7-string guitars

7-string guitars were fashionable for a brief period in the late nineties, and they were widely available from most of the mainstream manufacturers for a while. Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions they have all but disappeared from the market. Carvin, Schecter, ESP, and Ibanez are still at it but the styles of the 7-string guitars they make are very similar. The extra string is traditionally tuned to a low B and it is typically used with a generous amount of distortion in rock music of the heavy type. Consequently, there are no hollow-body models available, and to make matters worse it seems that baritone guitars (6-string instruments with a longer scale length) are now the preferred choice for guitarists who want the extended low end. In the absence of a healthy offering of 7-string guitars from the industry eBay is an oasis. By regularly trawling through the items on sale I have managed to get hold of a handful of 7-string guitars, including some that have been out of production for years. Below I give my oppionion on the ones I own. If you are desparate and willing to try anything with seven strings on it there are a few ultra-low budget models available, for example from Harley Benton and Agile. It is a fair bet that a guitar that sells for less than $200 isn't of brilliant quality but if you are just a little bit curious about the major thirds tuning it is a cheap way to get going.

The Ibanez AF207 is the only mass-produced 7-string archtop I am aware of. It is very expensive. The suggested retail price was of the order of $3000 which I think is excessive. I paid about half of that and I consider that a good bargain. It is extremely well made, and it sounds great both acoustically and when plugged in. It comes without a strap button on the neck side, so unless you have the nerve to drill in a $3000 dollar piece of wood (ask yourself, "do I feel lucky?") you have to see your guitar doctor. Or perhaps you are content to play sitting down for the rest of your life.
The Schecter Jazz-7 is the only mass-produced hollow-body budget guitar. It was sold for just under $1000. It is a slimline design very similar to the Gibson 335. It has a huge body that feels like it almost touches your chin when you strap it on. If it was still in production I would recommend this guitar as the default for anybody who wants to try jazz on a 7-string. It is great value for money even if it isn't made from top quality materials.
The Schecter C-7 looks like a real metal axe but in fact it has a lovely mellow jazz tone. It was my first 7-string and a lot of the recordings on m3guitar version 1.0 are made with this guitar. Almost ten years on it is still in production. It is very heavy, literally, and it is probably the dense quality of the wood that gives it its dark sound and long sustain. Excellent versatile instrument if you don't need the sort of thin 'sploing' sound you get from a strat.
The Epiphone Les Paul Classic 7 has the good looks of the real thing, the Gibson Les Paul. I have never been too keen on the Gibson Les Paul, partly because I think it is overpriced and partly because I am not impressed with the musicians Gibson use to endorse it (the over-the-top rockstar image is a bit of a turn-off). However, I don't have anything bad to say about Epiphones' effort. The Classic 7 is surprisingly nice to play, much nicer than I would have expected from the low-budget version. The neck is thicker than anything else I have tried but it somehow fits well with the overall solid feel of the instrument.
The Dean EVO AS7 is in principle a cheap Les Paul clone but in practice it feels very different. It is light, and it has one of the flattest necks I have ever tried. For this type of guitar I much prefer the Epiphone. It has one unusual and attractive feature, though: the string attachments on the bridge side form a neat diagonal line, which makes it very well suited for the majord thirds tuning, as opposed to some models from Schecter, for example, which have the string attachments arranged into two groups of 3 and 4.
The Raines Fusion 7 is made by Matt Raines who sells his instruments on eBay. It is also available in a 6-string version. It is a semi-hollow design with a sharp attack that makes it very versatile. It sounds great with effects as well. The scale length is slightly shorter than usual and it is very comfortable to play. In fact, I try not to practice on this guitar too much because I feel I am struggling when I pick up one of my jazz guitars! Use it with round wound strings.
