The Ultimate Guide To 7-String Guitar Tuning

7-string guitars seem to be everywhere these days. They’ve gotten especially popular in recent years. Entire genres have been built around this particular type of guitar. You can really dive into the deep, deep rabbithole that is extended range guitars, but we’ll keep it simple here. 

So, have you ever wondered what it would be like to play a 7-string guitar (if so, check out our guide to budget 7-string guitars)? Or do you have one and are just curious about different 7 string guitar tunings? Then this is the right place. Today we’re going to walk you through some of the most popular and interesting tunings for seven string guitars.


7-string crash course

For those unaware, a seven-string guitar is exactly what it says, a guitar with a seventh string. This string is usually tuned lower than the 6th string, giving it an extended range.

The history of the seven-string guitar might surprise you. We all know that lower tunings are very popular in modern metal. Ever since the mid-1990s bands have experimented with lower and lower with tunings. Down-tuning is not new at all, but tuning so low was an experimental concept. But 7-string guitars have been around since the 1800’s. They were primarily played by solo classical guitarists. The point was to still be able to play chords and melodies the way they’re used to, whilst being able to simultaneously accompany yourself in the bass register. This essentially removed the need for a bass player. Seven-string guitars were used in a variety of styles, from Russian folk-music to orchestral solo pieces. They’re still fairly common in non-westen countries like Mexico, where 7-string guitars prove popular with mariachi groups.

Why use a seven-string? Some players want to be able to play lower notes while still having the full treble range of a six-string guitar. Some want to be able to play a bassline along with a melody, as is a very popular style of playing these days (think of artists like Polyphia or Ichika Nito). And some just want to use crazy alternative tunings for more possible songwriting flavours.

Why tune down? Tuning down gives the music a darker feel, which in term can enhance the feel a particular song is trying to convey. Whereas tuning up (or using a capo) is very popular with acoustic guitarists to give it a brighter feel, tuning down does the opposite. That’s why it’s so popular in the darker genres of music. As I said, entire genres have been built around this concept. One such genre is Djent. Djent is an extreme form of metal often played with 8-9 string guitars tuned down to drop E (1 octave down) or even lower. The dark sounds gives a very ominous and alerting sound that conveys certain emotions very well.

But enough of all that, let’s get into some 7 string guitar tunings…


B standard tuning (B-E-A-D-G-b-e)

  • Minimum scale length: 25.5” (26”5 recommended)
  • Used by: Trivium (Shogun), Haken (The Virus), Dream Theatre (many different songs)

This is the standard tuning of the modern 7-string guitar. It’s the same as E standard, but the 7th string is tuned a fourth down from the low E, making it a low B. This 7-string guitar tuning is so popular because the intervals between the lowest strings are the same as on a six-string guitar. It also allows you to play in E standard as if the guitar has 6 strings. A popular variation of this tuning is when the G string is tuned up a semitone to G#. This makes the shifts the major 3rd interval up one string, allowing the player to play familiar chords shapes one strong lower. Other popular variations are tuning all the strings down to A# standard or A standard for instance. B standard is very popular with all sorts of metal bands, with styles ranging from thrash-metal to complicated prog-groups.

Examples of artists who use B standard are Trivium, Haken, Dream Theatre, and Alien Weaponry, Crowbar etc.


Drop A tuning (A-E-A-D-G-B-e)

  • Minimum scale length: 25”5 (26,5-27” recommended)
  • Used by: Slipknot (certain songs on All Hope Is Gone), Amon Amarth (many different songs), Nile (most songs)

This 7 string tuning basically takes the drop D concept, but tuned down a fourth. This once again allows the player to play in E standard. The only difference between Drop A and B standard is that the low B is tuned down to an A. This makes the interval between the 6th and 7th string a fifths, which makes it easier to play power chords. It also makes it easier to play inverted major or minor 3rds, and suspended chords. These sorts of tunings are ever popular with metal bands who play fast power chord sequences, or modern metal bands who play with a lot of complex chords. Popular variations of this tuning are drop G#, Drop G, or even lower. This once again involves tuning all the strings down from drop A, giving it an even darker sound. An even more popular tuning is drop B (B-F#-B-E-A-C#-f#). Drop A is very popular with alternative metal bands that like to riff hard. Fast and relatively simple riffs are usually the way to go with Drop A. Just play any Drop D riffs in Drop A and you’ll feel super mighty.

