An Introduction to the 12-String Guitar

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What’s That Ringing Sound? The 12-String Guitar!

If you are looking to add a new element to your guitar playing, you may want to consider trying a 12-string guitar. Available in electric and acoustic models, these guitars can add an extra richness and depth to your playing. In this article we will review the basics of 12-string guitars.

Why Six Extra Strings?

A twelve-string guitar looks almost the same as a six string, but has a larger headstock to accommodate the 6 extra strings. It typically has a slightly wider neck. It has the 12 strings arranged 2 strings at a time on a fretboard. The low three sets of strings on a 12-string guitar are tuned in octaves – EE AA and DD – with the higher octave first. The top three sets of strings are tuned in unison – GG BB EE. When strummed, it should sound somewhat like two guitars playing in unison, much like a ”chorus” effect. A pleasing jangling or ringing effect is the result of effective 12-string playing. If you have never played a 12-string in an intimate setting, give it a try. You will be quite surprised at how much volume and richness you can achieve.

Examples of 12-String Guitars

The 12-string acoustic has been used in various genres, in classic songs like Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and more recently, Alice in Chains’ “I Stay Away”. The acoustic 12-string is frequently used in country music, as well.

The 12-string electric first found its popularity in the 1960s during the folk-rock movement. The leading proponent of the sound at the time was Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Strongly influenced by George Harrison’s 12-string playing on the title track of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, McGuinn and The Byrds electrified folk music with their covers of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Besides Harrison and McGuinn, another well-known 12-string electric user is Tom Petty.

Playing the 12-String

Playing the 12-string is not much different from playing a 6-string. The finger placement is almost exactly the same, but with each finger holding down 2 strings instead of one. This is somewhat easily accomplished as the strings are fretted in pairs. Both chord-strumming and note-picking can be learned in a reasonable period of time with patience and practice. Perhaps the biggest challenge in playing a 12-string in the manner of a six-string is attempting to bend strings. If you are a string-bender, the placement of the strings will make it difficult, but not impossible. Just be patient with yourself.

Give One a Try

Most major manufacturers of guitars offer 12-string models. Yamaha, Gibson and Guild are among the leading 12-string makers. It may come as a surprise, but 12-string guitars (acoustics in particular) are not much pricier than their 6-string counterparts, and are available at all the expected price-points. This means that, no matter what your budget, you can find a 12-string in your price range.

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