Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play

Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play

The audience’s favorite authors and performers of their own songs Alexander Rosenbaum and Yuri Shevchuk take the stage with a special instrument – a 12-string guitar. They, like many other bards, fell in love with her for the “shimmering” sound. Despite the fact that the paired strings are tuned in unison, the sound is felt differently by the human ear and seems more comfortable for accompaniment.

Tool Features

Twelve strings on your favorite instrument is a certain step towards professionalism. Having mastered the 6-string guitar, most players sooner or later come to the desire to expand and enrich the instrumental possibilities.

The advantage lies in the special sound that the paired strings give. It turns out to be saturated, deep, more diverse due to the increased number of overtones.

Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play

The peculiarity of the sound lies in the principle of interference, when the sounds of strings tuned in unison are superimposed. The amplitude of their vibrating waves overlap each other, creating audible beats.

The instrument differs from its six-string “sister”. It allows you to play with basses, create a chord system that six-strings lack. The variety of cases, “sharpened” for different genres, allow you to use the instrument in different types of music.

Main differences from six-string guitar

The external difference between a 12-string and a 6-string guitar is small. It should be borne in mind that this is a “big instrument” with a reinforced soundboard, like a dreadnought or jumbo. The principles that distinguish the tools are as follows:

  • the number of strings – each has its own pair and they are clamped together;
  • neck width – it is wider to accommodate more strings;
  • reinforced body – a strong tension acts on the neck and top deck, therefore, high-quality wood is used to make the structure.

Musicians who play the 12-string guitar note the advantages of the instrument, such as sound quality, melodic, rich sound, the effect of accompaniment of two guitars, and opportunities for diversity in creativity. But at the same time, there are also disadvantages that are not essential for professionals. The instrument requires a lot of effort and precision in fingering, its sound is slightly quieter than the “six-string”, and the price is more expensive.

Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play

History of origin

The peak of the instrument’s popularity came in the 60s of the XX century, when the instruments were appreciated for their sound quality and capabilities. The right to be called the “homeland” of the “twelve-string” is shared by Mexico, America and Italy. The ancestors of the instrument are mandolin, baglama, vihuela, Greek bouzouka.

At the beginning of the last century, American factories began to produce a patented version of the acoustic 12-string guitar. Pop musicians liked the Play on it, who appreciated the velvety, surround sound and the versatility of the models.

The musicians’ experiments led to an improvement in the design, in which initially all paired strings were tuned in unison. The design received four strings, starting with the third in tuning with an octave difference. It became clear: a 12-string guitar is qualitatively different from a 6-string one, as if two instruments are playing at the same time.

The new version of the usual representative of the plucked string family was actively used by such famous bands as Qween, The Eagles, The Beatles. On our domestic stage, Yuri Shevchuk was one of the first to perform with her, then Alexander Rosenbaum.

The upgraded guitar was very expensive and often beyond the reach of bards. But the investment in the new instrument was justified by its sound and the ability to play without relearning.

Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play


Twelve string guitar can be of different types:

  • Dreadnought is a massive model with a pronounced “rectangular” shape. Suitable for performing music in various genres. It has a loud sound with punchy bass.
  • Jumbo – lovers of powerful sound prefer to play it. Structurally, it is distinguished by a flat deck, volumetric dimensions and pronounced bends of the shells.
  • The auditorium is compact in size and is ideal for playing with fingers or with a plectrum.

For beginners, the “auditorium” is more convenient, but a musician who has mastered the “six-string” can easily adapt to playing the 12-string guitar.

Setting Features

Tuning an instrument is easier when using a tuner. The tuning of a 12-string guitar is almost the same as a 6-string guitar. The first and second strings sound in “Mi” of the first and “Si” of a small octave, respectively, the pairs are tuned in the same way. Starting from the third, thin strings differ from thick ones by an octave:

  • 3rd pair – in “Sol”, thick an octave lower;
  • 4 pair – in “Re”, the difference in an octave between the small and the first;
  • 5 pair – tuned in “La” small and large octaves;
  • 6 pair – “Mi” large and, accordingly, small.

Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play

The first two pairs of strings are thin and do not have a braid. Further, the pairs differ – one is thin, the other is thick in the winding.

Professionals often use an alternative tuning of a twelve-string guitar, for example, basses are tuned in fifths or fourths, and high ones in thirds and sevenths.

A properly tuned instrument is not only a clear sound, but also the duration of work, the safety of the body, and the absence of deformation. They start tuning from the extreme main strings moving to the middle ones, then they “finish” the additional ones.

How to play the twelve string guitar

The performing technique is similar to the “six-string”, when the musician pinches the necessary strings with the fingers of his left hand, and “works” with the right hand by striking or picking. Clamping requires some effort, but practice helps to master the features of the tool. If playing by fighting is easier to master, then it is difficult for beginners to play two strongly stretched strings at the same time.

The hardest thing to master the 12-string guitar is given to performers with a small hand and short fingers, since a reinforced and enlarged neck requires a certain amount of coverage.

The musician must learn to play two strings at the same time with the left hand, using chord fingering and barre technique, and pluck with the right, which takes some time. In the first case, enhanced stretching of the hand is required, in the second – dexterity. Over time, you can learn to play with a pick, but playing arpeggios will require serious effort and painstaking work.

Twelve-string guitar: instrument features, history, types, tuning, how to play

Tips for Choosing a Twelve-String Guitar

Today, buying such a tool is not difficult. All music factories include it in their catalogues. Knowing the features, structure and technique will allow you to choose a quality guitar. Before buying, you need not only to inspect the design, but also play at least a few primitive chords. It is important to pay attention to:

  • proper arrangement and tension of the strings – the instrument must be tuned upon purchase;
  • build quality, gluing shells;
  • the strings must have a certain installation height, any deviation from the norm will lead to deformation of the neck;
  • price – such a tool cannot be cheap, the cost of the simplest models starts from 10 thousand rubles.

Cheap models are made by Chinese factories. They use a simple trick to reinforce the hull with multiple layers of cheap plywood, which lowers the final cost. In any case, it is best to take a professional with you to the store. An interesting property of a twelve-string guitar is its soft sound with open chords, which may seem harmonious to a beginner, and a “pro” will immediately understand the nuances.

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