What’s the Point of a 12 String Guitar?

When thinking about guitars, the first thing that comes to our minds is a standard six-string. 

However, the more you learn about music, the more you realize six-strings are just one of many varieties. 

There are guitars with seven strings, eight strings, and more. 

The one that music history turned into an all-time favorite is the 12-string guitar. 

While they might not be a selection for every musician, their use in music (especially folk and rock music) has become a curiosity that is nice to find. 

Which are the reasons a 12-string guitar is so special? 

12-string guitars sound different than regular 6-string guitars. Their unique and ringing sound is a result of a doubled amount of strings, and a doubled amount of notes. Each pair of notes is a combination of a low note and its higher octave, making it impossible to replicate on other instruments. 

If you are looking for understanding more about such a peculiar guitar, then keep on reading this article. 

You’ll find all the information that you need. 

What makes 12 string guitars so special?

A 12 string guitar is a special instrument because of its sound. 

The fact that it has double the number of strings a regular guitar has makes its tone exceptional. 

12 string guitars make a thicker and fuller sound. 

Its uniqueness is hard to replicate with another instrument, and impossible to obtain with regular six-string guitars.   

6 string vs 12 string guitar

You might wonder what are the differences between a 6-string and a 12-string. Here you have a chart with all the information that you need. 

Feature6 string12 string
NeckNarrowerWider
ComplexityLess complexMore complex
TuningStandardStandard with octaves in the low strings, and doubled in the high strings
ToneTraditionalChorus like sound
PriceMore affordableMore expensive

Reading is one thing, but listening is another.

Check out this comparison video to really understand the difference.

 

Are 12 string guitars harder to play? 

12-string guitars may seem more difficult to play than standard guitars. 

After all, they have double the amount of strings a regular guitar has. 

However, quantity has nothing to do with difficulty. 12-string guitars are not harder to play. 

What is hard, though, is getting used to it. 

It may take time to get the hang out of it and to feel comfortable playing with it. 

More than that, it won’t cause any more trouble.   

Can a beginner play a 12 string guitar?

12-string guitars are just that: guitars. 

This means that they are instruments, which means that any beginner can play with them. 

What I’m trying to say is that almost every musician will start with a new instrument and be a novice until he or she masters it. 

If it’s a brand new experience, then it will involve uncertainty and failure. 

It takes a certain period of time to understand the rules of any instrument. 

That means that sure, beginners can play 12-string guitars, because every time you play with something new, you are a beginner by default. 

It is advisable, though, that new learners start with standard guitars instead of a 12-string. 

Transitioning from a six-string to a twelve-string is smoother and simpler than the other way around. 

Now, if the only guitar available at home is a 12-string one, then go for it! Don’t wait until you get your hands on a standard guitar. 

Can you fingerpick 12 string guitars?

Nothing stops you from playing a 12-string guitar with your fingers. 

While string tension is higher, there’s a way in which you can reduce it. 

Simple enough, all you have to do is change the tuning

Lower tunings, such as D standard or below, have a more convenient string tension for your fingers. 

Remember that it is not compulsory. You still can play fingerstyle in standard tuning if that’s what you want to do. 

Can you strum 12 string guitars?

Strumming is possible with 12-string guitars. In fact, most guitar players prefer playing that way. 

It is advisable to practice strumming with all the 12 strings to grasp the technique fully. 

Practice movement with your hands and wrist as well, not only your elbow. 

Why do 12 string guitars sound different?

Such guitars have a peculiar sound, and there’s a reason for it. 

They have twice the amount of strings a guitar has, which is the same as saying they have twice the amount of notes too. 

Every note is doubled. Every note presented in a standard six-string is replicated with an octave. 

Sometimes, too, 12-string guitars have another note of the same pitch. 

This results in an overall more vivid and brighter sound, because of the perception of double notes. 

How are the strings of a 12 string guitar tuned?

The tuning setting is the following: EEAADDGGBBEE. 

You might have noticed that is the same as in standard guitars (and in standard tuning). 

The difference is that every note is repeated to suit the number of strings. 

That, and that every other note is tuned an octave higher of the same note. 

For example, if the last note is E, then its pair is in E but an octave higher, so you would have both a low and a high note. 

The same goes for A, D, and G. 

The thicker string remains standard, the thinner changes to a higher octave.

Now, for the two first strings (or four in this case) which are high B and high E, the setting changes. 

Both B notes are high, and both E notes are high too, within the same pitch. 

Famous players that use 12 string guitars

If you have never seen a famous musician playing with a 12-string guitar, then check out this list. 

Sure enough, a 12-string has not always been on every song of their setlist. 

However, their use has been more than necessary for creating certain songs. 

  • Roger McGuinn (The Birds) 
  • Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) 
  • George Harrison (The Beatles
  • John McLaughlin 
  • John Denver 
  • Leadbelly 

Examples of how a 12 string guitar sounds

Now you have a list of songs that include 12-string guitars. 

Close your eyes and notice the fullness of them. 

Conclusion

It is fair to say that 12-string guitars are kind of a rarity in the world of music, and it is perfect that they remain that way.

More often than not, excesses lead to boredom. If something, anything, stays in the common eye for too long (or in this case, the common ear), it loses value.

The fact that a 12-string guitar shines every now and then makes it special.

When it does, you will remember the song forever.