to four, with the middle and treble each set to four. Gain was dialed in at six.
The V pickups installed on the RGD are intended to be extra responsive to bass frequencies, and they certainly do come through with good clarity.
This is one for the shredders though, and the RDGs slightly hot pickups really bring the tone through for that. It does exactly what it’s supposed to. The parts, construction, and tone make this a hugely playable, go-to guitar for speed players.
Still looking at Ibanez’s RG models in their Prestige range, the RG752, is perhaps a little bit more traditional. It lacks the RGD’s contouring, and is loaded with DiMarzio PAF pickups. If you want an RG for more than shredding, this offers a wider range of tones that might work.
Apart from the obvious Telecaster-shaped body, ESP’s E-II TE-7 is pretty metal. It’s also got a very tidy neck-through construction, EMG active pickups, and its body is made of alder.
Schecter have a signature model, from Conquering Dystopia’s Jeff Loomis, with a carved top, swamp ash body, set-neck, maple fingerboard with gothic cross inlays, Loomis’s signature EMG pickups, and a Floyd Rose. It’s a great instrument and certainly stands out.
Mayones is a Polish company, that specializes in high-end and custom builds. They do not have a budget range of instruments. This one is for the pros.
The tonewood of the Setius (link to review) is the classic combination of a mahogany body with a carved maple top. You can choose between Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio or EMG for your pickup configuration – they’ll do any others you’d prefer for an extra cost.
All these parts are put together beautifully. You can tell these are handcrafted, and it’s a testament to the skills at Mayones. Personally, what stands out is the work that’s gone into the neck joint – something about it oozes class. The perfect fit and finish; the screw configuration indented into the neck… I love it!
There are no embellishments on this instrument beyond the maple top. There aren’t even any fret markers. It’s a classic, straightforward design and delivery.
My favorite thing to talk about with this guitar though, is the sounds. Plugging a model with the Seymour Duncan configuration into a 100-watt valve head, and half stack cab, was the absolute best!
Without driving it too much, the Setius gave an endearing crunchy sound, highly reminiscent of another famous mahogany/maple bodied guitar. It’s difficult to really imagine a blues guitarist with a seven-string, but if they did, they’d likely get on well with this.
Moving the gain knob up a little higher, and you’re very much into classic, hard rock territory, particularly the stuff derived from the blues – I’m thinking Gorham/Robertson, Frehley, maybe Clapton’s louder moments. It’s a pretty great place to be, and you have an extra string to play with!
You can’t help but feel like a pro when you’re playing the Setius. There’s not an ounce of discomfort in any point of playing it, but it might feel a bit weighty during a long show.
Many seven-string guitars are aimed so squarely at shredders, but this one feels and sounds a little bit more versatile than that, and is likely to appeal to prog rockers too.
Continuing with the mahogany/carved maple top theme, if you want a more traditional looking instrument, you might be able to get your hands on Gibson’s Les Paul Standard seven-string. It was released as a limited edition in 2016.
Like Mayones, Japanese brand, Caparison, don’t do budget models, operating exclusively in the capacity of high-end creations. Their Dellinger 7 FXAM (link to website) has a maple back and light ash top, and an ebony fingerboard. It’s got some pretty intense contouring around the bolt-on neck joint, suggesting they want to make sure shredders have access to all frets.
Dean USA’s Rusty Cooley Xenocide looks like a very flashy piece of work, but on closer examination, getting beyond the aesthetics, the premise of the guitar is very simple: slab of mahogany, two humbuckers, volume knob, pickup selector… job done!
Sticking with brands who are not massive, Caparison are a high-end brand, started in 1995, by former employees of Jackson/Charvel. Instead of ripping off their former employers, they aim to apply engineering knowledge that will serve the player better.
With a traditional Superstrat body shape, at first glance, the TAT Special (link to website) looks like just another shred-machine, except maybe a bit fancier – it’s hard to miss that flamed maple top!
