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Lead belly Guitar 12-String Acoustic

Lead Belly

The Lead Belly guitar history cannot begin without knowing Leadbelly. Huddie Ledbetter was a revered figure in folk and blues music, born in the United States in the 18th century. He rose to fame playing multiple musical instruments like the guitar, piano, accordion, mandolin, violin, and harmonica. He was a highly skilled musician and one of the greatest legends of the 19th century.

It was during the 1920s that Lead Belly began playing a 12-string guitar, he acquired a new Stella guitar similar to the one currently on loan from The Lead Belly Estate and Archives. His music first became popular in the African-American community.

Lead belly Guitar
Image by: Fraulini Guitar Co.

Leadbelly’s 12-String Acoustic

Made InUSA
Model: Stella Auditorium
Body: Mahogany
Top:Sitka Spruce
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 26.5″ or 25.4″
Nut Width: 1 7/8″
Weight: 4 lbs
Fretboard: Ebony
Frets: 20
Tailpiece: Chrome plated steel
Bridge: Ebony
Trussrod:Adjustable (2 neck rods of carbon fibre)
Bound:Adjustable (2 neck rods of carbon fiber)
Case: Hardshell
Design: Fancy wood marquetry, rosette, and top

The Leadbelly guitar can be heard in many popular music that people love and remember now. For example, “Midnight Special,” “Black Betty”, and “Goodnight Irene.” It’s not just about the songs but also about the artist who played them. His music remains a significant influence on rock and roll.

Other than Lead Belly, some other legendary musicians have also played this famous 12-string acoustic guitar. Among them are Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash.

To know more about the best 12-string guitar in history check here.

Body of Stella Auditorium

Lead Belly’s 12-string acoustic guitar is a Stella Auditorium. It has the signature smaller body with two types of body shapes: dreadnought and auditorium. The sides and neck of this guitar are made of mahogany, and the top is of Sitka Spruce. 

Top wood

The top is made of Sitka spruce. Spruce is a light-colored wood with a fine-grain sequence. This wood tends to give our guitars a much more quintessential appearance. Spruce has become the most highly rated wood all over the board for acoustic guitars. The Sitka spruce stands in contrast.


Mahogany tonewood  is a multi-functional such as it is exceptionally sturdy and resistant to wood rot. This kind of wood is very reliable and far less prone to distortion compared to others. As a result, luthiers around the globe depend heavily on it.

However, its popularity is due to much more than sturdiness; the tonal characteristics of the sound are also important. The tone is balanced and has solid foundations. Also, mahogany seems to have more sustain and resonant frequency.


The fingerboard of the Leadbelly guitar is made of Ebony. Ebony is indeed the sturdiest, heaviest, and most bendable if compared to any other type of wood. Its sturdiness makes it possible to reduce wear and tear dramatically while keeping your guitar in good condition for a long time.

It is also resistant to rot, just like mahogany, and is also considered to be stable. So, the finishes on Ebony have always been surprisingly smooth. The Leadbelly guitar is generally modeled in a rounded shape widely recognized as a radius. This shape makes playing more convenient and enjoyable.

The scale length of a Stella Auditorium 12-string guitar is around 25.4 inches to 26.5 inches. In addition, the fingerboard has inlaid signs, typically small dots, to assist the player in locating their way all around the neck. The fretboard is wide enough to hold all the guitar strings.

12 string guitar
Image by: Fraulini Guitar Co.


The glued bridge of the Stella Auditorium was an innovative design back then. It helped to enhance the tone and sustain of the string instrument.

The maker of the Leadbelly guitar was German luthier C. F. Martin. He glued the bridge to the top of the guitar. It allowed a stable and resonant connection between the strings and the body. Every classical guitar bridge now features this bridge style.

Find out the reasons behind what makes a 12-string guitar’s bridge different here.


Leadbelly’s 4 lb (11 oz) guitar is exceptionally lightweight compared to other 12-string guitars, but its unique tonality and sound make it a distinctive instrument. Heavier guitars can provide a more solid and stable feeling. It also has greater resonance and sustains. Many people like the grounded and substantial instrument.


The chrome-plated steel tailpiece is a special feature of the Leadbelly guitar. The guitar sounds amazing because of the tailpiece. It gave it a more harmonious, fuller, and vibrant tone. It holds all the courses of strings maintaining its structural integrity.

Ideal Genres

Musicians often use the 12-string guitar in folk, country, and blues music. Leadbelly played a variety of genres, including gospel, folk, blues, and pop. Leadbelly guitar is versatile enough to play various musical styles, including rock music.

To Check out more 12-string guitars click here.

Lead Belly’s Influence on Kurt Cobain 

In the early 1990s, during the height of Nirvana’s fame, Cobain expressed his deep admiration for Lead Belly and his influence on his music. Cobain was particularly drawn to Lead Belly’s raw and vibrant style of playing the guitar and his poignant songwriting. 

In 1993, Cobain played and sang “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” at the MTV Unplugged in New York. It was a definitive performance that brought the song to the attention of the modern rock and pop audience.

Right before playing the song on the MTV Unplugged show, Cobain said that he had been offered to buy Lead Belly’s guitar for Five Hundred Thousand Dollars by a representative from the Lead Belly estate. He jokingly recalled how he asked his label boss David Geffen to purchase the guitar for him, but Geffen refused.

Pros of the Lead Belly Guitar

Craftmanship: Made in the USA, ensuring high-quality craftsmanship

Sound: The Stella Auditorium model offers a balanced and resonant sound

Tonewood: Mahogany is a dense wood that produces a deep, resonant sound. Sitka Spruce is a lightweight wood that produces a bright, clear sound. The combination of these two woods creates a guitar with a sound that is both rich and clear.

Cons of the Lead Belly Guitar

Electronics: Lack of electronics may limit connectivity options for certain performance settings

Image by: Fraulini Guitar Co.

Lead Belly Guitar’s FAQs

Mahir Rahman

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