I managed to get a Yamaha 12 string guitar in 1981 and traveled the country busking with it for over a decade. You could pick up all sorts of work traveling in those days. fruit picking one day and guitar picking the next. It was more than just a very big distinctive sound, it was a lot more work to keep in tune and maintain, but I had a real love for that guitar. I seldom give a tool a name, that guitar was called Saffron.
At the end of 2015 my friend Dave let me borrow his 12 string guitar for the recording of an album of Cover Songs by pub bands that I am calling ‘The Great Cover Up’. Many of those songs had a 12 string guitar in them.
Nothing else on earth sounds like a 12 string guitar (with the exception of an 8 string lute, I once jammed with Atilla the Stockbroker) it is also what they call Double Strung. The top G is also quite highly strung and the first one to break. It’s not a good look having a bust g string, in Queen Street.
The strings are so close together they are played as one. But most of them are one octave apart, to make it sounds like 2 guitars doing a single note blues solo. Then strumming the beast and you get a solid wall of sound. There are just so many harmonics and other dynamics going on, even the vibrations of having it against your chest and in your lap, is quite a mind blowing experience.
Dave’s guitar is a British made Tanglewood with a cutaway. It is quite new and he got it for a song. That wood is so solid it is surprisingly heavy.
How Does it String Up? The 12 String is Double-Strung. Two strings are close together. First you set up the normal six strings into the lower slot and machine head in each place. starting at the Bass E string, The matching thin string (wound) is tuned 1 octave above (match the high E). The High A string is plain and thinner. Tune it 1 octave higher. Keep repeating this up to the G string. The high G is very thin about 0.09 to get the highest notes. The final two sets of strings are tuned to the same note.