I can play some chords on a regular guitar. What’s the best use for a 12 string and where should I go to learn? Ideas appreciated.
Pete Seeger alternated between banjo and 12 string guitar. If you find a video of him playing "Guantanamera" and you will see him playing a 12 string sometimes.
George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Mike Campbell, and Roger McGuinn all played their 12 strings.
I personally think that it is harder to finger pick and play single note lead stuff and do bends. Picking has to be more accurate to get both strings. Strumming chords is pretty much the same as I recall. I used to occasionally play my late brother's 12 string. The hardest thing is to tune it up.
I believe that the Eagles used a 12 string on Hotel California.
You can do all kinds of things with a 12 string.
I'm using one in my current band when we have enough space on stage for me to bring 2 guitars.
I like to fingerpick 'em, and sometimes I do a sort of roll with flat pick and fingers. Some folks call it hybrid picking.
Or you can strum to your heart's content, but if you're married, you might need to go out to the barn for that.
Or you can just play some Carter style stuff, either with a flat pick or with thumb pick, whatever is comfortable.
Lead work is do-able, but the approach can be somewhat different. Bending works better if used only sparingly, if at all.
Listen to the Byrds first album, that'll keep you busy for a while. Then try and find some old double thumbed blues stuff-- several of those old guys liked to use 12 strings.
Edited by - rcc56 on 03/28/2020 19:58:56
Bill Rogers (Moderator)
Dig out some Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell material. Both masters of the 12-string.
For inspiration you might listen to some Leo Kottke, especially some of the early stuff.
Play Wildwood Flower. This will allow your fingers to developed a muscle memory and help you get used to the sensation of picking two strings at the same time. Oh yeah, c f g. Have fun.
Second the suggestion for Leadbelly. Find yourself a copy of "The Folksinger's Guide to: The 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly," an instruction manual by Julius Lester and Pete Seeger, first published by Oak Publications, 1965. It's still available on Amazon for a ridiculous price, and on Google Books, but you might be able to dig up an old used copy from a second-hand bookstore that specializes in music.
Get yourself a comfortable thumbpick, and get ready to practice those bass runs!
Check out YouTube for tuning help, tips, and songs. Tons of stuff. Learn “walk don’t run.” Oldy but good!
Listen to Leo Kottke, tune the 12-string to an open-tuning and be inspired!
Here's my compilation of 12 string songs.
Tune it to Open C and play "Question" by the Moody Blues.!
Wow everyone! Thanks for your comments. I didn’t know about the “Folksinger’s Guide” and all the 12 string songs out there. Lots for me to sort through but so far it’s difficult to get a sound from it that I like. I am beginning to be able to pick simple melodies while hitting both paired strings with a pick but can’t imagine fingering both strings. Somehow it seems like harpsichord music might be the best choice for it lol... I’ll keep at it.
I love the rich full sound of a 12 string guitar whether finger-style ala Leo Kottke or rhythm backup. I just don’t enjoy playing one at all. I’m an accomplished finger-style guitarist but get no pleasure from playing a 12 string. I’d much rather listen, so learn some tunes and post some clips!
Think a banjo is tough to tune? Enjoy your new 12 string!
12 strings have a broader tonal palate and a fuller sound than 6 strings owing to the fact that strings 1/2 and 3/4 are tuned in unison, like a mandolin, but the rest are tuned in octaves. On the G string, the open tone is at the same pitch as the 5th string on your banjo (assuming standard tuning at concert pitch) and gives the same tones as if you'd pinched strings 3 and 5 on your banjo simultaneously. Add that across the D, A and E strings, and you can understand what I mean.
Structurally, you play them on the left hand just as you would a 6 string - same fingerings and all. Takes a bit more strength because 12 string fingerboards are generally a bit wider and you've got that much more string tension to fret. But not impossible by any means.
