I’m going to review the top 6 best 12-string acoustic guitars you can buy right now. These include both acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars.
If you stay with me, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about these amazing beasts: what are they good for, what do they do, how do they sound, and some buying advice so you make an informed decision.
12-string acoustic guitars are beautiful, uncommon instruments. Have you ever seen a 12-string guitar in your life? Have you ever played it? Well, I have, and they sound beautiful.
The trick with these guitars is how they repeat each string twice as a chorus would. The 6 extra strings are the upper 8th of each of the original 6 strings, so every time you play one note, you’ll be playing the 8th as well.
Have you ever tried a 12-string guitar? They might be harder to play, but the sound is fuller, louder and prettier than 6-string guitars.
The result is sound that haunts you, a warm melody that surrounds you with every note. Some would even say nothing sounds quite like a 12-string guitar, and there’s some truth in that. I believe these instruments carry a distinctive sound that’s able to create ambiance through a deep, layered tone similar to what you could achieve with a chorus pedal.
So, think of this a guitar that creates an organic chorus effect all the time. That’s amazing, but something that has limits in their applications. And while it can’t suit every music style, it can indeed song individual songs within almost any genre or any band.
It’s also interesting how some great guitar players have included the 12-string sound somewhere down the line of their discography and stage settings.
Why should you play a 12-string guitars
Legendary guitar players found out how there’s nothing like letting a big, open chord ring out on these instruments. Staple guitar players like Jimmy Page, Lead Belly, Jimmy Hendrix, and John Denver used these axes on most of their shows.
You probably don’t know some of your favorite songs were written and recorded with a 12-string guitar and you haven’t realized. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” The Beatles “Blackbird,” or “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin are some of the timeless classics that have used these instruments.
It’s not like you should turn this instrument as your main guitar. Not at all. Instead, this is a tool to create amazing songs, to enhance your creativity, and to help you reimagine songs of your creation or from other bands
In essence, the reason why many players adopt 12-string guitars because they provide a great diversity of deep tonal nuances. The tone ranges anywhere from bright to mellow, sharp, and warm. It’s anywhere on the spectrum.
More so, because of its unique construction, the sound is full and has an organic chorus plus a “sparkle”-type feel. For these reasons, 12-string guitars are great as both rythm and solo instruments.
The history of 12-string guitars
The origin of these instruments is uncertain. It has likely ancestors, though, as Mexican folklore has had doubled strings guitars since the 20th Century.
For example, the “Guitarra Septima,” the “Guitarra Huapanguera,” and the “Bajo Sexto,” have been part of Mexican “ranheras” an “mariachi” music since the very beggining.
It’s said that folk musician Fred Gerlach brought this guitar to mainstream music during the late ‘30s.
How to use 12-string guitars?
These instruments help fill out your sound on solo performances and rythm sections. It can also create a deep atmosphere and enlarge your clean sections and arpeggios.
I also find this as an amazing alternative to cover other songs, or maybe your own songs, in a new, acoustic, intimate fashion. A reverb pedal is particularly exquisite for this kind of scenario.
The tone is always beautiful, grandiose, and wide. It can easily become the protagonist on a mix when you play it, but it can’t, of course, fill in during heavy sections of a song.
The 12-string guitar is unforgiving, not like its 6-string counterpart. Players must always fret two strings at once, which requires practice, experience, and finger strength. That, of course, comes with an extra layer of calluses as playing these instruments is very demanding on your fingers.
Also, the neck is wider, because the guitar has to compensate for having twice the number of strings. However, if you can tame this beast, you’ll see there’s nothing quite rich and jangly as these guitars.
I must add genres that commonly benefit from 12-string guitars are blues, classic rock, alternative rock, progressive rock, indie music, indie rock, pop, and country.
Maybe a 12-string guitar doesn’t fit your genre…but it can it an individual song you record or play live, a cover or a version. Consider this as an amazing, creative tool.
The most common question regarding twelve-string guitars is how to tune these instruments. Whilst there’s a variety of possibilities, let’s just talk about the standard tuning.
