12-string guitars are a bit of an enigma. Most seasoned guitarists will have played a Dreadnought or an Auditorium acoustic guitar, but relatively few have dabbled with the mighty 12-string.
But here’s the rub.
Ask anyone who plays one “how do you like playing that?’ and you’ll see a little twinkle in their eye; because they know how cool they are to play.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know if you’re thinking about purchasing one.
At a Glance – Our Choice Of The Best 12 String Guitars On The Market
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Table of Contents
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best 12 String Guitar
This single-cutaway 12 string dreadnought from Fender is a great guitar.
With mahogany for that rich and warm sound with a built-in Fishman pickup and preamp, makes it ideal for live performance.
It has a solid spruce top and boasts an ‘easy to play neck’ with rolled fingerboard edges for easier playing, as well as scalloped “X” bracing for extra punch.
It also has a built-in tuner and pre-amp, making live performances a bit more straightforward.
- Built-in tuner and pre-amp
- Solid spruce top
- Easy to play neck
- Limited color options
The Takamine GD30CE-12NAT has mahogany back, sides and neck and solid top construction for a rich, resonant sound.
The slim mahogany neck and 12″ inch radius fingerboard provide great feel and playability. It also packs a rosewood fretboard and a soft Venetian-style cutaway, for great playability.
In addition, you get an onboard tuner and 3-band EQ/gain controls to amplify your guitar. If you’re into shiny finishes, you’ll love it too (it’s got a beautiful gloss finish).
- Dreadnought size
- Venetian-style cutaway
- Built-in tuner and pre-amp
- More expensive than other beginners/intermediate models
Yamaha’s 800 Series guitars have a pretty impressive reputation, in part thanks to the scalloped bracing which provides you with a louder and stronger sound in the low to mid-ranges.
Yamaha is a quality producer of musical goods in general, so you also know you’re getting something half decent.
The FG820 also features mahogany back and sides for the quintessential 12 string warm sound, as well as a rosewood fretboard for smoothness in playing. It also has chrome die-cast tuners.
The one downside? It comes with no electronics, so if you frequent your local gigging joints, you’ll have to buy a separate pick up.
- Quality build
- Variety of colors available
- Good sound at a relatively affordable price
- No electronics (pick up, tuner)
Ibanez AEG5012 AEG
Over now to an offering from guitar maker Ibanez. This one comes in the AEG body shape, which is relatively small compared to the other 12 strings reviewed here.
The build quality is superb too, with customary mahogany back, sides, and neck with a rosewood fretboard and bridge.
A stand out feature is the ivory body binding which adds a touch of class. Sound-wise, the tiny size projects a unique tone of its own, with great mids, but slightly lacking in some bass notes.
- Classic AEG shape
- Built-in pre-amp and tuner
- Low action
- No pickguard
- Pricier than most
Why Choose a 12 String?
First up, what’s the point in playing one of these guitars? Well, it turns out that doubling up on strings adds an extra jangle and shimmer to your sound – described by some as ‘chimey’ – and gives you a much fuller tone than a normal guitar.
It sounds a bit like two guitars playing in unison – or like applying a chorus effect via a pedal.
How Does The Tuning Work?
In essence, they follow the same open tuning as a regular guitar: E A D G B E.
However, there is a difference:
- E, A, D and G have double sets of strings that are tuned an octave apart.
- B and E are a little different. These don’t have partners that are an octave apart, but rather two of each string tuned to the same pitch, creating unison.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Before you rush out to buy one of these guitars, here are some things to consider.
To accommodate the extra strings, neck width (or nut width, as it’s measured at the nut) needs to be increased – the neck width is often closer to that of a classical guitar.
The neck profile and length is usually the same as a regular guitar, just the fretboard width that changes.
Is this a problem? Not necessarily.
But it could be problematic for people with small hands, as you’ll need to stretch quite a bit more to reach certain chords than on a regular guitar.
The increased tension of twelve strings also means the neck of these guitars needs to be stronger and thicker, adding to the weight.
For some, this would make playing less comfortable, especially if you play standing up.
As you press down on two strings at a time, more pressure is needed.
This won’t be an issue for open chords but could be problematic for hard to play barre chords that require a lot of hand strength.
The same goes for techniques like bends, which are almost out of the question, and hammer-ons are much harder.
Want to use a capo? Well, your regular 6 string capo won’t work as it won’t apply enough pressure. Fortunately, there are some really good capos designed for 12 string guitars available.
So, Which Should I Buy?
The Fender CD-60SCE-12 takes the prize for best value guitar on this list, thanks to its built-in pre-amp, tuner, and solid spruce top.
If you want a super budget-friendly option, try the Yamaha.
Or if you have cash to splash, try the Takamine.