10 Best 12-String Guitars (2020 Reviews)
12-string guitars are the best option when you are looking for a full-bodied and richer sound. Owning one of these guitars will open a world of possibilities when recording, touring, performing, or merely strumming.
In this article, you’ll find the best options for a broad range of needs and budgets. We’ve made this list with detailed descriptions, considerations, and links to buy the best 12-string guitar that fits your needs.
Top 10 Best 12-String Guitars
1. Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat-12 String Acoustic Guitar – Best Overall
Body: Solid and laminated mahogany
- Neck: Maple
- Electronics: Fishman Isys III (Preamp and Tuner)
- Finish: Satin
Fender is a brand that needs no introduction. They’ve pretty much invented the electric guitar and have been on the business of selling high-quality guitars ever since. This guitar is the perfect instrument for solo gigs and band performances. Inspired by punk singer Tim Armstrong’s go-to guitar, this instrument is the ideal match for composing and playing on stage.
Tim’s signature model features a solid mahogany top, maple neck, walnut fingerboard, chromed vintage-style tuning machines, and a Fishman Isys III preamp and tuner that make this guitar the perfect axe to perform onstage. Without a doubt, this guitar stood at the top of our 12 string guitar reviews.
We decided to review this guitar because of its clear and robust sound. Still, when researching its construction and the selection of woods, we realized that there is so much more that makes this instrument the best 12-string guitar for most situations.
If you are looking for a versatile, reliable, and not-so-expensive 12-string guitar, this is the guitar for you. The Hellcat-12 is a guitar that combines impressive acoustic tone with high-quality onboard electronics to deliver an acoustic-electric instrument that suits a plethora of genres, from folk to punk, at an affordable price.
2. Oscar Schmidt OD312CE 12-String Dreadnought Cutaway Acoustic Guitar – Budget Pick
Body: Plywood Spruce
- Neck: Mahogany
- Electronics: Active MET-A07 Preamp with digital tuner
- Finish: High Gloss
The Oscar Schmidt OD312 12-String acoustic guitar is perfect for you if you have a limited budget but still want to get the most out of your money. This guitar features a plywood spruce top, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, chromed die-cast tuners, and a Barcus Berry EQ4T preamp, making it a great entry-level instrument that will deliver great sound.
At this price, there is no other guitar in the market with all the features included in this model. Of course, there is a relation between the instrument’s cost and the quality of the materials and the sound it delivers. Nevertheless, when reviewing this guitar, our team was glad to find an affordable option that fits both the quality and price range criteria.
By choosing this guitar and compromising the brand and the woods’ quality, you’ll get an instrument that checks most of the boxes for a 12-string guitar, and this is why we’ve decided to make this guitar our budget pick.
If you are looking for an easy-to-play guitar at a low price, this is a great option. Its low action, dreadnought body, and a cutaway for better access to the high register make this model a guitar that will deliver on stage and during rehearsals.
3. Ibanez Artcore AS7312 12-String Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar – Most Versatile
Body: Linden Hollowbody
- Neck: Nyatoh
- Electronics: Ibanez Classic Elit Humbuckers, 2 x volume, 2 x tone, and a 3-way pickup selector
- Finish: Gloss Polyurethane
The Artcore series from Ibanez is full of guitars that always deliver under all circumstances. You can find the AS7312 at recording studios and live performances everywhere across the globe.
The reason for its popularity lies in its ability to produce a wide range of sounds and textures. Its semi-hollow body and slim neck, paired with great pickups, makes this guitar the best of both acoustic-electric and electric worlds. Its semi-hollow body makes it ideal if you’re moving around a lot and don’t want to add that extra load on your back.
Many features make this guitar an instrument you should buy. The AS7312 has the right blend of some not-so-common woods: a linden body, nyatoh neck, and walnut fingerboard. Ibanez tuners and Ibanez classic elite humbuckers on both the neck and the bridge positions are very reliable parts as well.
