How Hard Is It to Play a 12-String Guitar?

Playing the guitar is a popular musical pursuit, with various types of guitars available to cater to different preferences and styles. One such instrument is the 12-string guitar, known for its rich and distinctive sound. However, many aspiring guitarists wonder if playing a 12-string guitar is more challenging than playing a traditional 6-string guitar. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of playing a 12-string guitar, discussing its unique characteristics, potential challenges, and tips for mastering this captivating instrument.

Playing the guitar is a rewarding experience that allows musicians to express themselves creatively. The 12-string guitar adds an extra layer of depth and resonance to the music. However, due to its additional strings and unique construction, it may present some challenges to guitarists, especially those accustomed to playing the traditional 6-string guitar.

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What Is a 12-String Guitar?

A 12-string guitar is a variation of the traditional 6-string guitar, but with double the number of strings. It features six pairs of strings, with each pair tuned in unison or an octave apart. This doubling of strings creates a distinctive sound that is both resonant and harmonically rich.

The Unique Sound of a 12-String Guitar

The sound produced by a 12-string guitar is often described as fuller, brighter, and more vibrant compared to a standard 6-string guitar. The doubled strings create a natural chorus effect, adding depth and complexity to chords and melodies. This unique tonality makes 12-string guitars particularly suitable for genres like folk, rock, and blues.

Differences Between a 12-String and a 6-String Guitar

Apart from the obvious difference in the number of strings, 12-string guitars have some distinct characteristics that set them apart from their 6-string counterparts. The neck of a 12-string guitar is slightly wider to accommodate the additional strings, making it a bit more challenging for players with smaller hands. The string tension is also higher, requiring more finger strength and dexterity.

Potential Challenges of Playing a 12-String Guitar

Playing a 12-string guitar comes with its fair share of challenges. The wider neck can make it difficult to perform certain chord shapes and stretches, especially for beginners or guitarists with smaller hands. The higher string tension requires greater finger strength, and the doubled strings may cause issues with muting and unintentional string buzzing.

Tips for Playing a 12-String Guitar

While playing a 12-string guitar may seem daunting at first, with some practice and proper technique, you can overcome the challenges. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the world of 12-string guitar playing:

  • Start with familiar chords and songs: Begin by playing familiar songs or chord progressions on the 12-string guitar. This will help you get accustomed to the feel and sound of the instrument.
  • Focus on proper finger positioning: Pay close attention to your finger positioning and ensure that each string is fretted cleanly. Practice pressing down on the doubled strings evenly to avoid unwanted buzzing or muted notes.
  • Develop finger strength and dexterity: Regularly practice exercises that target finger strength and dexterity. This will help you build up the necessary finger strength to fret the 12-string guitar effectively.
  • Utilize lighter gauge strings: Consider using lighter gauge strings, as they will exert less tension on the neck and be more forgiving on your fingers. Lighter strings can make fretting easier and reduce strain on your hands.
  • Experiment with alternate tunings: Explore alternate tunings that are commonly used for 12-string guitars. These tunings can unlock new sonic possibilities and make certain chord shapes more accessible.

Fingerpicking Techniques for 12-String Guitars

Fingerpicking on a 12-string guitar can be a delightful experience, allowing you to take advantage of the instrument’s rich and resonant sound. Here are a few fingerpicking techniques to explore on your 12-string guitar:

  • Travis Picking: This technique involves alternating bass notes with melody notes, creating a steady and intricate fingerpicking pattern.
  • Arpeggios: Arpeggiating chords on a 12-string guitar can produce a beautiful cascading effect, emphasizing the instrument’s lush tone.
  • Harmonics: Experimenting with natural and artificial harmonics can add a magical touch to your fingerpicking arrangements.

Famous Guitarists Who Utilize 12-String Guitars

Throughout the history of music, many renowned guitarists have embraced the unique sound of the 12-string guitar. Some notable examples include Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and Leo Kottke. Listening to their work can inspire and guide you on your 12-string guitar journey.

Maintenance and Care of a 12-String Guitar

To ensure the longevity and playability of your 12-string guitar, it’s essential to take proper care of it. Here are a few maintenance tips:

  • Regularly clean and polish the guitar to keep it looking its best.
  • Keep the guitar in a suitable environment, avoiding extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations.
  • Replace strings regularly to maintain optimal tone and playability.
  • Get the guitar professionally set up to ensure proper intonation and action.


Playing a 12-string guitar may present certain challenges, but with patience, practice, and the right techniques, you can conquer this beautiful instrument. Embrace the unique sound it offers and experiment with different playing styles to unlock its full potential. Remember, it’s not just about the destination; the journey of learning to play a 12-string guitar is an enriching and rewarding experience.


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