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The Best 12-String Guitar Songs

12-string guitar songs

From rock classics to acoustic ballads, there are a few genres you’ll find that don’t hold evergreen 12-string guitar songs loved by generations. From an endless list of such songs, let’s take a look at my pick of 10 of the most loved 12-string guitar songs and explore what makes each track unique and why they continue to captivate musicians and audiences alike.

Would you like to know more about the guitars played in these songs?

Hotel California by The Eagles

The classic was released in 1977, “Hotel California” featured intricate 12-string arpeggios on a Takamine F400s custom 12-string guitar played by Don Felder and Glen Frey. It is considered as one of the best 12 string guitar songs.

The chemistry between the harmonized dual guitar arpeggios sets the song apart, and the clear overtones produced by the 12-string guitars are the cherry on top. A bouncy bassline and laid-back drumline fill in the lower range, setting the foundation for the vocals to set the mood with lyrics draped in melancholy.

12 string songs like hotel California
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Joe Walsh’s piercing and most famous lead guitar solo augments the darkness of the song. The song paints a picture of the decadence and excess of the 70s, remaining a famous 12-string guitar song to this day.

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If you’re looking for the best 12 string songs to showcase the instrument’s richness, try listening to and even playing “Hotel California” by The Eagles.

Check out Easy Electric Guitar Songs That Are The Perfect Jam For Beginners.


Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

Exploring the best 12 string guitar songs? “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd is a timeless choice that highlights the instrument’s unique tonality. Introspective, and full of longing, the title track is a song in the major key, yet delivers fervently heartfelt lyrics about yearning for someone lost.

Gilmour’s riff is an earworm, instantly recognizable to anyone who has listened to it even once before, and the strummed chords are rich in notes over the octaves in all glory on a Martin d-35 12-string guitar.

famous 12 string songs
Image by Pink Floyd

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The song is speculated to be about the band’s former leader Syd Barret, “Wish You Were Here” is a timeless piece and a 12-string guitar song that evokes the feeling of longing in any listener.


Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page is an avid fan of the 12-string guitar. He has written countless songs on it, and the band’s most famous 12 string guitar song “Stairway to Heaven” happens to be one of them. The arpeggiated intro of Stairway to Heaven is legendary, etched into the minds of generations of musicians and listeners – there are even memes about how every beginner guitarist opts to learn the piece before everything else. It is one of the best 12 string songs.

best 12 string guitar songs
Image by Led Zeppelin

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Although Jimmy plays the intro on a 6-string, he switches to a 12-string for the rest of the song’s arpeggios and chords. The guitar was an EDS 1275 GIBSON Double Neck Guitar​. The song’s erratic structure, with its symbolic lyrics, makes it a feast for people who love exploring tracks with depth in meaning and technical complexity. It is famous among Led Zeppelin 12 string songs.


Space Oddity by David Bowie

David Bowie’s revered piece “Space Oddity” blends psychedelic rock and folk influences, combined with a compelling narrative and a soaring 12-string guitar riff. Bowie frequently played a Framus 12-string guitar.

famous 12 string guitar songs
Image by David Bowie

The song tells the story of an astronaut named Major Tom, who becomes lost in space and reflects on his life and mortality as he drifts further from Earth. The ethereal quality of the riff captures the sense of wonder and awe that comes with exploring space.

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Its cyclical and hypnotic nature also adds to the song’s sense of otherworldliness and creates a sense of motion that is both dynamic and haunting. Bowie’s imaginative and vivid lyrics, combined with his distinct vocal style, make the song continue to captivate listeners today.


Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds

This folk-rock classic, curated by George Harrison and released in 1965, featured this famous 12-string guitar song. “Mr. Tambourine Man” captures the carefree spirit of the ‘60s. The use of the 12-string guitar adds a certain shimmer and brightness to the song, complementing the dreamy melodies of the vocals and upbeat lyrics.

best songs for 12 string guitar
Image by The Byrds

Although the song was a cover of Bob Dylan’s legendary song, it was a hit on its own. The Byrds version of the song is in a different key and features a signature 12-string guitar.

