Over the years I’ve gone through a bunch of guitars (purchased at MidAirMusic Store), playing them for a while, giving serious thought to modifying them for one reason or another, deciding against it, and then sending it on its way. I don’t regret any of the sales but one: my Ibanez RG7620.
For the uninitiated, Ibanez released a seven string Universe mode that had a fan in one James “Munky” Shaffer who would go on to be a founding member of Korn. Shaffer took all of the seven strings and tuned them down a whole step so the lowest note was an earth-rattling A. Earth-rattling at the time, I mean. Now it seems like there’s a war between bassists and guitarists for the low end of the sonic spectrum.
Anyhoo. Korn was immensely popular and took the metal world by storm, becoming the godfathers of “nu-metal.” With constant touring, Shaffer, accompanied by childhood best friend James “Head” Welch who also played an Ibanez Universe, the dual guitar onslaught caught on among the guitar community.
Ibanez saw a market and released the RG7620, which was basically a stripped-down Universe. It didn’t feature fancy inlays, binding, or a pickguard, but it had what it needed: seven strings.
I was a Korn devotee in the past, right up until the time they released their insanely popular album titled Follow The Leader (which included what is probably their most famous song “Freak on a Leash”). That album took forever to make and just didn’t do it for me for the most part. It struck me then that the lifespan of a band that is built on catharsis MAY be limited.
I was living in Hawaii at the time and would constantly haunt guitar stores – one specifically that had a wall of Ibanez guitars because my favorite band played Ibanez guitars and that was what I wanted. One day my dad and I saw that there was an upcoming swap meet in the store parking lot with lots of sales on the inside, too. I brought my crap amp and guitar down as trade bait, but before taking them out to mingle, I went inside and checked out the sales. On the wall were two black Ibanez RGs, but one was three hundred dollars more expensive. I looked at the fretboards and saw they both had rosewood and dot inlays. I looked at the pickups and saw that they looked the same. I thought “why the price difference?” I had never seen a seven string in person and in my research had come across not a single hint that there could be one on the island. Shop owners everywhere there said that they had never gotten one (but they could order it for me if I liked). I had zero reason to even think that this was a seven string.
I stepped toward it and, on a whim, counted the strings one by one. This sounds ridiculous now. How could anyone not immediately identify the glaring difference between a six and seven string, but imagine you came in contact with a dream, but in real life. You would also not know what it was and then, through methodical steps carefully chip away the reasons it wouldn’t be your dream with a growing sense of hope until the dust settled and you were left with your shining dream. That’s exactly what happened here. I literally put my finger on the high E and slowly counted out loud as I went down the strings. I paused between “6” and “7” and with nothing short of joy and relief at finally seeing something I had honestly never thought I would see, touched the last string and said in a low breath “seven.”
I looked at my dad and exclaimed that it’s a seven string! I then RIPPED it off the wall and practically ran to the amp room where I plugged into whatever was closest that had a mast volume knob and proceeded to fall in love with the wide-necked beast. I made deals with my dad, emptied my personal savings for college and bought the seven string. It came with no case and also came with no tremolo bar, though it did have a floyd-ish tremolo.
On the way home, I looked through the little paperwork that came with the Ibanez and saw that there was a registration card that said if I registered I would then receive, for free, a VHS tape called “7th Heaven.”
When I got home, I put a strap on the guitar and about five months later took it off for the first time. I loved that guitar. It wasn’t my first real guitar, but it was my first NEW guitar and I loved that it was so… perfect. The finish was flawless, there were no scratches, the action was low, there weren’t repair marks or cracks in the wood.
It was a new guitar and it was all mine. Any mark that would come to it would come to it under my watch and by me. I cared for it like crazy. I also emailed Ibanez and asked about the tremolo bar, to which they responded positively and said that they would contact the store to make sure that there was a tremolo bar waiting for me. When I picked it up, the store apologized and blamed the craziness of the day – completely understandable.
A couple of months later, my VHS copy of 7th Heaven arrived in the mail. It was about 30 minutes of the who’s who of seven string guitar players talking about why they like the guitars, what drew them to them, and how they utilize them (the most interesting being Wes Borland who strung the bottom six string like a normal six string guitar, but added another high E, tuned the exact same as the string below it so he could do drone notes). Artists included Andy Timmons, Korn’s guitarists, Wes Borland, Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares, Steve Vai, and others. It was about 30 minutes of pure awesomeness and I wore the tape out in my VCR, which eventually freaked out, ate and destroyed my tape, and then broke itself, never to turn on again.
I really wish that I still had that tape. I would have given it to a company to turn into a DVD so I could watch it as many times as I liked without any degradation. I wonder what it would take for Ibanez to release it again, perhaps this time on the Internet? 7+ string guitars are popular again, the video was free in the first place, and the Internet is MUCH more popular, so why not?
The RG7620 became my go-to guitar. It could do anything I wanted because now I could play six string stuff AND seven string stuff, an issue I was trying to skirt around previously by buying thicker strings and tuning down. That works like a champ until there’s a note on the missing high E.
The neck of the RG7620 was wider than any six string neck, but Ibanez reduced the amount of space from what they would normally have for any of their six string RGs, so the seventh string was less of a burden. This was a pretty smart move. Ibanez was in a position to make their own throne in the world of seven string guitars and it was up to them to ruin it for themselves if they did anything wrong. Keeping a normal string space might mean an even wider neck and who knew if players were going to accept that? The popular mentality at the time was that six strings was enough and seven was fairly unprecedented. If it was uncomfortable, who but the devout would look at it as a serious alternative to the standard six?
