How To Tune an 8-String Guitar

You can tune an 8-string guitar in standard tuning with the low strings as F# and B, while another common tuning uses E and A on the low strings.

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Tuning an 8-string guitar is a crucial skill for any guitarist looking to explore the expanded range and versatility of this innovative instrument. In this article, I’ll take you into the world of 8-string guitars, discuss standard tuning, alternate tunings, and the techniques needed to keep your instrument sounding its best.

Audio sample:

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Standard Tuning for 8-String Guitars

Standard tuning serves as a reference point for 8-string guitarists. The most common standard tuning for an 8-string guitar is as follows:

String NumberNote
1 (highest sounding)E
8 (lowest sounding)F#

This tuning provides familiarity for guitarists transitioning from 6-string instruments, as the highest six strings maintain the same intervals as a standard-tuned six-string guitar. As you might already know, the basic tuning for a 7-string guitar is the same as above except without the 8th string.

Advantages of Extended Range on 8-String Guitars

Why play an 8-string guitar? The extended range of 8-string guitars opens up new possibilities for guitarists.

Examples include:
  1. Increased low-end frequencies
  2. Expanded chord voicings and harmonic options
  3. Greater versatility in modern metal and progressive music

Brands like Ibanez, ESP, and Schecter offer a wide range of 8-string models, catering to the growing demand for these instruments among experimental and avant-garde musicians.

Alternate Tunings for 8-String Guitars

While standard tuning is a great starting point, alternate tunings allow for customization to suit specific genres or playing styles. Bands that use 8-string guitars like Meshuggah and Animals as Leaders have popularized other tunings. Some popular alternate tunings for 8-string guitars include:

  • Drop E: E, B, E, A, D, G, B, E
  • Half-step down: F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb (Meshuggah uses this)
  • Drop Eb: Eb, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb
  • Double-drop E and A: E, A, E, A, D, G, B, E (Animals as Leaders uses this)

Experimenting with alternate tunings can inspire new creative directions and help you develop unique playing techniques.

How to Tune an 8-String Guitar in Standard Tuning

Follow these steps to tune your 8-string guitar in standard tuning:

  1. Use a high-quality digital tuner like the TC Electronic PolyTune or Boss TU-3.
  2. Start by tuning the 8th string (lowest) to F#. Use a reference pitch or tune it to the 2nd fret of the 7th string. You can use the harmonic at the 12th fret to tune since some tuners have a hard time with the low string.
  3. Tune the 7th string to B, using the 5th fret of the 8th string as a reference.
  4. Continue tuning the remaining strings in the following order: 6th (E), 5th (A), 4th (D), 3rd (G), 2nd (B), and 1st (E). The 5th fret of the lower string equals the next open string except for the B string, which is the 4th fret on the G.
  5. Double-check your tuning by playing chords and comparing octaves.

If you encounter tuning instability, consider using thicker string gauges or adjusting your guitar’s setup.

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Adapting to 8-String Guitars from 6-String Guitars

Transitioning from a 6-string to an 8-string guitar requires adaptation in playing technique and muscle memory. Some tips for a smooth transition include:

  • Focus on proper posture and hand positioning to accommodate the wider neck.
  • Practice scales and arpeggios to build finger strength and dexterity.
  • Explore new chord voicings and progressions that utilize the extended range.
  • Develop picking-hand techniques to maintain clarity and definition on the lower strings.

With dedication and practice, you’ll soon be navigating the 8-string fretboard with confidence.

Genres and Playing Styles Suited for 8-String Guitars

8-string guitars have found a home in various genres, particularly those that emphasize heavy riffs, complex rhythms, and experimental textures. Some notable genres and playing styles include:

Genre/StyleCharacteristicsNotable Artists
DjentSyncopated rhythms, palm-muted riffs, polymetersMeshuggah, Periphery, Animals as Leaders
Progressive MetalComplex structures, odd time signatures, virtuosityDream Theater, Symphony X, Opeth
ExperimentalAvant-garde techniques, unconventional soundsTosin Abasi, Sarah Longfield, Josh Martin

These genres showcase the 8-string guitar’s potential for pushing musical boundaries and inspiring innovation.

How To Tune an 8-String: Conclusion

Mastering the art of tuning your 8-string guitar is an essential step in unlocking its vast potential. By understanding standard tuning, exploring alternate tunings, and adapting your playing technique, you’ll be well-equipped to create powerful, intricate compositions that showcase the instrument’s extended range.

As you continue your 8-string journey, remember to experiment, stay creative, and embrace the unique challenges and rewards that come with this exciting instrument. With dedication and practice, you’ll soon be pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in your music.

See me play this Scheter Omen Elite MS 8 string guitar in the video below, where I experimented with combining John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Meshuggah’s Bleed:

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How To Tune an 8-String Guitar: FAQ

Below are a few frequently asked questions about tuning an 8-string guitar:

What is the standard tuning for an 8-string guitar?

The standard tuning for an 8-string guitar, from lowest to highest string, is: F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E. This tuning maintains the same intervals as a standard 6-string guitar for the highest six strings, with the addition of a low B and F# string.

Can I use regular guitar tuners for an 8-string guitar?

While regular guitar tuners can work for the higher strings on an 8-string guitar, it’s recommended to use a high-quality tuner that can also work for bass. These tuners, such as the TC Electronic PolyTune or Boss TU-3, can accurately detect lower frequencies and ensure precise tuning across all eight strings.

What string gauges should I use for an 8-string guitar?

The ideal string gauges for an 8-string guitar depend on factors like your preferred tuning, playing style, and personal preference. A common gauge set for standard tuning is: .010, .013, .017, .030, .042, .054, .064, .074. However, you may need to experiment with different gauges to find the perfect balance of tension, playability, and tone.

What genres of music are best suited for 8-string guitars?

8-string guitars are particularly popular in modern metal and progressive music genres, such as djent, progressive metal, and experimental music. These genres often emphasize heavy riffs, complex rhythms, and unconventional sounds, which the extended range of an 8-string guitar can facilitate. However, the versatility of the instrument allows it to be used in a wide variety of musical contexts.

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