A few years back, I wrote a piece on the negativity towards extended range guitars in metal. You can find that piece here. The extended range guitar, which is loosely defined as anything that has more strings/frets/range than your average 6-string-24-fret-standard-scale guitar. We all know the deal. Four years ago, with the peak of djent and generally a new strain of progressive metal, extended range guitars were emerging in the mainstream of metal. Of course, just like any other change in the metal scene, a large amount of people reacted rather negatively to this. There was a portion of the scene that embraced this, and that lead to a variety of creative and innovative bands like Native Construct (8 strings), Dissipate (9 strings), Coma Cluster Void (10 strings) and so many more. After these years, are people more accepting of the movement now? What changed? Let’s take a look at it.
First, let’s talk about how nonsensical it is to play gatekeeper in the community over this. This will partly be reiterating the older article, but nowadays we have a lot more examples. The common arguments are that one should “master 6 strings first” and that lower ranges are too “muddy” and used just “for chugging”. The former argument is a non-starter to begin with, as it’s pointless to try to police how one makes music. That’s also not how one learns guitar. When learning to play, people don’t first start with a 1 string guitar, move onto a 2 string one, and incrementally keep going further until they reach 6, and stop for no reason. As for the latter argument, people use 6 strings for just chugging as well – it’s not unique to ERGs! There are also many examples of using them with a lot of variety. Here’s Dissipate:
As we can all see, Mike Gianelli is making use of the entire instrument in a very technical manner, and plays with great clarity. Another example is from Native Construct, where they use the extended range to craft bigger chords and fuller sounds:
In general, having more of a range gives players, well, a bigger range of possibilities to exploit! Also, the argument for clarity isn’t necessarily a good one either, as many bands use 6 string guitars and create intentionally dense soundscapes with little clarity, so yet again that complaint isn’t unique to the ERG. One final minor complaint is that the ERG invalidates the bass, which is patently untrue. Playing lower doesn’t necessarily put you in the same timbre range as bass, and bass can still go lower. They still complement each other.
What really happened is that the scene changed, and the community changed with it. 2012 was a point where bands that excessively relied on lower register abuse had saturated the market, and people were tired of it. Some of those bands wanted to get even lower sounds, and the easiest way for them to do so was acquire ERGs, and the instruments inherited the negativity that came with that. As that niche started to die down, interest in progressive metal started to rise. With the popularity of artists like Periphery and Animals as Leaders (who rely heavily on ERGs) on the more mainstream side, and a modern death metal revolution of bands like Black Crown Initiate, Rivers of Nihil and many others on the other side, ERGs became too prevalent to ignore. In fact, they’re almost synonymous with most forms of progressive-aligned metal nowadays. Once it became clear that it’s quite possible to make complex music with these instruments, the stigma died down pretty swiftly. It took a few innovators to drag people kicking and screaming into the future. It’s really as simple as that when the “objections” were nonsensical and artists simply needed some time to figure out how to innovate with the extra range. Youtube personalities like Rob Scallon helped demystify the instrument for many as well.
Does this mean normal-range guitars are irrelevant? Of course not! There are still an infinite amount of possibilities to craft music with the instrument, and nothing can ever take that away. Music isn’t about how many strings you have. But the converse of that statement also means that having many strings doesn’t make your music, well, not music. It’s just another tool. Of course, there is still negativity towards ERGs as there is towards any change in the formula of making metal, but it has died down significantly these days. There are many tangential arguments to be had about this topic, like “does tuning lower make you heavier?”, but those are muddying the discussion. The real question is “Is it valid to use extended range guitars in metal?” and the only reasonable answer is “Why the fuck not?” Some of the most acclaimed bands of all time, like Meshuggah and Dream Theater have been doing so for decades. More and more join their ranks each day from all corners of metal.
It all boils down to this: Is it good music? If so, good on the artist. If not, then who cares what they do? – it’s bad. Just like any other tool, it’s just a way for artists to express themselves. In the end it comes down to the artist.
P.S: Shameless plug! Here’s my death metal project NYN where I play ERGs ranging from 7 to 9 strings:
P.P.S: Speaking of, who are your favorite extended range artists? Tell me about them in the comments, I’m always on the lookout for more.