If you are looking for several tonal options on a single guitar, this is, without a doubt, the one you should get. The wide range of musical genres you can play with it and its great neck’s playability make this guitar an excellent choice for anyone. We chose it as our pick for the most versatile 12-string guitar, and all things considered, it is also the best overall if you’re only looking into 12-string electric guitars.
Body: 5-ply maple hollow body hardwood
- Neck: Maple
- Electronics: 2 x FilterTron pickups, 2 x volume, 1 master tone, and a 3-way pickup selector
- Finish: Gloss
Gretsch fabricates the G5422G-12 and its Electromatic collection in China, and thus, it has a low price compared to other high-end guitars. This guitar brings the rich 12-string chime and jangle from the ‘60s sounds to the twenty-first century. You can hear its sound in several The Artisanal’s records, played by Johnny Delaware.
The G5422G-12 features a 5-ply maple body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, which provides long sustain. It has die-cast tuners, a beautiful Gretsch G-Cutout tailpiece, and a Gretsch’s high-quality Adjusto-Matic bridge, that offers excellent tone and precise intonation with its individually adjustable string saddles.
This guitar also stands out in the electronics department. It comes with Gretsch’s regular FilterTron pickups, that carry the quintessential rock & roll sound. It has a built-in treble bleed circuit that enhances the pickup to potentiometer’s resistance ratio, allowing you to play at lower volumes without losing the signal’s treble part.
This guitar is perfect for those who crave the sounds and looks from the ‘60s. It’s also a great choice if you’re just looking to join the high-end guitar market and don’t want to spend over a thousand bucks. If this post were a beauty pageant contest, this guitar would be the winner. The hollowbody’s craftsmanship and the binding details are astonishing. The f-holes, gold-plated hardware, and Pearloid hump-blocks on the fingerboard make it an immediate eye-catcher.
Epiphone is the entry brand for internationally renowned Gibson, a brand famous for its popular Les Paul and ES models. While Epiphone is indeed cheaper, it still makes excellent acoustic guitars, and this particular model is a perfect example of Epiphone’s good craftsmanship.
This guitar’s build delivers big sound in acoustic situations. It has a spruce top, mahogany neck, fingerboard, and good-quality nickel-plated Epiphone deluxe tuners. This setup, paired with an imitation-tortoise pickguard, makes it an excellent instrument for blues, folk, and country music.
This guitar comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty and Gibson Brands Customer Service, a significant trademark of quality that ensures it will last you for a lifetime.
The DR-212’s design is not just another dreadnought with six extra-strings. This guitar’s design reduces the typical 12-strings guitars string tension. It maintains good intonation and balanced sound without requiring any extra effort. According to Lee Wrathe from Dawsons Music (1):
I hear a lot of talk that the beginners shouldn’t play 12-strings, but actually, this one is very easy to play, it’s very simple. There’s nothing to stop you playing some simple open chords on it, which will sound great.
Suppose you are looking for that bluesy and folky sound without breaking the bank, and you are not concerned about not having a built-in preamp, pickups, or internal microphone. In that case, the Epiphone DR-212 is the perfect option for a 12-string acoustic guitar.
Yamaha has been making guitars for more than four decades, committing to high-quality across all of its products. These standards are particularly noticeable in the Yamaha’s FG series, one of the world’s best sellers because of its quality, price, and attention to detail. The sound on the FG820 is warm, defined, and well-balanced all across the fretboard.
The FG-820 has a solid spruce top, nato neck, rosewood fingerboard, and mahogany back and sides. The optimization of these materials in its construction, in conjunction with the X-bracing reinforcement technique, makes for a round and articulate sound that doesn’t compromise the high or low-end definition, sustain, and brings it all at an affordable price.
This guitar is an excellent pick for intermediate guitar players. It has an outstanding combination of components at a low price, making it an ideal candidate if you are looking for a guitar in the intermediate price range with good-quality woods and a comfortable neck. Just keep in mind that this guitar is entirely acoustic, and you might need to use a microphone if you are planning to play it on stage.
