Acoustic violins are limited to 4 strings and acoustic guitars have 6 strings. However, the universe of electric instruments expands to limitless ranges such as 10-string electric guitars or 7-string electric violins. At 3Dvarius, we also offer 6- and 7-string electric violins in both our Line and Equinox lines. These come as a complement to our usual 4- and 5-string models.
What are the advantages of a 5-, 6- or 7-string violin?
It is above all a matter of preference, of wanting to explore even further the lower tones. The first advantage of a 5-string violin is that it increases the sound possibilities tenfold, it expands your musical repertoire, etc. This is also true for 6-string and 7-string electric violins. Any additional string will allow you to reach beyond the sounds offered by a 4-string! Here is a video presentation of our 6-string Line violin!
If you play in a band, these extra strings can help you have a stronger presence, for example by replacing the bass on a song thanks to the lower strings.
The violinist will then be able to play the same repertoire as a violin, viola, cello, guitar or bass with only one instrument and without necessarily having to use effects like a pitch shifter or an octaver. Because, yes, it is perfectly possible to tune a 6- or 7-string violin just like a guitar, and therefore to take over the sheet music of the guitar.
Within a band, the violinist often has greater freedom in his/her musical interventions. An electric violin can adopt different sounds, which increases the range of possibilities tenfold. The musician can pick a very classical sound on one piece, then switch to a lower tone on the next. The more strings you have on your violin, the more possibilities you have.
If you are an electric soloist, you have a really wide range of possibilities. Any violinist who enjoys using looper pedals, or who plays in a rock band, can tell you that the more sound possibilities you have, the more diverse your playing will be. More strings mean more musical range with or without effects. Of course, adding effects increases the sound possibilities even more!
Most electric violinists playing on a 5-string or more confirm that they can no longer live without that fifth C string and any of the other additional strings. They would not go back to a 4-string electric violin for anything in the world. Classical violin music is played with 4 strings, but in contemporary music there is no limit. If you want to go further and expand your sound possibilities, don’t be afraid to get an electric violin with extra strings.
The Mexican violinist Eduardo Bortolotti explains in the video below all advantages and characteristics of extended range violins. Do not hesitate to use the subtitles.
Which are these extra strings?
As you already know, a 4-string violin uses the strings E (Mi), A (La), D (Re) and G (Sol).
On a 5-string electric violin, we will add a 5th C string (Do). This is exactly the same C string that is used on violas.
On a 6-string electric violin, we add the 5 strings mentioned above and a 6th F string (Fa).
And lastly, on a 7-string electric violin, we take the 6 previous strings and we add a 7th B-flat (Si bémol) string.
|4 strings||5 strings||6 strings||7 strings|
Just like it happens with the first 4 strings, the diameter of each string gets progressively thicker. The B-flat string has a much larger diameter than the E-string.
Where can I find these 6th and 7th strings?
We already wrote a comprehensive article on the selection of strings for an electric violin, please feel free to read it if you haven’t already done so.
Finding the first 5 strings of a violin, from E to C, is quite simple. Most manufacturers offer C strings for violins in at least one of their string lines. This has become a common practice! For the F and B-flat strings, it is a bit more complicated. Some manufacturers offer these strings, but there are very few of them.
Thomastik-Infeld offers an F (Fa) string as part of their Vision line. This F string is quite thin and responsive.
Super-Sensitive used to offer an F (Fa), a B-flat (Si bémol) and even an E-flat (Mi bémol) in its Sensicore line. However, we are speaking in the past tense, as Super-Sensitive closed its doors in 2020. The company and its know-how have been acquired by D’Addario, another string manufacturer. Unfortunately, D’Addario has not yet resumed the production of the Sensicore line. The company stated that they were not planning to stop the production, but that they were prioritizing the relaunch of other string lines at the moment. It is therefore not clear at this point when the Sensicore will be back on the market.
This is currently a major problem for violinists playing on 7 strings since B-flat strings are completely out of stock. This means you have to be patient!
