It’s hard to imagine how a lot of our favorite 60’s and 70’s jams would sound if it wasn’t for the 12-string guitar. Would “Hotel California” really be the same without Don Felder’s Takamine 12-string intro? The tone is iconic despite that this instrument mysteriously presented itself cheaply made on America’s doorstep at the tail end of the 19th century. Originally popular with street performers who needed more volume over roaring crowds, the mystery is that no one really knows if it derived from the Italian lute’s and mandolin’s, or the Mexican septima’s and bajo sexto’s. All we do know is in the 1930’s and 40’s it broke into the blues, folk, and Tejano circuits giving us greats like Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell, eventually getting its forever home in popular music with the edition of the electric 12-string and the help of George Harrison, Roger McGuinn, Jimmy Page, Tom Petty, and a long list of others.
There are a number of differences that separate a 12-string guitar from a traditional 6 string that allow them each to display their individuality. For starters; one has 6 more strings than the other! (There’s my math skills at work, folks) But how are the construction and tone different? If you’re staring at a 12-string, like two cowboys after ten paces in an old western film, you immediately notice the headstock is elongated to accommodate the extra tuning keys. You’ll also see the bridge saddle is a little bigger to house the extra bridge pins. As you pick it up, it’s hard not to notice that the neck profile is larger than most guitars, since they typically have a 1 7/8” nut width and a wider, more reinforced neck which helps counterbalance the string tension. With some companies you’ll even find shorter, 12-fret versions for the same reason. When tuning, make sure the bottom four strings (E, A, D, and G) are tuned normally; each string’s double, right underneath, will be tuned one octave higher. The top two strings (B and E) and their corresponding double will be tuned in unison. Once you reach that perfect tuning, the first chord you strum will offer volume, richness, and the natural, reverberant shimmer that booms from the sound hole. Famous 12-string player Pete Seeger once described the tone of these guitars as “the clanging of bells”. The excitement of an amazing 12-string guitar is an emotion unlike any other. Like fine wines, it’s time to start taste testing and find the right one for you, and we at Sam Ash are here to help.
Ibanez acoustic guitars date back to 1935 when the Hoshino Gakki Company started using the “Ibanez Salvador” name to promote their Spanish-style guitars. Since then, Ibanez has always been a company of reinvention from classical to jazz to metal guitars, but the one constant is they’ve always made a great exploration instrument for any level of player in a price range that makes sense. Overall, the Ibanez PF1512 is perfect for the curious player. It’s a 12-string that has two stand-out qualities about it; a great sound at a great price. The PF1512 is a traditional dreadnaught body shape, traditional X bracing, 20 fret scale, and a nice gloss finish. It has a spruce top, sapele back and sides, and a mahogany neck that collectively make for one full sound. These features aren’t uncommon in most acoustic guitars these days, but what sets it apart is the use of nandu wood for the fretboard and bridge. Nandu has a rich mid-range, and a crisp high end to help balance the tone. It also features the Ibanez Advantage bridge pins that are designed to be easier to grip the pin itself, and just as easy to put in and take out of the saddle (not to dismiss the fact that these pins really do make the string stay put). The PF1512 is a wonderful option for the guitarist who has never picked up a 12-string instrument before and wants to see what it’s all about.
Yamaha’s instrument inception was in 1887 building pianos and since then have been a powerhouse name in the music industry. Although they built their first guitar factory in the late 40’s in Japan, Yamaha didn’t sell their first import guitars in the United States until 1966. It was a no brainer for the company after Beatlemania. By the late 70’s everyone from John Denver to John Lennon, from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley were rocking Yamaha guitars, and when Folk Fever hit, Yamaha was right there to build the affordable 12-strings to put in the hands of everyone. The FG820 is a perfect choice for not only singer/songwriter performers, but also for students. It features a dreadnaught body, mahogany sides and back, a 20-fret rosewood fingerboard, and what really set it apart from others in its class is its solid Sitka spruce top. Let’s face it: solid tone woods are hard to come by at low price points, but Yamaha still gave the top of the FG820 real spruce. Where the warmth and subtleties we all love out of dreadnoughts come from the mahogany back and sides of this guitar, the solid Sitka spruce allows for great volume, punch, and sweetness in note articulation when picking. Overall, the quality of Yamaha shines through again as the FG820 is an “anyone” guitar in a fabulous price range.
In the foothills of the Takamine Mountain in central Japan, the little shop of Ohzone Musical Instruments was the birthplace of Takamine guitars in 1959. They didn’t go worldwide, however, until famed luthier Mass Hirade took over as president of Takamine in 1975. Takamine became a household name a few years later with the development of the under-saddle Palathetic pickup that allowed acoustic guitarists access to natural amplified sounds, and at that point Takamine guitars were on stages all over the world. Those were also the years of the infamous “lawsuit guitars” where Martin had to send them a cease-and-desist letter for the copying of their headstock. Either way, it didn’t stop the sound Takamine was putting out, and their 12-string guitars became highly sought after. Enter the GD30CE: This stage worthy, work horse is perfect for the constant performer. It features a solid-spruce top, mahogany back and sides, a venetian-style cutaway, and the Takamine TP4-TD electronics with 3-band EQ and built in tuner for the best sound at your control and the utmost versatility. We all know every room you play can be different, so why not have the electronics to adhere to these times? Those features plus how the slim, 12” radius mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard provide the easiest playability and best feel make the Takamine GD30CE the best work horse guitar for the working player.
