I’ve been fascinated by 7-string guitars since I first heard about them in 1990. I was 12 years old at the time and I saw Steve Vai on TV describing his new axe, and that it was good for all sorts of genres, not just rock. That always stuck with me, although it would be a long, long time before I finally got my first 7-string. But for the last decade or so I’ve been playing 7-strings a lot, and I’m always mindful of that first impression: that you can use them for a lot more than just ‘chug chug chug’ – even though that’s hella fun too. Earlier this year I decided it was time to delve even lower, so I bought an Ibanez Iron Label 8-string.
It didn’t take me long to take out the stock active humbuckers and add a Seymour Duncan Pegasus and Sentient in the neck and bridge, respectively, and to wire up a five-way switch to give me single coil options on the 2 and 4 positions. And so I set about learning this new instrument. Pretty typically of the way I play, I found that I was dipping down into those lowest notes when musically appropriate, rather than just deciding “Well… I guess I play in F# now.” And I started to notice something else: the Sentient is really nice for cleaner tones. There’s a sort of articulate yet dirty bluesy edge to the humbucker mode, and a really crystalline ring as a single coil.
And then I remembered a song I’d written a while ago in Guitar Pro. I’d never gotten around to actually playing it on a guitar before, but I could hear in my head that the tones of the Sentient would work. So I tuned my lowest string down to E, giving me the combined range of a standard bass and a standard-tuned 6-string guitar, and recorded this song:
Everything you hear there is the Sentient in humbucker mode aside from the ringing chords panned hard left and right (which are the single coil setting). I used IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 3 for the tones. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, especially the fact that I was able to pull a pretty convincing bass tone out of the same instrument that I played all the rhythms and melodies on.
Another cool thing to note is that those chimey hard-panned single coils are the exact same take throughout the song, so when you hear them become more muted and restrained during the verses it’s simply because I’m playing softer in those sections. The Sentient really seems to translate different pick attacks very well under such close scrutiny.
And although I love to play metal on my 8-string I’m also stoked that there are other, less aggressive sounds and styles lurking within it. Of course, I still use my 8-string for plenty of progressive rock and metal riffage too, and the Pegasus and Sentient are both great for that. You can hear them in a more aggressive context in this video featuring Keith Merrow and Wes Hauch:
By the way, if you’d like to wire your guitar up this way, here’s the diagram that I used from the Seymour Duncan Wiring Diagram library. I’ve bypassed the Ibanez’s stock killswitch for now since I don’t really have a use for it. with my playing style.
What about you? Do you have a piece of guitar gear that you’ve found is good for genres other than what it’s most associated with?