12 String Guitars

It's hard to beat a 12 string guitars big, chiming rhythm sound. Distinctive and full, the sound is easily recognized, and many guitarists over the years have used it for just that (remember the start of Hotel California by the Eagles?).

They come in Acoustic, Electric and Acoustic-Electric and Semi-acoustic varieties, meaning large hollow bodied guitars like a standard 6 string acoustic, solid body like a traditional electric guitar, large hollow bodied with electric circuitry to send the string vibrations to an amplifier or PA system (Public Address system) and chambered solid body styles. Most major guitar manufacturers have at least one 12 string model in their product lineup, with Takamine and Ovation being two of the most respected in the acoustic field, and Rickenbacker the undisputed leader in the electric field.

How are they tuned?

The 12 string guitar has 6 pairs of strings, the main set are tuned using the same tuning as a standard 6 string guitar, EADGBE. The remaining strings are tuned to the same note as their partner string, but an octave higher so the tuning becomes EE AA DD GG BB EE. The main set are also made of the same materials as the standard 6 string Acoustic Guitar string set with 4 bronze wound strings and two plain steel strings.

However, the pairs are normally all plain steel strings and it is these that give the guitar it's wonderful shimmering sound. On some heavier gauge sets the thickest two octave strings are also wound. So for example, a standard 'light' gauge set of strings may have strings of the following gauges with 'wound' strings (normally phosphor bronze) indicated by a 'w'.

Note the very light gauge octave G (3rd string pair).

1st string pair - E 010"-010"

2nd string pair - B 014"-014"

3rd string pair - G 022"-008"

4th string pair - D 030"w-013"

5th string pair - A 038"w-018"w

6th string pair - E 048"w-028"w

Heavier gauge sets may have G (3rd) bronze wound strings.

Are they suitable for beginners?

Although 6 and 12 string guitars are tuned the same I would not personally recommend them for beginners for one main reason. An out of tune guitar sounds terrible, and with six extra strings to tune the beginner is going to spend more time tuning than learning to play. I know through the experience of teaching that beginners (and in particular kids) can have difficulty in tuning a six string guitar let alone having to tune another 6 an octave higher, so if you're a beginner, stick to the 6 string for now.

It is entirely possible to convert a 12 string into a 6 string, but you may need to check the tension on the neck. Because you are removing strings, you are changing the 'pull' on the neck, so you may need to counteract this by using the truss rod to tighten it a bit.

If you do need to make an adjustment it should be very little, the reason being that the strings you will be removing are the 'octave' strings, and they are a fine gauge so the tension on the neck is not as great as those of the standard set. But do take care when adjusting the truss rod! Quarter turns of the hex or Allen key are all you should be performing at a time, take small steps.

Some notable twelve string guitarists

Almost every famous guitarist has at one time played a 12 string so rather than provide an endless list of players who were in the same room as a twelve string guitar I have listed some notable 12 string guitar players and bands that you may wish to check out;

Jeff Lynne - Electric Light Orchestra

Roger McGuinn - The Byrds

George Harrison - The Beatles

Glenn Frey - The Eagles

Melissa Etheridge

Tom Petty

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