Roundup: Ten New 12-String Guitars

THE SONIC MAGIC THAT OCCURS WHEN YOU DOUBLE the number of strings on a guitar and tune the four lower courses an octave apart has captivated artists from Lead Belly to Led Zeppelin, and helped to make iconic 12-string tunes like “Hotel California,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” huge hits for the Eagles, Pink Floyd, and the Byrds.
Image placeholder title

THE SONIC MAGIC THAT OCCURS WHEN YOU DOUBLE the number of strings on a guitar and tune the four lower courses an octave apart has captivated artists from Lead Belly to Led Zeppelin, and helped to make iconic 12-string tunes like “Hotel California,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” huge hits for the Eagles, Pink Floyd, and the Byrds. Calling the 12-string sound “magic” isn’t a stretch, either, as anyone who has experienced the immediate sense of gratification that occurs when strumming open chords on a 12-string guitar can testify. The chiming of the octaves combined with the syrupy sweet “chorusing” that is created by minor tuning discrepancies between the strings is a sound that leaves a standard 6-string guitar in the dust.

The huge sonic spectrum delivered by a 12-string covers a multitude of construction aspects that can differ significantly from one guitar to another, and the interesting thing is that you can play models at vastly different price points and find them all to be pretty impressive sounding. Often, it’s a guitar’s playability, neck shape and width, and ease of tuning (and/or stringing!) that can sway you toward a particular type or brand. And while fine woods and upscale cosmetics will automatically steer you toward the pricier side of the 12-string spectrum, it’s nice to know that you don’t need to spend a bundle to add a cool-sounding 12 to your collection.

For this roundup, we picked a mix of electric, acoustic-electric, and pure acoustic 12s that come in at a wide variety of prices— from $169 to well over $3k. We tested them all in our studios and ran the electric models though acoustic and standard guitar amps (including a Fishman Loudbox Pro, a Line 6 DT25, and a Dr. ZEZG 50) and two portable P.A. rigs: a Fishman SA220 and a Samson XP308i.

Bedell Performance Plus JB-52-12-G

Image placeholder title

THE BEDELL COMPANY WAS originally started back in 1964, when the founder, Tom Bedell, was only 14 years old. The company has been making some noise of late, with tons of new models and top-notch artists such as Kenny Loggins. When you’ve got ten gorgeous 12-strings all lined up in an office, it takes a lot to get noticed, but this beautiful Bedell did just that, drawing in editors, artists, and visitors alike with its light-hued spruce and maple woods, tasteful cosmetics, cool peace sign logo, rich ebony fretboard, and sexy gold hardware. Hitting a few chords on the JB-52-12 revealed that it sounds as good as it looks, with a bright, powerful, full voice. The jumbo body makes for a warm tone and keeps the Bedell from having the overly dazzling top end that can plague some 12-strings. Everyone seems to have certain favorite riffs for demoing 12s. For hard strumming, I went with “Band on the Run” and Queen’s “’39.” For arpeggiated picking passages I chose “Closer to the Heart” and the crowd-pleasing “Hotel California.” They all sounded great on the JB, with tremendous detail and separation.

Another striking feature of the Bedell 12 is how easy it is to play. It came set up perfectly, with LAPWOB action (low as possible without buzzing). It’s pretty remark- able to play an F barre chord in the first position and have all the notes ring out without inducing cramps or carpal tunnel syndrome. And I’ve never been too keen on “Eight Miles High”-style single-note shred- ding on 12-strings, much less on acoustic 12s, but you can truly burn on this one. The frets, which are installed by hand, are even and well dressed, a couple of slightly scratchy fret ends notwithstanding. It’s a breeze to execute hammer ons, pull offs, even vibrato on the higher strings—things that would normally be super difficult on a 12-string.

In summary, this is a very attractive guitar that is inspiring to play. It’s not cheap, but what you get for your money is all solid-wood construction, sweet looks, an excel- lent setup, and flat-out great sound. There is stiff competition in this price range to be sure, but those other manufacturers better bring it if they want to go toe to toe with the Bedell. — MATT BLACKETT

Carvin DC127-12

Image placeholder title

RESPLENDENT IN ITS EMERALD green finish, the DC127-12 is a beauty that boasts a quilted maple top and gold hard- ware. Our test model came with a plethora of options that included a maple body ($50; alder is standard), a quilted AAAA maple top ($300) and headstock facing ($50), a five-piece laminated neck ($100) that runs through the body, and rounded body edges ($40) that give the instrument a very sleek and curvy look. The H22N and H22T pickups are also upgrades ($10), and they feed an active preamp that is powered by a 9-volt battery residing under a quick- release hatch on the back of the guitar. Dual sets of Volume and Tone pots topped with cool-looking wood knobs ($5 each) provide a lot of adjustability over the sound, and the tone options are further expanded via a pair of mini toggles for coil splitting and another mini switch that puts the pickups out of phase.

