The best 12-string guitars are arguably unbeatable when it comes to adding an extra dimension to your playing. Yes they are niche instruments, but whether you prefer acoustic guitars or electric guitars, a 12-string guitar’s doubling quality lends your chords a choral sound that you just can’t quite replicate with pedals or overdubs.
With the bottom four strings doubled an octave higher, and the top two doubled, the 12-string guitar has a wider frequency range, adding textures and overtones and a top-end that glistens in a mix. It can also add an ethereal quality to your solo performance.
Depending on the chord progression and the fingering, the best 12-string guitars can sound medieval or pure folk jangle. Their rise to prominence in a pop-cultural sense arrived during the 1960s, just as The Beatles’ influence was shaping the Laurel Canyon scene. Of course, that influence then boomeranged back to Merseyside after the release of The Beach Boys’ timeless Pet Sounds.
It was in the psychedelic fevers and big ideas of the 1960s that the 12-string guitar found a sense of purpose in popular music, or rather a sense of force, so it’s no surprise that some of the models in our guide to the best 12-string guitars have designs conceived in that very era.
Hypothetically, you could see the new wave of technically adventurous acoustic players taking 12-string guitar further, or maybe, a new frontier in rock can be opened up by a player with an ear for the electric 12-string’s potential when played through a fuzz pedal or the transformative ambience of a multi-‘verb unit. Only time will tell. Before we unveil our full list of the best 12-string guitars, let’s look at a couple of our favorites…
The best 12-string guitars: Guitar World's choice
The Takamine P3DC is a sparkling jewel in the brand’s Pro Series, and is a contemporary dreadnought cutaway that has sumptuous playability. This stunning 12-string guitar is designed for the stage and the studio, with a low end authority offering a neat counterpoint in the EQ for that top end chime. It’s a fair price for an exceptionally constructed instrument, which is why it graces our best 12-string guitars guide.
Another top pick of ours is the Rickenbacker 360/12. This is the George Harrison 12-string guitar that inspired The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and all those prodigiously talented West Coast musicians who bloomed fully in the mid-60s. Its mono/stereo outputs and mix control should set your imagination alight! This Rickenbacker is unusual for a 12-string guitar in that it’s strung with the low strings first, then its octave-up double.
Choosing the best 12-string guitar for you
Before even considering any of the instruments featured in our best 12-string guitars guide, if you’re in the market for one of these guitars you should get yourself one of the best guitar tuners. Intonation is always the issue with guitars. With 12-string guitars, our intonation concerns are doubled with a cherry on top. But there’s nothing like good design to circumvent these niggles, and here we’re seeing a lot of clever revisions to the 12-string guitar format that minimize, if not outright eliminate, such issues.
Oftentimes, it comes down to detail. Is the spacing between the string pairings consistent at the nut and the bridge? That’s important, and definitely something to look out for when auditioning instruments.
Playability can also be a tough one with 12-string guitars. That’s because you are fretting two strings at once, and need to apply more pressure to fret the notes. Here a lower action can be immeasurably helpful. Even those of us who prefer a little fight in our guitars are won over with low action on a 12-string guitar.
The best 12-string guitars to buy now
The Takamine Pro Series is typified by immaculate builds, stage-ready electronics and subtle moments of aesthetic flair that are all the more impactful than the abalone armageddon we all too often see on other premium builds. Little understated flourishes such as the amber buttons on the tuners, the ivory binding with dark wood-trim purfling finish the guitar nicely.
A solid cedar top, buttressed by scalloped X-pattern bracing, is complemented by solid sapele on the back and sides, and it makes a refreshing alternative to spruce/mahogany. The P3DC’s dreadnought dimensions confer a substantial amount of depth and volume, but this tonewood cocktail will keep you on an even keel EQ-wise.
The split-saddle, string-through bridge design is a real boon for intonation. As you’d expect at this price, tuning and intonation are not an issue. Nor is the amplified tone, with the 3-band EQ on-hand to fine-tune your tone.
