Somewhat embarrassing question...Acoustic 12 string

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by sk25, Feb 28, 2020.

  1. sk25

    sk25 Tele-Meister

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    Ok, picture first:

    Acoustic2.jpg

    It's a black Fender DG-16e12, seen here next to my little $13 yard sale Telleno. Picked it up for $100 or so with a flimsy acoustic case at GC a while back. Seems solid as a rock, doesn't seem to have any of the typical 12 string problems with structural integrity. I know it's not a high end 12 string, but I like it anyway.

    This is the first 12 string I've ever had, so bear with me please.

    I like the way it sounds when I play chords, I like the thick neck on it, I like the ease with which I can play chords on it...it sounds, for lack of a better word, "pretty" in a way the majority of 6 string guitars just don't. I've got the chord playing down nicely.

    But, when I try to play anything BUT chords, well...it's bad. Real bad. I'm talking trainwreck. I'm also 100% sure that this comes down entirely to my technique, or lack thereof. Pick or fingers, it's completely a mess, hitting the wrong string of the pair or inconsistent volume, it's clear I'm doing it wrong. I've been trying to figure it out for a while now, but whatever I'm doing isn't working. I've only ever played 6 strings up to this point, and I need some direction. How?! How do I play this thing so I don't sound like a six year old who just received his first guitar?! I would love to be able to play more than just chords.

    Also, anything you can tell me about these will help. I've read that some people tune them down and use a capo, for instance.
     
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  2. ale.istotle

    ale.istotle Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    No personal experience, but i feel like this one is going to need a clip to hear the issue.
     
  3. Dismalhead

    Dismalhead Poster Extraordinaire

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    I just picked up a 12-string a few months back. It's been about 30 years since I played one.

    I've found I have to change my technique when playing single note leads. You have to hold down each course (pair of strings) cleanly from more of a right angle to the fretboard than I'm used to using. Bends and vibrato are somewhat limited due to the tension. Last of all I've found it somewhat difficult to bend the course and have both strings in the pair stay the same pitch for the whole bend, which results in some funky unpleasant off-sounding notes. So I'm bending less.

    I'm getting better at it, so I'm guessing that there's a learning curve just like when you first started out and learned to fret your first chords cleanly without muffled or buzzing strings.
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2020
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  4. marshman

    marshman Poster Extraordinaire

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    I also find it very difficult to play single note lines on my 12-string. And given that most, if not all, high-register chords sound pretty good up the neck, I am fairly sure it’s not an intonation issue. Tuning between strings in a course is sketchy up higher in my experience, and bends sound dreadful. So, maybe not very helpful, but know that you’re not alone.

    I also like to tune the whole thing down to “D standard”, and try to learn songs in proper key without capo if necessary but other guitar players get realllly confused by the transpositions, so have temporarily gone back to standard tuning. My 12-string does not much care for capos.
     
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  5. tfarny

    tfarny Friend of Leo's

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    I have owned a 12 for about a year and a half - I don't play it a ton, but there is nothing quite like the sound of a nice 12. It's really a chording instrument at heart.
    To get blazing leads out of it is a ton of work. I can play melody lines on mine just fine though. It takes focused practice, like anything. I wonder what the neck dimensions are on yours - mine has a 1 7/8 nut width and a very wide fretboard. If yours is narrower than that I can imagine that fretting and picking single note lines would be really rough.

    Finally - an acoustic 6 string isn't pretty sounding? Maybe you've just not had a real good one yet....
     
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  6. arlum

    arlum Tele-Meister Gold Supporter

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    You can't hit the wrong string of a pair because you always pick both strings of the pair.

    I've played 12 strings along with 6 strings for years. My first piece of advice is to forget playing 6 string tab on a 12 string. You can still play the song but you'll have to substitute slides for any bends called for in the tab. While string bending is physically possible on a 12 string doing so and keeping both strings of a pair in tune with each other during the bend is virtually impossible. Next ..... other than the E and B unison pairs the two strings of a pair aren't level with each other because of the size difference between the wound and plain string types. You'll have to adjust any pull-offs so the tip of your finger grabs deeper to catch the lower string or you'll lose the octave.

    I've found the best use of a 12 string to be using it to back vocals with arpeggiated chords. Picking out a pattern of single notes from a common chord form adds both a harmonic and rhythm content behind the melody of the singers voice. In a small lounge of cafe it can be magical. Just the guitarist and his voice. Nothing else required.
     