This isn’t to say that the fretboard was cramped by any means. The difference in spacing was negligible to me and the size of the neck was only as wide as it needed to be to feel like it was more substantial than a six string’s.
The RG7620 was a sleeper guitar, too. It didn’t look flashy at all. Originally it came in one color (black) until the last couple of years of production when they introduced other colors (gray, blues, red, and white) to the catalog. The special DiMarzio pickups made the basswood body sing and the guitar was just as happy doing jazz as it was doing metal. With the tremolo capability, everyone could be happy with this guitar and the extended range made for fun playing.
Most of what I did consisted of playing on the low strings with lots of power chords, focusing on rhythms and break-downs that were typical in nu-metal. The trem-bar stayed out of the guitar for the most part and I was terrified of breaking a string because of the Floyd and my lack of experience restringing them. People gave seven+ string players then (and now) a hard time lumping everyone into one category that just wants to “chug” away. Today they use the same slur but swapped out “chug” for “djent” because perhaps they were bored. I never understood the negativity. I’m still playing guitar so we still have that in common. Perhaps it was the dissatisfaction that came from watching simple music get so popular when true fretboard technicians slaved away for pennies in bars. Perhaps they were just compensating. Perhaps it was only a difference in attitudes and philosophies, but neither camp wanted to admit that, so they laid the blame on the guitar. Who knows?
What I do know is that the next big company to release a seven string was Schecter and where Ibanez had one body style at two price-points, Schecter had two different body styles and were less expensive (interestingly, they also later released a five-string guitar tuned like a cello for easy one-finger chords called the – what else – Cello Blaster. This guitar was short-lived though). Then more companies hopped on the bandwagon. Companies, realizing that most of the seven string market was coming from kids, enrolled themselves in a race to the bottom of price-points and the market was flooded as kids everywhere either stopped playing guitar, gave up playing seven string guitars specifically in favor of the trusty six, or perhaps they were just so satisfied they didn’t need to buy any more guitars.
The market was saturated and everywhere seven string guitars went on clearance. Prices plummeted to ridiculous levels and more than a few proprietors would say to me that they couldn’t even GIVE them away. They were, of course, being figurative as I would always offer to take them off their hands.
The market dried up and died. It didn’t help that nu-metal bands were also becoming less popular. Even the founders of new metal, Korn, were releasing self-indulgent tripe that was failing to have the same impact as their previous works. I guess the catharsis that was playing out their tragedies on a worldwide stage worked and they were finally happy. Or completely stoned and unable to write to the same level.
With the lack of popularity, the negative connotations from more seasoned players, the fact that all the seven strings were on clearance at the shops (clearly indicating that they were not wanted by the playing public or the store) the Ibanez RG7620, what I considered to be the best bang for your buck of that generation, was discontinued in 2002 and other guitars fell around the same time.
It was a good time though and the seven string made a lot of sense. Those that could fully utilize the neck would never move back to six strings and a cult following grew under the mainstream. Eventually more and more guitarists came out of the woodwork, this time playing harder music that was less “whaa!” and more “rar!” with most sighting the band Meshuggah as a primary influence. Seven string guitars worked, but Meshuggah had moved on to EIGHT strings and a few people followed. These few people were influential and Ibanez was again at the forefront with their own octo-offerings.
After a few years of dedicated Ibanez attention, I reverted back to six strings as well. I moved from Hawaii to Mississippi and in the move my guitar was damaged when it was dropped on to tile and resulted in a few chips and cracks along the side – a tragedy. As I began to play more and more with six string guitars, the Ibanez only remained visible because it just LOOKED so cool to me. The Ibanez headstock is PERFECT for seven strings. With six, it looks to small, and the fact that their eight string has four to a side makes it look strange. But seven strings with that design is perfect. It looked awesome.
Eventually though, I needed money. I was going to go to college and I was paying my own way through, so I sold it to a coworker before moving away. He seemed to really enjoy playing with seven strings so I was happy to see it go to him, and I was certainly happy to get money for classes or food. I was happy with the sale and didn’t start regretting it until the low-end resurgence of late. I tried an eight string LTD and can safely say I’ve found my absolute limit of strings is seven, but when I sat down recently with Ibanez’s Iron Label seven string, it felt really nice in my hands and the low B string was still fun to chug on.
I’ve been trying to find the guy who bought my Ibanez. The Internet is a wonderful thing for research like this and I’m pretty sure I’ve found him, but from what our mutual acquaintance’s say, he drifts in and out of actually getting on the Internet (which just seems crazy), so he may respond to my emails in a few months. Maybe.
It’s not that I want to buy back that guitar or anything either, though that would certainly be cool (like when Dimebag sold his favorite guitar to a guy who modified the crap out of it and then at a chance meeting Dimebag said it was awesome and they guy said “it’s yours!” meaning that it was his guitar before and also that it’s his guitar now, too), but it’s the only guitar that I ever sold to a private party and it meant a lot to me and it would be cool to know what happened to it, where it is right now, and maybe get some pictures. Guitarcheaology as Deke Dickerson would call it.