This is the most iconic 12-string you can get your hands on. It’s the semi-acoustic that George Harrison played on the Fab Four’s debut US tour – a 1963 360/12, gifted to him by Rickenbacker’s Francis C. Hall. It’s the sound of The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and its jingle-jangle brightness changed music history for keeps.
It’s not cheap but it is unbeatable, and very practical for a 12-string. Those Schaller tuners are arranged alternately so you can see which string you are tuning, a feature that Harrison liked immediately.
One of the coolest features on the 360/12 is the Rick-O-Sound parallel-mono outputs, meaning that you can split your signal and send one pickup to one amplifier and the other to another, adding more depth and spread to the sound.
Just step on an old analog phaser or a flanger and watch people melt into their surroundings. Pure psychedelic nirvana comes as standard, but of course you can play it clean for pop-folk jangle, that resonant semi-hollow maple body sure lets it sing.
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The 652ce is one of the best 12-string guitars money can buy. In a world where the 12-string has a reputation for wonky intonation, the Taylor 652ce Builder's Edition finds the sweet spot between engineering and craft to build an instrument that is nigh-on perfect.
Just take a look at the hardware, for example. We’ve got a Curve Wing Micarta/Tusq-saddled design with double-mounted string anchoring so there are just six bridge pins instead of the 12, and a little more room for a trio of piezo transducers that help make Taylor’s Expression System 2 deliver such undiluted amped tones. The Gotoh tuners are exceptional.
This being a Builder’s Edition series instrument, Andy Powers’ V-Class bracing is under the hood, guaranteeing sustain and volume. How does it feel? Well, effortless to play, with a beveled armrest and subtly rolled body edges to make it comfortable for long sessions. That’s good, because you won’t want to put this 12-string down.
The Martin D-X2E 12-String Guitar is all about boom, chime and affordability. To get that name on the squared-off headstock, and that amount of change from a thousand bucks is not bad at all, and the finish quality on Martin’s Mexican-built X-Series acoustics is unerring.
The Low Profile neck profile is a very comfortable palm-filler, approachable without ever being overly skinny. The neck on the Martin D-X2E is billed as ‘select hardwood’ and this might change depending on stock – but it is most commonly Spanish cedar, sapele, occasionally mahogany.
On the fingerboard it’s the same, but here we’d expect katalox or Mexican ebony. Either way, finger pickers should find the nut width generous enough to accommodate them, while not so wide as to alienate the strummers.
The sound is big and open with choral shimmer over the top. Don’t let the indiscriminate naming of materials put you off with the X-Series, the high-pressure laminate back and sides ably supports that spruce on top, making the Martin D-X2E a very attractive 12-string guitar that does the name on the label proud.
The Fender Villager 12-String V3 has been kicking around since 1965 and it wears the era’s style well. Just look at that hockey stick headstock. That’s something, right? The Newporter body shape is a Fender design but it positions itself as a cutaway neo-dread’, with all volume and presence that suggests.
At this price, it’s good to see some solid Sitka on top of the Fender Villager 12-String V3 – even if we don’t see it underneath the Jetty Black finish, it helps add detail and trebly chorus to the Villager’s voice.
The Fishman electronics are not bad either, with a three-band EQ to help you find your place in the mix, and an onboard tuner because this is a 12-string guitar and a reliable tuner is mandatory. That said, the slim C profile neck is very welcoming, and the Viking walnut bridge a nice staging post from which to strum those big open chords.
If the 652ce is the Taylor at its most bling, the 254ce sees the US acoustic giant strip things back to the essentials, leaving you with a 12-string guitar that is made for the stage and a very handy tool for the studio, too.
The Taylor 254ce’s build is austere but flawless. A lovely piece of solid Sitka spruce complements laminated Indian rosewood on the back and sides, and it makes for a well-balanced voice with plenty of heft in the low end.
The Expression System 2 pickup and preamp is deployed here – hence being perfect for the stage – while the Grand Auditorium body size is a nice compromise between the big boom of a dread and smaller-bodied acoustics that don’t quite have the guts down low. And with those 12-strings, that balance reveals itself in a sweet, wide chime that’s hard to quit.
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Gretsch’s vintage rock ’n’ roll mojo translates perfectly into the 12-string format. The attention to detail on the current Electromatic series is incredible, the finishes perfect. From the bound f-holes to the G-Cutout tailpiece, the smaller late-50s spec headstock, to the multi-ply binding, the Gretsch G5422G-12 Electromatic Hollowbody is one of the finest looking instruments in our round-up of the best 12-string guitars.
The thin U profile neck is slim enough for some quick jazz comping and switch rock double-stops but just as you plug in and dial in the slapback echo the 12-string width and chime hits you right in the face. This is a Gretsch for sure, the Black Top Filter’Tron pickups offering a little snarl before the 12-strings rounds out the attack.
The Gretsch G5422G-12 Electromatic Hollowbody is a little more rock, a little hotter than the other electrics on the list, and while this can occupy vintage psych if required, try playing it through some fuzz and playing with reverbs, because it feels like a great guitar to broaden your horizons on.
Guild has been making 12-string guitars since the 1960s, when the company escaped New York and decamped to its Hoboken, NJ, facility, where it grew under Bob Bromberg’s supervision and Carlo Greco’s design expertise. And yet the Guild F-2512E Archback looks and feels like a holdover from its 50s production, its arched back a legacy of the jazz boxes Guild used to build, only this time matched with a flat maple top.
All that maple makes its presence felt in the F-2512E’s presence. This best 12-string guitar contender has phenomenal detailing, a star-dust tone profile when playing chords, and a harpsichord-esque vibe when playing single notes.
The pearl rosette and tortoiseshell ’guard complete the retro feel. But there are some concessions to modernity here, with the Guild AP-1 Archback pickup offering the option of going through an amplifier, and pau ferro in situ as a legacy of the CITES restrictions on rosewood.
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D’Angelico always has such an air of refinement about them. One imagines their owners don smoking jackets of an evening and drive vintage European sports cars. It’s the headstock design, or maybe, as with the case of the D'Angelico Premier Fulton Grand Auditorium, the pearloid block inlay and the five-ply binding. It’s got a Gatsby look to it.
This impression is torpedoed by a price tag that is within reach of us regular folks. The D'Angelico Premier Fulton Grand Auditorium uses a well-traveled tonewood combo on mid-priced electro-acoustics, with a solid Sitka spruce top – beautifully finished in Vintage Natural lacquer – adding the tinsel to a laminated mahogany back and sides.
The generous Venetian cutaway and slim, satin-smooth neck (20mm at the first fret) makes this an option for showboating, should the occasion arise, and the nut width should agree with the fingerstyle and hybrid-pickers out there.
The hockey stick headstock is back, folks, but maybe it looks more at home here, what with the offset body and split single-coils – the retro tortoiseshell and pearloid pickguards only add to the illusion that we have fallen through the wormhole to emerge in LBJ’s America.
Yes, another 1965 model, which really was ground zero for the 12-string’s pop-rock popularity after The Beatles came, saw and conquered the States in 1964. The Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII 12-String Guitar would make an excellent budget alternative to the Rickenbacker featured further up in this list.
It’s quite different, sure. The Ricky has a set neck, while the Fender has a bolt-on; there’s no mistaking the Fender scale and feel. But both will get you an angle on the jangle and help soundtrack something crazy.
Just think what this can do now in the age of multi-reverbs that are just designed for ambience. You get the feeling the Electric XII’s time is coming again. This, again, was a favorite of the Byrds, and Jimmy Page used it in the studio for Stairway’s 12-string parts. The present model uses a more conventional 3-way pickup selector as opposed to the rotary dial on the 1960s version, and has a new and improved bridge.