However, we do have some strings in stock and for comparison purposes, here is what is worth mentioning. The Sensicore F string has a slightly larger diameter than the one from Thomastik, which is a bit annoying, because the thicker the strings are, the more they are likely to make contact with the fingerboard when vibrating, and the less responsive they will be. The Sensicore B-flat string has an even larger diameter. But, as of today, it is the only one you will find on the market (if you are lucky enough to find one 🙂). The Sensicore E-flat (Mi bémol) string allows you to install the following strings: A, D, G, C, F, B-flat, E-flat to obtain a lower pitched result.
How to tune a 5-, 6- or 7-string violin?
You have several possibilities when it comes to the type of tuning you want to use. The first is to simply tune your instrument according to the strings you have, just like a violin.
Violins use all-fifths tuning, which means that the interval between two notes is five degrees, as is the case for violas and cellos.
This translates into: E-A-D-G (or Mi, La, Re, Sol) for the first 4 strings, then the C (Do) of a viola, followed by an F (Fa), and then finally by a B-flat (Si bemol), which corresponds to the open C of a cello.
The following video features a short improvisation by Mexican violinist Eduardo Bortolotti with a 6-string line in which he strums the strings without using a bow. He also uses a complex chain of effects. The final result is truly amazing!
You can also tune your electric violin like a guitar. A guitar usually has 6 strings: E (high)-B-G-D-A-E (low) or Mi (high), Si, Sol, Re, La, Mi (low). It is therefore possible to tune a 6-string electric violin based on the tuning of a guitar.
There are many reasons to do this. It allows guitarists to discover a bowed string instrument by simply using the same chords. This is not a must for violinists, as you don’t necessarily need to go through this process. But, if you are both a violinist and a guitarist, it can broaden your possibilities a bit more. We love the answer of violinist Chuck Bontrager on his choice of using a guitar tuning with a 7-string violin:
I use this tuning because it makes it easier to steal riffs from guitarists, which in turn pisses them off, which makes me happy.
Even guitarists didn’t stop at the standard 6 strings. You should know that there are electric guitars with up to 10 strings. This means that it will also be possible to tune a 7-string electric violin like a 7-string guitar. The 7th string will be a low B. In the table below, you will find the 7 strings that are used on a 7-string electric guitar.
|7th string||6th string||5th string||4th string||3rd string||2nd string||1st string|
|Low B||Low E||A||D||G||B||High E|
If you want to tune your 6- or 7-string electric violin the same way as a guitar, you have to take into account the extra tension you will be applying to your strings. Violin strings are not designed to handle this extra tension, and many will break. Or conversely, they end up being so loose that they are impossible to play with. You have to find the right balance between the type of strings you like, their tension and their strength for this type of tuning.
After several attempts, and having had to break a lot of strings (G strings mostly), here is what we think works best.
|7th string||6th string||5th string||4th string||3rd string||2nd string||1st string|
|Guitar range||Low B||Low E||A||D||G||B||High E|
|Recommended strings||Violin B-flat string tuned a semitone higher||Violin F string tuned one semitone lower||Violin G octave string tuned a whole tone higher or a violin C string tuned a tone and a half lower||Viola C string tuned a whole tone higher||Violin G string tuned as usual||An octave A string tuned a whole tone higher||Violin D string tuned a whole tone higher or an octave E string tuned as usual|
The so-called “baritone” strings are also called “octave” strings. We have already discussed them in an article describing the different possibilities to obtain the sound of a cello with a violin. These are strings that, once in place, are tuned an octave lower than regular violin strings.
When you need to go up a tone or more, viola strings are more likely to work. They are longer in length since the fingerboard of a viola is slightly longer than that of a violin. They have a greater capacity to stretch with higher tension levels on a violin.
