Those 12-strings are magnificent
What’s so special about twelve string guitars? Well, nothing. They just have a unique sound, a so called “jangle”. This has proven to be pleasant in most cases (excluding my suitcase, hehe). Byrds or Beatles, anyone? Take a regular six string guitar, put on a 2nd string next to each regular one and tune them an octave higher. Except for the two thinnest/highest strings. Those ones are unison pairs of the same thickness. Then play the fukker! The results are technically natural phasing and subtle pitch shift. Why? Cause you can never get the string pairs to be exactly in tune with each other. Yeah, sometimes it’s actually a good thing.
Acoustic or electric
The acoustic versions usually have a stronger bracing inside, helping the top to withstand the greater forces. The order of the octave strings on these guitars are usually octave then standard, from top to bottom. It means if you play a down stroke, you hit the thinner string tuned to an octave higher first.
Electric 12-strings sometimes have it reversed. Just so they put the thicker, standard tuned strings on the top in each pair.
That about sums up the technical aspects of these instruments, but how do you mix a twelve string guitar? Well, there are a million ways to skin a catnip(ple, hehe). So let’s take a listen to some actual examples.
Check out how they sound
In our below example, at first listen it might sound like a regular acoustic guitar, but it’s actually a well played 12 string in a non-standard tuning. Listen to those low notes. That couldn’t be possible in standard tuning. There’s also a nice sizzle the octave strings produce. Playing a twelve string guitar comes off as a subtle effect on this tune, but a very nice effect. It’s making the accompaniment full and orchestral, even though it’s just Colin and his guitar. Very well captured too. It doesn’t sound like they used any reverb on either elements. Or at least well below the recognizable level.
Colin Hay – “Children On Parade”:
Ok, this next one is a beautiful example of jangle. But here at Tinderwet Studios, everything comes with a twist. Hehe (I’m hereby heheing in your ears, dear reader). Let’s take this awesome song, “Under The Milky Way” by The Church. Listen to the first version. Tt starts with the hard panned regular acoustic guitars. The 12-string electric first enters at 1:25 into the song. It’s mixed deep in the background with the help of a good amount of reverb:
The Church – “Under The Milky Way” (version 1):
Now compare it to this 2nd version. It starts with an acoustic twelve string. Then at 1:06, a regular electric enters on the right (sounds like a Strat with light strings). Then it starts playing the same arpeggio as in the above version at 1:19. Sounds beautiful, hey?
The Church – “Under The Milky Way” (version 2):
I know we should close this post with a Byrds (or Beatles) song cause Roger McGuinn and the Rickenbackers this or that. Sure, they started the whole 12-string craze or whatnot, but trust me, we won’t do that. Not even a Leo Kottke tune. Even though Leo is a master of the alternately tuned twelve string. He used to play a self-varnished, “still tacky and will always be” Gibson B25 before he switched to those Taylors. So we won’t play a Leo song either. Nope. No, not Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers either.
Listen to the 12-string electric playing this simple but well thought out melody (from 1:06 on). Off their “Offramp” album.
Pat Metheny Group – “Eighteen”: