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The Best 12-String Guitars In History

12-string guitar strings

Out of all of the amazing musical instruments, the 12-string guitar is the real gem. The 12-string guitar has been an important part of some of the most famous songs in music history. 

Such as, in 1975, David Jon Gilmour was trying out a few new guitars hoping to get inspired by their sound and playability. It was then that he suddenly came across something he had never played before. It was a 12-string guitar! 

This very guitar inspired the iconic intro to “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.

12-string guitars have gifted many great songs. From the soulful strumming of “Hotel California” by the Eagles to the poetic jangle of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds to folk-rock classics like “Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan. All of these songs feature the enchanting 12-string guitar. 

Let’s get started with our rundown of some of the most famous 12-string guitars in the history of the instrument:

Don’t forget to check out the best 12-string budget guitars.

Jimmy Page’s Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck Guitar

If you are a fan of rock music, you must have seen videos of the iconic performances of Led Zeppelin in their 1971 North American Tour. There, Jimmy Page appeared with his majestic aura and his unmistakable Gibson EDS-1275, recognized for its 12-string guitar part along with a 6-string neck. He used the guitar, particularly in legendary songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” “Tangerine,” “When the Levee Breaks” and some others.

Jimmy Page EDS-1275
Jimmy Page playing his Gibson EDS-1275

In the 1971 North American Tour, Jimmy Page appeared with his majestic aura and his unmistakable Gibson EDS-1275, recognized for its 12-string guitar part along with a 6-string neck. 

The body and necks of the guitar are mahogany and a rosewood fingerboard. We are talking about a 24 ¾ in. scale length with a beautiful cherry red finish. Both the twelve- and six-string necks have pearloid split parallelogram inlays and white binding. 

Coming to the pickups we have two humbucking pickups per neck, three-way pickups, and neck selector switches. It has two master volumes and two master tone controls. 

At the bottom, we have chrome Tune-o-Matic bridges. Adding to the delicate design, we have a truss rod cover that inscribes “CUSTOM” and an inlaid mother-of-pearl Gibson logo on the headstocks.

Performances with Jimmy Page’s Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck Guitar

Jimmy Page used this famous guitar live to perform both the acoustic and electric passages of 1971’s “Stairway to Heaven” without changing instruments. The double-necked instrument also played the six-string and twelve-string sections in “The Rain Song“, “Celebration Day”, “Tangerine”, “When the Levee Breaks,” and some others.

Richie Sambora Ovation 6 and 12-string Double-neck

Richie Sambora has been a role model for guitar players with his unique sound, style, and gear. The 6 and 12-string guitars in a double-neck form are one of the most iconic among them.

New musical horizons are revealed by the Richie Sambora Elite Double Neck guitar, which combines the best features of 6 and 12-string guitars into a single, revolutionary instrument. The neck and body are embellished with Richie’s signature mother-of-pearl star inlays. 

Richie Sambora ovation guitar
Richie Sambora’s Ovation Double Neck Guitar

This design sonically delivers the full range of tones from both the 6-string and 12-string guitars, thanks to the spruce top and lightweight bracing that boosts punch and projection.

The Elite Double Neck’s multiple sound holes are an iconic design element of the Ovation brand. The twin cutaways on the ultra-thin, Lyrachord composite body make it simple to reach the frets on either neck. 

Equipped with state-of-the-art Ovation Op-24+ electronics, this guitar will change the way you approach live performances. This comes with a custom hardshell case.

Performances with Richie Sambora Ovation 6 and 12-string Acoustic Double-neck Guitar

One of the most iconic performances with Richie Sambora’s double neck guitar was “Wanted Dead or Alive” live at Wembley Stadium. The song features a thunderous opening riff on the 12-string neck, followed by a soaring solo on the 6-string neck. The performance is considered to be one of the greatest live rock performances of all time.

Leadbelly’s 12-String Acoustic

Huddie Ledbetter, widely known as “Lead Belly,” personifies traditional American music. He was not only a musician in the traditional sense, but he also lived a musical lifestyle. And because he was and is still the genuine article when it comes to the blues, he is considered by some to be one of the most significant folk performers of the twentieth century and one of the pioneers of 12-string guitars.

Leadbelly’s 12-String Acoustic

He was also proficient in the piano, mandolin, harmonica, and violin, in addition to the guitar. His ability to play an instrument was impressive. But it was his voice that truly set him apart. Many of the songs he sang had real-life stories that his listeners related to very much. His songs radiated with genuine, heartfelt feeling, and you could hear and feel it when he sang them. But he was known for his 12-string guitar sound.

Leadbelly used a Stella 12-string guitar, like many of the earliest musicians, but tuned it down to C. Due to the lower pitch, the guitar’s tone became full and robust. Stellas were bigger than other 12-strings of the time, measuring in at 16 inches across the lower bout.

Performances with Leadbelly’s 12-String Acoustic Guitar

Lead Belly’s rendition of “Goodnight, Irene” is one of his most iconic songs. He played it on his 12-string acoustic guitar, and this version became a huge hit and is widely recognized as a classic of American folk and blues music.