Generally, you can tune the thicker strings to the standard notes (E-A-D-G-B-E). The narrower strings are tuned to the exact same note but one octave higher (although not all of them). The result is the following tunning: E3 – E2 / A3 – A2 / D4-D4 / G4 – G3 / B3 – B3 / E4 – E4.
This gives you the “chorus” sound. But, having said that, you have a wide range of options on the tuning, like for example having some 5th or 7th notes on the narrower strings. The best thing to do is to experiment.
If you’re new to 12-string guitars, I recommend you to try out the standard tunning I gave you.
With twice the strings, the experience of playing these guitars is different. First, the string tension is wider, so playing chords requires more force.
Then, solos and bendings are rather challenging on these guitars, which is why people tend to use them for rythm sections, both on chords or arpeggios.
And speaking of arpeggios, you would need extra precision on both your hands, for you’ll be pressing and playing tho strings for each note instead of one.
For these reasons, 12-string guitars are for experienced players. You need to have picked some skills, in particular, fingerstyle techniques.
Taking care of 12-string guitars
Musicians that have a 12-string guitar as part of their gear put it out the shelve constantly. So, if you take this on your gigs or rehearsals for a song or two, they actually need more care than regular acoustic guitars.
Protecting your new investment requires a few steps:
- Tune your guitar slowly and carefully, just a half-step at most each time;
- Manage the Truss rod very carefully;
- Remember you’re dealing with a lot of tension, take it easy on the neck;
- Take your guitar to the guitar shop every 3 or 4 months to change the strings and regular maintenance.
I advise you not to try to change the strings by yourself as 12-string guitars are quite delicate on the neck and the tuners. Instead, leave this task to professionals.
Buyer’s guide: how to choose your first 12-string guitar?
Before we review the 6 guitars of this article, let me help you know how I picked them and, thus how you should pick yourself.
This is no easy task, though, as big, reputed brands create these instruments to very high standards.
What to look for on your 12-string?
First thing first: we’re looking for the best sound we can afford because if you’re looking for 12-string guitars, I bet you’re an experienced guitar player and you know exactly what you want.
But, overall, the best sound for 12-strings is rich at the bottom end, solid clear middle, and bright at the top.
Most people have become used to an “OK” sound when it comes to acoustic guitars, and they probably fear of have no particular will to try out a 12-string guitar because of this misconception. To help you combat these ideas, let me give you a video showcasing a great 12-string guitar:
One of the things ensuring the sound of these guitars is the tonewood. As these instruments depend entirely on their acoustic whole and building materials for their sound, then wee need to Look at quality woods: mahogany is the top-notch wood, whereas maple and rosewood represent the second better choices. Spruce is also a common wood on quality 12-string guitars.
We also want it to feel comfortable on our hands and body, both sitting and standing. 12-string guitars tend to be bigger and heavier than regular acoustic guitars, which means you have to take your own size and strength into consideration.
More so, the guitar’s body design could feel awkward to some and comfortable for others. You probably already have your personal taste according to guitar bodies, so keep that in mind.
Personally, I like 12-string guitars that keep a traditional build and look, because I know these instruments feel good on almost anyone. See, most likely, you learned how to play guitar in a traditional acoustic guitar -Spanish type-, just like me.
That means I’m not looking for anything flashy or overly creative. Eccentric looks on these monster guitars might affect negatively its comfortability and playability. More so, a guitar that looks like quality plays like quality. Remember that.
Another thing to look for in a 12-string guitar that stays on tune. That’s paramount considering tunning a 12-string guitar is tedious and complex. We can identify a 12-string that stays on tune because it has a straight neck, so the straighter the neck, the better.
Keeping the guitar on tune heavily depends on the quality of the neck and bridge. Die-cast tuners are also traditionally better in retaining the note than other tuners.
If you look for a budget 12-string guitar without taking a good look at its tuner hardware, you’ll probably end up with a lot of tunning issues.
Next, the brand is also very important when we look for quality 12-string guitars, as building these instruments is not easy and requires a lot of craftsmanship. Keep in the lookout for brands like Fender, Seagull, Epiphone, Martin, Takamine, Yamaha, and Gretsch.
