Nothing compares to a 12-string guitar when it comes to coming up with unique sounds to extend your sonic palette to spice up your playing. The unusual doubling quality that these instruments offer can provide memorable sounds for chords and lines that cannot be reproduced with pedals or overdubs.
The principle behind the 12-string guitar is rather simple. The bottom four strings are doubled an octave higher, while the top two are doubled in unison. This results in a guitar with a broader frequency spectrum, which in return provides deeper textures and overtones as well a sparkly top-end.
Chords played in a 12-string guitar sound massive, particularly if they involve open strings. On the other hand, lines become more texturized and fuller, giving you a unique quality.
The 12-string guitar rose to prominence during the 1960s, becoming quite common in popular music, from folk and songwriting circles all the way to the psychedelic scene of those times. Whether acoustic or electric, 12-string guitars remain popular today.
And once you run them through effects, the floodgates of tonal possibilities multiply exponentially. As a matter of fact, pairing a 12-string electric with a fuzz pedal has become a go-to sound for many players looking to expand their options.
With so many choices on the market, it can be a bit daunting to pick the 12-string guitar that works for you. We’re here to help you. Keep reading.
- Best 12-String Guitars: Top 3 Picks
- Best 12-String Guitars: Individual Reviews
- How To Choose The Best Best 12-String Guitar For You
- Final Thoughts on the Best 12-String Guitars
Best 12-String Guitars: Top 3 Picks
The Guild Starfire I 12-ST 12-string Semi-hollow Electric Guitar is our Top Pick. This is a versatile and nice-sounding 12-string with good tuning stability and a full-bodied sound on a mahogany body.
The Epiphone Songmaker DR-212 is our Best Budget, perfect for folk music and songwriting. This guitar has a beautifully natural sound thanks to its spruce top and mahogany body.
Finally, the Taylor 254ce 12-string is our Editor’s Choice. This is a superior 12-string guitar for the ultimate professional and comes with excellent tone, playability, and craftsmanship for discerning musicians.
Best 12-String Guitars: Individual Reviews
The Guild Starfire I 12-ST is a semi-hollow electric 12-string guitar with a convenient double-cutaway design and mahogany body. The neck on this guitar is also mahogany and comes with a gorgeous rosewood fingerboard.
As it is customary in semi-hollow electric guitars, this Guild has a center block for minimizing feedback and delivering fat tone.
This guitar comes with two Split HB-2 humbuckers made of alnico for added PAF-style fullness and warmth. These pickups employ a push-pull mechanism for coil-splitting in order to give you even more flexibility and sounds.
We tried this guitar with our Fender Twin Reverb amp. This was a great pairing, as we got nice cleans with plenty of chime, perfect for lush rhythm parts and arpeggios. We like both pickups used as humbuckers, with the one on the bridge providing bite and the neck pickup providing warmth and a full sound.
We then added a Tube Screamer and got a nice overdrive all the way to big distortion that was great for powerful rhythm parts. We also liked how melody lines sounded on this 12-string with a bit of overdrive, particularly on the bridge pickup.
Regarding playability, this Guild features a nice “U”-style neck with a 1-11/16-inch nut width that gave us enough room to play comfortably. The Indian rosewood fingerboard felt good and gave us a nice response, and the flat 12.5-inch radius was fantastic for this 12-string guitar.
Naturally, tuning a 12-string guitar may prove challenging at times, so Guild outfitted this guitar with a Tune-o-Matic bridge and Guild’s 15:01 tuners for great tuning stability. In short, a nice 12-string electric that delivers great tone and provides a comfortable playing experience.
Verdict: The Guild Starfire I 12-ST features a semi-hollow design with a double-cutaway construction on a mahogany body and neck. This guitar offers penetrating and fat tones with versatile coil-splitting electronics.
The Epiphone Songmaker DR-21 is an acoustic 12-string guitar that comes in a natural finish, with a spruce top and mahogany body. It features a scalloped bracing construction and a set mahogany set neck.