- High E / High Mi
- B / Si
- G / Sol
- D / Re
- A / La
- Low E / Low Mi
- B / Si (7th string)
Use a violin D string (D4) that you will have to tune a whole tone higher to get an E (E4). Or, place an octave or baritone E string (E4) and tune it as usual.
Use an octave or baritone A string (A3) and tune it a whole tone higher to get a B3.
Use a violin G string and tune it as usual. The G of the violin and the guitar is exactly the same: G3.
Use a viola C string (C3 or Do2) and tune it a whole tone higher to get a D3. We have obtained better results with viola strings than with violin strings.
Use a violin C string (C3) and tune it a tone and a half lower to get an A2. In this case, you will get better results with a violin string. Alternatively, you can use a G baritone / octave string (G2) and tune it a whole tone higher.
Use a violin F string (F2) and tune it one semitone lower to get an E2.
Use the B-flat string (B-flat1) and tune it a semitone higher to get an B1.
Keep in mind that each brand of string will respond in a different way. The materials and manufacturing processes are not the same for each brand and line, which inevitably leads to significant differences during the tensioning process. For example, we have seen some brands of D-strings withstand overtensioning, while others have broken immediately.
Overtensioning or undertensioning by a semitone works almost every time. However, beyond that, it gets trickier and string breakage becomes more frequent.
Here is a composition by Eduardo Bortolotti made with a 6-string electric violin and a looper. It shows the different sound possibilities offered by a violin with more than 4 strings with and without any effects.
Are there any significant differences in the design of these 6- and 7-string violins?
Yes, there are, because the body of the instrument needs to be adapted to the new strings.
First of all, the structure of the instrument is different. When adding strings, the width of the neck must be adapted so that the violinist can press on each string without having to touch the others. Adding a 5th string on a neck designed for 4 strings is impossible. In order to make the instrument and the playing sensation comfortable, it is necessary to adapt the space between each string. The fingerboard is therefore widened to ensure that there is enough space between every string.
There are “rules” involved in the design of a 4-string violin. Each violin maker has his own way of doing things, but in the end, the dimensions of a 4-string acoustic violin follow a certain standard. The space between the strings is (often) identical.
On the other hand, there are no rules for creating a fingerboard for a 5-, 6- or 7-string violin. It is up to the manufacturer. As far as we are concerned, we always think about the best possible option for the instrumentalist. The goal is to achieve something that is both playable and comfortable throughout the entire neck. Just as we did with our research for the 5-string electric violins, we asked several violinists for their opinions, and tested the width of the fingerboard and the curve of the pickup before establishing our “standard”.
This structural change also implies a greater weight. This is due to the larger body, and the additional accessories needed to make the violin work: extra tuning pegs, a pickup adapted to the number of strings, etc. In order to minimize the feeling of heaviness, the weight has been distributed at the bottom of the body so that it can be supported by the shoulder and not by the arm of the violinist.
Are violins with more than 4 strings easy to handle?
Easy is not the most accurate term. Nothing is easy in music! Playing an instrument takes time and practice. The way you play does not change: a violin is still a violin. You will be placing your fingers in the same way as on a 4-string. However, the initial stages will be confusing. Your mind is used to place your fingers on those 4 strings, and is not aware that a 5th, 6th and/or 7th string is there. After several hours of practice, this will become much more natural. And after dozens of hours of playing, it’s instinctive, and you’ll find it hard to play without these new strings.
On a 6- and 7-string violin, there will also be an adaptation time needed on the bowing. The curve of the bridge becomes progressively more pronounced. You will have to reach the strings much lower and further in order to make them sound. The movement of the right arm must be adapted by adjusting each limb of the body that is involved: from the shoulder to the wrist.
The following is a video of Japanese violinist Atsuhiro Oshiro, or Ryukyuish Violin, playing with one of our 6-string Equinox. He plays both his 4-string classical violin, and electric violins with more than 4 strings, and has no trouble playing any of them.
If I play on a 6/7-string violin, can I switch back to my classical violin easily?
