Although twelve string guitars are much less common than their six string counterparts, they can be a valuable addition to any guitarist’s collection. Let’s take a look at what 12 string guitars have to offer.
What is a 12 string guitar?
Although the exact ancestry of this type of guitar is unknown, it seems to have originated in the US or Mexico in the late 19th century, and was initially regarded as little more than a novelty instrument. However, the instrument gained great popularity throughout the 20th century, and is now an integral part of many musical styles.
As the name suggests, these guitars have 12 strings rather than the usual six. On most twelve stringed guitars, the strings are arranged in pairs or ‘courses’. The paired bass strings are generally tuned an octave apart, whereas the treble strings feature unison tunings. However, some guitarists may use non-standard tunings, or remove some of the strings in order to produce a more individual sound.
When playing a guitar with 12 strings, each pair of strings is normally struck together, although some guitarists will play on individual strings within each pair – this takes considerable skill however.
Advantages of the 12 stringed guitar
The 12 string guitar’s popularity is based on its rich sound. The extra strings give it a striking chorus-like effect, and its distinct ringing sound makes it an excellent choice for use as an accompaniment instrument. In fact, in its early days the 12 string guitar was very popular among buskers, who found that they did not need other musicians to play with, thanks to the guitar’s full orchestral tone.
The 12 string type of guitar is mostly used for rhythm guitar playing, because the paired strings make most lead playing techniques difficult. For this reason, many guitarists use a 12 string as their secondary instrument, reserving it for those songs which require something extra when it comes to the accompaniment.
However, there are many well-known musicians who are particularly identified with the 12 string guitar, in either its acoustic or electric forms. These include Leadbelly, Pete Seeger and Roger McGuinn. Guitarists such as Jimmy Page and John McLaughlin are also known for their work with the Gibson EDS-1275 double neck guitar, which features a choice of twelve string and six string necks.
Overall, it is well worth buying a 12 string axe to add to your guitar arsenal, even if you don’t intend to make it your main instrument. Most guitarists find that the 12 string version of the guitar is not that much more difficult to play, and the beautiful tones it can produce make any little extra effort more than worthwhile.