Welcome to the twilight zone, where people play guitars with nine strings. And that’s not all…they use eerie alternate tunings.
Even in standard tuning, these instruments can reach lower pitches than a 4-string bass. And if you drop the 9th string a full step you can match the lowest note on a 5-string bass.
So is it actually a guitar at this point or is it a bass with an extended upper range?
Alternate tunings for 9-string guitars tend to be lower or “drop” tunings rather than open tunings. These guitars are almost exclusively associated with the metal and djent genres. And not only are the guitars difficult to get but getting string sets is too, which may be why open tunings aren’t popular.
Their online presence is pretty strong though, with several internet personalities promoting them such as Rob Scallon and Andrew Baena.
And as older companies are constantly discovering, internet personalities can sell a lot of gear.
No one knows if these instruments will become more popular in the future but there are already plenty of alternate tunings you can try out.
All you need to know about 9-string alternate tunings
Now if you haven’t yet acquired one of these instruments yet, let’s talk about availability first, because there aren’t too many choices, to be honest.
Ordinarily, I would think to check Ibanez first, but they don’t even make one.
Sweetwater doesn’t even have any 9-string guitars as far as I know.
Guitar Center on the other hand does have a couple of Legator brand guitars with nine strings listed for pre-order sale ($1050-$1600).
ESP Japan offered a signature 9-string guitar for the band Babymetal and ESP has made some custom 9-string instruments but I haven’t seen a production model.
Let’s just take a moment and appreciate that the core members of Babymetal don’t play any instruments (some of the music is admittedly great though).
However, Schecter Guitar Research does have a regular production model and I think it is your best option: the Damien Platinum-9 at $1000.
I don’t own any Schecter guitars but I do respect them and I think that naming metal guitars after classic horror films is pretty sick. And there’s no fan fret / multiscale nightmare to deal with on this one.
So now that you have an idea of where to get one of these guitars, let’s first establish what the standard tuning is, and then get into some cool alternate tunings. 9-string guitars (extended range type that is) are traditionally set up to C#-F#-B-E-A-D-G-B-E.
Now, who wants a C# string?
These things are practically begging to be changed to alternate tunings!
4 must-know 9-string guitar tunings
1. B Standard
For this tuning, the intervals are preserved as all strings are de-tuned a full step to B-E-A-D-G-C-F-A-D.
This gets rid of that pesky open C# note and should be perfect for playing along with a 5-string bass in standard tuning or the top 5 strings will harmonize well with a 7-string guitar.
Of course, you could tune down just a half step or lower than B Standard but do you really need to tune any lower than this?
2. Drop B
This is just changing the 9th string to a full step down from C# to B, similar to using Drop D on a 6-string guitar.
The B-F#-B tuning on the top three strings gives you a lot of easy power chord options that should sound brutal with some distortion.
I’m sure it will also be pretty brutal on your fingers though since the top string will be around .105 gauge. People also tune down a whole step to B Standard and then drop the top string all the way to A but I think Drop B is plenty to start with.
3. High A
This one will be like having an 8-string guitar with an extended upper range.
The tuning of the strings will thus be F#-B-E-A-D-G-B-E-A.
This is a fresh option for anyone who gets a 9-string guitar and finds themselves not playing it as much as they thought they would.
And of course, it will sound good along a 6-string bass too. It does take some custom strings to do it though so think carefully before committing to it.
4. Drop B and E
This tuning has the top two strings lowered a whole step so it becomes B-E-B-E-A-D-G-B-E, eradicating all traces of open sharp notes.
I guess this one is for people who enjoy using octaves and I think it could sound pretty neat for a slap bass style, considering your top strings are pretty much the same as the strings of a bass.
Should you set up your guitar every time you change its tuning?
Given the heaviness of the strings that these guitars feature I think there will probably need to be some adjustments made for any alternate tuning other than maybe Drop B.
If you want to leave your guitar in a lowered tuning or the Drop B and E option then checking if the truss rod needs adjustment is definitely recommended.
Of course, if you want to play live or record with your guitar in an alternate tuning then a professional setup would be a good idea.
And we didn’t even cover any of the insane tunings that deal with tuning the top string down to A or micro-tuning some strings.
A brief guide to alternate tunings and string gauges
As far as strings go there aren’t too many options out there that I am aware of.
If you just want to buy a prepackaged set I believe your only choice is Ernie Ball 2628 (.009 – .105). These can be purchased online at Sweetwater for around $19.
This limited availability of strings might be why open tunings are not so popular with 9-string guitars.
It is possible to order a custom 9-string guitar set from the company Stringjoy but their heaviest listed 9th string is .095, which is considerably lighter than the Ernie Ball equivalent.
However, you could use the heaviest string from the Ernie Ball set and customize an 8-string set from Stringjoy if you are picky.
The good news is that setups will probably be easier since you only have one string option if you want to go with purely prepackaged strings and don’t want to mess with the custom sets from Stringjoy.
The exception here is if you want to try the High A tuning, which can be done with a set of 8-string guitar strings such as D’Addario EXL140-8 (.010 – .074) or whatever you like and some custom plain steel .007 gauge strings, also made by D’Addario, for the high A string (available through Amazon).
I really suggest getting multiple high A strings in case you snap some tuning all the way to A.
But if you are new to 9-string guitars or are just thinking of trying one, I would suggest taking your time and exploring the instrument adequately as it is set up from the factory before you start ordering custom string sets and making adjustments to the neck.
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And before you know it, you could be composing the music for the next Doom game.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.