When Robert Plant sang about the woman who bought her stairway to heaven he might not have realized that the stairway was actually built on the twelve strings of Jimmy Page’s guitar. He probably did, because the guitar is what makes that song iconic. It is just funnier to imagine Mr. Plant turning around in the middle of a live with astonished eyes, realizing the miracle that was being created. Which brings me to the point – the 12 string guitar is one of the most unique sounding instruments in the modern musical world. Despite its basis being the average guitar, the instrument is hard to make right and the beautiful sound is lost in mediocre guitars. Which is why, for all the aspiring Jimmy Pages I have created a list, of the best 12 string guitars available.
Simply buying the top available guitar is not the only thing required to start playing the 12 string guitar right though. The additional 6 strings bring a challenge that neither a 7 nor an 8 string guitar demand, though to some the 12 string are easier than 7 or 8. The make of the instrument demands a period of adaptation only after which you will be ready to play all 12 strings the way they are to be played. Though, before you start learning, you need to pick up the actual best axe you can get your hands on.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top 10 Best 12 String Acoustic Guitars
- 1.1 Martin D12X1AE 12-String Acoustic-Electric Guitar
- 1.2 Taylor 150e
- 1.3 Takamine GD30CE-12NAT
- 1.4 Seagull Coastline S12 Cedar QI Guitar
- 1.5 Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat-12
- 1.6 Alvarez Artist Series AD60-12
- 1.7 Yamaha FG820-12 12-String Solid Top Folk Acoustic Guitar
- 1.8 Ovation AB2412-4-KIT-1 Applause Balladeer
- 1.9 Epiphone DR-212
- 1.10 Oscar Schmidt OD312CEB
- 2 Complex Make, Complex Sound
- 3 Simpler than You Think
- 4 Conclusion
Top 10 Best 12 String Acoustic Guitars
|1||Martin D12X1AE 12-String Acoustic-Electric Guitar||(5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|2||Taylor 150e||(5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|3||Takamine GD30CE-12NAT||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|4||Seagull Coastline S12 Cedar QI Guitar||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|5||Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat-12||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|6||Alvarez Artist Series AD60-12||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|7||Yamaha FG820-12 12-String Solid Top Folk Acoustic Guitar||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|8||Ovation AB2412-4-KIT-1 Applause Balladeer||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|9||Epiphone DR-212 Dreadnought||(4.5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|10||Oscar Schmidt OD312CEB||(4.4 / 5)||Check on Amazon
Whenever I look at the 12 string guitar I am reminded of the Lute, the favored instrument of the wandering musicians romanticized in the modern world. The lute had 15 or 24 strings, depending on the period it was made in. It had a beautiful sound but was hard to play. Despite a step down in the number of strings, the 12 string guitar might sometimes feel like a whole new instrument too. It definitely sounds like a unique instrument.
Historically the 12 string has been used in many contexts and genres, but it has been especially popular with hard rock. Their most famous use, as mentioned before, was the Stairway to heaven by the Led Zeppelin. The bardish instrument has also been used by a number of others though, including Jimi Hendrix, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leo Kottke, etc to a great effect. Their use of this type of guitar has resulted in beautiful, unique compositions, especially with Leo Kottke, who I highly recommend listening to. The 12 string guitar might also be a great addition to your repertoire of sounds.
Complex Make, Complex Sound
The 12 String guitar is more complex in make, as is to be expected, because of the additional strings. The neck, fretboard and body all have to be reinforced to support the additional pressure coming from the strings. This makes the guitar slightly heavier than an average 6 string, but also stronger and sturdier.
The 12 strings are strung in “pairs”. Meaning that 2 strings are closer to each other in distance than to others, creating 6 pairs of strings. This allows these two strings to be played almost at the same time, producing a unique sound. The strings in pairs are usually tuned with an octave difference, other than the two upper courses, which, being tuned in unison, double down on the deep bass sound of the guitar.
This results in a sound that is both beautiful and incredibly unique, allowing for creative use of sounds in the guitar. Be it strumming or fingerpicking, each tone played on the 12 string sounds much more vibrant and complex.
Of course there are electric versions of the 12 string guitar, but the acoustic versions sound full and much more harmonically resonant. On the other hand the double neck guitar is better rendered in the electric version thanks to the lack of need to rely on a resonance chamber.
Simpler than You Think
… but still much harder than the 6 string.
The 12 string is, as expected, harder to play. It requires more force when strumming or striking the strings as well as more pressure applied to the frets because of the increased tension in the strings.
Additionally there is much less distance between the strings in a 12 string guitar when compared to a conventional string guitar, while the fretboard is much wider.
This results in fingerpicking techniques requiring much more precision to be done well. The pick needs to be controlled much more precisely for the correct sound as well. Strumming techniques require much less precision, but the fret hand might still need adjusting if it is to put pressure on the correct frets.
It is still possible to learn to fingerpick the 12 string guitar incredibly well, as demonstrated by many musicians, Leo Kottke being one of the greatest examples of this. Taking the time to master the instrument will, in the end, result in the mastery of an incredibly complex, rich sound that is going to be an asset to any genre.
It is no good to be intimidated by any instrument, but a healthy amount of skepticism when deciding to learn the 12 string guitar is demanded. The guitar requires advanced techniques and skills to be played effectively and impressively. It takes effort to emulate Jimmy Page or Leo Kottke and you might feel like you do not have what it takes to be like them. That is not a good thing.
I did not mean to sound discouraging because there is no such thing as an instrument that cannot be mastered. I simply want you to understand realistically the level of effort it would take to learn to effectively play the 12 string. It is not much different from learning to play the 6 string guitar or the 7 string guitar or the 8 string guitar. It simply takes commitment and effort that is eventually rewarded with an unreal sound. So if you have learned to play the 6 string guitar do not be afraid to challenge yourself and pick up the 12 string. Especially since the best 12 string guitars make it easier to play them than you would expect.
It is my expectation that you might feel frustrated some day when practicing your 12 string. That is to be expected and is as much a part of learning to play an instrument as the end result is. Which is why I want you to remember – it will take much less time for you to be good at playing the guitar than it took you to be a mediocre player on a 6 string. Simply because the techniques of playing a normal guitar translate very well into playing a 12 string. So go ahead and embark this journey of expanding skill. The list of the best 12 string guitars is here to help you get there as fast as possible.