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The relationship between the Byrds and Bob Dylan was among the most synergistic relationships in all of rock history. The Byrds were the supreme interpreters of Dylan’s songs, other than Dylan himself.


Suicide Note, Pt 1 by Pantera

Pantera’s “Suicide Note Pt. 1” stands out as a powerful and emotionally charged track that showcases the band’s ability to step out of their comfort zone, and create a piece that feels more ominous than heavy metal. The song’s haunting guitar riff sets an atmospheric sound that complements the lyrics, making it one of the most famous 12-string guitar songs.

best 12 string songs
Image by Pantera

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The band’s raw and ferocious vocals express the pain and hopelessness that drives people to self-destructive behavior, while the instrumentation combines heavy riffs with melodic passages, creating a dynamic and unforgettable track.


A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles

Looking to appreciate the best 12 string songs? Check out the best songs for 12 string guitar like “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles. Upbeat and energetic, A Hard Day’s Night is one of The Beatles’ most relatable songs in their discography.

The lyrics, which describe the struggles of a long day’s work, are easy to sing along to and to find comfort in knowing others are facing the same hardships.

Image by The Beatles

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The tonality of George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker adds to the energy of the song, making it even more catchy. The song is looked so fondly upon by The Beatles that they choose to name a movie made about the band after it.

Check out 15 Famous Bass Songs to try picking up.


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I Stay Away by Alice In Chains

Sometimes Alice in Chains steps away from their grunge home and ends up discovering amazing places. There are Layne and Jerry’s signature eerie harmonized vocals, laced with feelings of isolation and melancholy.

Image by Alice in Chains

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There are lead guitars sprinkled with blue notes and there’s a lot of 12-string acoustic guitar work that, instead of following the norm and increasing the song’s brightness, somehow makes it colder.


Breaking The Girl by Red Hot Chili Peppers

John Frusciante knows what works best for funk: He made a riff and turned it into a 12-string guitar song. He had cut the highs and lows in the mix and pushed out the mid. Flea’s busy bassline and the tight drums fill up the lower range with a flute covering the highs, creating a saturated sonic scape.

Image by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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The song is quite woeful lyrically, but that is only if you can resist the urge to dance to it and focus on the lyrics. The visuals of the song’s video have heavy, experimental use of vibrant colors, with the background and costumes changing constantly.


Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi

Enigmatic 12-string arpeggios, dominating vocals, ripping lead solos – “Wanted Dead or Alive” has it all, making it no wonder it’s one of the band’s most famous ballads ever. The groovy bassline and guitar riff by Richie Sambora make you want to loop the song repeatedly.

Written from the point of view of a western cowboy, the lyrics describe the life of a rock star, creating a sense of glamour and excitement that is sure to resonate with listeners. The guitar played on the song was an Ovation 12-string guitar.

Image by Bon Jovi

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For a taste of classic rock, “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi remains one of the best songs for 12 string guitar in the category.


Early Morning Rain by Gordon Lightfoot

“Early Morning Rain” is a song written and recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. It was released in 1966 on his debut album, Lightfoot! The song is about a man who is far from home and feeling lost and lonely. He is standing at an airport, watching a plane take off, and he longs to be on that plane, going back to his loved ones.

The song is set in the early morning rain, which creates a sense of melancholy and nostalgia. The imagery of the rain and the airport reinforces the feeling of being lost and alone. The man in the song is also feeling financially strapped, as he only has a dollar in his hand.

Gordon Lightfoot

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With a capo on the 3rd fret and a drop D tuning, this song’s hypnotic rhythm and soulful storytelling make it a must-learn for any aspiring 12-string guitarist.


Free Fallin by Tom Petty

“Free Fallin” is an anthem of self-discovery and the pursuit of individuality. It is one of the most famous 12 string guitar songs. The lyrics describe a person who is breaking free from the constraints of a relationship, seeking to rediscover themselves and their true identity. Lines like “And I’m free, free fallin'” evoke a sense of liberation and the exhilarating feeling of letting go.

