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Chances are, you want to learn more about a 12-string guitar. This is normally because of the brilliant sound they produce. The first time a player tries one, it’s love at initial strum. I remember the first time I’d tried one. I was amazed at the tone and immediately had to have one.
But there is a considerable learning curve to this new type that needs to be considered. You won’t just jump in and play. It’s important to compare 6 vs 12-string guitars and see how they can benefit your music.
This Killer Rig article aims to provide a comprehensive comparison between 6-string and 12-string guitars. The focus will be on various aspects such as tonal differences, construction, historical context, and suitability for different genres.
The objective is to offer readers sufficient information to make an informed choice between these two types of guitars.
6-string and 12-string guitars produce distinct sound profiles that cater to different musical needs and preferences.
6-string guitars offer a wide range of tonal nuances. They can produce sounds that are bright and punchy or smooth and warm.
This versatility makes them suitable for various musical genres, from rock and pop to jazz and classical.
Many popular songs heard on the radio, such as Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” or The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” utilize a 6-string guitar to achieve their characteristic sound.
In contrast, 12-string guitars have a fuller sound, often described as having a “sparkle.” This is due to the unique construction of doubling up strings in six pairs. The doubles of the four lower strings are tuned an octave higher than a typical 6-string guitar.
This results in a richer, more resonant sound. Some people even describe the guitar as having a natural chorus effect. Well-known songs that feature a 12-string guitar include The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
Pros and Cons
Choosing between a 6-string and a 12-string guitar involves weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. This section outlines the key pros and cons to consider.
- Tonal Versatility: Suitable for a wide range of musical genres due to its varied tonal options.
- Ease of Play: Generally easier to play, especially for beginners, due to fewer strings and a narrower neck.
- Lower Maintenance: Requires less frequent tuning and simpler string replacement.
- Affordability: Often less expensive than 12-string models, making it more accessible for beginners.
- Limited Sound Depth: May not offer the rich, full sound that a 12-string guitar can produce.
- Less Unique Sound: The sound is more common and less distinctive compared to a 12-string guitar.
- Rich Sound: Produces a fuller, more layered sound due to the additional strings.
- Unique Tonal Qualities: Offers a distinctive “sparkle” or chime that is not achievable with a 6-string guitar.
- Enhanced Musical Expression: Allows for more complex harmonies and richer tonal textures.
- Increased Complexity: More challenging to play due to the wider neck and additional strings.
- Higher Maintenance: Requires more frequent tuning and more complex string replacement.
- Cost: Generally more expensive due to the additional materials and construction complexity.
Understanding these pros and cons will enable potential buyers to make a more informed decision based on their specific needs, musical preferences, and skill level.
Construction and Design
We will begin by looking at the physical differences. While both types of guitars utilize a lot of the same parts, the 12-string is limited to design size. There is a higher part count with this model. It must be made a certain way in order to perform well.
- Headstock: The headstock on a 12-string guitar is longer to accommodate the additional tuning heads.
- Neck and Body: Reinforcement is often added to the neck and body of a 12-string guitar to handle the extra tension.
- Neck Width: 12-string guitars typically have a wider neck, which can make fretting more challenging compared to a 6-string guitar.
12-string guitars come in both acoustic and electric guitar models. To truly understand this, we will touch on both styles:
The 6-string acoustic guitar body sizes range from travel models to jumbos. There is essentially a size for everyone. But when it comes to the 12, because of the extra parts, there is a more limited range of sizes. They include:
- Grand concert.
Some of these are rather large. Some people have difficulty playing and getting comfortable with the 12-string guitar. A few brands make smaller models to help. Or have reshaped them to include cutaways for convenience and comfort.
The Taylor 562ce is one of those guitars. While still a grand concert, it has been shaped to be comfortable and easier to play. There is also a more affordable model that also provides electronics. It also has a more comfortable body and is enjoyed by the people who own them.
When it comes to the bodies of 12-string electric guitars, there really isn’t much of a difference. The bodies of both 6-string and 12-string electric guitars are generally similar in shape, size, and material composition.
This similarity ensures that players familiar with 6-string electric guitars will find the body of a 12-string to be relatively easy to adapt to. Unless of course you decide to choose a double neck guitar!
Wider Neck Size
The addition of 6 strings added to the guitar requires more real estate on the neck. To make this instrument playable, a wider neck is needed.
