by Professor String
|What you should know about the 7th and 11th strings||
By statistics, most of you who are reading this, probably do not own a seven string guitar or bass. If you are a bassist, there is a good chance you own a four string bass. If you are a guitarist, there is a good chance you own a six string guitar. Some years ago, production versions of extended range instruments hit the guitar market by storm. At the time, several well known guitarists and bassist began using an extra string to extend their range and get a new dimension from the instrument. The four string bass grew and extra string commonly tuned to B. Hence the five string electric bass was born. The six string guitar grew an extra string commonly tuned to an A or B. Hence the seven string guitar grew beyond the jazz world and into the mainstream of other types of music. We could devote an entire article to the evolution of extended range guitars and basses. Instead, we are going to focus on a problem with these instruments that does not get much airplay: Strings!
I had a reader who was recently asking me about where he could find strings for his eleven string bass. My first thought was to give him the name of a piano company. Why? If you have ever seen an eleven string bass, you would swear it resembled a grand piano laying on it’s side! Make no mistake, you will get some looks when you pull that puppy out of its case on your next gig. Obviously this is a less common instrument, and so are the strings that go on it. For such an instrument, you will be using a “special” set of strings. What will make them special?
1. They are not available in a neatly packaged pre-determined set of gauges.
2. You will have to make some calls and do some Web searches to find exactly what you want.
3. There is not enough demand in the market to offer such a product. So, production will be either limited or non-existent. In the string world, offering limited production strings can mean one thing: More profit. It’s a “special” made product that does not get made as often. The production is in batch mode versus continuous flow.
4. Be mindful of quality with exotic string sets. String manufacturers are often in process-tweaking-mode when making less frequent ultra low volume runs.
5. Price. You will be paying more money for this special set. In some cases, be prepared to pay over $5 per string.
When it comes to restringing an extended range instrument, the thought of replacing strings can sometimes be given a backseat. As musician’s shop for such an instrument, the thought can be “It already has strings on it. So, somebody must make them.” Here’s an interesting test to try: Take a look at several guitar makers websites and see what they offer for string sets. You will find that many do not offer strings for their instruments. In fact, they might be special ordering the strings for their instruments for production purposes only. Some luthiers have been known to request a special string batch to be made for their limited production instruments. This does not mean the strings will be later offered to the mass market. This also holds true for other components. As of this writing nobody offers a metal humbucker cover for a seven string guitar pickup. It’s a very common piece for the six string electric guitar, but not for the seven string electric guitar.
If you are considering an extended range guitar or bass, consider the following tips:
1. Check out the string selection before you buy the instrument.
2. Find out who carries the gauges and sets you need.
3. Create a string budget. Ask yourself, “How often will I need to replace the strings?” Factor that question into how much one set will cost you.
4. Finally, be honest with yourself. Do you really need a guitar with seven strings, or a bass with over nine strings on it? Do you have the time to master it and get your return on investment and enjoyment?
As a final thought...It’s really cool having a seven string archtop guitar or a nine string bass. As an established player of such an instrument, you are recognized by your peers as someone with skills beyond the norm. This recognition could potentially backfire on you if your peers hear you start complaining about not finding strings for your super cool instrument. They will be chatting amongst themselves, “What was he thinking when he bought that thing?”
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