In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: January 30, 2021
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12 string guitars seem to have an element of mystery about them. Despite many legendary names including Jimmy Hendrix and John Denver preferring the 12 strings, the majority of guitar players who favor the classic 6 string, do not appreciate the 12 string as an option to enhance their guitar sound.
This article features reviews on the eight best 12 string guitars currently available to purchase discussing technical features in addition to pros and cons. After hours of research (and banging out a few notes ourselves), we’ve put together this article, which also contains a detailed buying-guide which includes a variety of factors that you should consider before purchasing the most suitable 12 string guitar for your needs. Factors to be discussed include body and neck wood, fretboard, tonewood, and warranty information. The guide will also give you important information about how to maintain your 12-string guitar and keep it rockin’.
Before you start the purchasing process, it is a good idea for your own guitar needs to establish personal preferences. Even if you are a beginner, it’s good to know how the differences in sound can enhance your guitar playing. Ask yourself what type of sound or music genre you are trying to create and how a 12-string guitar could help you in that process. Go through our side-by-side comparison table, in-detail reviews of each product, and buying guide to learn more. We hope this guide helps you rock!
Gretsch Rancher™ acoustics have produced a distinctive, full tone 12-string guitar with the G5022CWFE-12 Rancher Falcon Jumbo. Designed with premium craftsmanship, the Rancher Falcon Jumbo is colored with a slick glossy white on the body with rich sparkling gold streaks on the fingerboard, top binding, sound hole, and headstock.
Featuring a solid spruce top—which is not normally available on guitars at this price—the Rancher Falcon Jumbo ensures richness of sound at a decent price. This spruce top is applied with scalloped X-bracing which ensures a particularly resonant and potent sound whenever you play the strings of the guitar. This potent sound is created by the bracing minimizing the dampening of vibration as well as ensuring tonal balance.
Other distinctive features on the Rancher Falcon Jumbo include the triangular soundhole, stylish pickguard, and the plug-in electronic feature. This guitar is perfect for those wanting to create a rich amplified sound. It is important to note that the guitar sounds equally as rich when amplified compared to acoustic. This is a common issue with acoustic guitars with amplification features, the Rancher Falcon Jumbo overcomes this problem.
The body cutaway, which is Venetian style, is beneficial in helping players access the frets on the bottom end of the rosewood fretboard. Gretsch Rancher has clearly taken the time to ensure that players have the maximum number of fret choices to increase musical possibilities on the strings.
The strong craftsmanship of the Rancher Falcon Jumbo also ensures that purchasing this guitar will be purchasing a 12-string guitar for a lifetime.
Featuring beautiful mahogany back and spruce top, the Fender CD-60SCE Dreadnought acoustic-electric 12-string guitar creates a rich and robust sound.
One of the main bonuses of the Fender CD-60SCE is its environmental sustainability. Martin has used wood for the body that is sustainable wood certified, ensuring players can enjoy the guitar sound while also being environmentally conscious.
The non-cutaway body gives the appearance of a classical acoustic guitar which can be an attraction to classical guitar players looking to explore the sounds of a 12-string guitar. This appearance, combined with the affordable price, is perfectly catered for aspiring guitarists who do not want a ‘flashy’ design, but rather a more humble, classical look. Due to the solid construction of the guitar, the D12X1AE Dreadnought 12-string is tonally on par with more expensive options on the market.
Featuring Fishmone Sontione electronics built into the design, the D12X1AE Dreadnought is versatile in its sounds options, varying from the light small room acoustic feel to a rich loud sound that can be amplified to fill a large room.
Additionally, the low-profile of the neck allows players to play the guitar for several hours at a time without encountering aching issues associated with higher profile necks. The D12X1AE Dreadnought is perfect for those wanting to put in the hard hours of practice on a 12-string guitar.
The warm classical tones of the D12X1AE Dreadnought are best served for those acclimatizing to the 12-string guitar as it may have limitations for those wanting more complex sound options.
The Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT provides high-quality sound, solid construction and new upgraded electronics to give players a wide variety of choice in their 12-string guitar playing.
This guitar is purpose-built for great live performance. Finished with an elegant gold touch, the Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT is a classy looking 12-string guitar that contains many visual features of a classical acoustic guitar while also appearing more modern and slick.