The Novax Tele Slimline is a one-off made by Ralph Novak sometime in the early nineties (I think). There are about one million controls on it, and the fretboard is absolutely beautiful. The only piece of information that might be useful to the average websurfer is related to the fanned fret system. It is claimed that the fanned fret system enables the guitar to be more accurately in tune since the scale length is correctly adjusted to the pitch of each string. I honestly don't think it makes much difference. The real advantage is in compensating for the tension when you want to include strings that are extremely high or low in pitch, for example like Charlie Hunter who literally plays bass on the low strings. Nevertheless, the guitar I have is easy enough to play and you don't really think about the layout of the frets. And, of course, it looks seriously wacky so if I ever get the chance to appear in a music video I will probably bring the Novax along in an attempt to get some attention.
The Kramer Turbulence R-36 is the only truly innovative 7-string guitar that has been made widely available. Once you start taking an interest in unconventional guitar design it is striking to observe just how conservative guitar manufacturers, and indeed guitarists, are. Credit goes to Gary Kramer for trying something new. The Turbulence R-36 has 36 frets, and although it is difficult to play the top 12 frets, it is very comfortable to play frets 12 to 24. When you sit with the guitar your left hand naturally rests higher up the fretboard than on a conventional guitar. Consequently, I have tuned mine from C-to-C, a major third below the usual E-to-E, because I can still easily reach the high notes on the 1st string. There is only one pickup, which is positioned quite close to the bridge, so you only get one sound to work with but that one sound is great.
The Giannini GWNFLE/7 belongs to a series of classical budget guitars made in Brazil. I am not the right person to comment on the quality of classical guitars so all I will say is that to a non-expert it looks stunning and it sounds great. I like the slimline design a lot but a side-effect of the shallow body is that the acoustic projection isn't what you want if you are a real connaisseur. Nevertheless, if you are a classical 'part-timer' like me you will almost certainly be satisfied with a Giannini. See the section on strings for a recommendation on gauges for the major third tuning.
The Bartolex 7 is a full-body classical budget guitar with piezo-electric pickups. This one also has a built-in tuner which is a nice touch. The Bartolex classical guitars are available at very reasonable prices on eBay, and they are fine for playing the occasional latin tune or bossa nova. I don't play 'proper' classical guitar so I cannot comment on its use for that style of music. See the section on strings for a recommendation on gauges for the major third tuning.
The Squier Fat Strat 7 has two humbucker pickups, and no out-of-phase setting, so you cannot get the type of single-coil sound that is usually associated with a Strat. Still, it is comfortable to play and considering that it sells for a few hundred dollars it is well made. If nothing else, it is a good guitar to take along with you for practicing when you don't want to leave your $5000+ custom-built archtop in the summerhouse while you are on the beach.
The Aria STG 4 has two single-coil pickups and a humbucker in the bridge position, and in principle it should sound like a Strat clone. Unfortunately, the materials are cheap and it shows when you have a look at it up close. The tuners are absolutely awful and the pickups are of poor quality. This guitar is the only one in my collection that I would not recommend. It is very cheap but even when considering its price I would say the quality is not acceptable.
The Danelectro Mod 7 comes with the lipstick tube pickups the company is famous for. The electronics allow for a wide variety of sounds and the single-coil pickups are remarkably quiet. It is the only 7-string guitar I know that has the bite of a strat. For us 7-stringers there is really no alternative to this one. It regularly turns up on eBay so get yours while you can.

The Carvin DC 747 and 727, which are still in production, are of excellent quality. In my oppinion the attention to detail in the mechanical build as well as the materials used by Carvin make them the best value for money in the price range around $1000. The finish on their guitars looks fantastic, and you can order them without inlays on the fretboard. Unfortunately, the pickups they use are far too hot for my liking but you can equalize the high end to some extent by adjusting the height of each of the pole pieces with an Allen key, and in addition you can make the sound mellower by using a thin pick.
The ESP Viper 407, which is still in production, stands out by having active EMG pickups. They are very sensitive with almost no noise but they are also sharp in a not-so-pleasant way. The guitar is well made and comfortable to play with one exception: the strap button on the neck side is positioned such that the balance is neck heavy. If you take your hands off the instrument it will slide until the neck points into the floor. You basically have to carry the neck with your left hand when you are playing. It is a stupid design error, most likely made because ESP did not want to compromise the look. Another trip to the guitar doctor is called for.