Sales of eight string guitars are on a high and the web is alive with talk of ‘extended guitars’ – which we take to mean any guitar with more than 6 strings that isn’t a 12 string Ricky or a Dreadnought acoustic! But who to turn to for advice? Step forward Sam Bell, guitarist with UK band Mask Of Judas – brand new on the GI team and your guide for our brand new series – Extended Guitar with Sam Bell.
Hello everybody, Sam Bell here. Welcome to the first installment of my eight string guitar series. In this series we will be looking at the many options and advantages an eight string guitar can give us when writing music, I will be breaking down various techniques, concepts and some of my own riffs which I hope will give you a good insight and source of inspiration to pick up an eight string and create some brand new music for yourself In this column I want to introduce this extended range instrument to readers who may be completely new to the idea of eight string guitar.
First of all let’s talk about the subject of tuning. For the first riff example I am in standard tuning. Standard tuning on an eight string is just like a regular six string guitar in standard tuning, E A D G B E, with the addition of the 7th string B and our 8th string F#. This keeps the consistency of intervals between the strings, so our regular six string scale positions and chords can translate down onto the low B and F# strings with ease. This riff is based around the lower strings, and starts by outlining a G#m9, A#m, Bmaj7, C# chord progression using string skipping and slides.
When playing this kind of stretchy wide interval riff in this area of the eight string it’s key to keep the fretting hand index finger lightly muting the higher strings to keep excess string noise down. Be sure to keep your thumb in the middle of the neck in order to keep an even spread between the fingers. The riff ends with a string skipping tapping idea that outlines a C# power chord. I personally like to use my index and ring finger to tap the F# and E string respectively, this way I can keep my hand in a comfortable place to start the riff again.
Our next example is taken from the chorus of my song “Icicle” and utilises an eight string tuning that is relative to six string drop D. We are leaving all of our strings in standard tuning, however we are dropping the 8th string down a tone from F# to E which puts the lower three strings in an open power chord. This tuning, coupled with the awesome range available, is where the eight strings advantages really come into action. This riff starts with an octave chord idea outlining an E minor tonality followed by C and B minor. The second turn around utilises tapping on the low, low E string and our regular low E string!
We can play the same frets on each string which makes visualisation of these kinds of arpeggio ideas much easier to execute.
The second half of this chorus moves in to an Aadd9/Am tonality, and we have an extension of our string skipping arpeggio idea with a huge A minor arpeggio covering a lot of range within one position, which is another example of why having this range is useful not only to have low notes, but also have a nice range of notes available within one position on the neck. Really keep an eye out on string muting on this tapping idea, we want to keep our picking hand palm and fretting hand index finger close to the strings, to keep stray notes from ringing out.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get about the eight string guitar is most often regarding either string gauge and/or scale length (the distance between the nut and the bridge). Due to the added range of the low F# string, it helps to have a longer scale length than a regular six or seven string guitar. It helps the string tension on the lower strings, which means the notes resonate much better, and gives the notes much more clarity in the low end in general. This added length does mean the string gauges you may be used to on a six string will feel heavier due to the extra tension put on the strings by the longer neck, for example a set of 10s may feel like 11s.
My Ibanez RG2228A has a scale length of 27 inches, which is an ideal length for an eight string guitar, it gives good tension in the low end without compromising the playability of the upper range. Ibanez do have several models of eight string guitar, from the RG2228 through to the more affordable RG8. All of these models feature the 27 inch scale length. Other makers have other ideas, of course, and I’ll be joining the GI review team in the very near future, so that we can start adding eight string reviews to the mix!
The next subject I want to touch on is tone. The eight string is often associated with Metal, however its uses are incredibly versatile and suit a wide range of styles. It is important though to be aware of balancing this extended range with other instruments in a live or mix situation. From experience I find its best not to over do the bass frequencies with the eight string and keep a nice upper presence in the middle range to cut through and blend around the bass. I like to think of the eight string working with the bass guitar to create a big sound, this doesn’t necessarily mean the bass has to be an octave lower than the already low F#! Some basses can do this now, however, the magic of the extended range comes into action when we unison the lower notes, this creates a really powerful, present sound that really hits hard! The power of unison is not to be underestimated!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first eight string installment in the series, hopefully it has given you some insight into the basic workings of an eight string guitar, and some inspiration for your own ideas. In the next issue we will be looking into some interesting ways of using arpeggios to create some wide interval, quirky sounding riffs!
INTRODUCING SAM BELL
Sam Bell is a guitarist from Chichester, UK. He is best known for his work in UK Tech Metal band Mask of Judas, and from his increasing presence on YouTube, gaining notoriety through his 8 string compositions and technical ability. Sam has recently released a mini-album with his band Mask of Judas “Axis” and will be playing Bloodstock Festival this year.