12 String Guitar vs 6 String: Which is The Best Instrument?

The world of guitars offers a plethora of options, but one key decision musicians often face is whether to choose a 6-string or a 12-string guitar. Both types of instruments have their own unique qualities, playing styles, and tonal ranges, catering to various musical genres and preferences.

Before making a decision, it’s important to understand the differences and similarities between these instruments, which can help guitarists determine the best choice for their individual needs.

A 6-string guitar is the standard choice for many players, offering a wide range of tonal possibilities and a relatively easier learning curve. On the other hand, a 12-string guitar presents a richer, fuller sound that can transform the way songs are played, adding depth and complexity.

However, it may require a slightly higher level of skill to maneuver and maintain. While each instrument has its own set of pros and cons, personal preference and playing style are ultimately the determining factors in choosing the right guitar for any musician.

Key Takeaways on 12 String Guitar vs 6 String

  • 6-string guitars are versatile and beginner-friendly, while 12-string guitars offer a richer sound
  • Tuning and maintenance vary between 6-string and 12-string guitars
  • A guitarist’s personal preference, playing style, and influences should guide their choice between the two instruments

Understanding 6-String Guitars

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1. Design and Construction

The design of a 6-string guitar includes a headstock, neck, frets, and a body. The headstock holds the guitar’s tuning pegs which control the tension of each string. Typically, major manufacturers like Fender and Gibson have their signature headstock designs.

The neck contains the fretboard where players press down on strings to create different notes and chords. The body houses the soundhole or pickups, depending on whether it’s an acoustic or an electric guitar.

In construction, a 6-string guitar usually has a set scale length, determined by the distance from the nut to the bridge. This scale length affects the guitar’s playability and tonal characteristics.

2. Playing Techniques

6-string guitars offer a variety of playing techniques suitable for beginners and advanced players. Some common techniques include:

  • Fretting: Using the fingers on the left hand (for right-handed players) to press down on the strings to create different notes.
  • Strumming: Running a pick or fingers across the strings to produce sound. Different methods create various effects like fingerstyle or flat-picking.
  • Alternate picking: A technique where the pick is moved up and down to hit consecutive notes, enabling faster playing.

Beginner guitar players often find the 6-string guitar more accessible due to its straightforward layout, with one string for each note in standard tuning (E, A, D, G, B, E).

3. Sound and Texture

The sound and texture of a 6-string guitar vary based on the construction, materials, and playing techniques employed. A 6-string acoustic guitar typically has a warm, rich sound with pronounced bass and treble frequencies.

Materials like mahogany or spruce in the body contribute to its unique tonality. However, electric guitars allow players to use amplifiers and effects to create a wide variety of sounds and textures.

Analysis of 12-String Guitars

Distinctive Design

12-string guitars have a unique design, with twice the amount of strings compared to the traditional 6-string guitar. These additional strings create more tension on the neck, which requires a stronger construction to support the force.

The scale length is usually longer than a 6-string guitar to accommodate the increased string tension. Tuning a 12-string guitar involves pairing each of the main strings with a corresponding octave or unison string, resulting in a richer and fuller sound.

Different Playing Styles

Players can utilize various techniques on a 12-string guitar to achieve diverse sounds. Chords have a shimmering quality due to the doubled strings, giving an almost harp-like effect, which is particularly pronounced in 12-string acoustic guitars.

Fingerpicking on a 12-string produces intricate, layered melodies, while strumming can create a fuller and more powerful sound. However, string bending is more challenging due to the higher string tension, which affects the overall playability of the instrument.

Chorus Effect and Volume

The chorus effect is one of the defining characteristics of a 12-string guitar. The slightly detuned strings produce a natural, organic chorus effect that adds depth and dimension to the sound.

This shimmering quality is most noticeable when playing chords and is a key feature in many genres, such as folk and rock music. Additionally, the doubled strings increase the overall volume of the instrument, giving it a more pronounced presence.

This combination of chorus effect and volume make the 12-string guitar a powerful and versatile tool for many musicians.

Tuning and Maintenance

String Tension and Tuning

A significant difference between 6-string and 12-string guitars is the string tension. A 12-string guitar has double the number of strings, which creates more tension on the neck. This higher tension affects the overall tuning stability and requires more frequent adjustments.

Tuning a 12-string guitar can be more challenging for beginners, as each string pair must be tuned to its specific pitch.

When tuning a 12-string guitar, the octave pairs should be tuned in unison, while the unison pairs should be set to the same pitch. This process can be time-consuming, but it’s essential for maintaining the instrument’s signature sound.

Some players use pitch-matching devices or tuners to aid in this process. Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure the tuning machines on a 12-string guitar are of high quality and in good working condition.

On the other hand, the 6-string guitar has less string tension and is generally easier to tune. The tuning process is more straightforward since there are fewer strings and no octave or unison pairs to consider.

Restringing and Maintenance

Restringing a 12-string guitar can be more complex compared to a 6-string, due to the added strings and their configuration. However, with practice and patience, it becomes manageable. The increased number of strings also results in more frequent string changes and possibly a higher maintenance cost.

Maintenance Aspect6-String Guitar12-String Guitar
RestringingEasierMore complex
Frequency of string changesLowerHigher
Maintenance costLowerHigher

Regular maintenance of a 12-string guitar includes not only restringing but also monitoring the neck relief and adjusting the truss rod when necessary. Due to their increased string tension, 12-string guitars may require more frequent truss rod adjustments.

It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and consult a qualified technician if unsure about any maintenance procedures.

In comparison, the 6-string guitar typically requires less frequent truss rod adjustments and overall maintenance.