You should make sure to test it or hear it on a YouTube demo as the natural acoustics of this guitar must be loud enough and have a lot of precision for at least a small room or an audience of 20 people.
If you plan to take this instrument in a live setting, natural acoustics are very important. Consider that if it doesn’t sound accurate or loud at home, no good will come when you reproduce it through an amp or a PA system.
Lastly, we need to consider the two different 12-string guitar categories there are:
- Jumbo: jumbo guitars are bigger and heavier. They play better as rythm guitars because they can produce big, meaty chords with a lot of volume and balance. The sound of these guitars is usually full and deep. Jumbo guitars are for adult experience guitar players only.
- Dreadnought: dreadnought guitars are smaller, lighter and more manageable than jumbo guitars. They are also more user-friendly as there is easier access to the higher frets and less tension on the strings. The sound, rather than being full and deep, is more mellow and warm.
About acoustic-electric 12-string guitars
If you’re looking for an acoustic-electric 12-string guitar, take a look at its pickups and its preamp system.
You can plug these guitars to an acoustic guitar amp and enjoy the fullest sound of your instrument. You can also tweak the sound on its preamp, which usually carries at least tone and volume controls.
The pickup only has to take the sound of your acoustic guitar towards the amp whilst keeping the most authentic sound it can, for it captures the tone coming out the soundhole. Fishman and Takamine are at the top of the acoustic guitar’s pickups.
If you want some more info, here’s a section on what to look for in acoustic-electric guitars.
https://pixabay.com/photos/guitar-music-musician-instrument-3350879/ Remember acoustic-electric guitars are powered by 9V batteries.
We’ve learned the top issues to consider when we look for a 12-string guitar:
- The sound has to be warm and big. It needs to have a deep resonance with a bright top end.
- Tonewoods must be mahogany, rosewood, spruce, or a combination of these three materials.
- The tunning must be precise. Cheap 12-string guitars have a lot of issues with the tunning.
- The natural acoustics must be precise and loud enough for your room and practice sessions.
- Decide between jumbo or dreadnought guitars according to your own personal tastes. However, I always prefer dreadnought guitars are the jumbo alternative is difficult to handle.
Aside from this, if you wish to know the particular elements of a guitar (like neck construction, neck shape, tonewood, strings, and more), check this section on what to look for on electric guitars.
https://pixabay.com/photos/acoustic-guitar-musician-music-925174/ Let’’s have a closer look at the instruments to find you a clear winner up next…
The Best 12-string guitars
Here are the reviews for the best 6 12-string guitars you can buy right now. Some of these instruments have created some great tunes over the years, like David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
You can put these instruments to very good use. If you’ve only played 6-string acoustic or electro-acoustic guitars, you’ve barely scratched the surface. Although there are similarities within the two, there’s a deeper and wider experience available for 12-string guitar players
Now, let’s go on to my top 6 list. I made sure to add guitars with different price points so you’ll definitely find something of your taste and budget.
Remember most 12-string guitars don’t include a guitar bag, so remember to buy the additional travel bag as well.
Epiphone DR-212 Dreadnought 12-String Guitar
The DR-212 is a truly well-made guitar selling for an affordable price. As you would expect, it has the same quality you would search from any other high-end Epiphone product.
The DR-212 is though as the ultimate go-to guitar for folk, blues, rock, country, and everything in between. And do you want to know what’s so special about this guitar? It gets better as it age, and it gets better the more you play because of its construction materials.
This Dreadnought has excellent construction. In particular, the design of the 212 supports the increased tension of the 12 string, which means the neck and fretboard are as straight and sturdy as it gets.
Additionally, the design has the right balance and cutting needed to bring all of the attention to the natural acoustics of the guitar. The result is a warm, deep and full tone, everything you’d want from a 12-string guitar.
Furthermore, it keeps the tuning for long periods, so this is definitely not a concern.
The tonewoods of the DR-212 is a premium Select Spruce top, a material that allows the guitar to “breathe” whilst improving the lifespan of the guitar. It also features a rosewood bridge with the proper size for the extra tension of the 12-strings and a mahogany body.