Owing to the all-maple construction, the DC127-12 is a fairly heavy guitar, but it plays superbly thanks to the medium profile neck and an excellent setup, which has the strings flying nice and low over 24 highly polished stainless-steel frets ($40). The DC127 tuned up easily and stayed there too due partly to the locking Sperzels. These machines look nice with their satin gold finish, and they work great in conjunction with the FT6 bridge, which features precision adjustable saddles. The standard strings route from body- mounted ferrules, while the unison and octave strings load though the bridge.

It all adds up to a guitar that not only feels great but has incredible sustain. And with 12 strings chiming in very tuneful intonation, the result is a big, prismatic sound that you can tailor six ways to Sunday. Suffice to say that whether you’re going for highly over- driven riffing with the pickups in hum- bucker mode, or super-clean rhythm playing with one or both of them split, it’s easy to get exactly what you want thanks to well-voiced Tone controls and the active (and very quiet) electronics, which ensure tight and dynamically responsive sounds.

No doubt about it, the DC127- 12 is an impressive guitar that clocks in at a very reasonable price for an American-made instrument. If quality and performance are high on your list of preferences, this is a guitar you’ll want to consider. — ART THOMPSON

Epiphone DR-212

Image placeholder title

SHOPPING FOR A GREAT DEAL ON a 12-string acoustic? The DR-212 would certainly be a candidate. The $169 sticker is astonishingly low for a guitar that looks and feels this nice, and though part of the reason is the laminated body construction, this guitar boasts a solid mahogany set neck and lightly polished frets that are crowned nicely and consistently seated (though slightly prickly on the ends). The DR-212 doesn’t try to wow you with glitzy inlays like some budget acoustics. Instead, its cosmetics include neat binding on the top, back, and neck, a classy rosette with multiple black/ivoroid rings, a raised stylized “E” on the celluloid pickguard, and cream bridge pins with black dots. Over- all, the construction and gloss finish get good marks, and the attention to detail is impressive at this price. Even strap but- tons are installed, which frees you from the angst of taking a Makita to your new guitar.

The setup doesn’t suffer either, as the intonation is solid and tuneful through- out the range of the fretboard. The DR-212 plays well thanks to the low action and nice-feeling medium-thick neck. It could be a bit wide for some players, however, as my dial caliper measured a hair under 1.90" at the nut instead of the factory specs of 1.75".

Sonically, however, the DR-212 is a satisfying instrument that has a good balance of warmth and shimmer, and it stands up quite well to hard strumming without undue compression. The lows are clear and tight, and there’s enough volume and mid- range punch to let it stand out in acoustic settings—which is what this guitar is destined for unless you plan to pony up for a pickup or put a mic on it. Bottom line, if you’re looking for some chiming12- string glory, but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it, the DR-212 is a fab choice. — ART THOMPSON

Godin A12

Image placeholder title

DESIGNED TO DELIVER AMPLIFIED acoustic sounds while feeling and playing more like a solidbody electric, the A12 features a thin, twin-chambered body made from silver leaf maple with a bookmatched solid cedar top. This guitar has a very clean look, and aside from the binding around the top, a gloss black headstock facing, and ebony tuner buttons, there’s not much to distract your eyes from the wood-on-wood theme. The bolt-on maple neck is slimmer and a tad narrower than most acoustic guitar sticks, and it boasts 22 polished and evenly seated frets on a rosewood ’board that are easily reachable thanks to the cutaway and slim, rounded heel. The A12 arrived with a good setup and low action, giving it the kind of playability you expect from a solidbody (which could be pushed farther in that direction with electric strings) but with an amazing amount of acoustic presence considering that the body is only 2" deep and the only way for air to escape is through the slits for the Volume and EQ sliders. On the reverse side is a quick-release hatch for the 9-volt battery, a large plastic cover plate that exposes the underside of the bridge (presumably to access the wired connection to the under- saddle transducer), and a smaller plastic cover behind the sliders that exposes a PC board with surface-mount components for the preamp and tone circuits.

