When it comes to strings, most guitars use 6 strings as this is the most common, but not a rule that every guitar producer should follow. You might also find guitars that are made of 12 strings.
So you might be wondering what is the difference between a 12 string vs 6 string guitar? Which one is better? In this article, we go through the main differences to provide an answer to these questions, so continue reading.
- There are differences in design, sound and playability between 12 and 6 string guitars.
- 12 string guitars have a longer headstock, more bridge pins, wider fretboard and a shorter scale length.
- 12 string guitars have a shimmering chorus-like effect, unlike the 6 string ones.
- Compared to the 6 string, the 12 string guitars are harder to play.
- 6 string guitars are more versatile and better for beginners.
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12 string vs 6 string: Comparison
Generally, 12 string and 6 string guitars are similar to each other, but there are some elements that make them differ.
For example, the differences would be in the design or how the guitar is built to accommodate the number of strings, the produced sound, and playability. We provide more details on these elements in the following paragraphs.
Design: 12 string & 6 string
First, the most important difference between 12 string and 6 string guitars is the way they are designed and built. As you can already tell, the 12 string guitar has 12 strings that are placed in pairs, while the 6 string guitar has only 6.
When it comes to the thickness of the strings, usually for the highest two notes there are strings in pairs with the same gauge and same pitch. Meanwhile the other lower notes there are pairs of two strings with a different gauge where the lighter string is in the same note, but a higher octave.
Because of this configuration, it is not a surprise that there are differences in the way 12 string guitars are made compared to the standard 6 string guitars.
For starters, in 12 string guitars there is a longer headstock. This is because there is an additional tuning machine which requires more space.
Another thing that is different in design is the fact that 12 string guitars have 12 bridge pins with space for every string to be held in place. But there are some productions with double-string layout where each pair is held by one bridge pin.
When it comes to the fretboard, typically 12 string guitars have a wider nut and so the neck might feel large and harder to grip, compared to the 6 string guitars. But having more width is required so the strings have enough space.
In some 12 string guitars the string length measured from the saddle to the nut or scale length might be shorter. This is done as an attempt to lower the string tension.
Sound: 12 string & 6 string
Because of the fact that there is a difference in the strings and their configuration, there appear some differences in the sound as well. Generally, the sound produced with a 12 string guitar can be brighter, stronger and with more harmony.
You can also notice that the sound coming from a 12 string guitar will be more balanced compared to the 6 string. Because of this, the notes will be more clear and have definition so you can easily recognize which note is being played.
Usually, guitar players or music enthusiasts love 12 string guitars because of their shimmering effect which can be compared to a chorus. This means that when a 12 string guitar is being played the sounds will be as if two instruments are being played in unison.
The effects that the 12 string guitars produce in their sounds make them great for backing instruments. And these effects are possible because of the differences in tuning and octaves.
With a 12 string guitar you get a full rich volume in the sound, but that doesn’t mean that the 6 string guitars don’t have what to offer. With 6 string guitars you also get good and rich sounds, but without the chorus effect.
In general, the 6 string guitars are used more because they are versatile and can be great for any type of music, while 12 string guitars might be better for folk or blues music. This is because 12 string guitars are usually good for parts with a lot of longer notes with a chorus effect.
But when it comes to other types of music such as rock and metal for example, and electric guitars, they sound much better with a 6 string guitar and are easier to play.
Playability: 12 string & 6 string
In general, 12 string guitars are harder to play. This is because not only is the neck of the guitar thicker and you need to maintain your grip, but also you have to do this while playing 2 strings at the same time.
Because of the fact that there are some differences in build, with a 12 string guitar you need to be more precise when playing chords. You will also notice that because of the higher neck tension, playing will be more demanding and require good grip and finger strength.
Another challenge in playability here is that with 12 string guitars the strings won’t be easily bendable. This is because of the neck tension and the fact that they come in pairs.
Usually, 12 string guitars are used as an addition when playing meaning they can be used for more rhythm or for some backing chords and such. But still there are artists who use this kind of guitar as their lead instrument.
An example of a musician who used 12 string guitar as their lead instrument is Jimi Hendrix, but you can also hear it in some popular songs such as “Wanted dead or alive” by Bon Jovi, “Stairway to heaven” by Led Zeppelin and so on.
As 12 string guitars are more demanding and harder to play, if you are a beginner, it would be better to go with a 6 string guitar at first. This way you will learn fretting and practice better so if you want to switch to a 12 string guitar later your fingers will be ready for that.
Most people prefer 6 string guitars, but that doesn’t mean that 12 string guitars don’t have what to offer. To make your choice between the two you should consider a few things.
For example, if you are a beginner then the better choice would be a 6 string guitar because your fingers are not yet developed and 12 string guitars require more strength and effort. But if you are more experienced this won’t be a problem.
Generally, guitar players who get a 12 string guitar are those who want to use the shimmering sound effects of it to incorporate in their music. So if this is what you are going for, then a 12 string guitar is a good choice.
But if you want great versatile sounds and good playability without any problem, the 6 string guitar is something you should go for.