A nine-string guitar is a guitar with nine strings instead of the commonly used six strings. Such guitars are not as common as the six-string variety, but are used by guitarists to modify the sound or expand the range of their instrument by adding three strings.
There are two common variations of the nine string guitar:
The first style is often employed with three pairs of coursed strings similar to a twelve-string guitar. Often the three wound strings are single and the three thin strings are doubled to six strings. This allows dry power chords on the upper three and a more spheric chorus sound when all strings are played. Some examples of this type of nine-string guitar are the Vox Mark IX and the Vox Phantom IX.
A different and rarer version of coursing uses doubled courses on the three bass strings, and leaves the high strings single. This facilitates free bending during solos, and slide playing. Mick Abrahams of the band Jethro Tull used this configuration (in open tuning) on the This Was album, though he achieved it by removing three of the top strings from an EKO 12-string acoustic-electric guitar, since stock nine-string guitars didn't exist at the time (1969). Some twenty years later, former Rollins Band guitarist Chris Haskett had a custom Paul Reed Smith nine-string guitar made in this configuration. The inspiration for the design was supposedly the desire to capture the prominent tonalities of a 6/12 doubleneck on a single-neck guitar.
The second style expands on the seven- and eight-string guitar concept by adding either an additional lower- or higher-tuned string. Tuning the highest string to an A4 or higher can be accomplished with a shorter scale length and/or a thinner string such as a .008 or .007.
Extended range nine-string guitars will often have a multi-scale fingerboard design where the bass strings will be longer than the treble strings, which helps with proper intonation of the lower strings, improves string tension balance across the strings, improves harmonic overtones, overtone series, and inharmonicity.
A point of clarity, inharmonicity is not intonation; pushing a string against a fret – aside from raising the string's pitch because it shortens the string – also causes a slight secondary rise in pitch because pushing the string increases its tension. The bass strings on a nine-string typically require the saddle to be pulled back a bit more than the other strings to properly set the intonation. Some bridge designs accommodate this by offsetting back the 7th, 8th, and 9th strings or providing a bit of extra room for adjustment. Longer scale lengths require less offset for proper intonation.
Notable Nine-String Guitarists
Mississippi blues singer and guitarist Big Joe Williams spent most of his career playing nine-string guitars he had adapted himself from six-string instruments, with the first and second strings doubled in unison and the fourth doubled in octaves. His grave marker reads "King of the Nine-String guitar".
Canadian born Kurt Szul designed a nine-string guitar in 1989, which he has played in major-thirds tuning. Guitarist Matt Pike of Sleep and High on Fire also plays several First Act nine-string guitars. Nick Sadler, of the grindcore band Daughters, also played a First Act nine-string guitar.
List of Manufacturers
Agile, Alvarez-Yairi DY58, Chellee, Conklin, Emerald Guitars, Etherial, Halo, Schecter, Ibanez, Jackson, Legator, Maroo, Oni, Stambaugh Designs, Shamray, Schecter, Sherman, Siggery, Strictly7, and Taylor
- Seven-string guitar
- Eight-string guitar
- 10-string guitar
- Extended-range bass
- Brahms guitar
- Russian guitar
- Harp guitar
- Major Third
Notes and references
- James, Steve (2001). Inside Blues Guitar. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, pp. 33-34
- Cheseborough, Steve (2009). Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues. Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, p. 217
- "Agile Guitars". Agile Guitars.
- "NAMM: Ibanez RG9 9-string prototype".