The most notable modern elements to the Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT are its comprehensive electronic features. The guitar does not only have an amplification port but also a built-in tuner, EQ bypass switch, notch filter, mid-contour switch as well as three bands EQ and gain controls.
This huge choice of electronics provides players of the Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT with a large variety in their sound choices. This guitar is perfect for those seeking to experiment with the 12-string sound. Given the complexity of electronic choice, to get the most out of this guitar you should also have a decent knowledge of guitar electronics.
Other features that are noteworthy include the cutaway at the 12th fret which allows players to have easier access to the frets furthest away from the head, as well as the rosewood headcap which enhances the rich classical appearance of the guitar.
The guitar may not be perfectly suited to those who are new to 12-string guitars but is certainly an attractive proposition to experimental musicians who prioritize sound quality and versatility as well as a low-key classical appearance.
The Ibanez Artcore AS7312 12-String Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar is designed for those wanting to incorporate 12-strings into electric guitar playing. The visual appearance of a rich red maple body gives the impression of a rock and roll electric guitar. What is attractive is that the guitar is also semi-acoustic, giving players the option to play un-amplified.
The absence of a classical acoustic-style soundhole does prevent a rich and robust acoustic sound on this Ibanez guitar. It is definitely best played using amplifiers.
The Ibanez Artcore AS7312 contains many of the features associated with electric guitars such as a comfortable neck and bound rosewood fretwork provides players with easy access to all 17 frets. The fret size of the guitar is medium, providing easier access to frets and bar chords for those who are less proficient.
The use of electric features including individual volume and tone controls as well as a 3-way pickup selector, ensure that the Ibanez Artcore AS7312 is able to be highly versatile in meeting the sound needs of a variety of different guitar players. Whether playing pop, rock, funk, sonic to name a few, the Ibanez Artcore AS7312 will provide a 12-string guitar sound.
The Ibanez Artcore AS7312 provides an affordable option for those interested in creating new and alternative electronic guitar sound. For those who do not have experience or interest in electronic guitar sound, this guitar is unlikely to satisfy your needs acoustically.
The Fender CD-140SCE-12 is a classic dreadnought style acoustic guitar with a single cutaway feature that provides players with easy access to all the frets. Fender has clearly thought of beginners at the forefront of their product design, as the guitar has an easy-to-play neck that is catered to a variety of playing styles.
The neck is particularly ergonomic with rolled fingerboard edges to prevent finger problems that are commonly associated with guitar players. This is important because the transition from 6 to 12 strings often causes greater stress on the fingers as they need to push down more strings.
The body of the guitar is constructed with rosewood on the back and sides which is died with a rich brown on the outer and a sunset orange in the inner section, leaving a really slick and attractive guitar color.
The Fender CD-140SCE-12 also features upgraded Fishman Presys electronics which enable players to experiment with electric sound. These electric features are however more basic compared to others in the market, leaving the Fender CD-140SCE-12’s best sound to come in acoustic form.
The X-bracing construction of the body ensures the Fender CD-140SCE-12 gives a rich acoustic sound that is also robust. It is only when applied to electronic form, that the variety of sound options are more limited for those seeking to maximize sound versatility from 12 strings.
Another bonus of this model is the two-year warranty which compares favorably to the majority of other 12-string guitar producers.
The Epiphone DR-212 is a classic 12-string acoustic guitar under 500 dollars that has a big and strong acoustic sound. Designed exactly the same as its 6-string relation, the 12-strong features a slick spruce top with rich mahogany back and rosewood fretboard. The shape of the body is a dreadnought, adding to the classical feel. It is a perfect looking acoustic guitar for blues, folk, and jazz for anyone interested in the rustic visual appearance.
The Epiphone DR-212 is perfectly suited for those interested in blues, folk and country music, though the sound style is not exclusive to those music genres. The strong sound generated by the guitar is a result of secure bracing that enables smooth and robust tone. Many guitar makers simply add 6 extra strings to a 6-string guitar which often leads to a thin sound. This is certainly not the case for the Epiphone DR-212.
The most positive aspect to the Epiphone DR-212 is the lifetime warranty which is very unique among 12-string guitars currently on the market. While there are certain conditions to this warranty agreement which you should read before purchasing, the lifetime warranty does give you a certain degree of a trial and error, which gives you added flexibility when purchasing.