Martin D-35 David Gilmour 12-String Guitar

David Gilmour’s lead playing is a sonic synthesis of electric blues phrasing and rock guitar skills, with an emphasis on string bending, whammy bar vibrato, and a soulful touch, all performed with impeccable taste and feel. Although the Black Strat may be more recognizable, Gilmour has stated that the Martin D-35 12-string guitar on which he played the legendary solo to “Wish You Were Here” is his favorite guitar.

David Gilmour Martin D35
David Gilmour’s Martin D-35 12-String Guitar

This is even though the song and its famous riff were written with a different model. David had purchased the Martin D35 in 1971. David Gilmour has used the same Martin 12 string for almost 40 years throughout his entire recording and composing career. 

The custom artist series guitar is a size 50 with a dovetail neck joint. Beautifully curved out of top-quality Carpathian spruce material.

Performances with Martin D-35 David Gilmour 12-String Guitar

Pink Floyd’s classic song “Wish You Were Here” features David Gilmour playing the 12-string guitar. This song’s acoustic intro is instantly recognizable and has become an enduring part of Pink Floyd’s legacy. Songs like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” also stand out.

Framus 12-String Acoustic (1965-66)

The famous acoustic sound that David Bowie achieves in many of his songs has transformed the way people think about acoustic sounds in rock, and a large part of the credit for this development goes to the Framus 12-string guitar.

David Bowie’s Framus 12-String Guitar

Germany’s Framus brand produced affordable instruments from 1946 until 1975. The Beatles were among the many British bands that used one of their guitars. John Lennon used to play a Framus Hootenanny 12-string with a natural top and solid headstock in the film Help!, in contrast to the sunburst example played by Donovan, who had a slotted headstock. 

Bill Wyman has been a long-time user of Framus basses, while David Bowie has been known to play their larger-bodied 12-string guitars. 

Performances with Framus 12-String Acoustic

John Lennon used Framus 12-string Acoustic guitars in several Beatles tracks, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” and “Polythene Pam,” among others.

Don Felder Takamine 12-string Guitar

Don Felder used a Takamine F400s 12-string guitar to record the famous opening riff for “Hotel California” at Criteria Studios in 1976. Eagles have used many Takamine guitars for many years on many songs.

Don Felder’s Takamine 12-String Guitar

The Takamine F400s guitar was customized using external pickups and other changes. It produced a unique sound that has been embedded into people’s minds with many songs by the Eagles.

Check out the best 12-string guitar songs here.

Performances with Don Felder Takamine 12-string Guitar

Don Felder’s iconic double-neck guitar is well-known for the legendary solo in “Hotel California.” Still, he also used many Takamine 12-string guitars for other songs.

Performances with Don Felder Takamine 12-string Guitar

Don Felder’s iconic double-neck guitar is well-known for the legendary solo in “Hotel California,” but he also used a Takamine 12-string guitar for the introduction and other sections of the song. This contributed to the song’s rich acoustic sound and added depth to the overall performance.

The Beatles Rickenbacker 12-String Guitar

In 1964 Harrison introduced the electric twelve-string guitar into mainstream pop. His Rickenbacker 360/12 twelve-string guitar was a prototype. Only the second twelve-string guitar Rickenbacker ever made, it was delivered specially to him during their first visit to New York City.

The Beatles Rickenbacker Guitar 360/12

Rickenbacker began creating the electric 12-string guitar in 1963. The popularity of acoustic twelve-string guitars increased during the folk music revival of the early 1960s, but the electric variant remained uncommon.

The design includes three tuners on each side, installed like on a regular guitar, with the tuner posts protruding from the face of the headstock. Two parallel channels are machined into the face of the headstock, similar to the slots in the headstock of a classical guitar, but only halfway through the headstock. 

The headstock routes of 360/12s manufactured after 2005 extend through the headstock, though vintage reissue guitars such as the 360/12C63 remain unchanged. Three more tuners are connected to each side of the headstock. The tuner knobs protrude from the back of the headstock, and the posts run through the slots. 

The original tuners (machines) were Kluson, while Grover Rotomaticswase was used for a time after 1982, with Schaller M6 Minis becoming standard in 1985. This innovation reduces the size of the headstock and keeps the instrument from feeling “head-heavy” in the player’s hands. 

Performances with The Beatles Rickenbacker 12-String Guitar

The Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, performed by George Harrison, is prominently featured in the opening chord of the song “A Hard Day’s Night.” This chord is one of the most known and celebrated chords in rock music history.

Conclusion

If someone does not have sufficient experience playing a six-string guitar, learning to play a 12-string guitar would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

If you are proficient with a guitar that has six strings, moving up to a guitar with 12 strings will provide a significant challenge for you. There is no question that 12-string guitars are capable of producing a more unique sound than their 6-string counterparts. 

Because of the octaves that are integrated into the lower four strings, 12-string guitars have an additional dimension and lend more depth to the sound. This is all because of the octaves. Additionally, the additional strings contribute a more distinctive influence to the sound, which is unheard of for a guitar of this type.

Many 12-string songs can only be played correctly when your guitar is tuned down, thus this could be an alternative for you, whereas you can also play without turning it down. However, many 12-string songs can only be played correctly when your guitar is tuned down.

12 String Guitar FAQs

Rafsan Ahmed

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