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  7. GibbyTwin

    GibbyTwin Tele-Meister

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    It may not be an issue of your making. It could be the guitar. I have two 12 string guitars -an electric Hofner President 457 and an acoustic Yamaha FG720S-12. The Yamaha is an inexpensive guitar but sounds very good. The difference between them is the distance between the string courses. The Hofner has a wider spread between the string pairs which makes picking accuracy easier than the Yamaha which has the courses too close together. The Yamaha is great sounding when chorded but I have to be real careful when picking notes.
     
  8. Heathfinn

    Heathfinn Tele-Meister

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    A trick I've seen someone else do that I've adopted is to only use the octave strings on strings E,A,D and G. Leaving the B and E strings as singles. It makes it easier to play melodies on the E and B, and since those aren't octave pairs, you don't lose much of the sound that makes it unique.
     
  9. mrmousey

    mrmousey Tele-Meister

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    Don't be afraid to tune down a whole step
    Some feel that that is the proper sound for a 12 string
    (the whole lower frequency resonance thing)
    Plus it's easier to play
    Every instrument has a particular charm
    IMHO, the 12 string's forte is ringing open chords
    I wouldn't concern myself with trying to play single string leads, but would exploit the big open chord sound
     
  10. naomimoan

    naomimoan TDPRI Member

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    For me the aha moment of playing a 12 string was to stop trying to bend notes. Some may be able to do it but it just sours up the sound to my ears.
    I think its also important to "drone" any melody you're playing with open strings if possible...
     
  11. guitarsophist

    guitarsophist Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    Listen to Roger McGuin play solos on old Byrds records. Hammer ons, pull offs, no bends. Even on Eight Miles High where he is trying to be Coltrane.

    I don’t have a 12 string at the moment but I used to have a nice Ovation. You have to simplify your lead technique. It’s fun though.
     
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  12. studio1087

    studio1087 Telefied Silver Supporter

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  13. tfarny

    tfarny Friend of Leo's

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    Wait - "single string of the pair" - no, if that's what you're trying, you are definitely doing it wrong. Double-course instruments like the 12 string, Mandolin, Bouzouki, etc. all require you to treat the pairs as single strings - you ALWAYS play both strings, so a "single note lead" still involves you picking both strings in the pair, or course.
     
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  14. scooteraz

    scooteraz Friend of Leo's

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    I’ve had a 12 string for, well since before I met my wife, and we’ve been married forever. I almost never use it if I want to do a bunch of single note work. There are folks out there that can, but I’ve never been one of them. However, glorious for chords and arpeggiation.
     
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  15. ElJay370

    ElJay370 Tele-Holic

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    A 12 string isn't all that suited to playing lines and melodies..it's generally for strumming.

    But if you want to play a bit of lead, my advice is, simplify.

    Treat each pair of strings like one big string.

    And don't plink and poke at it either...I find things sound and work a bit better if you get a little aggressive.

    Like this guy...

     
  16. Peegoo

    Peegoo Tele-Afflicted

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    A softer pick can help when starting out because it's a bit more forgiving and goes through a pair of strings easier than a thicker pick. You do give up a little volume, but once you get the feel of playing "single notes" (two, really) on a the 12, then you can go back to the thick pick. It's a technique thing. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
     
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  17. Dan German

    Dan German Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I can’t live without my acoustic 12. I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said (best for chords, play the pairs as single strings, bends are iffy), I just want to encourage you to take your time with it, and find what it does best. It’s worth it. Even my strumming is not the same as with my 6 string—more deliberate, letting the sustain do the work. I don’t do much single-note stuff, but I do fingerpick it. I had to start slow, and work on accuracy, but it helps my technique on other guitars to have to think about what I’m doing.
     
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  18. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    I haven't read all the posts but I'm sure you are getting a lot of good suggestions. Here are mine.

    First, I consider myself a 12 string player as much as anything. I own three of them and play in several styles in lots of different tunings. I'm mostly a finger style player and play with flesh and nails. I listened to a lot of the old blues men who played 12 strings and was heavily influenced by Leo Kottke back in the '70's. I play a few Leo songs, with about a third the notes that he does.

    Here are my suggestions

    1 - get your guitar set up by someone who knows 12 strings. I run very similar action to my sixers - typically 4 or 5 thousands of relief, first fret clearance of 12 or 14 thou, 12th fret about 60 to 90 thou. I happen to build and setup guitars (I have built two of my three 12 strings) so I'm pretty aware of setup.

    2 - choose the right strings and tuning for your 12 string. People look that them and say "its got twice as many strings so it much have twice the tension (and be twice as hard to play)" Not true. A normal 6 string with light gauge strings (12's) has about 165 pounds of tension. Light gauge 12 string strings (10 to 46 or so) have 250 0r 60 pounds at concert but if you tune down two semi tones to D that drops to a very reasonable 205 pounds - not that much more than a sixer. Most 12 string players have learned this trick - most of them down tune. If you need to sing or play with others throw a capo on at the second fret - the tension stays the same but now you are back in E.

    I'll add my opinion here that most 12 strings sound better when tuned down - it kills some of the octave jingle jangle and gives the guitar a bit more of a roar.

    3 - Next is your left hand technique. You simply need to focus on fretting both strings of the course with equal pressure without touching other strings. If it has been properly set up (1) this will be easier - adding the capo will minimize the height of the strings off the f/b in the first positions. Its harder to do barres, yes, and the additional width of the fretboard makes it harder to thumb fret the sixth course - you might have to change how you finger some chords. I don't have any other answers for you but I find just playing scales is very helpful. Just do a standard pentatonic A scale up and down the neck until you are sick of it. Then do it some more.

    4 - Right hand technique might change slightly. You need to cleanly pick both strings of each course at the same time. Down strokes will empathize the octave string, up strokes the primary. Since I finger pick my thumb strokes are always down, fingers are up. I will some times let my thumb pick the treble courses, my fingers the bass, to get more of one string. There are a few 1 string players (Chris Proctor) who can play one string at a time, you should concentrate to hitting both of them. Again, play scales.

    5 - some additional considerations about a 12 string. They intonate poorly and are hard to play up the neck. Most people don't regularly go above the 7th or 10 fret. Chords with open strings can sound really good on a twelve string (or really bad if you are out of tune). I tune my twelves with an electronic tuner but I check by comparing strings of the same note or harmonics. You might end up slightly tempering your tuning to play in a certain key.

    6 - Lastly, I think its a mistake to simply think of a 12 string as a big sixer that takes longer to tune. Its a whole different animal - its the grand piano of the guitar world. If you are playing leads and single note stuff they might sound better on the middle courses where the octaves can ring out. Just playing a driving bass line (think about all of Heddy Leadbetters songs) sounds incredible on a 12 string.

    Double the trouble, maybe, double the fun, yes.

    IMG_2024.JPG
     
  19. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    I'm going to put on my builder/repairman hat and make a couple of other comments. I am mostly unimpressed with cheap 12 string guitars. The big exception to that are the originally very cheap 12 strings that come from the Depression era - the wonderful old ladder braced Stellas and similar guitars. The one on the right in my picture above is a long scale ladder braced guitar that is strung with cables and tuned in the cellar. There is simply nothing like it.

    That said, I want to go back to my (1) in my last post. The criteria for a good playing 12 string are really the same as a sixer, but more so. The neck geometry needs to be perfect, which really means you need to be able to adjust the action to be totally playable. The guitar needs to be structurally sound - tight bridge and braces, no issues anywhere. The frets need to be good (my standard is "perfect") - particularly the first five or six (or 8 if you are going to capo). You simply cannot get the action specs that I quoted above with out a good foundation.

    Unfortunately many inexpensive older 12 strings don't have a good foundation. Old Yamaha 12's like the FG-230 are incredible guitars if they can be well set up, unfortunately most have neck angle problems and its very difficult to reset their necks. The Martin 12 string on the left in my picture is a 1980 - when I bought it I knew it needed a neck reset (and negotiated that with the seller, he knew too). It had a bit of a belly, some fret wear and a few other minor things. With a neck reset and some other work it is a wonderfully playable old guitar, before the work was done it was almost impossible.

    Just a heads up, your Fender might be the same.
     
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  20. sk25

    sk25 Tele-Meister

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    After reading through the replies I picked the guitar up again and it seemed like something started to click and I suddenly sound quite a bit better. Still very rough, but I can at least tell I'm on the right track now. Pretty sure my problems with it are a combination of zero experience with 12 strings and overthinking it.

    To address an issue a lot of you have mentioned, I'm not really interested in playing blazing leads or anything, just...you know, fairly simple things that aren't only chords, something like Wish You Were Here, you know? I'm not a great player and I never will be, but I like to think I'm at least not bad.

    As for the state of the guitar, it holds tune, the bridge is flat against the guitar with no more body bulge than any of my other (functional) acoustics, the frets aren't perfect but are decent enough, the action's a good level and it holds tune really well, and I'd say the strings are about a third of the way through their life...used, but nowhere near dull or dead. Intonation, well...it's alright.

    But anyway, thanks for all the tips and information everyone! Everything helps, so keep em coming!!
     
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