Although the Epiphone DR-212 does not have a cutaway on the body, there are 22 frets available which are higher than other 12-string guitars. This provides players with an even higher range of notes to be creative with.
The Yamaha FG820-12 is solid spruce, dreadnought style acoustic 12-string guitar that will serve the needs of the majority of acoustic guitar players interested in exploring the different sounds generated by 12-strings.
The body is a distinctive cream color and is perfect for beginners or as a back-up for more experienced players. This is because of the affordable price and usability.
Featuring a rosewood fretboard with an adjustable truss road, this is a rustic, classical looking 12-string acoustic guitar that is able to generate a strong sound. The sound projection is enabled by the scalloped bracing that ensures low-frequency sound. This is partly why the Yamaha FG820-12 is one of the best-selling 12-string models in the world.
Unlike similar looking guitars in the same price range, this Yamaha acoustic guitar does not come with any electrical features. This may be limiting for those interested in exploring the breadth of sounds on offer from a 12-string guitar.
Likewise, for those who are more interested in the acoustic sound, Yamaha has certainly sought to ensure that the acoustic sound generated by the FG820-12 is as potent as it can be.
The rosewood fretboard comes with 20 frets which are slightly less than other acoustic 12-string guitars on the market but should not severely hamper your note selection in the creative process. The main advantage of the fretboard is its smoothness and usability.
This is what makes the Yamaha FG820-12 particularly appealing to beginners who may not have the finger strength to cope with less smooth fretboards.
The OD312CE is a distinctive 12-string dreadnought with a slick black spruce finish as well as mahogany back and sides. The OD312CE is known for being one of the best 12-string guitars for beginners who are also interested in experimenting with electric 12-string sounds.
The handcrafted guitar considers beginner guitarists at the forefront of the design by featuring a cutaway on the body to provide players with easier access to the highest frets.
The OD312CE also includes electronic features for those wishing to explore electric 12-string guitar sounds. These include an active EQ preamp with a built-in tuner. This solves the problem of tuning which can be a common problem facing many beginner 12-string guitarists who are unable to tune by ear. The in-built tuner provides one of the most accurate tuning mechanisms. To use it effectively, make sure you are in a quiet room with no distracting sounds. There is a lifetime warranty for these parts so do make use of that offer and read the terms and conditions carefully.
The five-year warranty for the guitar itself is another safety blanket for prospective buyers of the OD312CE. As it is available on a budget price, this warranty agreement gives added flexibility to those venturing into the 12-string guitar market.
The most distinctive feature of the OD312CEB-A-U is the natural black color scheme. This certainly marks it out compared to other affordable 12-string guitars on the market. If you want to veer away from classical acoustic guitar folk, the OD312CEB-A-U is certainly an attractive choice that will make you stand out from the crowd.
What we liked:
Distinctive black color
Affordable guitar for the product
What could be better:
Limited electric possibilities
Things to Consider
This buying guide outlines all the different factors that you should consider before purchasing a 12-string guitar. In addition to these factors, a good tip is for you to work out what type of music you want to play and how a 12-string guitar can help you produce that sound effect.
The more the better? Benefits of a 12-string guitar
Opposed to traditional guitars, a 12-string guitar is an upgrade for those looking for a little more difficult of an instrument to tackle.
One of the best benefits of a 12-string guitar is the fact that each of the string pairs, when ceremoniously played makes a chorus effect. This means that the sound of a 12-string guitar is something you just can’t get anywhere else.
It has a much fuller tone and is filled with the possibility of overtones, which can bring a zest to your music that you just can’t get anywhere else. This also means that you get more with fewer tones.
Maintenance tips for a 12-string guitar
Especially when you are investing in not-such-a-cheap instrument, you’ll definitely want to make sure you are keeping it maintained, properly tuned, and cleaned after every use. This will help enhance the sound and keep it at a high-quality status, maybe even way past the warranty.
Here are a few tips for you to follow up on to help you keep your guitar maintained and living its best life.
Always dust your guitars. After you use them, you should make sure to dust and clean them at least once a week. This will help you keep it maintained—especially in the hard-to-reach places.
You can also polish them. Any guitar shop will have also have guitar polish spray that you can use on a guitar that gives it extra shine.
Every once in a while, take it to a guitar technician. Just like you will go to a mechanic for your tune-up, a guitar expert will be able to run a set up on your 12-string guitar. This helps make the guitar easier to play.
Use quality strings—always. To help you get that tone you’re looking for, your guitar should always be up-to-date with quality strings and be changed on a regular basis.
Lastly, you can always use a lubricant for the strings. This extra tip can help make the guitar much easier to play. It also moisturizes and nourishes the fretboard.
If you keep your guitar maintained, then you’ll be able to enjoy it for a long time.
If you already know the range of how much a 12-string guitar will run you, it’s easier to make a budget and pick from that range, like the Oscar Schmidt OD312CEB-A-U. This means that you can even choose quality, regardless of how much you have set aside to spend.
Features to consider while buying the perfect 12-string guitar
As you have twice the amount of strings compared to a 6-string guitar, there is going to be considerably more stress on the neck. Ask the manufacturer the question as to whether the neck is specially designed for 12 strings as using a standard acoustic guitar neck will inevitably break down.
The neck on a 12-string guitar should be reinforced with double truss rods that run down the whole length of the shaft, these should be very easy to see. A downside of these truss rods is that adjusting the neck can be very problematic. Try before you buy and see how the neck of the 12-string handles your playing style.
Most 12-string guitars use bronze as the material for the strings. Although these strings used to be pretty expensive, nowadays they are much more affordable. When purchasing a 12-string guitar ask the seller about the string material, quality and durability to get a good sense of the playing quality.
A factor to consider with your strings is whether you want them to be coated or uncoated. Coated strings normal normally have long-lasting durability but will be more expensive than uncoated strings. If well maintained, uncoated bronze strings should also last a decent time but are more susceptible to rust.
Fretboard and frets
The fretboard, also known as the fingerboard, is a very important component of any stringed instrument. Usually constructed from wood, the fretboard is a long and thin strip of material that is laminated to the front side of the instrument neck. Players press down strings on the fretboard to change the vibration lengths of the strings which in turn changes the pitch of the sound.
Most 12-string guitars come with a fretted fingerboard where thin strips of hard material (typically metal) run perpendicular to the guitar strings. Fretted fingerboards are commonplace, only vastly experienced 12-string guitarists would consider an un-fretted fingerboard.
Many fretboards will include dots on the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets as well as the octaves of those positions higher up the guitar neck. This can be something to look out for particularly for beginners who may want extra guidance on chord progressions and notation.
It is natural that over time the frets can wear down which leads to a deadened sound or a buzzing. In these instances, the frets may need replacing or dressing with polish. Frets constructed of stainless steel are less likely to breakdown because of the strong material density.
Also, always check the fret alignment before purchasing. This can be done by playing bar chords along the fretboard. Bad fret alignment might lead to poor tonal quality on the 12-string guitar.
The body of a 12-string is constructed by many different parts. The top of the body is called the soundboard which is reinforced by internal bracing, often referred to as X-bracing, along with the back and sides which form a hollow chamber inside.
The curves seen on the upper body of the guitar are commonly referred to as the upper bout, while curves on the lower body are referred to as the lower bout. The area between the two bouts is the waist.
It is important to note that the shape and size of the body of a guitar influences both the playability of the instrument as well as the sound type. There is no correct answer for the best 12-string body shape, it is really dependent on your own physique and playing style. The best way to work this out is by holding and playing a variety of different 12-string guitars to see which is the most comfortable to play.
The soundhole is the hole in the middle of the body which projects the sound. 12-string guitars tend to have circular soundholes but some designers experiment with triangular holes too. Comparing soundholes is necessary to understand the projection potential of a 12-string guitar. Electric 12-string guitars with little or know soundhole will fail to produce a solid and robust projected sound when played acoustically.
An important consideration for you to make before purchasing a 12-string guitar is the type of wood used in guitar construction as the wood type as an important effect on the sound type and quality.
For 12-string guitars mahogany, which is a dense wood giving a slower response rate, is known for giving a warm sound that particularly emphasizes notes at the higher end of the guitar. These tones are particularly suited to folk or blues guitar players. 12-string guitars with a solid spruce top are higher quality and more expensive compared to a laminate top.