The aesthetics are something I love. It’s classy, elegant, and vintage. The classic black vintage style pickguard is a very nice addition: it features the iconic “Epiphone” in such a privileged spot it’s very easy to spot it across the room.
Overall, this is a great 12-string guitar so good the price is definitely a bargain. That’s why we choose it as the #1 option, because it offers the best value for its money and because pricier alternatives won’t really sound or feel that much better than this guitar.
Final tip: this guitar is the only classic 12-string that sells with a Limited Lifetime Guarantee plus a Gibson 24/7/365 customer service.
Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT Acoustic-Electric
Takamine is synonymous with quality when it comes to acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars. And, what’s best, their prices are also affordable
The GJ7CNE is a big guitar in more ways than its size. First of all, its jumbo style body offers a huge sound. Its loud, precise, and projects the sound straight out of it with the classic 12-string tone.
Additionally, this guitar has a beautiful depth to it. The resonance is deep, the highs are sparkling, and the lows are fat but still clear.
The overall tone of this guitar is very bright and has an easy time cutting through a mix, which is very important for the overall result.
Aesthetically, this is a beautiful instrument with a maple body, a rosewood headstock, and a solid spruce top. Its looks definitely demand your attention and are the first thing you’re going to like about this guitar, even before its sound. What’s best is that it sounds just as good as it looks.
Furthermore, this is an acoustic-electric guitar, so it has Takamine’s own preamp system with a 3-band EQ, volume control, EQ bypass, notch filter, and a mid contour switch. It all offers plenty of tonal options.
This acoustic-guitar is equipped with the famous Takamine TK40, pickups that deliver the authentic, natural sound of the guitar. Plus, the action of the pickups is quite low and gives you a noise and buzz-free sound.
This Takamine guitar has a great addition in its built-in tuner, a quite important extra considering how 12-string guitars can go out of tune easily.
Lastly, the guitar has a cutaway design which allows easy access to high frets. It makes it more comfortable for most people. Plus, the slim rosewood fingerboard and the gold die-cast tunes complete the classy look of this instrument.
Overall, this is a quality electro-acoustic instrument well worth the investment.
Martin D12X1AE 12-string Acoustic-Electric
You should always consider Martin when you search for acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars, for Martin is worldwide renowned for making unique guitars that sound great.
Personally, I love the unique feel of Martin guitars, and this one is no exception. If you’re lucky enough to try it out, this instrument feels like a breeze swinging on your shoulders.
This is a Dreadnought style guitar with no cutaway design and a low profile neck. The body is made of mahogany, and it has a premium spruce top and a matt finish. This combination gives the guitar a rich, warm sound.
The D12X1AE offers exactly what 12-string guitars should do, which is a lot of clarity and tone that sings and becomes alive. The sound has a resonant bottom end, balanced mids, and bright highs. More so, the guitar is quite loud even without any amplifier.
I particularly love the treble strings because they ring out clarity without overpowering or mudding the overall sound. In fact, I would say the sound of the doubled strings is more subtle on this guitar than the others, and if subtlety is something you’re looking for, then this is a good option for you.
It has a standard Fishman pickup, but that’s saying a lot as Fishman is expert in making pickups. The taper gives great action and no fret buzz.
The ax also has Fishman electronics that are able to deliver a crystal clear and loud amplified tone with warm tones. The preamp ensures the natural sound of Martin acoustic guitars, and it has tone and volume slider controls to help you adjust the sound to your heart’s desire.
Lastly, the tunning machinery is precise, and the tuners are plated in chrome for a nice finish.
Yamaha FG820-12-String Acoustic Guitar
Yamaha made a triumphant entrance to the 12-string guitar world when they introduced the FG series to the market back in 1966.
This is a very special guitar that provides a real, professional experience and sound without you having to pawn your kidneys.
The FG180 is acclaimed for its excellent musical tone, well-built quality, and smooth playability. Particularly the FG180 is the best sounding of the FG series of dreadnought guitars, and I can say its quality its quite admirable for its price, which is why many guitar players love these strings.
