Other Guitars

Custom Unison Twelvesby

1

It has been a long road, but the concept has been realized. A unison 12-string (no octave strings, think lute or mandolin courses). Body shape based on the guitars Paul Bigsby made for Merle Travis and Butterball Page. The headstock shape is poached from one used by Gibson for some of their early mandolins and banjos. Pickups by Pete Biltoft of www.vintagevibeguitars.com combine aspects of Charlie Christian and Bigsby pickups. Whether that makes sense or not, they sound absolutely huge! Big and bold and articulate, but at the same time lots of shimmery overtones come through. At times it sounds almost organ-like, on other settings more like a harpsichord or hammered dulcimer. Going to try an unbalanced string arrangement, with the top string in each course a heavy flat-wound (and a wound G) and the lower string in each course something light and bright. And yeah, that's a truarc and a 12-string drilled bigsby, which works great for my mostly subtle bigsby work and holds tune without a problem.

The original builder and I had quite a few communication problems and what I received from him wasn't working. I put it under my bed and tried not to think about it. But a friend in NYC has been developing his own guitar line (Brooklyn Instruments) insisted I get it to him and wanted to get it right, with no charge for the labor. I couldn't refuse the offer. So a year and a half ago, I shlepped it back to the US when I attended a wedding and got it to him. He tweaked and re-did a bunch of things. The birdseye 'pickguard' shapes cover where he expanded the chambering (it still ain't light, somewhere approaching 9 pounds). The top is birdseye as well, but the original builder didn't buff it, so the figure is obscured. If you look closely, you can see it. Frankly, came out looking a bit like a frankensteinian instrument, but it's unique and combines elements I love to more and less successful degrees. I think about replacing the pickguards with ebony, to make it less busy. But they are oh so pretty (much more amber than yellow as they appear in the pics) and my friend did such a great job with them. So...we'll see. Looking forward to seeing what riffs I find in it. Enjoy the crazy pics for now. Clips at some point...

7

Geez, Bucko, that's a wild-n-crazy thing! Congrats for following a custom concept all the way through to realization, and sticking with it through the vagaries that always dog the way.

Nother words, concepts are easy: reality is hard.

Love to hear this thing in action too. Unison 12-string. Soon as you say it, it makes perfect sense. Why don't we ever hear of such things?

8

Looks absolutely killer.

Can't wait to hear the clips.

9

I think it looks great. Enjoy it.

12

If it sounds as good as it looks you've got a winner. Wine red, I see.

13

Congratulations, that looks fantastic; and like everyone else, I'm looking forward to hearing it. What's it weigh?

14

Super duper cool!! Can't wait to hear it.

15

Congratulations, Ori, on getting this thing across the finish line. You first talked about it so long ago that I had forgotten that I hadn't seen any report on its completion. Maybe you did and I just missed it. It looks tremendous and, like the others, I would be eager to hear it.

16

That’s beautiful! How’s the tuning stability with the bigsby?

17

Thanks all.

Sandy, it ain't light. Around 8-9 lbs.

Cirecc, tuning stability is fine. But I don't really dive bomb. Tried it though and it holds.

18

Looking forward to hearing this intriguing guitar. Getting it completed has been quite a journey, so pleased you got it over the line.

19

That looks like a lot of fun! Can't wait to hear it

20

So, I've had some real time with the Twelvesby now, though don't yet have clips . Bear with me there.

I switched the upper strings in each course to a set of D'Addario chrome flatwounds (11s), which were the only flatwounds in my local shop. The bottom strings in each course are still the Vinci ultra-light roundwound 8s. I am loving this improvement. Still plenty of swirling shimmery overtones on tap, but more articulation and better feel. I'd like to go up to flatwound 9s (if anyone makes them) for the lower string in each course, but want to give the neck some time to adjust to the increase in tension. Second builder said to take it slow. Not sure about going up to 10s, both out of concern for tension over time and because I like the imbalanced feel.