Other tonewoods and their tonal characteristics include:
Cedar: A softer wood that is quick response producing bright tones. Associated with classical and flamenco style guitar playing, like the Fender CD-140SCE-12.
Cocobolo: A hardwood originating from Mexico that is also highly responsive and produces a bright sound.
Granadillo: A scarce wood that is as a more dense type of rosewood. When used for 12-string guitars it creates a ringing tonal character that is similar to the marimba – a barred instrument where the granadillo wood is commonly used.
Koa: A distinctive wood from Hawaii that is a rich gold in color. It is a particularly expensive wood choice and is not commonly found on 12-string guitars. The wood is strong in bringing out mid-range tones.
Rosewood: Commonly found on 12-string guitars as the material for the fretboard. Rosewood produces rich overtones that are perfect for sound projection even during heavy bass sections.
When you find a 12-string guitar that you like, take your time to do a quick research of the wood type so that you are able to better understand the strengths and limitations of the tones from the guitar.
Beyond the sound and wood quality of the 12-string guitar that you are looking to purchase, a good tip is to look for any accessories that come with the guitar. These may include a guitar case, plectrums, a tuner, a guitar strap or even extra guitar strings.
Although they may seem small and insignificant add-ons, having some useful accessories added on to the purchase of your 12-string guitar can be a deciding a factor.
Typically, most 12-string guitar manufacturers offer a one-year warranty when purchasing a guitar. This does vary, however, with some offer five years and others even lifetime warranty agreements, like the Epiphone DR-212.
Like all warranty agreements, it is essential that you read the terms and conditions before committing to purchasing. It is important that you know what type of damaged is covered and which is not.
Warranty may also differ for different parts of the guitar. Electric parts, for example, such as the built-in tuner, often have greater leeway in terms of warranty compared to the whole guitar.
Electric 12-string guitar
A very important consideration to make before purchasing a 12-string guitar is deciding whether you want to buy a guitar that has electric features. 12-string guitars will vary in their electric offers, those with basic electrical features will have a built-in tuner as an EQ port to plug into an amplifier.
12-string guitars with more advanced electric features will have dials to control the tone and special effects.
It really depends on your musical style as to whether you want or need electrical features to your 12-string guitar. If you would like the chance to experiment, choosing a 12-string guitar with more advanced electric features will be the guitar for you.
To help you choose the best 12-string guitar for your skill level and budget, here are the most frequently asked questions, answered:
If you have never played the guitar before, picking up a 12-string guitar will be very difficult to handle. The ideal scenario is that you become comfortable with handling a 6-string guitar to develop your finger dexterity before making the transition to 12-strings.
Although some 12-string guitars are now made with beginners in mind, the ‘beginner’ normally refers to someone who has held a 6-string before.
The strings on a 12-string guitar are divided into 6 pairs of 2 strings, covering the notes (E, A, D, G, B, E) x2. The thicker string of the note pair has to be tuned to the same octave as it would on a 6-string guitar.
The E and A pairs should sound the same as they are the same note in the same octaves. The four remaining pairs (D, G, B, E) should be tuned so that they are the same note but one octave apart. This ensures a really rich and robust sound.
You choose the one you like most, that’s it. If you want to play a 12-string guitar – you should tell it to your tutor, and watch online lessons of how to do it. If you are not sure, just listen to the sound of each guitar and choose the one that suits you most. Meanwhile, you can even transform a 12-string guitar into a 6-string one, so you could learn the easier version first.
In summary, this article has decided the best three 12-string guitar with the highest ratings are:
The Gretsch G5022CWFE-12 is the overall winner for its iconic white and gold color scheme as well as the triangular soundhole. This 12-string guitar also considers inexperienced acoustic players with the cutaway feature.
The Fender CD-60SCE is a close second because of the affordable price matched against sound quality.
Finally, the Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT is third in our choice for the best 12-string guitar because of the vast array of electric features for players to experiment with, offering players vast creative diversity.
This article has hopefully given you food for thought for those wanting to purchase a 12-string guitar. There is a wide variety of choice with both expensive and more affordable options. It is essential that you know your own musical style and where your creativity may lead, in order to choose the best 12-string guitar to suit your needs.