Musicians worldwide adore 12-string guitars for their deep harmonic resonance. Their extra strings create a shimmering vibrato tone that makes the instrument excellent for accompaniments. However, you might wonder if more strings also mean more difficulty playing.
12-string guitars are more technically and physically challenging to play than 6-string guitars. The addition of more strings means advanced picking and strumming techniques are necessary. Plus, 12-string guitars are harder for small hands to fret due to their wider neck and higher tension.
Below, this article covers what exactly makes 12-string guitars more difficult to use. And why you should still try playing one anyway.
How Difficult Is It To Play a 12-String?
Playing a 12-string guitar is moderately more challenging than a 6-string. These instruments require not only more technical skill, but also more hand strength than standard guitars.
For example, the addition of six strings demands more careful picking. Otherwise, chords and notes can sound muddled or too twangy. And some techniques, such as bending, are also much trickier to do with precision on twelve strings.
Plus, 12-string guitars have much wider necks and more string tension. This means that children and people with small hands may find them unwieldy. And even seasoned guitarists may struggle to fret chords at first.
Using one may hurt your fingertips more than usual due to the higher tension. And your hand might cramp from having to stretch farther for frets.
12-string guitars also require more upkeep. After all, you have to tune twice as many strings to play. Plus, they utilize a unique tuning that may be hard for novices to understand.
As a result, new guitarists should typically start with 6-strings.
How Do 12-Strings Play?
While difficult for novices, a 12-string can be surprisingly easy for skilled guitarists to pick up. Because despite the differences, 6-string and 12-string guitars play the same way generally.
The reason why is that 12-string guitars utilize standard tuning for six of their strings. The other six each form a pair with one of those standard strings. The lower four paired strings are an octave higher. While the two high string pairs (B and high E) have the same tuning.
This design means a C-chord on a 12-string is the same shape as on a 6-string. The difference is that a 12-string often requires you to fret double the strings.
Since the tuning is largely the same, a 12-string guitar doesn’t actually open up many new notes. Instead, it mimics the sounds of two guitars playing at once.
What a 12-string guitar does open up is more techniques. For example, you can fret one paired string but not the other to add resonance to a chord. There are also advanced strumming patterns to help you sound like a one-man-band.
What’s Better 6 String or 12-String?
Choosing between a 6-string or 12-string guitar comes down to skill level and preferences. There are various situations where either one might serve you better.
A standard guitar is best for novices still learning chords and scales. Once you have the basics down, jumping up to 12-string will be immensely more straightforward. Much like how a bass player has a smoother time moving to a 6-string guitar.
Meanwhile, a 12-string is better suited for adept guitarists ready to tackle more advanced skills. People with large and strong hands may also pick up 12-strings quicker than others.
However, it’s not just about skill. Both styles of the guitar also see different kinds of use in music.
Ordinarily, 6-string guitars make better lead instruments due to their precision. Isolating single notes on a 12-string guitar can be challenging and sound less clear.
In contrast, 12-string guitars are superior for accompaniments and rhythm. While they don’t have the same soloing capabilities, they offer a deeper and more harmonic resonance.
Why Play One?
Musicians play 12-string guitars for several excellent reasons.
First and foremost is that 12-string guitars sound downright breathtaking. And part of the reason why is the chorus effect.
But what is the chorus effect? To keep it simple, pairs of strings never vibrate exactly in sync even when having the same tuning. As a result, they produce uniquely mesmerizing tones that seem to shimmer or ring like bells.
Often, this quality of their sound gets compared to the warm tones of mandolins.
Furthermore, 12-string guitars allow musicians to simulate more instruments than there are. They’re perfect for smaller venues where they can add rich rhythm to a 6-string melody.
Finally, these instruments also have more versatility than a standard guitar. The additional strings let a musician play a mix of fretted and open notes at once. And the numerous strumming and plucking patterns can breathe new life into familiar tunes.
What Is the Purpose?
The primary purposes of 12-string guitars are to provide deeper harmonics and replicate multiple guitars at once.
At first, these instruments appeared to have emerged as a novelty. But as time went on, musicians quickly began appreciating their dazzling resonance.
In the 1920s, 12-string guitar started becoming a significant component of folk and blues music. The instrument perfectly complemented the soulful tones of those genres. And over time, other styles such as rock began incorporating them too.
Acoustic 12-string guitars are particularly excellent for live performance without sound equipment. Because they naturally produce a louder sound than an acoustic 6-string.
And as stated earlier, these instruments also allow guitarists to practice advanced strumming and plucking techniques. This flexibility means 12-string guitars produce unique harmonies that two standard guitars can’t replicate.
While 12-string guitars usually serve as accompaniments, they can also be solo instruments.
Many acclaimed musicians, such as John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot, made excellent use of all twelve strings in their melodies. Although, doing so takes considerable practice and skill.
Generally speaking, 12-string guitars are more challenging to play than 6-string. They demand greater hand and finger strength as well as more technical skills.
However, 12-strings also generate deeper and more resounding tones than standard guitars. And skilled guitarists may find them relatively easy to pick up.