We were excited to try this guitar and started our tests by playing some open chords. We got a rich tone that filled up our room thanks to the combination of a spruce top with mahogany on its back and sides. The sound of this guitar was very balanced across the frequency spectrum, with a natural tone that truly matched the DR-21’s appearance.
This guitar also felt comfortable to play, as it features a 25.5″ scale and a nut width of 1.75″ on a nice rosewood fretboard with dot inlays. We had plenty of space to maneuver around chords, play some lines and even try to come up with a riff or progression.
The Epiphone Songmaker DR-21 does not feature any electronics, making it ideal for songwriters that want to get to writing with no distractions. This guitar is also great for those that love to just play songs and truly enjoy the music.
In short, a nice guitar for anyone looking for a straightforward instrument that sounds great for a low price.
Verdict: The Epiphone Songmaker DR-21 is an acoustic 12-string guitar that is perfect for songwriters or those just wanting to enjoy playing some songs with a nice instrument. It comes in a natural finish and features a spruce top and mahogany body for great resonance at a low price. With a scalloped bracing construction and a set mahogany set neck, this is a comfortable yet durable instrument.
The Taylor 254ce 12-string guitar comes in a reduced Grand Auditorium body style, with layered rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top for superior tone and balanced projection.
This 12-string features an Expression System 2 (ES2) electronics that come with a three-section proprietary pickup that is placed right behind the guitar’s saddle. This allows for clear sound reproduction so you can still get natural sound when plugged in.
You also get a master volume control as well as two tone controls and a discreet phase for curbing feedback. These controls are found on the side of the guitar body, right above where the guitar neck meets the body, just like in most Taylor guitars.
We tried this guitar unplugged first. The fantastic tone and comfort that Taylor is known for were present from the very first chord we played. The sound of this guitar was whole and present and had a very balanced frequency response to it. The 254ce 12-string gave us a warm and full-bodied sound, just as we expected.
Regarding playability, this 12-string felt very comfortable at all times. We loved the matte-finished mahogany neck and the feel and response of the West African Crelicam Ebony on the fretboard. With a scale length of 25.5″ and a nut of 1.875″, this guitar is a joy to play.
We then plugged into our Roland JC-120 to try the ES2 electronics. Here we got a natural acoustic tone that preserved the guitar’s full-bodied sound.
In short, a great 12-string guitar for folks that are willing to pay for quality, better sound, and enhanced playability. This is a versatile 12-string guitar that you can use to write as well as perform with high standards.
Verdict: The Taylor 254ce 12-string guitar features a reduced Grand Auditorium body style, fantastic wood combination, and overall construction for great tone projection. This guitar is ideal for professionals that make quality and tone their top priorities.
The Fender Villager 12-String V3 features a solid spruce top and laminate mahogany for the back and sides. It also comes with a slim “C”-shaped mahogany neck and a walnut fingerboard. The cherry on the cake is its vintage and distinctive “hockey-stick” headstock.
This guitar features a cutaway dreadnought body style for greater comfort and a big acoustic tone. For playing live, this 12-string Fender comes with a Fishman Presys pickup system that is simple yet effective.
The Presys blend system gives you treble, mid, bass, volume, and phase controls so you can dial in your tone just the way you like it. For added convenience, it also features a built-in tuner.
We tried this guitar and quickly understood why it’s been so beloved for over 50 years. The Fender Villager 12-String V3 gave us a full sound that is optimal for songwriting and performing acoustic parts. It has a certain folk quality to it with an earthy feel with great projection.
Plugged in, the Presys Blend system does a great job of replicating the acoustic sound of this guitar. We were able to dial in our sound easily thanks to the individual tone controls while keeping the essence of this instrument in the plugged-in sound.
Other noteworthy features on this 12-string include an optimized X-bracing design, classic gold pickguard, bone nut, and a Viking walnut bridge with a compensated NuBone saddle for further tone enhancement.
Although we enjoyed playing it, this guitar is not particularly comfortable when it comes to playability. In short, a nice 12-string guitar with a folk vibe and overall sound.