This is a traditional-looking guitar with Yamaha’s scalloped bracing design that ensures you get a robust and balanced sound all across the frequency chart. Plus, this contour is friendly for beginners because there’s more space between the frets and the strings, so players have an easier time fingerpicking and isolating notes.
Its made of mahogany wood in the back to deliver a warm, smooth and mellow sound.
In summary, this is the best 12-string guitar for beginners, and it might very well be your first guitar if you don’t have much experience with these instruments. You can’t go wrong if you have more experience as the sound both unplugged or through a PA system is, as Keanu Reeves says, breathtaking.
Fender CD-140SCE-12 Dreadnought Acoustic-Electric 12-string guitar
Whenever you read a top guitar or basses list, there’s always going to be a Fender child and for good reasons.
Fender’s contribution to the 12-string acoustic-electric market is the CD-130SCE. Although the name it’s not very attractive, I assure you this is a top choice
This is a traditional Dreadnought with traditional Fender acoustics. It has a spruce top, while the rest of the body is built of rosewood. Such a combination gives this guitar a distinctive sound.
Another interesting feature of this guitar is its slimline rosewood neck coupled with a rolled fingerboard. This combination gives you an easier time reaching the higher frets and playing individual notes, so the guitar becomes more comfortable in your hands.
The sound is big and mellow, sadder, and reacts depending on how hard you play. I would say this guitar is “alive,” because I personally love how organic the tone is. Furthermore, it has plenty of warmth on the low end and brightness on the mids and the top.
It’s a big sounding instrument but is also quite mellow depending on how hard you play it. What it will give you is a great sound with plenty of warmth in the low end and bright tones at the top. The range of sounds it naturally produces lends itself to a variety of styles.
The guitar is equipped with Fishman Presys pickup and a built-in preamp with tone and volume controls. It’s as standard as it gets, however, it carries an onboard tuner system. A set of die-cast tuners complete the hardware.
You have to know getting a Fender instrument is a happy moment in every musician’s life.
Gretsch G5022CWFE-12 Rancher Falcon White 12-String Acoustic-Electric
Gretsch is another guitar maker with a history of producing quality instruments. This brand is one of the biggest names in music, especially for the country music genre.
The White Rancher Falcon is a jumbo 12-strings guitar built for country-rock, blues, and classic rock in mind. It’s also designed for professional musicians.
If this catches your attention, is because Gretsch is king making attractive guitars. It has a gorgeous laminated body on the sides and a spruce top. The finish is a high white gloss plus a gold binding on the fingerboard, headstock, and soundhole.
I also find the triangular shape of the soundhole is a very interesting feature, More so, this shape helps project the sound further and louder.
It has a single-cutaway that allows easier access to the upper frets. It doesn’t have as much playability as, for example, the Yamaha FG820, but it’s still comfortable on experience hands.
The guitar ships with a Sonicore pickup by Fishman plus premium Isys+ preamp. It provides the guitar with a powerful amplified sound and the ability to enhance your performance levels with a surprising amount of versatility.
As for controls, you’ll find an onboard tuner; plus tone, volume, and phase controls.
Overall, this is a premium guitars with a creamy look delivering a nice and bright sound surprising for a jumbo guitar, which normally sounds full.
Which guitar should I buy: 6 or 12-string guitars?
In the end, this desition is up to you. While 12-string guitars definitely have a beautiful, deep, and chorus-like sound, these are truly hard instruments to play.
Usually, when beginners or intermediate guitar players try out a 12-string guitar for the first time, they fall instantly in love. Then, improving your guitar skills on these instruments will make you twice the better musician.
Learning how to use this tool is a great addition to your guitar gear. You can easily fit it in the most special songs you create or play, and the sound is deemed to inspire special feelings more easily than electric guitars or acoustic guitars.
Speaking of which, here’s my prior guide on emotional songwriting. Feel free to check it out!
So, lastly, if you want to be the best guitarist possible and make the best music you can, you should consider getting a 12-string guitar and turn it into an extension of yourself.