Body: Spruce and mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Electronics: N/A
- Finish: Natural High-gloss
Ibanez is another brand with international recognition, and its PF1512 model is a testament to the brand’s commitment to craft quality instruments at an affordable price. This guitar is a great entry-level instrument for people exploring the sound possibilities that come with 12-string guitars.
This dreadnought-shaped guitar doesn’t include fancy features, but the ones that it has, seem above its price range. It features a spruce top, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, and chrome die-cast tuners. It is a purely acoustic guitar that you won’t be able to plug into an acoustic guitar amp or a DI.
This guitar is an excellent option for beginners looking for a guitar with warm tones and defined notes when strumming. It is essential to highlight that this guitar is purely acoustic, and you’ll need a microphone to amplify the sound of this instrument if you are planning to play a live concert. Ibanez delivers a guitar with quality woods at an affordable price while also offering a full-size guitar backed by the Ibanez name and quality.
Body: Archtop Spruce
- Neck: Rosewood
- Electronics: Dual humbuckers, 3-way pickup selector, master volume and tone controls
- Finish: Black
Dean is known for making electric guitars for rock and metal, but this semi-hollow body guitar lives in the blues-rock arena. The Dean Boca 12-String is an excellent introduction to a whole new landscape of sounds and possibilities across the world of electric 12 string guitars. As Owen O’Malley states (2):
The pickups are quite a bit brighter than the ones on the Rickenbacker 12 string tone, but you can just dial back the tone control a little bit and get something a little closer to that vintage sound. So, pretty nice guitar, pretty versatile guitar, and pretty cheap, as far as 12-strings go.
For less than $500, you can take home an acoustic-electric guitar that is a trustworthy partner for multiple scenarios. Its mix of mahogany body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard provides a well-balanced tone similar to Roger McGuinn’s style. It has high-quality Grover tuners, an adjustable bridge with a stop tailpiece, and two decent-sounding humbuckers.
We also have to mention the f-shaped holes and the arched body. There is definitively an element of distinction and elegance that comes when you pair those elements and find them in a guitar that delivers that ‘50s bluesy tone when plugged to an amplifier.
The Dean Boca 12-string guitar is the perfect entry-level instrument for beginners and intermediate-musicians wanting to explore all the possibilities of the 12-string guitar world.
This guitar’s design combines the semi-hollow body with hardwood to create a reminiscent sound of Jimmy Page. Its main appeal is the pickup combination between the P-90 pickup on the neck and the coil-split lipstick bridge humbucker that delivers that jangly pop sound from the ’70s. The angled pickup balances the sounds coming out of the twelve-strings, while the lipstick humbucker brings warmth and high-end definition to the high-pitched notes.
This guitar also features a spruce body, maple neck and fingerboard, chromed die-cast tuner, and a hardtail bridge that provides excellent intonation and sound sustain.
If you dig this guitar’s retro style and you are looking for the ‘70s jangly pop and rock characteristic sound, this is the guitar for you. This guitar defined the classic psychedelic and folk-rock sounds of the Dano Shorthorn style. It is an instrument that will work perfectly onstage.
This electric 12-string guitar is definitely upon our favorites due to its quality. The VIDLX12 is a 12-stringed choral piece with a ply maple body and top that tonally highlights all the octave strings, matched with a maple neck for extra brilliance.
Hagstrom guitars use the famous H-Expander truss pole. The H-Expander truss pole certifies that this instrument will keep the 12-string neck working for a long time without twisting since a 12-string guitar generally includes a pressure of over 200 pounds of strain on the throat. It also allows the guitar’s neck to be adjusted if there is uncomfortable playability or fret buzz between the 5-9th fret area.
The Resinator fretboard on the VIDLX12 consists of a special 50/50-Wood/Composite material that provides a unique frequency response. It improves the high-octave strings’ tone and volume, allowing for a lavishing and balanced 12-string sound. The Resinator fretboard’s composition makes it necessary to oil-in the fretboard at least once per year, using paraffin oil. It’s a small price to pay for an excellent sounding and well-built product.
Last but not least, the electronics on this guitar include the Hagstrom H-50 humbucking pickups. These pickups are quite open and supply a clean and natural tone.
