Making Sense of Seven-String Chords

The easiest thing in the world to do with a seven-string is to go straight for those lowest two strings and simply chug out. And it’s fun too! But there’s a lot more you can do with them, whether you’re into metal or not. So I’m gonna show you some of my favourite seven-string chords – chords which can be useful no matter what style you’re in. After all, doesn’t the extended low range of a seven-string make sense in a context like country, for instance?

First up, why the seven-string? Well personally the seven-string just feels right. To my ears the guitar always should have extended beyond the low E that we accept as standard, yet I also like that the seven goes all the way up to the traditional high range, for those of us who like to mash our fingers into the squishier frets every now and then. But this means certain chords just sound …well, wimpy. When played the traditional way, there’s no bottom end ‘oomph’ in a D Major chord at all. But with a seven, you can maintain that high range while extending the low. Here’s one way of playing a D chord on a seven-string (actually it’s a D minus the third, but for our purposes here let’s just call it a D – when you hear it it’ll make sense). We’ll omit the high F#, use the first and third fingers for the notes on the G and B strings respectively, and mute the low E string with the underside of the middle finger while using it to fret the third fret D note on the low B string. Ready?

And there you go! A big D chord which has all the low-end impact of a dropped tuning but with the high-end clarity of standard tuning. If you’re really missing that F#, you can add it in like this:

Another fun chord is C Major. Normally this would again be a rather high-sounding chord, but you can lower it like this: take a simple barre chord shape and move its root note down to the lowest string, release the barre so you can take advantage of the open G string. Easy-peasey.

The first thing many players do when they pick up a seven-string is to instinctively play the familiar open E chord shape but shifted down a string. And the second thing they do is wince, because that will sound terrible thanks to a note clash between the F# note on the second fret of the low E string and the pitch of the open G string. I guess a lot of us orient our hands in relation to the bass strings rather than the treble. Want to turn this mis-chord into a much more sonorous voicing for an open B Major chord? Try Figure 3. It’s not as much of a stretch as it looks (especially if you have good technique and posture and you and fret with your fingertips), and that G note is eliminated in favour of a fourth fret B, which is doubled by both of the open B strings and the B at the second fret of the A string.

And finally we come to my favourite seven-string chord ever: a Bm9 which I play in one of two ways: as a six-note chord skipping over the low E string, or as a full seven-note behemoth. It’s a very contemplative, ambiguous chord, and sometimes adding the octave of the low B really helps to add some definition to it, but be careful to warm up first! It’s so huge it won’t fit onto my notation software’s chord chart, so here it is as tablature. Use your pinky finger for the 7th fret note on the low E string, your ring finger for the 5th fret of the A string, your middle finger for the 4th fret of the D string, and your index finger barred across the second fret for the remaining notes.

You can hear a few of these chords in action in my song “Just One Thing” – the Bm9 is in the pre-chorus and the D5 is the third chord of the ascending chord sequence in the chorus. To differentiate it from the regular power chords that make up the first two notes, I try to really spread out the attack of the D5. It’s quadruple-tracked here through a few different rigs.

By the way, the electric tones on this song are all either the Full Shred or the ’59 in my Buddy Blaze Sevenator prototype.

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  • Scott

    Great article Peter!

  • bob

    Great Jam, Peter will you be at NAMM?

  • Vwtimc

    Whoa hello! Very nice – simple but really makes the most of that bottom string – having fun with a cheap and cheerful Ibanez gio grg7221!!! Great c and d chords could chug away for a while with those! Not sure about the RSI accident waiting to happen but great article!