Verdict: The Fender Villager 12-String V3 comes with a solid spruce top and laminate mahogany on the back and sides, for an authentic folk tone. It features a slim “C”-shaped mahogany neck with a walnut fingerboard and is a good choice for the price.
The Danelectro 59X12 is a 12-string version of the popular 59XT guitar by the same brand. It comes with a P-90 pickup on the neck and a Dual Lipstick Humbucker with coil splitting on the bridge position for maximum versatility.
The P-90 on the bridge features an angled pickup design that does a good job of balancing notes across all twelve strings, producing clearer low octaves and clarity.
The push-pull coil-split feature adds to the versatility of this instrument allowing you to get more bite when needed.
This guitar comes in a typical Danelectro design featuring a shorthorn body, Coke bottle headstock, and lipstick pickup covers for a unique look. The resonant hardwood body matches nicely with the snappy maple neck and to complete the package there is a pau Ferro fingerboard for additional richness and sustain.
We tried this guitar and got an unmistakable Danelectro tone, feel, and quirkiness. We really liked how both pickups performed as they gave us variety. From the warmth offered by the P-90s to the bite and growl from the lipstick humbuckers, this guitar can function in a variety of settings.
An important feature of this guitar is the adjustable hardtail bridge that helps with the instrument’s intonation and sustain. This 12-string also features die-cast chrome knobs and nice-looking chrome hardware.
In short, a great guitar particularly for those looking for something different. Folks that prefer more traditional 12-strings may want to look elsewhere.
Verdict: The Danelectro 59X12 is based on the famous 59XT guitar, but has 12 strings instead. It comes with two very different pickups with coil-splitting for enhanced flexibility. From the tone to the feel, this guitar is a great choice for those that like the Danelectro ethos or want something off the beaten path.
The Yamaha FG820 12-string features a solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides as well as a scalloped bracing construction. This results in a larger low-end and enhanced projection for this guitar, and also makes it a durable instrument that can last you for a while.
We tried this guitar by playing some chords, lines, and full songs. The tone projects well, with enhanced midrange frequencies. This guitar also does a good job of keeping top-end clarity, and we felt that through the neck, even with barred chods past the fifth fret.
We particularly like this guitar for writing, as it is inspiring to play. The sound is relatively gentle with a fullness that lends itself well to vocal accompaniment. This guitar does not feature any onboard electronics.
We also felt comfortable while playing this guitar. It features a standard-shaped neck and a responsive rosewood fingerboard. This Yamaha 12-string comes with a 15.75″ radius, 25″ scale length, and a 1.8125″ nut width. The neck was comfortable and responsive, and we had enough space to move our fingers around accurately.
In short, a nice instrument, particularly for songwriters and beginners. It comes with proven Yamaha quality, at a price that will fit most budgets. However, if you are a more experienced player, you may consider another model.
Verdict: The Yamaha FG820 12-string features a nice combination of tonewoods for a good tone at a low price. With a solid spruce top, and mahogany back and sides, this 12-string is a good option for writing and for beginners.
The Martin D-X2E 12-string Dreadnought features a Sitka spruce top and a non-scalloped X-bracing design. The neck, fingerboard, and bridge are made of “select hardwood” a term that Martin uses and that may refer to mahogany, Spanish cedar, or other woods, depending on who you ask.
This is becoming a trend among some acoustic guitar companies mainly because of wood scarcity. By using “select hardwood” the company will make the guitar based on what wood is available at the time of manufacturing the instrument.
The D-X2E 12-string acoustic comes with Fishman MX electronics so you can plug in and easily perform with it. The preamp is mounted inside the sound hole and is easily accessible and very convenient for on-the-fly volume and tone changes.
We tried this guitar unplugged at first and got a true Martin tone with a natural sound and great projection that this brand is revered for. The sound of this dreadnought had snappy bass as well as nice mids and highs. It was more frontal than mellow and very present overall.
Next, we plugged in this Martin to try how the Fishman electronics perform. This system did a good job of capturing the essence of the D-X2E 12-string. It does only feature a volume and tone knob, so there is not much flexibility to dial the tone exactly as you want it.
