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As I understand the concept of a 12 string acoustic is that the doubling of strings gives the acoustic instrument a greater sonority, more volume, and a very nice full, rounded sound.

So I was just wondering what the premise of a 12-string electric guitar is. The volume of the instrument is not really dependant on the acoustic qualities and I'm not sure what tone advantages can be had.

Just for clarity sake, I was looking at this 12string guitar

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    The point is - it sounds very different to a 6 string. And a baritone guitar sounds very different to standard scale. And a fixed bridge sounds different to a floating bridge. Like most guitarists I have an awful lot of guitars - all for different tonal qualities.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Mar 26 at 11:31
  • The middle section of “Stairway to Heaven” sounds quite different played on a six string (the original has double tracked Fender Electric XIIs). Likewise all of “The Song Remains The Same”. It’s quite a different sound. Mar 26 at 12:25
  • Fun. They sound cool. In addition to volume they produce a chorus effect. Listen to Pat Martino's Desperado.
    – user50691
    Mar 26 at 14:07
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The point isn't volume - several 12 string guitars I've had have been no louder than the 6ers.

Doubling of strings isn't actually it. It's only the top two which are doubled. The lower four are actually octaves, making the highest string the octave G - 3 semitones higher than the open top strings.

When playing on the bottom strings, then, instead of single octaves being heard, all the notes are in two octaves. The top two (four!) strings are more mandolin-like.

So playing a 12 string isn't too different from playing a 6er, as far as fretting and plucking are concerned, it's just that chords come out with a very different voicing from a 6er.

For extra interest, there are several other tunings for 6 strings, so they sound similar to 12 - I think 'Nashville tuning' is an interesting one.

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    Another thing that makes all 12 strings sound different (acoustic and electric) is that it’s essentially impossible to have the courses perfectly in tune and with matching intonation all across the neck, so there’s a natural chorus like effect of minor tuning differences. Mar 26 at 12:27
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    The introductory chord to “A Hard Day’s Night” wouldn’t be the same without it. Mar 26 at 23:48
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The point is to hear courses of strings doubled either in octaves or unisons.

It doesn't matter if it's electric or acoustic, you will hear the doubled strings.

I don't think there will be much difference in volume. Actually, my impression is 12 string isn't as loud, because you can't "dig" the pick into the strings to strum as hard. There is less space between the strings on a 12 string - compared to 6 string - and so the pick sort of brushes over the top of the strings with a softer attack.

If you listen to early records of The Beatles or The Byrds you can find examples of electric 12 string and you should definitely be able to hear the distinct sound. The song Turn, Turn, Turn to me it's the 12 string electric song. Listen to the opening guitar riff. It has that "chiming" almost warbling sound which comes from the doubled strings.

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As others have said, volume isn’t the point. A 12-string guitar, whether acoustic or electric, is meant to achieve the chorus effect.

Think about what a chorus pedal does. It delays the sound and mixes it with the original signal. It also detunes the signal and mixes it with the original signal. If it’s stereo chorus, it will mix up the detuned and delayed signals in the stereo sound-space.

Now think about a choir. Why does it sound different from a single person singing? It isn’t about the volume. After all, a choir of 10 people isn’t ten times louder than one person. It’s the fact that the singers, no matter how good they are, aren’t hitting the exact same pitch, and they aren’t doing it at the exact same time. What people call the “fullness” of a choir isn’t just the harmony; it’s also the chorus effect.

Some instruments can achieve the effect. By doubling the courses, a 12-string guitar does it quite effectively. The strings aren’t hit simultaneously; they’re strummed. And 12-strings, no matter how well tuned they are, never hit the exact same pitch.

Pianos have multiple courses for most notes, so piano does it as well. It’s just so intrinsic to the sound of piano that you may not notice. Synthesizers are capable of it. By slightly detuning multiple oscillators, the effect is achieved.

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A 12 string does sound fuller. And often the lowest four strings are tuned in octaves, adding to the bass fullness and depth.

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  • There is nothing novel here from prior answers and comments. Mar 27 at 19:05

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