Examples of artists who often use Drop A are Slipknot, Amon Amarth, Nile, Suicide Silence and Impending Doom.


Drop G tuning (G-D-G-C-F-A-d)

  • Minimum scale length: 26,5” (27” recommended)
  • Used by: Periphery (certain songs on most albums), Born of Osiris (many different songs)

Now where getting into the extremes. I know this is similar to drop A, but it’s just so popular that I have to talk about it. For many people, Drop G is deemed ‘the best drop tuning’ for 7-string guitars, as it combines a slightly darker sound than E standard on the 6 higher strings, and still having the lowest string be audible to enough to clearly hear what’s being played.

Whether that’s true is debatable, but you have to agree that this tuning is certainly a blast to play and hear, and that’s why lots of bands use it. Bands like Periphery, Born of Osiris, Whitechapel, and Wage War. Even Pantera technically used Drop G. But Dimebag played it on a six-string guitar tuned to G-G-C-F-A-D, where the lowest G is an octave below the higher G.


Open C tuning (G-C-G-C-G-C-E)

  • Minimum scale length 26,5” (27” recommended)
  • Used by Devin Townsend (many different songs)

This is a very interesting tuning, as all the strings are tuned to the notes in a C major triad. This opens up lots of possibilities for interesting chord voicings. This tuning is more popular one six-string guitars, where a variety of open chords are being used as tunings. Tunings like Open G and Open D are very popular in genres with slide guitar, like blues and country. These tunings are also popular with acoustic guitarists who want to take their basic chords to the next level. These tunings are very fun to experiment with and are a great songwriting tool for discovering new sounds that you wouldn’t have on a more standard tuning.

An example of an artist who uses open tunings on seven-string guitars is Devin Townsend.


G-C-G-C-F-A-D tuning

  • Minimum scale length 26,5” (27” recommended)
  • Used by Killswitch Engage, Periphery

This is a great tuning for if you want to play chords that sound huge. This tuning is basically Drop C but with a low G. This enables you to play simple power chords over 4 strings and two octaves. This tuning can also be used as a flavour by primarily playing in Drop C but using the low G to accentuate certain chords. There’s a lot of fun that can be had with this tuning. even forgetting all the interesting flavours, just playing simple power chords over two octaves will sound absolutely massive!

I couldn’t find any bands that play in G-C-G-C-F-A-D, but there’s lots of bands that play in Drop C, and this tuning can be used in unison with G-C-G-C-F-A-D.

Bands that play in drop c are: As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage, Papa Roach, and Periphery. 


Drop E tuning (E-B-E-A-D-G-B)

  • Minimum scale length 27” (28-28,5” recommended)
  • Used by Meshuggah (all albums)

This is where it gets really crazy. Stepping fully into bass guitar territory (yes, this means you can finally fire your bass player) this tuning gets pretty extreme. The point of this tuning is not the same as B standard for instance. B standard is more meant for the same sorts of riff you’d play in E standard but lower, whereas Drop E morphs into a completely different style of playing, where low open strings and high chords and melodies are rapidly alternated. Drop E is usually played on 8 string guitars, but it’s absolutely achievable on a 7 string guitar. Drop E is often used in the more extreme styles of progressive metal, like Djent for instance. This tuning is so crazy that if a band that plays in Drop E has a bass player, the bass player usually tunes UP to be in the same register (From E-A-D-G to E-B-E-A). Tuning an octave down is nearly impossible on a bass guitar, and what’s the point? As long as the guitars and bass are mixed well, the bass player doesn’t even have to play lower than the guitarist(s) for the mix to sound full. Bands that often play in Drop E are Meshuggah, Born of Osiris, and Loathe.


Conclusion

We hope our 7 string guitar tuning guide was of use to you, and you stick around to see more! We are a reader-supported website that depends on your pro-active actions to sustain these free guides and resources, so feel free to share this article with your friends.

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Main image courtesy of wikipedia.

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