Right off the bat, let me make it clear that I own, and play in a legitimate context, a 9 string guitar. So you probably know why I’m here. Over the past few days, Agile announced a 10 string guitar, Etherial guitars announced my custom 9-string guitar (above), and death/grind supergroup Murder Construct put out a song with lyrics that probably make fans of “truer” metal nod in appreciation (“Behind your 9-string, musically bluffing”). So, let me ask and potentially answer the question: Why do people dislike the use of lower tunings and/or extended ranges on guitars?
Well, there is one immediately obvious answer. Many guitar players who aren’t very good songwriters like to simply chug the lowest note possible on their guitar. Wait a second, this answer doesn’t really involve the range of the guitar! Well yes, because if we go look at bands like Asking Alexandria, we can see that they chug on a six string guitar. If you give these guys a 7 string guitar, they will still chug on it. Similarly with more strings. The end of the line is that a bad guitar player is a bad guitar player regardless of what guitar he/she plays.
Similarly, take Jeff Loomis, ex-Nevermore guitar wizard. He was an insane guitarist with 6 strings, and when he jumped to 7 strings, he didn’t suddenly become a chugging machine. He maintained his style, and even developed it, becoming somewhat like a mascot of seven string guitars. Similarly for Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders and 8 string guitars. Even Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor, who helped to further popularize the “djent” movement and extended range guitars, won’t write with an extended range instrument unless he wants to use a majority of the range on the instrument. To summarize, a guitar player shouldn’t be judged by how many strings they choose to play, but whether they are actually good at it. And no, you don’t “need to master six strings before moving on to seven”. I started playing guitar with a 7 string. It’s not an incremental thing. Thinking about an extra string as an increment is exactly the wrong mentality. Keyboard players don’t hark on players with more octaves on their instruments, so why do guitar players do this?
What’s wrong with having more range on a guitar, anyway? Since we’ve gotten past the point that the lowest string isn’t a guitar pick magnet for decent guitar players, what’s wrong with having a couple of extra strings on your guitar, given that you have the mental and technical capacity to handle them? A legitimate argument is that extra strings are confusing, but that is yet again a problem of the player and not of the instrument. If you check out my band Carthage‘s new song, we only use the 9th string partially. If you listen to After the Burial‘s Berzerker, they don’t even use the 8th or 7th string until quite a way into the song, and they return to the other strings after a while. Ihsahn uses an 8-string guitar in his music as well, and there’s no denying that he uses the whole range of his instrument and does not perform breakdowns. Given decent musicians, extra range on a guitar isn’t really an issue.
The argument that a guitar player must use the entire range of their guitar is also a fallacy. There are many critically acclaimed Meshuggah songs that have almost nothing but the lowest 2 strings of an 8 string guitar. I understand that the argument is that they provide diversity in rhythm rather than melody, but that doesn’t mean this exempts from the range argument. They can diversify both rhythmically and melodically, even while remaining atonal. So one must either abandon the range argument or agree that Meshuggah are gimmicky.
Even if one doesn’t have an extended range guitar, some people will still disapprove of a guitarist if they tune low. At these times, I have a quote from Dino Cazares of Fear Factory that I love reciting. I’ll paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote but it’s somewhere in the extras of the Roadrunner United DVD:
“Andreas Kisser (Sepultura/Soulfly) once came to me and told me that I didn’t need to tune down to B to be heavy, I could still be heavy in standard. Fast forward some years, and now he’s tuned to B.”
This captures several things I’d like to talk about. First of all, things change. When I first started playing guitar with my 7 string, everyone told me that 7 was stupid and I should just stick to 6. Fast forward to today, and 7 string guitars are pretty much accepted, even by acclaimed virtuosos like Loomis, Petrucci, Abasi and more. Who knows where we will be in 10 more years? Why is E standard tuning the gold standard anyway? It’s just arbitrary; if guitars were tuned to F by default, everyone would be making an argument for playing in F. It’s just a matter of being used to the norm, and being made uneasy by things outside of it. But music can not progress and develop if no one tries new things. Without bands of yore experimenting with lower tunings, we wouldn’t have had many of the amazing bands that we do have today.
In the end, the “lower tuning is unnecessary” argument is yet again tied to the player him/herself and to a resistance to change. Yes, there are bands in E standard that are very heavy, but there are also bands in A standard that are very heavy too. The mentality is very self-defeating anyway, as the Murder Construct song that makes the 9 string reference was also recorded on a tuning that isn’t standard (also, to add to its hypocrisy, it contains the lines “You were born with a silver Macbook Pro in your mouth.” “Pointing and clicking makes life so enriching” whereas their studio video shows them recording into a Mac computer using pointing and clicking to fix their sound. Who would’ve thunk?) . Why didn’t they tune one note higher or lower? Just cuz’. Because music is about doing what you want, and if you’re making good music, it doesn’t matter if you use 2 strings or 50. So let everyone play whatever they want, and just enjoy your music.