12 string guitars were immensely popular with the progressive rock bands of the 1970’s, and every discerning prog-rock act would feature a guitarist that was surrounded by umpteen guitars and mandolins to play as part of their repertoire.
It was the days of Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, ELP and so forth, and the more equipment a band had the better they were. The 12-string guitar was compulsory at the time, but it was not an instrument purely for display, and here is why.
The Difference Between 6 Strings and 12
A 12-string guitar works exactly the same as its baby brother the 6 string, the only difference is that it has an extra six strings. Each string is paired with a second string of the same type. So, when you strum two notes are pressed rather than just the one.
The 12 strings allow the guitarist to play an array of sounds, which cannot be replicated with a traditional 6 string guitar. Because of the number of strings even the acoustic version is louder than its 6-string counterpart so it can be great either for solos or chord playing. The 12-string guitar has a most unique sound that is mostly used for dramatic effect.
The Set-up of a 12-String Guitar
With a 12-string guitar the strings are steel, which adds to the definitive twanging sound of the instrument. This produces a more rounded and ringing tone that with just six strings. The lower four sets of strings are tuned in octaves with the top two sets being tuned in unison. The gap between the strings is only narrow and the pairs are both played at the same time. Of course, to accommodate the extra strings all 12 string guitars have to have a wider neck.
Origins of the 12-String Guitar
The origins of the 12 string guitar are not really known, although it is generally accepted that they were developed in Mexico as they had similar instruments that already existed such as the, guitarra septima, bajo sexto, and guitarra quinta.
Back in the early days, the 12 string guitars were thought as novelty instruments, and it was not until the development of folk and blues music did people start taking the 12-string guitar seriously. The all-encompassing sound that the instrument was capable of soon was a major attraction to guitarists that wanted a larger than life sound.
The electric 12 string guitar was developed in the early 1960’s and was associated mostly with rock music. The introduction of the famous Rickenbacker 360 in 1964 elevated the 12-string guitar to a completely new level. The main artist that made this particular guitar so famous was George Harrison of the Beatles who actually played it on early albums such as A Hard Day’s Night.
Later on in the 70’s, manufacturers such as Gibson and Fender produced exciting new models of the 12 string guitar that were popular with the likes of John McLaughlin of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. Some classic songs of all time have featured the 12-string guitar, and still today bands that want a sound that is a little different utilize it to make their music stand out from the crowd.