The Guild Westerly Collection pays homage to the Westerly, Rhode Island years started in 1966. Before that, Guild was started in the Sagman & Dronge music store in 1945, making a great mix of electric and acoustic style guitars over the years. It wasn’t until the Woodstock festival in 1969 when Richie Havens played his D-40 on stage that pushed Guild into the 70’s. It was then that the Guild Westerly guitars became synonymous with folk and acoustic music, and they saw a tremendous rise in 6 and 12-string models that decade. The Guild F-1512E is our first jumbo acoustic of the bunch. Now, Guild introduced their first jumbo body in 1954 and it’s something they’ve always been great at making since. The F-1512E is an all premium, solid wood guitar made with beautiful Indian rosewood back and an energetic Sitka spruce top; the combination of these solid woods and jumbo body make for a very loud, boom-y, super warm, and deep tone. Its 20 fret, “C” shaped mahogany neck makes for a very comfortable ride too. It’s stocked with a Fishman Sonitone pickup that only has volume and tone controls for an easy to amplify, crisp sound, but also allows the guitar itself to do the talking. It provides a period-correct, vintage look with the red tortoise shell pickguard and “Chesterfield” headstock to really give you the sense that this could’ve easily been made during that Westerly era. It’s a fantastic model Guild has made, and the F-1512E is positively perfect for any stage musician wanting a good looking, great sounding, easy to fret guitar that they’re not afraid to get down and dirty with.
Taylor guitars have always been known for their inventiveness (among many other reasons) and revered as one of the best among the rest of the world’s acoustic giants. Believe it or not, it was because of the Taylor 12-string guitars that the company even jumped on the map. In the late 70’s, artists like Neil Young gravitated towards these instruments because they weren’t as labor intensive. They featured slim necks, and low action and where most of the 12-string guitars of that era had to be down tuned just to get them to feel alright, Taylor’s precision in guitar making made them stand out when acoustic artists needed it. Fast forward to today, and Taylor is still making the amazing 12-strings that gave them their start. One of the most versatile models they offer is the 456ce which is in their Grand Symphony group. These body shapes feature a wider waist and bigger lower bout to allow for strong volume when strumming or flat picking. Think of it as an acoustic with a turbo boost! The 456ce also has a Sitka spruce top, but its back and sides are Ovangkol. Ovangkol is harvested from Africa and allows for a tonal palate very similar to rosewood making it very deep and warm. Both of these tone woods combined, accommodate a wide range of playing styles and make it one of the most versatile on the market. The built in Taylor Expression System 2 electronics system helps capture more of the guitars dynamic properties when plugged in. The Taylor NT neck makes playability effortless so it brings the fun back into playing. Plus, it’s just an absolutely gorgeous guitar to boot! The 456ce is the perfect piece for any guitarist as it’s great on stage and a pleasure to work with in the studio.
Gibson Limited Edition Hummingbird 12-string
Gibson acoustics have a tradition in their builds as old as the company itself. From the late 1800’s to today, from Kalamazoo, MI to Bozeman, MT, these will always have five distinct qualities: radiused tops, scalloped bracing, dove tail joints, their use of nitrocellulose in the finish, and that they are totally handmade instruments. The Gibson Hummingbird was first introduced in 1960, and it didn’t take long before everyone wanted one. Most notably over the years, it can be seen in the hands of Keith Richards, Brian May, The Edge, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz, and many more iconic guitarists. It was the first square-shoulder dreadnaught Gibson offered, and has been in production ever since. Being capable of a very wide range of sounds from gut-wrenchingly loud and boisterous to a very settled soft and sweet has helped it win multiple players’ choice awards over the years. It’s perfect for playing hours of chords, or ripping the best, timeless solos. With an already great resume, why NOT make a 12-string version?! Although rarely offered, The Hummingbird 12-string is a gem in its class. It produces a very clear, bright tone with a beautifully balanced sonic range. It’s perfect for the everyday player, or the everyday collector, and absolutely sings in any application whether it’s at home, on stage, or in the studio. Gibson keeps its classic tonewood combination of a mahogany back and Sitka spruce top, and a mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. Never changing, it’s a guitar that offers friendship beyond that of the regular working sidekick. Arguably one of the most beautiful acoustics ever, the Gibson Hummingbird 12 melds together everything a guitarist would ever want and need out of a 12-string guitar in one well-built package.
You can buy all of these and more 12-string guitars at SamAsh.com