Though a little heavier than most acoustic 12s, the A12 feels light and handy and plays like a breeze. The guitar’s accurate intonation gives it a well-focused sound that not only enhances the acoustic presence but also makes it sound very clear and articulate when played though amps and P.A. systems. The tone controls work well for every- thing from darker textures to bright, shimmering tones, and the quick response under your fingers makes for a guitar that’s great for pretty much any style you throw at it— from jazz to fusion to rock, there seems to be little the A12 can’t handle, and its resistance to feedback, touch responsiveness, and ability to stand up to hard playing without issuing any harsh piezo artifacts makes it highly suitable for players who want the sound and feel of a quality acoustic fl at-top, but with the sonic and ergonomic advantages of a “thin- line” electric. — ART THOMPSON

Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman 12-String

Image placeholder title

IF YOU’RE A ’60S-OBSESSED POP or garage rocker with a penchant for jangle, few instruments are as stunningly hip as this gold-bedecked, walnut-stained work of guitar art. It’s the perfect accessory for leather jackets, Beatle boots, skinny suits, and drainpipe pants, but even if you suit up as a futuristic droog à la A Clock- work Orange, the Chet’s retro sparkle and shimmer will bedazzle listeners with the sounds of peace, love, and joy. Well, at least that’s the effect this beauty had on me. I almost couldn’t stop playing it, and when I did put it down, the world seemed like a darker place. Sigh.

Although this 12-string doesn’t have a super-wide neck, I found string spacing to be comfortable, and I could pick arpeggios and scale runs without stumbling. Finger- picked parts were a little more challenging, but there’s enough room to play precisely if you concentrate. Intonation is pretty sweet for a 12-string—no sour notes or harmonics were noted.

Workmanship is excellent for a $2,000+ instrument, with superb frets, taut hardware, and a flawless finish. I could hear wires rattling around inside the guitar when it was shaken, and I’m not a big fan of painted- on, “simulated” f-holes, but these are the only things I didn’t dig. However, players without much “Gretsch experience” might find the controls a tad arcane: three Volume knobs (one for each pickup and a Master), a standby switch (which should be on/off, but, true to Gretsch’s beloved quirkiness, it’s a 3-way selector with “middle” being silent, and up and down passing signal), and a 3-way Tone switch (medium level with high-frequency roll-off, wide open, slight level with high-frequency roll-off). It’s not really an issue getting used to the knobs and switches, and the range of tones you can sculpt offers everything from cozy mids to biting highs, with maximum chime present at all settings.

The Chet was nothing short of brilliant during a performance of punked-up Monkees tunes at a county fair in 104-degree heat. Amazingly, the guitar stayed in tune through- out the sun-baked set, and I’m not the type of player who is kind to strings. I bash with- out mercy. Also, the jangle retained its blossoming articulation whether I went for clean (“You Just May Be the One”) or overdriven tones (“Last Train to Clarksville”). This is simply a beautiful instrument with great sounds and stellar vibe. — MICHAEL MOLENDA

Guild G-312 CE Standard

Image placeholder title

GUILD HAS LONG BEEN FAMOUS for making great 12-string guitars, and “majestic” is a good word to describe the G-312 CE. This big acoustic-electric dreadnought features solid-wood construction with red spruce bracing under a Sitka spruce top. The satin-finished neck supports 20 care- fully finished frets on a rosewood ’board that wears dot position markers and a polished bone nut. Other items made from bone include the bridge pins and compensated saddle. The lacquer-finished guitar’s cosmetics include black/ivoroid binding, a multi-ring rosette, an intricate wood back stripe, and an inlaid pearl “Guild” logo on the large headstock. The workman- ship has the handcrafted appeal of every- thing being painstakingly done to yield an heirloom-grade instrument that will only get more soulful as the years go by. The G-312 CE tuned up easily, which is very welcome with so many strings to adjust, and the playability was satisfying right out of the box. Most new guitars can stand a little setup refinement and adjusting to the player’s preference, but the G-312’s action was easy enough and the intonation very tuneful up and down the neck. And, man, what a sound! This guitar rings out with shimmering complexity and a big voice that will definitely cut though in an unamplified situation. Chords sound deep and clear and single-note lines have a sweetness and righteous sense of natural chorusing that makes even the simplest melodies sound cool.

