Classic gear: Fender Electric XII

Fender Electric VII
(Image credit: Future)

The Electric XII may not be Fender’s most popular or well-known guitar, but in terms of design it’s one of the best 12-string guitars ever made. Easy to play, stable and with an impressive breadth of tone, it’s hard to find a more practical instrument of its type.

Although many people these days would be inclined to use a chorus pedal to conveniently simulate the tone of a 12-string, the natural complexity, shimmer and chime of multiple string courses is a wonderful sound that endures across various guitar-playing styles.  

12-string acoustics were around for a long time before the advent of their electric siblings and became relatively popular after appearing in catalogues during the early 1900s. 

As inexpensive blues and folk instruments, they were adopted by some of the early guitar luminaries such as Blind Willie McTell and “King of the 12-String Guitar” Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter, while in later years 12-strings became a regular fixture of the 50s/60s folk boom. 

Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII

The Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII was launched in 2019. (Image credit: Guitar Center)

By this stage, electric solidbodies were well established and the concept migrated over to this more modern format, beginning with the Gibson Double 12/EDS-1275 and Danelectro Bellzouki.

It was Fender’s fellow Californian builder Rickenbacker, however, that really brought the instrument to the fore in 1964 when George Harrison’s prototype 360-12 appeared in The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night.

After that, Fender developed an electric 12-string model of its own in anticipation of a continued surge in demand, but they were never a huge seller and the Electric XII was produced for only a short time between ’65 and ’69.

Synonymous with mid-60s hits such as The Beatles’ Ticket To Ride and The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man, electric 12-strings are something of a secret weapon in the studio, with Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page all having used an Electric XII to record with.

The Evolution of Fender 12-String Electrics

June 1965: Electric XII solidbody released; standard sunburst finishes with white pearloid pickguard
1965: Sunburst with faux tortoiseshell pickguard; pearloid dot inlays
Early 1966: Fender Coronado XII thinline introduced (final Antigua XII version discontinued 1973)
Mid-1966: Electric XII with bound neck with block inlays (rare)
1969: Electric XII discontinued
1987-1990: Stratocaster XII
1993-1996: Strat XII
1995: Telecaster XII
2005-2009: Stratocaster XII
2019: Alternate Reality Series Electric XII

Soon after its release, Bob Dylan was photographed using a standard sunburst finish model during his ’65 Highway 61 Revisited sessions (as pictured in the album’s artwork), while The Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson was snapped the same year playing an Olympic White pre-production Electric XII.

Custom colour Electric XIIs were produced in greater relative proportion to catch the eye of would-be buyers, with Olympic White, Candy Apple Red and Lake Placid Blue being among the more common.

With an offset body, the Electric XII follows the basic form of its predecessors the Jazzmaster, Jazz Bass, Bass VI and Jaguar, while its most distinguishing feature is undoubtedly the large six-a-side hockey stick-shaped headstock (as per the Fender Villager and Shenandoah 12-string acoustics, also released in ’65).

Masterminded by Leo Fender, the Electric XII’s 12-saddle bridge is a stroke of genius, providing full adjustment of each string for near-perfect intonation and action, while its string-through-body design and tight break angle enhances sustain.

Two split pickups located in the bridge and neck positions provide expansive tonal options in conjunction with master tone and volume controls and a four-way switch (offering either individual, dual or out-of-phase operation).

  • Guitarist would like to thank ATB Guitars in Cheltenham, UK for showing us this 1965 Fender Electric XII in Firemist Gold

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Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.