A 12 string guitar is a special tool that I don’t use very often. Sort of like a spark-plug puller. Something you don’t use every day unless you pull spark plugs every day. I could have easily just borrowed one for the amount that I play it.
I love the sound of the 12 string. Gordon Lightfoot uses one for great rhythmic pulse. “Poor Little Alison” comes to mind. I also loved the sound in the popular music of my adolescence. The Beatles (George) used one in their middle period, and of course George’s “My Sweet Lord” The Stones also used a 12 string on tunes like “As Tears Go By”. Harmonium was a huge Quebecois group that revolved around the beautiful 12 string of Serge Fiori. There was also Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd who used it on certain ballads. All fine and dandy, but I got my 12 string because of “All Along The Watchtower” Dave Mason played the 12 string before Hendrix enters….Such a strong and forceful intro to a great song. chung chung chung-a-chung chung….. and of course The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn,Turn,Turn” and Tom Petty who made the electric 12 string Rickenbacker’s reputation. Ralph Towner’s 12 string music was also a colour I wished to explore.
I bought a “name brand” 12 string. It was a used guitar hanging in the rafters at one of the more disreputable guitar joints (Jack’s) on Craig Street (now St. Jacques). Kids would go up and down this one block of stores that sold musical instruments. Fun to browse and dream. The Easternmost store was Steve’s Music which eventually ate up the smaller independant stores and was recently forced to move. Now the whole row of stores was expropriated and is slated for demolition.
The “name brand” guitar I bought was absolutely untuneable.
It reminds me of the old joke:
Q. “How do you tune a 12 string guitar?”
- “Nobody knows”
They are hard to tune, but part of the charm is the slight wavering of adjacent notes that are just slightly out. like Lennon and McCartney singing in unison. Glorious, but unmistakably different timbral qualities to their voices. A chorus pedal can sort of fake it.
Anyways, the “name brand” guitar was a “piece of shit” It had a great booming sound in the store, but I had not tried it enough before buying. When I got home I found that if the G chord was in tune, D wasn’t and if C was in tune then perhaps A minor wasn’t. You get the idea. I bought it for the “brand recognition” factor which ironically I have forgotten. The neck also had a visible twist that I had neglected to see in my enthusiasm.
I only owned it for a week before returning it to the store for a refund….easier said than done from the asshole that ran the store. He was open to a trade, so I checked out the Walden which was hidden away near the rafters at the farthest corner of the store..
He grudgingly pulled it down. “Jack” was not a man who moved a lot. “Grouchy old prick” describes him pretty accurately.
Anyways the Walden played better than the last one and so the swap was made. He tried to rip me off more by charging for the case, but I saw the hand written price tag on it said in small print “case included”. He waddled, grumbling, to the depths of the store to retrieve the case. I left there vowing to never go back.
On most 12-string guitars, the octave pairs are configured so each high octave string precedes its low octave mate when you strum down across the strings toward the floor. I reversed the bass string configuration to be like the Rickenbacker 12. I like hearing the bass string before it’s octave. Just a matter of taste. I had to have the nut and action changed to suit this. I also put a Fishman pickup on her. She still holds up well. I have made demos with it, and played her “live”, but never used it in the “real studio”. (yet).