Since I switched exclusively to the 12-string about a year ago, I'm finding it hard to find a practitioner of the 12-string that I can listen to and aspire to imitate.

There are people like Lenny Breau and Ralph Towner, but they're so esoteric and original that it's not something realistic I can look forward to come close to mastering.

But there is a complete dearth of any material about 12 strings on the Internet except for how to tune them, and perhaps some videos of people playing the 12-string exactly like a 6-string, which to me, now, is almost a crime.

It's like a piano and a Hammond B3, really . . . you just have to have a complete different approach to the instrument, and aside from things like finger positions and chord structures there really is no resemblance.

Does anyone know of some tutorials on how to play 12 strings that are not just 6-string rejigged or some kind of total beginner stuff? I don't know what keywords to look for. "12-string jazz" doesn't turn up very much, except possibly an album by Joe Pass on 12 string.

That's a start, but . . . any 12-string pointers welcome!


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    Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin? Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 22:41
  • Interesting reply. I think it's very possible that he used a 12-string on Stairway—in fact I would be very surprised if he didn't. And I think Steve Howe of Yes probably used a 12-string on several of their songs—it seemed to be in vogue with rock musicians due to Roger McGuinn and George Harrison's constant and pervasive use of them.
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 5:45
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    It's absolutely 100% confirmed that he used an electric 12 string on Stairway (at least two tracks of it), The Song Remains The Same, and others, as well as an acoustic 12 string on Over The Hills And Far Away. My question mark wasn't there to indicate I wasn't sure he used them, it was to ask if that's the kind of thing you're looking for. An electric 12 string was also used by David Gilmour on Wish You Were Here. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 6:04
  • Yeah, again, I suspect that a 12-string electric is a completely different experience from 12-string acoustic. As I understand it, you can actually use .008s on an electric. And the action would probably me much lower. As for neck width, I don't think they can do too much about that, but . . . Okay, so we have a smattering of early users of electrics back at the Dawn of Rock, but I don't see too much contemporary use of 12-strings in non-folk players these days.
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 20:47
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    As long as you are aware of how distorted harmonies build, you can play a 12 string with distortion. And not just power chords. I think you will find a lot of bands, acoustic, electric, jazz, rock, blues, even metal, have used 12 strings at times. It's way more common than you think. I even do it with my band in our rock and folk variants.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 10:40

5 Answers 5


There was more than just a smattering of early users of electrics back at the Dawn of Rock - the electric 12 string was used by some of the most important musicians of the '60s, and their novel and creative uses of the 12 string sound had great impact.

I'll list here 3 important 12 string players, in chronological order as they emerged into the forefront of the 60's music scene: George Harrison, Roger (Jim) McGuinn, Paul Kantner. Listening to them and learning about their music might help you - they exploited the 12 string sound and took it far beyond folk music. They played it electric and used it in rock/folk rock/acid rock in new ways - particularly McGuinn and Kantner - although Harrison was the first one there. ( I'd venture that all subsequent use of the 12 string in rock and pop derives from these three, particulary Harrison and McGuinn, who were far better known and more influential than Kantner.)

  • The Beatles' George Harrison, a serious student of musicology, particularly the guitar and related instruments, and the first guy (AFAIK) to use an electric 12 string in rock/pop, on some VERY BIG HITS, starting with A Hard Day´s Night. The song caused quite a stir at the time, particularly the opening chord and the fadeout, featuring the 12 string. (Harrison also brought the sitar into the Beatles' music, another innovation that led to endless imitation.) It sparked interest in the 12 string and spawned lots of imitators and acolytes, including McGuinn and Kantner. The Beatles' catalog in their Middle Period, from '64 through '66, starting with A Hard Day's Night, includes songs featuring Harrison on his semi-hollow electric Rickenbacker 12 string, including some that have guitar solos apparently played on the 12 string. The music is easy, the recordings are available and the sound is great. Unfortunately, original Beatles recordings are extremely difficult to track down and post here. George with his Ric 12 string Harrison with his Ric 12 string, 1964
  • Roger McGuinn of the Byrds also played a Rickenbacker electric 12 string. McGuinn was originally a "folkie" but moved into 'folk rock' and much more with the Byrds. His 12 string was a key component of the Byrds' great, unmistakable, signature sound, starting with Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn Turn Turn in 1965, both huge smash hits, in no small measure due to the unique 12 string sound. McGuinn apparently got the electric 12 string idea from Harrison, but subsequently, Harrison copped some 12 string ideas from McGuinn. The Byrds and McGuinn with his 12 string were one of the most influential of the 60's rock bands, whose influence is still felt today. Here's an interesting link:The 12-String Guitar of Roger McGuinn.

    8 Miles high was the Byrds most famous 12 string showcase song - lip-synced there but you can see McGuinn and the 12 string. He said he was listening to Coltrane at the time and was trying to imitate him on the guitar. Not sure how that worked out, but it's certainly interesting. (Unfortunately, the dumb camera guy gave almost all the face time to David Crosby instead of McGuinn, because he looked weird and put on a show, although musically was not particularly important to that band - he was fired from the Byrds not long after that clip was made.) Here's the Byrds 23 years later, including McGuinn and his 12 string, doing their biggest hit: Mr Tambourine Man with Byrds Reunion and Bob Dylan 1990 And here's another great Byrds' song, a hit at the time, with some nice 12 string work from McGuinn: The Byrds - So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star (1967) . Like the Beatles, the Byrds' music is readily available in all forms, and much of their work has stood the test of time. Of the three listed here, the Byrds are most closely linked to the 12 string sound of McGuinn. McGuinn, circa 1966 McGuinn with his Ric 12 string, circa 1966