The neck is a maple/walnut ply, which fits to the body via through-neck construction. An ebony fingerboard sits on the neck. The neck has an unusual 27 frets.
The fingerboard has some pretty elaborate inlays. Shaped like an italicized “o”, on closer inspection, you can see that they are in fact clocks. The time on each clock indicates the fret number, so the inlay on the first fret shows one o’clock, the third fret shows three o’clock, and so on.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if an expensive and elaborate guitar sounded awful? No such concern here. Through a 100-watt valve head and half stack cab, the notes shimmer, and sing out with all the clarity and sustain you’d want and expect.
Beyond extra frets and clock-shaped inlays, the pickup configuration on the TAT Special is unusual. It’s got a regular three-way selector – just like any other regular twin humbucker instrument. However, in the middle position on the TAT, an additional rotary switch gives some additional options, such as coil tapping and parallel.
As with any guitar: it will sound brightest set to the bridge, in single mode, and thickest at the neck in humbucker mode. From those polar opposites, you can find four other tones in between.
In terms of playability, the main curiosity was those extra three frets. Did they make that much difference? Personally, no, not in the least. If I was to buy a high-end guitar, 27 frets is just not something I would looking out for as a selling point, simply because that’s not how I play. Maybe keep that in mind before you borrow from your kid’s college fund!
Outside of that, it’s a great guitar, and with the wide range of tonal options, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
It’s predominantly signature models that are the alternatives.
Jackson have their USA-made, Dinky-inspired, Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT7 . This is made in the USA. It’s got a relatively lightweight alder body and a maple top, with an ebony fingerboard, and coil tapped Bareknuckle pickups.
ESP have a baritone guitar with The Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter’s name attached. This unusual beauty has a 27-inch scale, with an alder, Telecaster-shaped body, an ebony fingerboard, and Carpenter’s signature Fishman pickups.
There’s a Rusty Cooley signature model from Dean, which is aesthetically reminiscent of the TAT with its quilted maple top. It has an alder body, Dean’s own DMT pickups, and a rosewood fingerboard. That one is good, but there are other color options that will do as well, such as the white one above.
|ESP LTD M-17||$284||Bolt-on||Basswood||Maple||Rosewood||ESP-designed|
|ESP LTD M-17||$439||Bolt-on||Mahogany/ maple top||Maple||Rosewood||Schecter Diamond Plus|
|Ibanez Prestige RGD2127FX||$1999.99||Bolt-on||Basswood||Maple/ wenge||Rosewood||Ibanez Vs|
|Mayones Setius 7 GTM||$2,0175.85||Bolt-on||Mahogany/ maple top||Mahogany/ maple||Rosewood||Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio or EMG|
|Caparison TAT Special 7||$3,449||Through-neck||Mahogany/ maple top||Maple/ walnut||Ebony||Caparison designed, made by Got|
There’s been a clear focus on electric guitars in this list. That’s just where the market is. However, given the classical roots of the seven-string guitar, I felt it worth mentioning the couple of acoustic models that are on the market.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ibanez have one, the 207CWC (MSRP: $949.99). This is a straight-up classical guitar – no electronics here. It comes with a solid German spruce top, mahogany back and sides, mahogany neck, and a rosewood fingerboard.
Dean have a seven-string acoustic steel string in their Exhibition range, called the Ultra 7 (MSRP: $898.50) (check this listing for the latest live prices). It has a flamed maple top, mahogany back, sides, and neck, and ebony fingerboard, and… a USB port. Because of course, it does.
Hopefully, this round-up of seven-string guitars has given you some further food for thought if you’ve been curious about the practicalities of adding that low B to your playing range.
I hope that it will have inspired players outside of metal to be curious, whatever their budget. As with any guitar, internet reviews are great, but there’s no substitute for getting into your local guitar store, plugging in, cranking up, and finding the balance between aesthetics, what feels good, and what sounds great!
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