The D-TAR electronics integrate seamlessly into the G-312, and you have to look carefully to detect a set of Volume and Tone controls that lurk inside the upper edge of the soundhole. The tones though our test amps and P.A. were warm and open, and very little EQ adjusting was needed to get natural, organic sounds that were free of plasticy piezo transients. Even when strumming hard, the G-312 CE maintained an evenness that made it easy to forget that amplification was even involved. You definitely pay for what you get there, but G-312 CE blends classic craftsmanship and cutting-edge electronics in a package that truly bears homage to the fine flat-top 12s that Guild has long been known for. — ART THOMPSON

PRS Hollowbody 12 String

Image placeholder title

FROM THE MEATIER SIDE OF THE 12-string spectrum comes PRS’s Hollow- body 12 String, a guitar crafted in the image of this Maryland maker’s high-end offerings, with added accommodation for the extra wires. Its lines will be familiar from PRS’s Custom and McCarty models et al, as extrapolated to the Hollowbody model first released in 1998. As such, the Hollow- body 12 String has a mahogany body that is approximately 2 7/16" deep at the center, routed to be mostly hollow other than the sustain block that rises from back to top to provide an anchor for the stud-mounted bridge. It is capped with a two-piece carved maple top that reveals a gorgeous flame beneath its McCarty Tobacco Burst V12 finish, a formulation that the company says falls somewhere between nitro and urethane, and gives a “thin, hard, and clear finish that will not crack or react with thinners.”

The mahogany neck is carved to a full, rounded D profile with a width of 1 23/ 32 " at the nut, just a hair over that of most standard PRSs, to keep it familiar to the hands of players moving into the 12-string groove. Its rosewood fretboard is inlaid with “old-school” abalone birds, and the head- stock does an admirable job of seeking to retain PRS’s straight string pull from nut to tuners, requiring just the slightest outward veer to the 12 Phase III locking tuners. The bridge is a marvel of engineering based on the special-order PRS Adjustable Stoptail. Compactly complex yet extremely solid and efficient, this stud-mounted, wrap-around design has room to load all 12 ball ends and provide 12 individually adjustable saddles. The pickups are PRS’s Archtop Treble and Bass models, governed by lone Volume and Tone controls and a 3-way switch.

Dan Murphy, guitarist for Soul Asylum and Golden Smog, once told me his secret for finding the perfect 12-string: “If it’s in tune when I take it down off the wall, I buy it.” Not as glib as it might at first seem, that neatly sums up many players’ fears about the hassles of keeping a 12-string in tune. No such worries here. The guitar stayed beautifully in tune throughout my first day’s testing. Solidity is the name of the game here, and PRS has done a great job of making the Hollowbody 12 superbly playable, and instantly inviting even in the hands of a guitarist who, like me, hasn’t dab- bled in the 12-string arts for some time. Amped through a Matchless HC-30 and 2x12 cab, these humbuckers offer enough clarity for classic 12-string chime, yet there’s also a round, woody voice at their heart that offers a great alter- native. The neck position mimics an acoustic 12-string, or gushes jazzy electric warmth. Flip to the bridge and stomp an over- drive pedal for a massive rock tone that nearly overloads the harmonic spectrum— and with admirable feedback resistance for a hollowbody guitar. Between these there are tones for many moods and styles, making the Hollowbody 12 String a classy performer on all fronts. — DAVE HUNTER

RainSong JM 3000

Image placeholder title

IF YOU SUBSCRIBE TO THE IDEA that synthetic materials have some advantages in acoustic guitar construction, then the JM 3000 certainly reinforces that feeling. This jumbo-sized guitar has high-tech vibe aplenty courtesy of its carbon-fiber construction. The woven material looks cool under the glossy urethane finish, and the high strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber allows the JM 3000 to have a slimmer neck than most 12s, and one that’s so rigid and stable it doesn’t require a trussrod. The no- nonsense, black-on-black theme of the JM 3000 doesn’t preclude having some tasteful appointments, however, which include pearl “shark” inlays on the fretboard, an abalone rosette, and pearl-tipped bridge pins, which are Tusq synthetic types, of course. The JM 3000 is possibly the lightest 12-string fl at-top I’ve ever handled. Tip- ping the scales at well under five pounds, it feels very nimble, and with such a svelte neck it’s an ideal choice for players with smaller hands or anyone who doesn’t get on so well with hefty 12-string necks. The setup on this guitar is excellent overall, and the low action makes it super easy to play.

The JM 3000 sounds tuneful in all positions, and the tones are balanced and well focused. There are some differences in the texture of the sound compared to a wood guitar (there has to be, right?), but the JM 3000’s response isn’t cold or overly tight. This guitar pumps out loud, articulate shimmer when you hammer down on a chord or fl at- pick a melodic line, and it opens up nicely when you ease your attack or switch to fingerpicking. If anything, the carbon-fiber construction—and especially the “projection tuned layering” of the top—gives the quick dynamic response that you’d expect from a lightweight wooden guitar, but without all the compression. I found myself enjoying the acoustic tone of the JM 3000 quite a lot, and I guess my only hang with the carbon recipe is that it’s not going to get more vibey sounding with age. But if you like what you hear and feel in the JM 3000, it’s also nice to know that those things won’t change in response to temperature and humidity.