If you’re looking to invest in a 12-string guitar for constant use at the studio or live, the Viking Deluxe 12-String is a no-brainer.
Buying a guitar with 12 strings holds some of the same principles as buying the regular 6-string guitars.
Both acoustic and electric guitars are meticulously crafted, and builders select the woods to produce a particular sound. These sounds depend on the stiffness, density, and workability of the woods.
However, there are a few principles that you can take into account before purchasing a 12-string guitar:
Guitar Shape And Construction
- Sound travels faster along the grain than across the grain. Checking the longitudinal arrangement of wood fibers may provide you an initial idea of both, quality and sustain of the notes. Try to look for woods where the direction of the cut is across the grain lines.
- Solid guitars are less susceptible to acoustic feedback from the loudspeaker to the guitar, and allow for more prolonged vibrations, enhancing the guitar’s sustain. The drawback lies in the added weight and overall strain to your back if you’re planning on continually playing live.
- The guitar’s shape largely influences the final sound. For example, dead spots in a typical electric guitar with a symmetrical headstock occur around 200 and 450 Hz due to the torsional motion of the guitar’s neck. In a regular guitar with an asymmetrical headstock, the dead spots occur at around 800 Hz. (3) We recommend you browse into your favorite records, check the shape and specifics of the guitars you love, and then compare them to different guitars from similar styles.
Guitar Tone Woods
Body, Neck, and Fingerboard wood types are the core of a guitar’s tone.
You can always replace electronics and external hardware parts, but replacing or fixing wooden parts without compromising the integrity of a guitar’s tone is an almost unachievable task.
All woods are different, and even within the same brand and model, you’ll find that some guitars do naturally stand out, so take this guitar tone wood guide with a grain of salt and please do more in-depth research for each case.
These are some of the most commonly used woods for guitars:
Mahogany back and sides are typical for acoustic guitars. It is a relatively cheap wood, durable, and provides a decent resonance and good low-end. You can listen to this material across the acoustic guitar sounds on early Beatles recordings. (4)
Maple provides prolonged sustain, bright highs, and a strong upper midrange. It also allows for fewer reactions to environmental changes than other hardwoods. It is mostly used on necks and fretboards due to its large density and weight. (4)
Rosewood guitars produce warm, rich sounds with excellent resonance and volume. However, this material is not cheap since Brazilian rosewood is no longer available in large commercial quantities. (4)
Solid spruce top and Sitka spruce top guitars are often used as well. They provide a broad dynamic range that works for most playing styles. They are quite used and have a punchier sound than Mahogany.
If you are looking for a specific iconic guitar sound, do proper research of the guitar’s electronics setup and look for different models that use it. Pickups and electronics may influence the sound in a more profound way than woods. This is particularly true if you’re playing live.
Not all of the guitars we reviewed are meant to be amplified. Adding an extra hole to insert a preamp into an already finished acoustic guitar may carry higher lutherie costs. It can also affect the final product in an unpredictable way.
It depends. There is always some degree of variance between the feel of guitars. Remember that you now have six extra strings to press and strum, so be careful and consider the neck shape, string action, and tone ratio before buying a guitar.
The standard tuning of a 12-string guitar is achieved by pairing six pairs of strings. The two higher sets work in unison (B and high E), while the lower four strings (Low E, A, D, and G) are matched with an octave higher string, respectively.
12-string guitars tend to use heavier string gauges than standard guitars. The reason is that you are adding six additional high-sounding strings. Using very light-gauge strings may result in a thin, unbalanced sound.
- Epiphone DR-212 12 String Acoustic Guitar Demo. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qp6tlZvsKM
- Dean Boca 12-String Favored Guitar Of Meat Eaters Nationwide. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BcKTXTKOx8
- The science of string instruments. Retrieved from: https://www.logosfoundation.org/kursus/The%20Science%20of%20String%20Instruments.pdf
- Guitar Tone Woods. Retrieved from: https://www.soundunlimited.co.uk/blogs/articles/guitar_tone_woods