Have you ever heard a song where the acoustic guitar just seems to sparkle and shimmer, almost as though two guitarists are playing together in perfect unison? If the answer to that question is yes, the chances are you were listening to a 12-string acoustic guitar.
With a number of models on the market to suit every budget, 12-string acoustic guitars can add a sense of depth and texture to your playing that your favourite 6-string simply cannot!
What is a 12-string acoustic guitar?
Simply put, a 12-string acoustic guitar is an acoustic guitar with, yep…you guessed it, 12 strings! In terms of body shape, tone woods and general specs, 12-string acoustic guitars are almost identical to their 6-string counterparts, but with one major difference: There are twice as many strings.
12-string acoustic guitars are typically tuned to the same pitch as 6-string models (EADGBE) but with each string doubled up. The top two pairs of strings are tuned in unison (the same pitch) and the bottom four pairs are tuned in octaves i.e. the doubled up string will be the same pitch as the open string played at the 12th fret. The resulting sound is bright, shimmery and almost chorus like.
How Do You Play a 12-String Acoustic Guitar?
A guitar with twice the number of strings is going to be twice as hard to play, right? Well, no, fortunately this isn’t the case, although it does take some getting used to and requires adjustments to your playing – and plenty of practice of course.
The string spacing on a 12-string acoustic guitar is generally narrower than that of a 6-string. That means it requires more precision when picking and fretting individual strings. Additionally, fretting chords and string bends requires more force due to the higher string tension on the neck. Consequently, 12-string acoustic guitars are most commonly used for rhythm playing although this is not a hard and fast rule. You are bound only by your own imagination!
The chord shapes are the same as they are on a 6-string guitar but barre chords can be a little more tricky (and painful) as there are twice as many strings to fret. As a result, many players will use open position chord shapes, or even use a capo, for this very reason. After all, you want the guitar to work with you rather than fight back, right?
A great example of a 12-string acoustic used in a rhythmic context can be heard throughout, but most prominently, in the intro to Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’.