In addition to playing my regular tunes, the guitar has me playing around with some Tuareg-esque or Tuareg influenced riffs. Don't really know what I am doing there. But, to paraphrase the recently departed and much missed Tom Petty, gotta make the most out of not knowing what the hell you are doing. That (not speed or distortion) is the fundamental 'go for it' principle of punk rock I admire. I'd like to mess around with more tunings...but it takes 1.5 times as long to tune a 12-string, and I am lazy. Regardless, it's great fun. I've messed around with various tremolo settings and am using a bit of slapback. No reverb. Makes it too mushy, if that makes sense. And the slap-back with a bit of palm muting is complex enough with 12 strings. Subtly different from slap-back on 6 strings. But adds dimension without getting messy.

All in all, I am pleased. Very pleased. Having a blast. But, of course, given the idiosyncrasies of the instrument and the twists and turns between builders (and hemispheres), there are some things I would do a bit differently were I to start over. Wish I had builder skills and equipment. I'd produce several.

Also, a lovely fellow on another site asked me if it is going to be a production model and a for a price quote. Flattered! If I were to tweak toward a production model, or just a second version based on the first, here is what I would do.

  1. Widen the nut a tad. Not really hampered by it as is, but I think it would open up some possibilities and be a bit more comfortable (or require less hand adjustment forsda existing riffs, which isn't too much at present, but nonetheless...). This would also allow just a smidge more space between the strings in each course, which I think would be a bit better. I wouldn't expect any of this to be a huge transformation, but would nice tweaks.

  2. Slightly wider and lower frets.

  3. A bit more fretboard radius. I asked for 9.5 (in writing), but the original builder seems to have done it as a 12. Maybe even go to a vntage 7.5?

  4. Possibly add some reinforcement rods to the neck, just so I would be more relaxed about the heavier strings. It has a standard truss rod at present.

  5. Inset a non-tension bar bigsby into the top, or otherwise configure neck height/angle. G&Ls and some private builders do this. All in all, lots of comments I have gotten elsewhere are pretty freaked out about the 12-string bigsby, but it holds great in terms of tuning. Gratitude here to Cam (may his memory be blessed and be a blessing) for encouraging me to go for it. He had a 12-string Guild Starfire with a modded bigsby that showed me the precedent.

  6. Chamber it fully, like a vintage Jet or Aristocrat or Spectra Sonic. It's around 9 lbs. right now. At least up to the point that it would induce neck dive. The big thick neck should allow much more chambering without sacrificing balance even with that fairly big headstock. If necessary, would be open to a slotted headstock to facilitate more chambering. Wouldn't want a smaller body, though one person did call it 'compact' already, I like larger body guitars. Wouldn't mind getting it up to Spectra Sonic width. It's a bit smaller than that.

  7. Some aesthetic issues. First, find a way to get this dark red stain to reveal the birdseye figure. It comes out if you look close in natural light. There must be a technique that would reveal it more. Or maybe use a cherry or ash burl veneer. I would make the lower pickguard in ebony and a bigsby style armrest ornament in ebony as well in place of the big upper panel. Or go without. Or inset an ebony pearse style armrest or another smaller shape. And though I love these pickups, I don't think the angular geometry of the CC works so well with this curvy body shape. They were a concession to budget. I'd like to have one with open top TK Smith bigsby pickups, maybe with pole pieces in the neck and a blade in the bridge. Not sure if the pole piece spacing would work. But I like as much articulation as possible from the neck pup.

Also, I see I never explained why I wanted a unison as opposed to traditional twelve-string with octave courses on the lower four courses. Someone asked me elsewhere. I love trad 12-string guitars, especially the Ricks with the fundamental/heaver string before the octave string. I had a Dano 12 and enjoyed it. I thought the lipsticks sounded great (another pickup I'd consider). But lots of my riffs mix single notes or double-stops on the lower strings over open strings. And they go up the neck. When you go above the fifth fret, say on the A string, the octave note overwhelms and changes the timber of the overtones (and undertones, for that matter, or just tones). This works much better for those riffs. Or simply closer to what I am going for.


Register Sign in to join the conversation