Notable Famous Guitarists and Their Influence

1. Impact of Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin, with guitarist Jimmy Page, significantly impacted rock music with their innovative use of the 6-string guitar.

Their compositions, such as “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love,” showcased Page’s exceptional skills on both electric and acoustic guitars. Page often used alternate tuning to create unique sounds, inspiring a generation of musicians.

2. Influence of Tom Petty

Tom Petty, alongside his band The Heartbreakers, brought a fresh approach to the rock music scene in the late 1970s.

Playing both 6-string and 12-string guitars, Petty incorporated jangle pop elements with folk-rock influences. Timeless hits like “Free Fallin’,” “American Girl,” and “Learning to Fly” exemplify Petty’s ability to infuse storytelling with intricate guitar work.

3. Contributions of Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd, featuring influential guitarists David Gilmour and Syd Barrett, revolutionized progressive rock throughout the 1970s and beyond.

Their signature psychedelic sound was enhanced by Gilmour’s mastery of the 6-string guitar, as showcased in songs like “Comfortably Numb” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

Gilmour’s innovative use of guitar effects provides an immersive listening experience that continues to influence musicians today.

4. Legacy of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, a virtuosic electric guitarist, is often regarded as one of the most influential rock musicians.

With his mastery of the 6-string guitar, Hendrix utilized advanced playing techniques, such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, and feedback manipulation resulting in classics like “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” and “All Along the Watchtower.”

The groundbreaking style and stage presence of Hendrix continue to inspire new generations of musicians.

5. Work of Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi brought a distinct sound to the late 20th-century rock landscape. Guitarist Richie Sambora played a pivotal role, contributing to their energetic, anthemic style with his technical proficiency on both 6-string and 12-string guitars.

Through the band’s hits, such as “Livin’ On a Prayer,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “Always,” Sambora demonstrated the ability to create memorable riffs and solos, making him an influential figure in the rock genre.

Choosing Between 12-String and 6-String Guitars

Factors for Beginners

For beginners, a 6-string guitar might be a more suitable choice. It is generally less expensive and has a simpler learning curve. The narrower neck makes it easier to grip and form chords. Additionally, there is a wealth of learning resources available for 6-string guitars, as they are more common and widely used.

However, if a beginner is particularly interested in the richer sound of a 12-string guitar, they should not be discouraged. The key is to find a 12-string that is comfortable to play, so that learning and practice is enjoyable.

Considerations for Experienced Players

Experienced players may want to explore the unique sound and feel of a 12-string guitar. While it can be more challenging to play than a 6-string, the additional strings provide a fuller, more resonant sound. Some considerations include:

  • Fingerpicking: 12-string guitars can be more difficult for fingerpicking due to the paired strings.
  • String tension: The higher tension on a 12-string guitar may require more finger strength and pressure.
  • String replacement: 12-string guitars have more strings to replace, which can be more time-consuming and potentially more expensive.

Personal Preference and Choice

Ultimately, choosing between a 12-string and 6-string guitar comes down to personal preference. Some prefer the bright, full sound of a 12-string, while others opt for the versatility and accessibility of a 6-string.

It’s important to consider factors like playing style, desired sound, and budget. Potential buyers are encouraged to try out both types of guitars to determine which one feels best for them.


When comparing the 12-string guitar and the 6-string guitar, each instrument has its unique characteristics and uses. It ultimately depends on the player’s preference, playing style, and the type of music they wish to create.

The 12-string guitar offers a richer, fuller sound due to the extra strings, creating a natural chorus effect. This makes it a popular choice for musicians looking to add depth and texture to their music.

However, the increased number of strings may require more finger strength and dexterity, making it a potentially challenging choice for beginner players.

On the other hand, the 6-string guitar is a versatile and widely used instrument, with a vast range of tones and styles available. It is generally easier to play and master due to its fewer strings and more familiar fretboard layout.

The 6-string guitar is suitable for various genres of music and can be adapted to suit the player’s needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences in sound between a 12-string and 6-string guitar?

A 12-string guitar typically produces a richer, fuller sound compared to a 6-string guitar because it has additional strings that are tuned in pairs.

These pairs create natural chorus-like effects and additional harmonics, resulting in a vibrant and spacious tonal quality.

Is it more difficult to learn to play a 12-string guitar compared to a 6-string?

Learning to play a 12-string guitar can be more challenging than a 6-string, primarily due to the presence of additional strings. This requires more finger strength and dexterity to press down and navigate the paired strings.

However, with practice, one can overcome these challenges and become proficient on a 12-string guitar.

What are the benefits of playing a 12-string guitar?

Playing a 12-string guitar offers several benefits, such as a richer harmonic range, increased volume, and textural variety.

The distinctive sound of a 12-string guitar can also inspire creativity and provide a unique musical experience for both players and listeners.

Can you play a 12-string guitar the same way you would play a 6-string?

While many techniques used for 6-string guitars can be applied to a 12-string, the differences in design and string layout demand some adjustments.

Players may need to adjust their finger placements, picking technique, and overall playing style to account for the presence of doubled strings.

Which type of guitar is recommended for beginners?

For beginners, a 6-string guitar is generally recommended because it is easier to learn and requires less finger strength and dexterity than a 12-string guitar.

Once comfortable with the basics, a player can explore other types of guitars, including the 12-string, to broaden their musical horizons.

How does tuning a 12-string guitar differ from tuning a 6-string?

Tuning a 12-string guitar involves pairing each of the six main strings with an octave or unison string.

The lower four courses (E, A, D, G) consist of a thicker main string and a thinner octave string, while the upper two courses (B, E) are matched with unison strings.

This produces the unique sound of a 12-string guitar, but also requires more attention to maintain tuning and intonation.

Howard Matthews

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