12 String Guitar Guide: What You Need to Know

12 String Guitar Guide: What You Need to Know

Eastwood has manufactured and maintained a wide selection of 12 string guitars over the course of our history, so it's about time we did a comprehensive guide! Find out why you should play a 12 string guitar, who plays 12 string, and much more...

Eastwood Surfcaster 12

Picture: An Eastwood Surfcaster 12

The distinct chime of a 12 string guitar has defined artists and respective genres for generations. Music fads have come and gone through the years, but this guitar innovation has held steady. Scores of artists can attest to the timeless magnetism a strum can produce - not to mention the instrument’s tidal wave of tones and overtones.

Eastwood Guitars has a wide variety of electric 12 string guitars that both look amazing and sound fantastic - ensuring that any artist is able to express their unique musical style and personality.

WHAT IS A 12 STRING GUITAR?

Well, it’s just what it sounds like! A 12 string guitar plays just like a standard 6-string, with all of the same chord and scale shapes. The important difference is that each of the 6 open notes are expressed in a closely set pair of strings, making 12 strings total. The first four notes from the top -- E-A-D-G -- are paired in octaves. The bottom two -- B & E -- are paired in unison.

The neck is typically wider than a standard guitar to accommodate plenty of room to each of the 6 string pairs. The result of this configuration is a wall of sound with each strum and a bright chorus effect when playing single-note melodies.

Eastwood Classic 12

Picture: Eastwood Classic 12

WHY PLAY A 12 STRING GUITAR?

The 12 string guitar has a distinctive style of its own, and players through the years have turned to the instrument to give their recording or stage performance that little extra ‘something’ when filling out an arrangement. 12 string guitars can be heard all throughout popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries - from country and blues, to rock, pop, and perhaps most significantly, the folk rock movement of the 1960s.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 12 STRING GUITAR

The 12 string guitar’s origin is a matter of debate. What we do know is that through the 19th and early 20th century, acoustic 12 string guitars were around, but not taken as seriously as their 6-string counterparts. The 1920s brought about a wave of popularity, though, with folk and blues singers such as Lead Belly and Blind Willie McTell displaying the power that the instrument lent when accompanying a solo vocal performance.

With the growing popularity of the electric guitar in the 1950s and 60s, manufacturers began exploring guitar innovations that they could bring to the studio and stage in an electric capacity. After the release of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” (and the groundbreaking addition of a Rickenbacker 12 string guitar) the stage was set. Soon rock bands around the world were driving demand for the “12 string” sound.

Picture: "Lead Belly": King of the 12 String Guitar

While this was a defining era for the instrument, the baritone guitar found new life in the 90s, with an emerging hard rock scene and a particularly bright spotlight in the theme to popular television series Twin Peaks. Today, you’ll find baritone guitars in use throughout nearly all genres - from the blistering funk of Vulfpeck sideproject The Fearless Flyers to the metal stylings of Metallica and Cannibal Corpse.

Today, Eastwood has a wide-ranging palette of baritone options with a broad range of styles and design features for a guitarist of any skill level to explore.

WHO PLAYS 12 STRING GUITARS?

As mentioned previously, the 12 string electric guitar found its first wave of widespread popularity in the mainstream of 60’s radio play, across the genres of rock, country, and the estuary between the two now known as “folk rock.”

Rickenbacker and George Harrison may be the two entities most responsible for sparking the instrument’s journey into the limelight; however, the instrument quickly became closely associated with countless other musicians across the radio dial - Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Tony Hicks of The Hollies, and Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page, just to name a few.

Picture: Rich Robinson and his Eastwood Classic 12

People today may recognize and pin the sound to certain music memories. Maybe you associate it with Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’. Maybe it’s The Eagles’ Hotel California. The list is endless with artist-defining hits such as Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and Boston’s More Than a Feeling. Songs that would absolutely not be the same without the use of a 12 string electric.

"It’s a color you can use when you want to. It’s just there. I use it whenever it crosses my mind. I might jam half the set in rehearsal with one, just trying to see if it makes the right kind of thing." - Tom Petty (on the electric 12 string guitar)

Picture: Tom Petty

More recently, Eastwood has been the proud manufacturer of a field of varying 12 string designs spanning several product lines: Sidejack, MRG, and our Eastwood Classic line. Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes and Gabriel Lambert of Elephant Stone choose the Classic 12 when bringing a 12 string into the studio or onto the stage. Others prefer the sleek offset designs of the Surfcaster 12 or our Mosrite-inspired Sidejack 12. All of our 12 string guitars incorporate modern manufacturing and design techniques to deliver matchless electric instruments - built to last and destined to inspire creativity.

What are you waiting for? Check out our selection of 12 string guitars here: