Whenever someone hands me an unfamiliar 12-string, a bellowing Italian papa voice deep inside my head always barks out the same two questions:
• “Will you be able to get your short, stubby fingers to fret that thing without getting all gummed up in the strings?
• “How badly are you going to embarrass yourself this time, McGRIM?”
My paranoia and fear revolves around the supermodel-slim fretboards and crammed, bees-in-a-beehive-like string spacing of many 12-string guitars. I was not made for those instruments. They are the enemy.
However, when I picked up the Musicvox MI-5 12-String, my inner voice was dead fricking silent. (Sorry, pops.) You see, this glittering jangle plank has my back. The fretboard is so luxuriously wide that I think you could land a drone right on top of it. Even better, the spacing between the string pairs is so far apart that you can park the business end of a USB thumb drive in the gap. This is a colossal benefit for anyone who has fought with skinny 12-string necks that barely let you strum open chords or pick out a few folky arpeggios. On the MI-5 12-String, I can play those things easily and cleanly, and I can also make barre chords, bend strings like a rocker, and do melodic runs across multiple string pairs (instead of playing it safe with single- note lines involving one string and perhaps an adjacent string). Playing this guitar is like discovering Toblerone chocolate for the first time. (I was originally going to say “discovering sex,” but this is a family magazine.) It’s a wonderful and enriching experience.
Nothing about the construction of the MI-5 12-String dampens the excitement, either. This is a very well-made guitar. The funky and sophisticated gold-sparkle finish is superb, the frets are smooth and rounded, the binding and inlays are flawless, and the bolt-on neck is assembled so securely that you can’t even squeeze a puppy’s hair between the neck pocket and the neck. Shake the guitar rudely, and you’ll hear no rattles, because the control knobs, pickup-selector switch, P-90s, and bridge are firmly locked down. The tuners turn smoothly and confidently.
I tested the MI-5 12-String’s sounds by plugging into a Vox AC30, a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto and Old Dog 4x12 cabinet, and an Orange Tiny Terror and Mesa/Boogie 1x12 cab. The bridge pickup produces a nice, balanced jangle. Treble and high-midrange frequencies are present without being overly bright or shrill. Switch to the neck pickup, and the low mids become noticeably boosted, but not enough to introduce muddiness or wooliness. You don’t get resonant bass, but I consider that a plus, as there are a lot of ringing strings here, and the last thing you want is the sound of booming low-end frequencies while strumming. The sound becomes mellower, but the clear chime you expect from classic 12-string tones remains front and center. Not surprisingly, the middle pickup position serves up the best of both worlds—call it a warm jangle—and this was my personal favorite setting for every song that I reached for the MI-5 12-String.
The amoeba-like body—as well as the large headstock that looks like some kind of ninja weapon—may make the MI-5 12-String an acquired taste for those who appreciate more conventionally designed guitars. But this is one weirdo you shouldn’t pass up if, like me, you’ve been frustrated by some other 12-string models. The MI-5 12-String may appear a tad wonky and unwieldy, but it plays and sounds like an Olympic champion.
LIMITED GOLD SPARKLE MI-5 12-STRING
PRICE $899 direct
NUT 1 11/16"
NECK 25.5" scale maple, bolt-on
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Kluson-style vintage
BRIDGE Adjustable 6-saddle 12-string
PICKUPS Two Musicvox P-90s
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL150, .010-.046 12-string set
WEIGHT 8.36 lbs
BUILT Vietnam and China
KUDOS Wide, comfy neck. Sparkling tones that ring-a-ding-ding.