There's a bit of a difference between the way electric and acoustic 12 strings are commonly played. I personally consider hallmark examples of the electric 12 string sound include the Beatles' "A Hard Days Night;" much of the early Byrds catalog; Jimmy Page used an electric 12 for some of the recorded version and all of the live versions of "Stairway to Heaven," and of course, much of Tom Petty's mid-career sound included it (Petty was a huge Roger McGuinn fan).
Acoustic 12 strings can produce an interesting palatte of sounds. The early bluesmen who used them are great examples of early finger-style - though it's worth noting that many of them chose 12s because they were easier to hear unamplified in juke joints. Others have mentioned early Leo Kottke - and that's a great choice to listen to - fast-paced, accurate finger style, in which the higher notes on the octave strings produce melodic possibilities not possible on a 6 (indeed, I recognized years later that part of what drew me to the sound of the 12 string, played finger style, was actually the seed of my true interest in learning to play the banjo).
But strummed works well too. 12 string acoustics figured prominently in the sound of some of the early '60s folk music sound - with songs like the Rooftop Singers' "Walk Right In" being a good example. The sound progressed from there. The open to the Eagles' first hit, a cover of Jackson Brown's "Take it Easy," is created in part by electric guitar and in part with an acoustic 12 string.
Overall, the 12 probably isn't as versatile as a 6, but it can produce some really nice sounds. Mess around with it and see what you like.
Edited by - eagleisland on 04/08/2020 13:12:33
I had an acoustic 12 (stolen from my classroom) and still have my electric (ES-335-12). They are two completely different animals with different tonal palates.
The acoustic does lend itself very well to fingerpicking styles. Yes, you can fingerpick an electric, too - that's what Roger McGuinn does (actually crosspicking with a flat pick and two fingerpicks - check out his lead break on Turn!Turn!Turn!). But the sound will be completely different. I feel that fingerpicking is actually a better use of the acoustic 12. I also found that the acoustic12 doesn't quite project as well as an acoustic 6-string - but the quality of the guitar will make a difference. But, just my opinion, a 12 is kind of wasted just strummed. With fingerpicking it really comes into its own.
One thing you need to watch for is the width of the neck. You need enough room to fret the string without messing with the string beside it. I've picked up the occasional 12 at music stores and the fretboards have often been too narrow. And my Gibson is a challenge to play cleanly.
Look for a competent instructor.
I have owed 3 12-strings in different times of my life and I am happy not to own one. Hopefully I will remember from now on that I really don't like them. Those extra strings are too limiting and aren't worth the boost of sound and extra pitches you get. Strumming them sounds overly treble-heavy. I don't enjoy a guitar used for percussion at all, but if you do, it may be good for that. Otherwise I would enjoy its uniqueness for a while then get rid of it or at least take off the extra strings. I gave all of mine away one by one as I got bored with them.
The best 12 string I've played so far is a recent Taylor.
So light and alive.
Once I saw John Hammond, Jr play 12's with fingerpicks all night at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, that was it for me, fingerpicks.
So use a flatpick if you need to,they work.
I just SCORED a mid-70's Yamaha 12 with the slothead, it had a twisted neck and a lifting bridge, so Chuck Cellino in Phoenix put the new fret dressing at an angle and custom glued the bridge down.
I can play in A440 for the first time on a 12 string.
My other 12 is a Takamine Jasmine that I keep in open G with two .010's in the 3rd position = Double Eagle. But the well-kept secret is open G uses 5-string banjo chords. Duh.
Blues guys play 12's in open D.
John Denver was considered an outstanding 12 string guitar player.
I once owned a Gibson 12 string. I already flatpicked a 6 string guitar. I just played and strummed on the 12 string the same way I did the 6 string. Don't suffer from paralysis through analysis. Just start playing, become comfortable, and play tunes you enjoy hearing.
12 strings are great for singers who play without accompaniment. They produce a more "full" sound than a regular 6 string. For me a 12 string guitar sounds best when it is not accompanied by a lot of other instruments.
I am not going to start naming tunes because they would tunes I enjoy. Just play tunes you can already play on the 6 string, then start adding new tunes you will enjoy playing.
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