In short, a good Martin 12-string guitar is inexpensive and convenient. This guitar is a great option for beginners and those that want a nice 12-string that does not break the bank.
Verdict: The Martin D-X2E 12-string Dreadnought comes with a Sitka spruce top and a non-scalloped X-bracing construction. Martin managed to offer a 12-string with a nice tone and projection, with the addition of onboard electronics while keeping the price of this instrument relatively low.
How To Choose The Best Best 12-String Guitar For You
There are several factors that you should consider when buying a 12-string guitar. Below we give you the main ones to put you on the right track.
Electric, acoustic or both
Typically, if you want to write songs, go into folk music, or just popular music in general, the common choice would be an acoustic guitar. On the other hand, if you want to add distortion to some textured lines and go into experimental territory, then an electric 12-string is better.
Naturally, you need to ask yourself what you want. After all, there is no rule saying that a folk musician cannot play an electric 12-string. If you’re undecided, try both types of 12 strings to see what feels better to you.
The overall tone and resonance of your instrument come mainly from the type of wood used in the body, particularly for acoustic guitars. Different types of wood have different properties and provide different sounds.
The top wood is a crucial choice for acoustic guitars. Two common choices that produce a nice tone are spruce and cedar, both known to deliver a good response and a full-bodied sound.
On the other hand, the back and sides of an acoustic 12 strings are usually made of mahogany or maple. Another choice that is becoming increasingly common for both acoustic and electrics is ash.
One of the most common body shapes for acoustic guitars, including 12-strings, is the dreadnought guitar body, featuring a wider waist than a classical guitar. This shape provides a bigger acoustic chamber that delivers significant volume and an even tone.
Some guitars come with a cutaway that enables the left hand to easily reach the top and narrower frets. Usually, this does not affect the tone and is done for convenience and comfort.
Neck material and shape
A 12-string guitar neck will typically be a bit wider than in 6-string models. This is to appropriately accommodate the extra six strings and allow enough space.
The popular “C” shaped neck is common in 12-string models and tends to offer a comfortable playing experience. On the contrary, a “D” neck is a bit thicker and rounder, in case you prefer that type of feel.
Most necks on modern 12-string guitars come with internal steel truss rods to support the neck, which is usually made of mahogany or maple.
Scale and frets.
The distance from the nut to the bridge is the guitar’s scale length, with 25 inches being the most common one. Some players prefer longer scale lengths, even though these put the frets slightly further apart.
Additionally, a longer scale results in the string needing to be stretched at a higher tension in order to tune to the same pitch which can result in a brighter tone. But when it comes to scale length, it is all about preference and finding out what feels good to you.
Tuning is a very important issue for a 12-string guitar. With twice as many strings to tune, skimping on tuning machines is a recipe for disaster. Stable and trustworthy tuners are a must for 12-string guitars to ensure you don’t spend half the gig tuning.
Some acoustic 12-string guitars include an electronic system that lets you plug in and others do not. It is important to know what you need the guitar for. In case you want to gig or play live, some kind of internal amplification is essential.
On the other hand, electric 12-string guitars can come with pickups and configurations that vary immensely. Here the question becomes whether you want a humbucker or single coil sound, or a guitar that gives you a bit of both. Again, developing your own criteria is essential to understanding what kind of electronics you prefer.
Final Thoughts on the Best 12-String Guitars
No other instrument gives you the sound, flavor, and overall vibe of a 12-string guitar. With twice the strings, a wider frequency spectrum, and far more volume, these instruments bring something unique to the table.
Additionally, 12-string guitars also give you extra harmonic richness and will make your pedals seem like they have a different capability previously unknown to you.
To recap our choices for this article, the Guild Starfire I 12-ST 12-string Semi-hollow Electric Guitar is our Top Pick, providing versatility and good 12-string sound with tuning stability.
The Epiphone Songmaker DR-212 is our Best Budget, ideal for folk music and songwriting given its natural sound.
Finally, the Taylor 254ce 12-string is our Editor’s Choice, with excellent tone, playability, and craftsmanship for discerning musicians.