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What Is a 12-String Guitar?

A 12-string guitar features 12 strings that are usually made of metal.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A 12-string guitar is a musical instrument that features 12 strings, usually made of metal, strung along a neck and guitar body. It is designed similarly to most 6-string guitars, but the neck of the 12-string guitar is likely to be wider. This type of musical instrument may be acoustic or electric, meaning it either requires no electrical amplification, or it uses devices known as pickups to transmit string vibration to an electric amplifier unit. The purpose of this type of guitar is to create a fuller, richer, resonant sound that creates its own chorus effect.

The standard 6-string guitar features strings of varying thicknesses; these strings, when tuned correctly, will create the note pattern EADGBE. The strings can be tuned to other notes, but the EADGBE pattern is known as standard tuning and is the most widely used. A 12-string guitar will also feature an EADGBE tuning when it is in standard tuning, but instead of adjusting six strings to match these tones, 12 strings will be adjusted. Each note features one course, or pair, of strings to match a single tone. The low E tone, for example, will feature one thicker gauge string tuned to E and a thinner one also tuned to E, but in a higher octave. The two strings of the same note are usually played together.

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As a result of the extra strings on a 12-string guitar, the neck of the instrument is likely to be wider, which can make playing the instrument more difficult. The neck is the part of the guitar that extends from the body, and it usually features metal wires known as frets; when the player presses a string or strings against a fret, the tone of those strings is changed to a different note. A 12-string guitar player will usually press two strings in the same course onto a fret at the same time to change the tone of those strings.

The first 12-string guitar models were acoustic instruments, which means the body of the guitar was responsible for resonating the sound created by the string vibrations. The body would essentially amplify that sound so the string's vibrations could be heard. The electric guitar was invented long after the acoustic guitar, so 12-string electric guitars came along much later in music history. Magnetic pickups are used to "pick up" sound vibrations created by the strings. These pickups are wired to a jack, and a cable is connected from that jack to an electric amplifier that will make the sound louder.

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Discuss this Article

Logicfest
Post 2

@Vincenzo -- here's another tip. A problem with 12-string guitars is that the necks tend to warp over time due to the tremendous pressure put on them by holding 12 strings in standard tuning.

You can remedy that problem by either backing off the tuning by a full step (tune to D-G-C-F-A-D instead of E-A-D-G-B-E) and use a capo to bring it up to regular tuning as needed or simply tune it back to standard when ready to play. A built-in tuner should make that process a snap.

Vincenzo
Post 1

Here's a quick tip -- if you get a 12-string guitar, make sure you purchase one with a built in tuner. That will make your life a lot easier. As a bonus, those built in tuners usually contain the circuitry necessary to plug your guitar into an amplifier. Even most low-priced Fender and Gibson models come with the tuner/amp circuitry and those features are incredibly useful.

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