Tom Petty originally wrote the song to amuse his friend, Jeff Lynne, but it ended up becoming one of his most iconic songs. Some interpretations suggest it reflects Petty’s own experiences in the music industry, where he sought creative autonomy.

Tom Petty

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In contrast to many other songs on this list that emphasize fingerpicked patterns and individual chord notes, this particular song relies solely on strumming chords. To perform the song in its proper key, you’ll need to position a capo on the 3rd fret of the guitar. Throughout the entire song, you can use only the simple chords D, G, and A.


Mama, I’m Coming Home by Ozzy Osbourne

“Mama, I’m Coming Home” is a heartfelt and iconic rock ballad by the legendary musician Ozzy Osbourne. Released in 1991 as part of his album “No More Tears,” this song is a touching tribute to the idea of returning to the comfort and love of one’s home and family after a long and arduous journey.

The famous 12 string guitar song’s lyrics express a deep sense of longing and a desire to reconcile with loved ones. Ozzy Osbourne’s distinctive and emotive voice brings these emotions to life, making the song a powerful and resonant experience for listeners.

Ozzy Osbourne

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At the beginning of the song, Zakk Wylde pays clear homage to Southern rock, setting the stage for what would become Ozzy Osbourne’s only solo Top 40 hit. But it’s the song’s addictive falling riff that really makes it stand out. Even though Zakk’s signature pinch harmonics are all over the song, it’s the sound of the 12-string guitar in the beginning that makes this track easily recognizable.


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Closer to the Heart by Rush

A timeless rock tune, “Closer to the Heart” was written and performed by Rush of Canada. The song appeared on their 1977 album “A Farewell to Kings.” The song’s deep meaning and the band’s superb musicianship have made it a favorite of Rush fans and rock aficionados everywhere.

The song’s lyrics explore themes of individuality, empathy, and the importance of connecting with others on a deeper level. It encourages listeners to embrace their humanity and strive for a more meaningful and compassionate existence.

Musically, “Closer to the Heart” features intricate guitar work by Alex Lifeson, powerful drumming by Neil Peart, and the distinctive vocals of Geddy Lee. The song starts with an arpeggio-picking rhythm on a 12-string guitar which sounds very majestic. This song was also Rush’s first hit in the U.K., and it has been a staple of their live shows ever since.

Rush

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Give a Little Bit by Supertramp

“Give a Little Bit” is a globally popular song by the British rock group Supertramp. This catchy pop masterpiece is in the key of D, known for its rich 12-string guitar sound, as demonstrated by the Byrds in the past. 

The track, penned by Roger Hodgson, served as the opening track on their 1977 album titled “Even in the Quietest Moments…” The song achieved significant international success, reaching the 15th position on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and the 29th position on the UK Singles Chart.

Supertramp

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Hodgson has said that the song was inspired by the Vietnam War and the Cold War. He wanted to write a song that would promote peace and understanding between people. The song’s message is still relevant today as we continue to face challenges such as war, poverty, and climate change.

Check out 15 Classic & Easy Christmas Songs on Guitar.


The legacy will continue

As you learned about these best 12 string songs, wouldn’t you also like to know more about the 12-string guitars played in these songs that made their mark in history?

The 12-string guitar has been instrumental in creating some of the most iconic and memorable songs in the history of rock music. While they didn’t make the main list, it’s important to acknowledge the significance of songs like “The Who” by Substitute, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds, “Ocean” by John Butler Trio, and “The Rolling Stones” by Wild Horses.

These tracks showcase the versatility and emotional depth that the 12-string guitar brings to various musical genres. They serve as a reminder of the instrument’s enduring influence and its ability to inspire generations of musicians to create their own timeless 12-string guitar songs.

12-String Guitar Songs FAQs

Sabih Safwat

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