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8-String Guitar History: A Brief but Thorough Guide [2021 Guide]

If you’re curious about 8-string guitar history, this post is for you.

(And if you want to read some of my other instrument histories, check out my articles about the:

The 8-string guitar is a relatively new instrument on the scene. But it has already risen in popularity among many musicians.

Be it in the jazz scene, classical music, or metal, the power of the 8-string can’t be denied.

In this post, I will explore the history of this niche instrument.

I will also briefly discuss some famous bands and players who use it.

History Of The 8-String Guitar

The 8-string guitar came out of the development of heavier and more complex metal songs.

But even though the 8-string guitar is most common in metal, you will find it in other genres as well.

And surprisingly, the 8-string guitar is actually not a recent development.

It has its roots deep in history—specifically, the Renaissance period and the Baroque era.

Some consider Galbraith’s fanned fret design or “Brahms guitar” the forerunner of the modern 8-string.

It was invented in the year 1994 by Paul Galbraith and luthier David Rubio.

In fact, since as early as the 19th century, luthiers made multifarious non-standard guitars with seven, eight, and even ten strings.

Some of these early 8 strings are from Luthier John Dowland’s time (1597–1612).

Italians Giulio Regondi and Luigi Legnani were also well-known players of these early instruments.

The Current 8-String Avatar

The standard design for lap steel and pedal steel guitars has always been eight strings. In the 1940s, eight strings were the norm for American lap steel guitars.

 It was around the time when the seven-string surge took over the guitar world some decades ago, that a minority of companies offered the first mass-produced eight-string models.

In recent years, eight-string guitars have become popular in heavy metal as well as its subgenres.

This mad wave of initial popularity for the eight-string was inspired almost singularly by the Swedish progressive death metal band Meshuggah.

So what kind of guitars did the legendary Meshuggah use?

They were one of the first famed metal bands to fully utilize the 8-string guitar.

Their album ‘NOTHING’, saw them utilizing the 8 string guitar in all its glory.

But way back in 2002, when the band made its initial foray in 8 string territory, getting hold of an 8 string guitar was not easy. Everything had to be custom-made.

For their NOTHING record, they picked a custom model from Nevborn.

These guitars, however, proved to be faulty.

Meshuggah then teamed up with the Japanese company Ibanez, the pioneers of the 8 string guitar at the time.

Meshuggah has used 8-string Ibanez guitars ever since.

For their album ‘OBZEN’, Meshuggah and Ibanez developed an 8-string concept guitar for use on the record, and out of this, the Ibanez M80M was born!

Enter Ibanez: The Evolution Of The Modern 8-String Guitar

Ibanez, a Japanese manufacturer was the first company that began to produce mass 8-string models. The Japanese manufacturer introduced the RG2228 in 2007. It was instantly adopted by bands such as Animals as Leaders and Dragonforce.

Progressive metal bands such as After The Burial, Misha Mansoor of Periphery, Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry, as well as a bunch of new-age progressive or “djent” artists gave mass appeal to the 8 string.

Dino Cazares of Fear Factory played an Ibanez LACS in his band Asesino in 2005.

In March 2007, Ibanez and Agile were the first to offer manufactured 8-string guitars.

The basic features on a standard six, seven, or eight-string are fundamentally the same. The difference lies in how one plays the instrument (riffs, solos, chords, and rhythm), the tuning (standard, drop tuning, or alternate tunings), and performance-related details.

The construction of the solid body of the eight-string guitar is the same as that of its seven and six-string sisters.

An 8-string guitar is usually tuned to F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E (from low to high, top-down), but the tuning can always be altered.

The primary design-related issue that most people face while using an 8 string guitar is the tuning stability with the lower strings. This can happen due to a variety of reasons such as a short neck, improper intonation, or the use of the wrong string gauges. However, all these problems can be resolved with the proper setup of the guitar.

Some famous players of 8-string guitars

We already talked about the legendary Meshuggah, and how they had their 8-strings tuned extremely low to create this amazingly crazy-sounding soundscape!

The legend Steve Vai, one of the earliest original proponents of the 7-string guitar is an absolute genius with the 8 string too. Rumor has it he is planning an entire album of 8-string instrumental guitar soon.

Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders is another very popular player of the 8-string. His technical mastery of the instrument is incredible, and he has helped to popularize the instrument a lot.

CAFO by Animals as Leaders is a great example of the 8-string, djent style mastered by Tosin. Better known as ‘thumping’, this technique involves a lot of thumb usage in fingerstyle and makes full use of the 8-string guitar’s extended bass range.

Tosin also mentions the Swedish extreme metal band Meshuggah (the original proponents of the djent technique), along with Steve Vai as major influences.

Tosin uses customized signature 8 string guitars the TAM100 and TAM10 models, both by Ibanez. He also created his own line of guitars with the name ‘Abasi Concepts’, specifically for 7 and 8-string guitars.

These models are based on the first 8 string guitar mass-produced by Ibanez, the Ibanez RG2228.

Deftones, Meshuggah, and Animals As Leaders are all bands that frequently use the 8 string in their songs.

Misha Mansoor and Mark Holcomb, of the djent band Periphery, are also known to use an 8-string. They combine djent with metalcore and orchestral arrangements to create very cool and unique sounds.

Here is an interesting 8-string song to check out:

Some Practical Tips on Choosing An 8-string Guitar

Choosing an 8-string guitar that suits you best might seem daunting at first, but here are some useful tips. 

The right instrument can make a big difference.

Your size, musical style, and playing level are all factors to consider when choosing a new axe. Also, remember that an 8-string’s lower strings are much thicker than six (or even seven) string guitars.

Likewise, your preferred genre will help determine different features such as whether you should get an instrument with 22 or 24 frets.

Also, check out whether your new instrument has a fixed bridge versus one that can be adjusted (or perhaps even replaced). A tremolo bridge can help you get some squeals and dive bombs too!

With a fixed bridge, you’ll find it easier to experiment with different tunings, whereas a tremolo bridge can be very difficult to set up properly.

Conclusion

So, whether your style is metal, rock, jazz fusion, or something else entirely, there is likely an 8-string instrument out there to suit your tastes!

8 string guitars are great for progressive death metal (a great example of this is definitely Meshuggah!) but can also be used in other genres like rock or jazz fusion.

I hope this article helped you learn about 8-string guitar history.

Let me know in the comments if you have further questions about 8-string guitar history!

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