So first, you will realize that the neck is a tad wider on a 12. In addition to having to push down on 2 strings for every note, you will also need to get comfortable with a wider neck.
Players who already struggle with smaller hands may find it a bit more difficult. This is by no means impossible to play, but will require practice and learning. Of course, the sound that is made by this guitar is well worth the extra effort.
And so we suggest you put in the work to learn the new fingerboard size, as you will be rewarded each time you play. There is a difference of ⅛ to 3/16” in width depending on the make and model.
Number of Strings
This one is quite obvious, there are 6 extra digits on the 12-string. This is where the beautiful sound comes from. But is also where a bit more complexity is found. With the addition comes the requirement of pressing two strings down instead of one.
More finger strength is needed, as well as the accuracy of properly fretting them both at the same time. Chords are the same of course, but all the fingers need to fret more strings, which can be challenging.
And because of the way they are tuned up, as we will see, there is more tension which adds to the difficulty. Mastering it comes with time and practice, and once you get used to this, it gets easier and more rewarding.
Soon you will begin to look at them as two pairs of 6 and each pair will become a single note.
The first thing a player will normally consider is how to tune a 12-string model. It’s clearly not the same, and you will have realized this if you attempted to tune it up.
The guitar is still tuned to standard, but the lower row is an octave higher on 4 of them. As you can imagine, this adds tension and makes them harder to press.
The E, A, D, and G will need to have their accompanying string tuned an octave higher to the same note. So if you tune them to the same octave, proceed to keep tightening. Your lower B and E, have their partner tuned to the same octave, so this one is easy.
Some players decide to tune the guitar down a step to compensate for the added tension. This is to make it easier on their fingers. Not only does this reduce the need for extra strength, but it also helps ease the burden of finger pain. Tuned up to standard, but will need some decent calluses!
Is a 6-String or 12-String Guitar Better?
The thing about both guitar types is that one isn’t better than the other. They both have their place and are different tools. When you are trying to decide which guitar will work better for your situation, you have to know each one well.
It’s worth having one of each if you are serious about your play style and music. They both have something special to offer. Most people start with a 6-string acoustic guitar, and we suggest this. If you are a beginner, then you don’t want a 12-string to get started.
If you have been playing for a while, then each type will provide you with a large range of sounds when used together. Ultimately, only you can decide which one will serve you better.
The 12-string guitar is one fantastic instrument. Every player should have one in their collection. Thinking about trying it out? Then just keep in mind that there are some differences from what you might be used to. But these are hurdles that are easy to master with some time and practice.
The added benefit of playing a 12 is that the 6-string models seem easier when you move back to them. There are some decent models that are perfect for someone who wants to try it out but does not commit to a lot of money.
Pick up something affordable, yet good quality. See if it becomes your new favorite once you try 6-string vs 12-string guitars.
Is a12-String Guitar Worth it?
Yes, a 12-string guitar is worth having. These two guitar types are radically different, one isn’t better than the other. They both have their place, each with strengths and weaknesses.
6 strings can allow for lead playing, bending, and other techniques that the other can not, or at least not easily. But the 12-string provides an amazing, full sound with a chorus-type effect that the 6 cannot. This has to be experienced to really know and appreciate the tone.
But once you try a 12-string guitar, you will know just how powerful the sound can be. This will make you realize pretty quickly that having one is very much worth it!
Is a 12-string guitar harder to play?
Yes, a 12-string guitar adds some complexities not found on the models with 6. It should be clear that the difficulty level is higher with this type of instrument.
Skilled players will need to relearn as they begin with the 12-string guitar. Not only are some motor skills going to need to be strengthened, but fingers and calluses as well.
This depends on the skill level of the guitarist. Some will progress much quicker than others, and those who put in more practice will get it faster.
6-string or 12-string guitar for beginners?
While a beginner can learn to play on a 12-string, it’s suggested that they start with a 6. Getting used to the guitar is not easy. It’s a difficult instrument to learn.
Adding any additional requirements is not a good idea when getting started. On top of the hurdles are muscle memory and finger accuracy.
Because the 12 is that much harder, learning to play songs will take a while longer. As a beginner begins to get discouraged, there is a better chance that they will quit. And so a new player should always start with a 6-string guitar.
This will encourage inspiration sooner and allow them to build strength. You need to continue to reach milestones.
Learning the 12-string is something that can be done in the future. Once they have become successful with 6.