6-String vs 12-String Guitars | Primary Differences

Chances are you are interested to learn more about a 12-string model because of the brilliant sound they produce. The first time a player tries one, it’s love at first strum. I remember the first time I 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 simply jump in and play. It’s important to compare 6 vs 12-string guitars and see how they can benefit your music.

A 12-string guitar has a wider neck and requires a more advanced play technique. Because there are 2 strings to fret per note, finger accuracy and strength must be greater relative to what is required for a 6. Certain abilities like bending are substantially harder and not accomplished as easy.

The added chorus-like sound that a 12-string guitar produces can’t be emulated by anything else. It’s a natural phenomenon that creates a much more lush and full sound desired by certain musicians for particular styles.

Now that it has caught your attention, let’s look at what you can expect when it comes to playing and maintaining one.

6-string vs 12-string guitars

6-String vs 12-String Guitars

We will begin by looking at the physical differences and added part counts. While both types of guitars utilize a lot of the same parts and shapes, the 12-string is limited to design size. Because there is a higher part count with this style, it can only be built within certain parameters in order to perform well.

Body Sizes

The 6-string 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. 

  • Dreadnought
  • Grand concert
  • Jumbo
  • Auditorium
  • Concert

Because these are rather large sizes, some people have difficulty playing and getting comfortable with the 12-string guitar. There are a few brands that make some smaller units or have reshaped them to include cutaways for convenience and comfort.

The Taylor 562ce is one of those guitars that, while still a grand concert, has been shaped to be comfortable and easier to play. There is also a more affordable model that also provides electronics, has a more comfortable body and is enjoyed by the people who own them.

Wider Neck Size

The addition of 6 strings added to the guitar requires more real estate on the neck in order to make this instrument playable.

That means you will realize that the neck is a tad wider on a 12. So in addition to having to push down on 2 strings for every note, you will also need to get comfortable with a slightly 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 however require practice and learning. Of course, the sound that is made from 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 additional 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 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.

Tuning Differences

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 are an octave higher on 4 of them.

As you can imagine, this adds tension and makes them harder to press

  • Standard: E-A-D-G-B-E

Your E, A, D, 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 however, 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 to make it easier on their fingers. Not only does this alleviate the need for added strength, but it also helps ease the burden of finger pain. Tuned up to standard will require some decent calluses!

12 String Guitar Sound

Sound is the only reason anyone would choose to play this instrument. With the added complexity required to play a 12-string, it would have to have some serious sound gains. And it does! The tone produced by the 2 pairs is like nothing else available.

Having some pairs tuned up an octave, produces a chorus like effect that provides a rich, full sound with tons of sparkle.

Some players who have tried the 12-string guitar were so mesmerized by its tone that they made the choice to play them exclusively. This is a serious change and is a testament to the unique sound of this guitar type.

While it will take a bit of time and practice to become fluent with the new type, its brilliant full sound is rewarding from the start. And so depending on the music you play, the tone can compliment most genres.

What’s Better a 6-String or 12-String Guitar?

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 on which guitar will work better for your situation, you have to know each one well.

It is worth having one of each if you are serious about your play style and music, as 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.

But if you have been playing for a while and are writing or performing music, then the 6 and 12-string guitars will provide you with a large range of sounds when used together. Ultimately, only you can decide on which one will serve you better.

Conclusion

The 12-string guitar is one fantastic instrument and every player should have one in their collection. If you are thinking about trying it out, 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 not commit to a lot of money.

Pick up something affordable, yet good quality, and see if it becomes your new favorite once you try 6-string vs 12-string guitars.

FAQs

Is a 6 or 12-String Guitar Better?

Because these two guitar types are radically different, one isn’t better than the other. They both have their place with strengths and weaknesses depending on what is required. 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 doesn’t make one better than the other, it simply means they have a place that the other cannot fill quite as well.

And so it doesn’t do a player any justice to compare the two. It’s best to consider how each one is a tool that can be used to make better music together.

Is a 12-string guitar harder to play?

Yes, a 12-string guitar adds some complexities not found on the models with 6. With the points we touched on above, it should be clear that the difficulty level is higher with this type of instrument.

Even skilled players will need to relearn as they begin to experiment with the 12-string guitar. Not only are some motor skills going to need to be strengthened, but physical strength in fingers and calluses as well.

This depends on the skill level of the guitarist, of course, 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, and adding any additional requirements is not a good idea when getting started. On top of the hurdles is muscle memory and finger accuracy to name a few, remaining inspired is also needed to succeed. 

Because the 12 is that much harder, learning to play songs will take so much 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 slowly build strength 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.

Photo of author

Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!