This is a very common question! And the answer is pretty much the same as the one above. Your mind will need a few moments to remember that you are holding a 4-string and not a 6-string violin. Because your fingers will naturally be looking for the 5th or 6th string. After a few minutes, everything will become clear to your mind and everything will be back to normal!
Will my technique deteriorate if I play with more strings?
This question doesn’t really make sense! Does a guitarist become less good if he plays an 8-string electric guitar? Is it better or worse to be able to play a 4-string violin and a 6-string violin?
We don’t think you will forget your technique. On the contrary, you are bound to improve. Learning new ways to play and practice has never been a problem! It’s an advantage! Here is a video of Indian violinist Sabareesh Prabhaker playing with a 6-string Line.
No, you won’t become a bad classical violinist if you have a 5-, 6- or 7-string violin in your hands. The actual way of playing the violin does not change. The use of a 5th, 6th and/or 7th string is the same as the first 4 strings.
You will only become less good at classical violin playing if you stop practicing with your classical violin. A 5-string violin will not be responsible for that problem. Continuous learning and daily practice are the key to maintaining and improving your level, regardless of your field!
Which bow should I use to make these strings vibrate?
For a 5-string electric violin, your classical violin bow is just fine. It will have no difficulty in making a C string vibrate.
However, when it comes to the 6th and 7th strings, the diameter of these strings is much larger. The larger the diameter, the less the string will vibrate. Traditional bows may struggle to produce a powerful sound on these strings. You may have to apply extra pressure to get a well-balanced sound between these strings and the first 5. This is quite difficult to achieve, but some carbon fiber bow makers have found a way to overcome this!
We suggest choosing a carbon fiber bow designed to make these strings vibrate with the same intensity.
The Joule bow from Cobdabow was designed for violins with a larger number of strings. The weight of the bow is increased at the tip so that the extra pressure is applied more naturally when the violin is being played.
What effects can make 5-, 6- and 7-string violins sound even better?
Any effect can help you get a better sound from your electric violin, regardless of the number of strings. But if we have to pick a few for those lower strings, we would choose:
- An octaver or a pitch shifter
- A compressor to add more presence to the sound. The lower the string, the less presence it offers. The role of a compressor is to manage the output volume according to a defined threshold. It can increase the volume of soft notes, or those that fade faster. Which is particularly the case on the F and B-flat strings. The compressor should be applied to the right frequencies of the F and B-flat strings.
- A heavy saturation like a distortion or a fuzz.
- The use of an Impulse Response file of a violin, a viola or a cello for improved classical sounds.
- An equalizer or EQ properly set to the frequencies of your strings.
All effects in the previous video are done by the Hotone Ampero multi effects processor.
Pay special attention to your EQs, they must be adapted to the frequencies of your strings. You no longer have a 4-string violin in your hands, take into account the frequencies of the lower strings. If you use the same equalizer on a 4-string violin and a 7-string violin, you are likely to obtain a poor performance on the low strings. For reference, here is a list of the frequencies of the different notes.
|American notation||B flat 1||F2||C3||G3||D4||A4||E5|
Please note that the frequencies given above are not necessarily the lowest or the highest. For example, the E of a violin can reach 2637 Hz in its highest position, not to mention the harmonics that can reach up to 3800 Hz.
Are there violins with more than 7 strings?
We were lucky enough to be able to try some very special models of violins with 8, 9 and sometimes even 10 strings. These were not sympathetic strings like the ones used in the Hardanger fiddle, but actually playable strings. These violins were sometimes classical, electro-acoustic or completely electric, with a single body or multiple connected bodies. All of them were custom made to fit the needs of a particular violinist.
The 8th, 9th and 10th strings are those of the cello and double bass. The cello is tuned an octave lower than a viola, or a twelfth (an octave and a fifth) lower than a violin. You can imagine how bassy each of these strings sounds!
Images and sources: Eduardo Bortolotti, Strings makers, Sabareesh Prabhaker, Atsuhiro Oshiro