Plugged in, the JM 3000 sounds great with some midrange attenuation and a bit of treble boost, yielding clear, ringing highs, tight bottom, and plenty of presence in the upper mids. The Fishman system offers lots of tone control options, but the location of the control panel aft of the upper bout makes it tricky to reach the knobs and sliders, let alone see what you’re turning or sliding. I suppose it just takes some getting used to, but that’s my only niggle in what is other- wise a well-conceived instrument for players who want a lightweight and very stable guitar for stage or recording. — ART THOMPSON

Schecter Stargazer 12

Image placeholder title

WITH LINES THAT VEER A BIT toward the Rickenbacker side of the tracks, the Stargazer is super sweet-looking with its gleaming white finish and crisp black bindings that outline the top, neck, and sculpted headstock. You can also get it in black with white trim, but either way, this guitar is ideally suited for 6-string electric players who don’t want to have to adjust to a wider neck when it’s time to pick up the 12. In fact, the Stargazer’s glued-in neck offers a very comfy playing feel and the rounded heel and deep cutaways make it as easy to reach the high positions as on any 6-string. The playability is also facilitated by the 22 jumbo frets, which are mirror polished and silky smooth on the ends. The nut is also nicely set and rounded off to keep it from nicking your fingers.

The body’s chunky horns and the two- piece pickguard give the Stargazer a whiff of retro “pawnshop” vibe, but this is definitely a modern-rock-ready instrument with power to spare under the hood thanks to a pair of alnico humbuckers with staggered poles. Reminiscent of the Seth Lover-designed ’buckers used on Fender’s Telecaster Deluxe, these Schecter-made units have plenty of output and deliver a clear, balanced sound. They cover a broad range of textures, too, thanks to the dual sets of controls and the coil-splitting function that essentially turns either humbucker into a single-coil when you pull its respective Tone knob. The twin-coil mode is great for powering down with some amp or pedal distortion, while activating the coil splitting on both pick- ups yields spectacular sparkle and chime. One of my favorite settings was with the neck pickup split and the bridge unit in humbucker mode, as it provided deliciously fat tones with nice top-end bite that were great for playing standout melodic lines. A slight oddity, however, is that when both pickups are on, the Volume controls go abruptly to “off” when you turn them way down. Their response is much more linear when using either pickup by itself.

Easy playing and tuneful sounding throughout the range of the fretboard, the Stargazer 12 is an alluring choice for anyone seeking a 12-string electric that can cover any- thing from Americana to alt metal, getting you there in style at a price that’s every bit as attractive. — ART THOMPSON

Seagull Coastline S12 Cedar Q1

Image placeholder title

ONE OF SEVERAL BRANDS PRODUCED by Montreal-based Godin, the Seagull line of acoustics is made in LaPatrie, Quebec— one of six factories that Godin owns and operates on the North American continent. A lot of handwork goes into every brand that falls under the Godin umbrella—Godin, Simon & Patrick, Richmond, and Seagull— and the Coastline S12 Cedar Q1 is a great example of the quality that is found across the board in this Canadian company’s line of instruments. This classy looking guitar wears a polished satin finish over a body made from laminated wild cherry with a solid cedar top. The similarly finished silver leaf maple neck has an easy feel thanks to its medium profile and carefully worked frets. It is, however, the widest neck in this roundup, measuring 1.93" across the smoothly finished nut, so you may want to visit your local dealer for a test drive. As with most Seagull models, the Coast- line S12 has a tasteful cosmetic treatment that includes perfectly installed cream binding, a multi-ring rosette with herringbone center, pearl fretboard dots, and a dark brown facing with a hand-scraped wood outline on the angled headstock.

Smooth turning machines pulled the Coastline S12 up to pitch easily, and the task was facilitated by a glitch-free tuner residing next to a trio of controls on the engraved pewter panel of the Quantum Q1T preamp. The guitar intonates very sweetly, and when played acoustically, the Coastline S12 has a rich, dynamic sound that lets fingerpicked lines ring out with crisp detail and good top-to-bottom balance. It stays clear and articulate under forceful strumming, too, which is partly due to pressure testing of the cedar top to ensure that it’s not prone to excessive compression.

In amplified mode, the S12 sounds just as crisp and lively, with strong lows and a midrange that is so well voiced that not having any way to EQ the mids is not an issue. And with no weird piezo transients to have to deal with, the simple Bass and Treble controls provide ample tone shaping for a range of sounds that can cover everything from coffeehouse gigs to concert performances. Bottom line: So long as you don’t need a cut- away to get your game on, this is a fine 12-string that lands at a very attractive price for a guitar made in this part of the world. — ART THOMPSON