When it’s time to select an acoustic guitar, you may notice that you can choose from a 6-string or 12-string guitars. There are several differences in these two types of instruments. Let us explain.
By far the more prevalent choice is the 6-string guitar. Played by guitarists of all styles, both strummed or finger-picked, the 6-string guitar comes in a wide variety of tonewoods and body variations. Most of the acoustic guitar songs you hear on the radio utilize a 6-string guitar. Think Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” The Kinks’ “Lola,” or The Beatles’ “Blackbird.”
You’ll find that 6-string guitars come in a wide variety of tonal nuances, from bright and punchy, to smooth and warm and everything in between. A 12-string guitar also offers a sought-after tonal variation that is characteristically full-sounding, often with a sparkle that is the result of its unique construction. The 12-string doubles up strings in six pairs, with the doubles of the four lower strings being tuned an octave higher than the typical 6-string guitar tuning.
Well-known songs that are played on a 12-string guitar include The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and even Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It was also famously used by early blues and folk players like Lead Belly.
Structurally 6-string and 12-string guitars do differ. First, you’ll notice that the headstock on a 12-string guitar is longer to accommodate all of the strings and tuning heads. The neck and body on a 12-string also have to be reinforced a bit more to handle the extra string tension, and sometimes the necks will have a shorter scale to reduce tension as well.
The biggest difference you’ll notice as you play is the width of the neck. A 12-string guitar will have a wider neck to make room for all of the strings. This can make it a little trickier to fret than a 6-string.
Which should you choose?
There are many players that start off on a 12-string, like pop artist Matt Nathanson, who picked up a 12-string from day one and never looked back. There’s something about that 12-string sparkle that can’t be denied!
You’ll find that a lot of players will begin learning on a 6-string guitar and then add a 12-string to their guitar collection to enjoy its beautiful, full tone as they improve their fretting and right hand technique.
Our advice is to choose a guitar with a tone and feel that inspires you to play and practice, and you can’t go wrong!
Once you purchase and start playing your guitar, you’ll likely experience fingertip pain. For some advice on how to manage it check out Guitar Tips: Toughening Up Your Fingertips.