The Woodshed

12 String Playing Suggestions?

1

My apologies if this has been addressed somewhere else in this forum but, since I've looked and haven't found it elsewhere, here goes.

I've been playing since the mid-50s, but the lion's share of my experience has been with 6 strings. I do have a 12 string Danelectro that I've done a little recording with, but I don't play it a lot. I recently purchased a 2018 Alvarez AJ80CE-12 from a friend who was downsizing his collection.

This was a case of love at first strum. This is a REALLY nice guitar and I find myself playing it a lot ... or, at least, trying to. And this is a guitar that I want to play more. Yeah, I can do some of the basic 12 string riffs, but the more I play, the more I realize that I'm just missing some fingering "connection" with the additional 6 strings.

Is this a normal thing after spending a lifetime in a 6 string world? Is it just a matter of "keep playing and it will get easier" or are there some tips that any of you might have that could help me speed up the transition?

Actually, "transition" is probably the wrong word because I have no intention of abandoning my 6 string family, I just want to add a lot more 12 string to it.

Anyhow, that's my story and if any of you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks!

2

Hello wgnhim, here's a few strategies I try to employ to get more out of a 12 string guitar.

Technique- make sure your fretting hand is in good shape. 12 strings magnify any fretting errors so try to play with the tips of the fingers on single notes and chords. When you play, really be conscious of hearing each double-course of strings ringing clearly, free from buzzing and that adjacent strings are unimpeded.

For the picking hand, work on some cross-picking or fingerpicking. Flat strumming doesn't always pull the best out of the instrument.

Stylings- play less, think smaller, sound better. Full bar chords are hard work and we don't need to develop Popeye forearms to enjoy this thing. Smaller chord voicings such as triads (three note chords) will still have six strings ringing- a little goes a long way. And open strings are your best friends, so have them pull up a chair and stay for tea.

More Chordal Suggestions- Play normal cowboy chords, add a finger here and there to make nice suspended voicings. Move those normal open chords all around the neck and remember the cool ones. Jazz voicings can also sound great with surprising high notes inside the cluster, almost like a steel guitar.

Lead lines- if you've cultivated a rich repertoire of fluid bluesy string bends, say cheerio to them. You'll now be playing flat and square, so embrace it and develop more slides, hammers and drone tricks to compensate.

Other Stuff- don't be afraid of a capo. These things are harder to fret, so keep life as simple and easy as it can be. In the old days, acoustic 12 strings were often slack tuned D-D to help the instrument from collapsing in on itself over time like a timber wormhole- it's still a good idea if you're using 11+ gauge strings.

Inner Language- You can play the same things you would on a 6 string, but some of it just won't work so good. Experiment, find the things it wants to do well and do more of those.

The instrument will steer you into different ways of playing, just go where it wants you to go and you'll find yourself somewhere really very lovely.

3

Hello wgnhim, here's a few strategies I try to employ to get more out of a 12 string guitar.

Technique- make sure your fretting hand is in good shape. 12 strings magnify any fretting errors so try to play with the tips of the fingers on single notes and chords. When you play, really be conscious of hearing each double-course of strings ringing clearly, free from buzzing and that adjacent strings are unimpeded.

For the picking hand, work on some cross-picking or fingerpicking. Flat strumming doesn't always pull the best out of the instrument.

Stylings- play less, think smaller, sound better. Full bar chords are hard work and we don't need to develop Popeye forearms to enjoy this thing. Smaller chord voicings such as triads (three note chords) will still have six strings ringing- a little goes a long way. And open strings are your best friends, so have them pull up a chair and stay for tea.

More Chordal Suggestions- Play normal cowboy chords, add a finger here and there to make nice suspended voicings. Move those normal open chords all around the neck and remember the cool ones. Jazz voicings can also sound great with surprising high notes inside the cluster, almost like a steel guitar.

Lead lines- if you've cultivated a rich repertoire of fluid bluesy string bends, say cheerio to them. You'll now be playing flat and square, so embrace it and develop more slides, hammers and drone tricks to compensate.

Other Stuff- don't be afraid of a capo. These things are harder to fret, so keep life as simple and easy as it can be. In the old days, acoustic 12 strings were often slack tuned D-D to help the instrument from collapsing in on itself over time like a timber wormhole- it's still a good idea if you're using 11+ gauge strings.

Inner Language- You can play the same things you would on a 6 string, but some of it just won't work so good. Experiment, find the things it wants to do well and do more of those.

The instrument will steer you into different ways of playing, just go where it wants you to go and you'll find yourself somewhere really very lovely.

– ade

Excellent advice, Ade.

4

and for the sake of your fingers and spirit, have a proper luthier set it up for the lowest action reasonably possible. less than 1mm can make a world of difference in playability.

it can help if you can be aware enough of your fingering that you can try to come down on the string pair as vertically as possible; if you're coming in at a diagonal to the fretboard you're more likely to fluff the fingering on the octave string.

open chords are your new best friends. try running an A or D chord up the neck in different positions with a low-note drone. add some passing tones, and you've just become David Crosby!

for leads, try thinking of the doubled strings as if they're a mandolin, bouzouki, or other stringed instrument with strings in pairs. McGuinn was trying to do sitar-via-Coltrane on "Eight Miles High."

I have the non-cutaway version of that Alvy. it's a great instrument, and i've had it tuned to concert pitch for 15 years with no ill effects.

5

and don't be disconcerted if it doesn't sound like a Rickenbacker. obviously the acoustic will have very different characteristics, but what i mean is that Rick 12-strings have the octave pairs reversed so you hit the lower string before the octave, while the vast majority of 12s have the octave string to the outside. this means that Ricks emphasize the tonic more than the octave. to get that you'd have to have a new nut and saddle done. honestly, i don't see the point unless you really, really want that specific attack, and attack is not the strong point of jumbo acoustics anyway.

7

I've used the paired E's and B's for "mandolin-style" bluegrass fills and solos in the past (works best on an acoustic 12), and that's been reasonably effective.

I also learned early on to stay clear of too much flat-picking in the middle of the neck, it gets muddy in a hurry.

8

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I REALLY appreciate all of your thoughtful, informative answers and I'm going to do my best to put your suggestions into practice.

This also reaffirms my belief that this group is, hands down, the best guitar forum on the web. It may be The Gretsch Pages but, while Gretsch is the main focus, I've always appreciated the open minded attitude to other wood and steel related subjects. I'm sure Chet would approve.

Again, thank you.

Steve


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