  • Paul Kantner (RIP) of the Jefferson Airplane - low key on stage but the JA's nominal leader, very important to their sound and their most prolific songwriter. Like McGuinn, Kantner was a "folkie gone bad", who made some great music with JA and others. On stage his main ax was a Rickenbacker electric 12 string, used to great effect on the 2nd guitar parts here: Jefferson Airplane - The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil. Here's the same song done live, with Kantner getting involved involved in some of the jamming: Jefferson Airplane -1967- Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil . He used some very interesting chords, sounds and great timing on the electric 12 string that give the JA's music a slightly bizarre, sci-fi/"out there" sort of sound and feel. (He was a big Sci-Fi fan.) . Jefferson Airplane - Watch Her Ride is a trademark Kantner song, a moderate hit in 1967 (too bottom heavy to chart big) with some very good 12 string electric chord work from Kantner.

    12 twelve string is not prominent here, but nonetheless, it's Kantners song... The House At Pooneil Corners - Jefferson Airplane, 1968 - Schuyler Hotel, NYC.

    Kantner's 12 string work permeates the JA's music throughout, but it's usually low key - he understood his role very well. You need to listen attentively for Kantner, and it's rewarding when you do: Kantner was a fine musician who played with great subtlety, ingenuity, and taste, adding a great deal to the mix. (He was also an interesting an expressive vocalist who often took the lead vocals on songs that he wrote, such as Watch Her Ride.) The JAirplane is to a large extent a forgotten band today, unfortunately, overshadowed by the Grateful Dead, but their music is available if you look for it. Many who were "there" at the time consider them the best of the West Coast bands of the late '60s. They were loaded with talent and were often quite original, literate and sophisticated, musically speaking - far more than just endless one chord guitar vamps - and Kantner with his 12 string was integral to much of it. Some of their material still sounds "cutting edge" and original even today. enter image description here Kantner with his Ric 12 string, 1969

Not sure exactly what you're looking for and what you call "advanced", but if I ever took up 12 string guitar, I'd listen carefully to these three, and if I wanted to emulate someone on the 12 string electric, it might be the vastly under-appreciated Paul Kantner, a musician's musician.


You'd usually find Leo Kottke in the folk section of the record store (back when they had those), but he's really not like that. Check out My Father's Face, One Guitar No Vocals, or maybe Leo Live. Basically, if you start looking through his discography at about the mid 80s and move forward from there, there's a ton of cool-non-folky 12 string guitar.


In the Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Mclaughlin Does a lot of work with the 12 string. He used a double neck Gibson and switched back and forth.

Most of the rhythm and structural aspects of the pieces are using the 12-string.

As far as aspiring to imitate, you need to have 3 sets of goals: short term, on the horizon, and hope. There is no reason why you cannot break out the really hard stuff occasionally and focus on a phrase or two. The more you work short term, the more these phrases will open up to inquiry, and more importantly, the more fun you will have.


Check out one of my good friend's dad Tony Kaluarachchi play a Rory Gallagher piece on a 12 string acoustic. The audio quality isn't the greatest but the performance is second to none. I'm sure if you have a search you'll find some other jazz gems. He doesn't always play a 12 string, as far as I remember it's a Gibson. Based in Belfast, Ireland


Personally I think 6 and 12 strings are incredibly similar, in the same way acoustic and electric guitars are the same. Physically the fingerings are the same but they have to be payed with a slightly different approach to yield good results. I would never strum an electric the same way I would an acoustic but there are definitely overlaps between the two

  • Wow! Anyone who's a friend of Rory's is a friend pf mine! Poor Rory . . . and yeah, they're almost identical if you consider the strings are tuned the same way. But playing single-note runs is well-nigh impossible
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 21:30
  • (cont.) (see Roger McGuinn and Eight Miles High—he fumbles the whole thing) so you're reduced to chording. And chords sound best on a 12-string if they are arpeggiated—strumming just sort of defeats the purpose because the extra strings just kind of get masked by the others. I'm looking for that sort of tutorial—arpeggios and fingering.
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 21:37
  • Not 12 string but more Gallagher related... Irish tour 1974... 'nuf said Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 21:44
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    @Kamakiri Regarding strumming a 12 string....uh what??? The huge sounding ending of Stairway is strummed 12 strings! I think you might not be aware of what you're hearing in some cases. Strummed 12 strings sound quite different from strummed 6 strings in at least three ways: extra notes (four of the courses are tuned in octaves), double the number of pick attack sounds per strum, and a chorus like shimmer from imperfect tuning. Plus the interactions with other elements of the signal chain and/or the room change. Cf. compression on the Stairway ending. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 6:09
  • @ToddWilcox Exactly, pretty much the most common use of 12 string guitars is to strum chords and get a big, chorussy sound. Space oddity by Bowie for example
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 9:56

As nobody else seems to have mentioned them yet, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford used 12 string guitars a good deal in the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.

As an aside I'm sure I heard an interview with Gabriel where he stated that he started introducing costumes, masks and characters into the show to cover up for the length of time it took to get the 12-string guitars in tune ...

  • Wow. I sure would hate to have to get a 12-string in tune in a hurry, and back then they had no silent or digital tuners. It must have been a nightmare; and knowing as I do that a freshly-strung 12-string is possibly even more difficult to tune than on an old, dull-string 12-string (the easiest time is about a month after a fresh restringing, or 30 sessions, whichever comes first) I really can't imagine what the pressure was like. Poor old Peter Gabriel. But who knows, maybe 12-strings were indirectly responsible for creating the supergroup that Genesis eventually became!
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 15:06

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