There’s no sound quite like the jangle, chiming harmonics, and extended voice of a great 12-string acoustic guitar. Whether strummed, flat-picked, or played with fingers, à la Leo Kottke, 12-string guitars turn a standard guitar sound into an entire orchestra in your hands. If for no other reason than that, we think every guitarist should have a 12-string in their collection.
The 12-string’s unique sound is the signature of so many classic songs that it’s hard to count. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin,’” Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and The Eagle’s “Hotel California” are all great examples. And that’s just classic rock! You’ll also find the acoustic 12-string in country, metal, blues, and the list keeps going.
The History of the 12-string Acoustic Guitar
No one is sure where the 12-string acoustic we know today came from. But it was more than likely an evolution of similar Mexican and Spanish instruments with doubled strings, like the guitarra séptima and baja sexto. And like the baja sexto, modern 12-string acoustics feature six sets of doubled strings in octaves.* It wasn’t long before early flattop builders were finding ways to adopt the sound into their own instruments.
*The two highest strings on a modern version – B and E – are tuned in unison with their double.
If you’ve ever played a 12-string, you know how much those added strings add to their sound. But they can also bring their own set of quirks.
Tuning a 12-string
The most obvious is that it can be maddening getting one in tune. The guitar is already an imperfectly tuned instrument. Now double the number of strings that have to play nicely and move them exceptionally close together. It can be a challenge under any circumstance, but try and tune one around a loud band and forget about it.
Staying in Tune
The next issue arises once you have the guitar in tune. With so many strings pulling on the guitar’s top and neck, it can pull many 12-strings out of tune again. We think we’ve helped solve this with our proprietary Bridge Truss system. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Finally, even if you’re guitar is in tune and staying that way, string tension can make the guitar a bear to play. You’ve effectively doubled the string tension compared to a 6-string, if not more. And because the strings are playing tug-of-war with the instrument, many guitars are plagued with unfavorable neck relief and high action.
Now, all of this isn’t true for every 12-string acoustic guitar. In fact, many great builders have their own way of remedying these challenges. That’s why we knew that if we were going to offer our own 12-string acoustics, they’d have to be even better.
Breedlove 12-string Acoustics
Of course, our guitars have to sound and play great. But we’d also had to ensure the instruments would tune up, stay in tune, and offer effortless playability. We achieved it with three innovations we’re pretty proud of. (Read more about these and other distinctive elements here).
- The Breedlove asymmetrical headstock
- The Breedlove Bridge Truss (BBT)
- The Breedlove Delta pinless bridge
The Breedlove asymmetrical headstock
If you’ve ever seen a Breedlove, you’ve probably seen our asymmetrical headstock design. It’s been a signature element of our designs for years. But it’s more than just a good-looking guitar topper. Its long, swept contouring allows the strings to cross the nut in a nearly straight line. This dramatically reduces string binding in the nut, a significant reason guitars go out of tune.
Breedlove Bridge Truss (BBT)
Simply put, the Breedlove Bridge Truss connects the bottom of the guitar’s bridge plate to the heel block inside the guitar. Doing so removes a lot of the string tension put on the guitar’s top. This allows for thinner, more resonant tops. But on 12-strings, it has the added benefit of keeping the instrument stable. And stability means better setups, better playability, and a slinkier feel to the strings.
The Breedlove Delta pinless bridge
Dealing with bridge pins when restringing a 6-string acoustic guitar can be frustrating enough. You must pull each correctly, chase them down when one inevitably goes flying, and ensure they’re seated perfectly when putting on the new strings. Not only that, but each string requires another hole to be drilled into your guitar’s top.
The Breedlove Delta pinless bridge solves all of these issues. By letting you insert the strings through the back of the bridge, string changes are way easier. This goes double on a 12-string. And because your strings aren’t anchored through your guitar’s top, their vibrational energy moves more evenly across your guitar for a better sound.
There are a lot of great 12-string options out there today. So, regardless of your choice, make sure it’s easy to play, stays in tune, and sounds as good as it looks. You know…like a Breedlove. Then get out there and create a classic 12-string acoustic guitar song of your own.