Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

If you're drawn to the harmonious sound of a 12-string guitar, you're not alone. These guitars have brilliant tones and players usually fall in love from the very first strum. However, 12-string guitars require going through a significant learning curve. You can start playing right away but you need to have some prior experience of playing a guitar in general.

Today we will give you an in-depth comparison between 6-string and 12-string guitars. Our focus will span across various aspects, including tone, design, and other differences between their 6 string counterparts. We hope you can make a well-informed decision when choosing between these two guitar types.

Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

How Do They Sound Different

The fundamental difference between 6-string vs. 12-string guitars lies in the number of strings.  There are six in the former and twelve in the latter. While a 6-string guitar assigns one string per note, a 12-string guitar features pairs of strings for each note.

The top two string pairs (B and E in standard tuning) typically comprise identical-gauge strings tuned in unison. The four lower string pairs (E, A, D, and G) consist of strings of varying thickness, with the lighter string tuned to the same note in a higher octave.

Tonal Complexity

The 12-string configuration has a brighter and harmonically textured sound, distinguishing it from the clarity and note definition of a 6-string guitar. The 12-string's response tends to sound more blended, contributing a shimmering musical character.

Brightness and Harmony

The differences in strings and configuration lead to a brighter, stronger, and more harmonious sound with a 12-string guitar. The balanced sound from a 12-string guitar enhances note clarity and definition. Musicians and enthusiasts often gravitate towards 12-string guitars as they create a harmony making it seem like two instruments are being played in unison.

Effects and Application

The effects produced by 12-string guitars make them ideal as a backing instrument. The 12-string guitar offers a full, rich volume, creating a distinct sound, while the 6-string guitar, though also capable of rich tones, lacks the chorus effect.


In rock and metal genres, the 6-string guitar shines, providing an easier playing experience and a preferred sound. On the other hand, 12-string guitars find their forte in genres like folk and blues. In these genres, their unique tonal characteristics enhance musical expressions with a chorus-like resonance.


Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

Here are some typical design differences between 12-string and 6-string guitars:

  • Longer Headstock/Peghead: 12-string guitars commonly exhibit a longer headstock to accommodate the additional tuning machines necessitated by the doubled strings.
  • More Bridge Pins: Typically, 12-string guitars boast a bridge hole for each string, secured in place by bridge pins, often crafted from wood or plastic.
  • Wider Fretboard: Most 12-string guitars are crafted with a slightly wider nut width, offering additional space on the fretboard to accommodate the extra strings. This wider nut width can result in a slightly "chunkier" feel in the player's fretting hand.
  • Shorter Scale Length: The increased string tension resulting from doubling the number of strings on a guitar can exert considerable force on the neck. To mitigate this and enhance playability, some 12-string guitars may incorporate a shorter scale length (the length of the string from the saddle to the nut) compared to their 6-string counterparts.


Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

In general, playing a 12-string guitar is a bit more difficult in comparison to 6-string ones. The increased difficulty stems from the thicker neck, requiring more grip, and the requirement to play two strings simultaneously.

Due to structural differences, you need precision when playing chords on a 12-string guitar. The heightened neck tension needs a good grip and enhanced finger strength during playing. Additionally, bending the strings on a 12-string guitar is more difficult due to the increased neck tension.

Traditionally, 12-string guitars find their place as supplementary instruments, contributing to rhythm or providing backing chords. However, some accomplished artists play the 12-string as their lead instrument. Jimi Hendrix is a great example of a musician who adeptly utilized the 12-string guitar in a lead role.

Is Playing a 12-String Guitar More Challenging?

Given the high demands and increased complexity of playing, 12-string guitars are often recommended for more experienced players. Beginners are advised to start with a 6-string guitar initially, allowing them to develop fretting skills and build finger strength. This foundational experience is very important for a smoother transition to a 12-string guitar later on.

In general, playing a 12-string guitar presents a higher level of difficulty. Unlike a regular 6-string, playing the same lead section on a 12-string demands greater technical proficiency. This challenge is not solely due to thicker necks but because you have to press two strings simultaneously while maintaining a firm grip.

These pose challenges across skill levels for guitarists. While 12-string guitars are less commonly used in the context of a standard 6-string setup, they serve primarily as backing instruments for chords and additional notes.

Choosing Between a 6-String and 12-String Guitar for Beginners

Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

It is recommended that beginners who have never played an instrument before begin with a 6-string guitar, especially those who are younger. Beginners may find that their hands and fingers are still developing and not quite ready for the complexities of a 12-string.

However, for beginners who have already familiarized themselves with standard 6-string guitars, transitioning to a 12-string becomes a more viable option. This adaptability is also evident among musicians experienced in other string instruments, like violins or cellos, who may find it easier to adjust to the additional strings on a 12-string guitar.

Nevertheless, potential challenges, such as the higher average cost of 12-string guitars and the added investment for string replacement, should be considered. Restringing and tuning a 12-string guitar can also be more time-consuming, taking at least double the time compared to their 6-string counterparts.

Ultimately, the decision between a 6-string and a 12-string guitar is subjective and depends on the player's musical preferences and aspirations. If you are drawn to folk, folk-rock, or blues music, a 12-string might be a worthwhile choice. It's important to note, however, that playing a 12-string can be more challenging, and beginners should be mindful of the potential difficulties.

While some may suggest using a 12-string guitar with only 6 regular strings, this approach can introduce additional complications. The necks and overall string spacings of 12-string guitars are designed for 12 strings. Beginners might encounter difficulties when deviating from this intended configuration.

Things To Consider When Choosing Between 12-String and 6-String Guitars

Key Differences Between 6 String And 12 String Guitars

Image creditsKillerrig

Ultimately, the decision on whether to opt for a 12-string or a 6-string guitar is a highly subjective one. Your choice should be guided by what feels, sounds, and performs best for your playing style and practical requirements.

Here are a few factors to consider as you make this decision:

  • Newer Players: Beginners may find the wider neck and higher string tension of a 12-string guitar challenging. Holding down the strings for fretting notes and chords may require more effort, posing a potential difficulty for those still developing strength in their fretting hand.
  • Advanced Players: More experienced players tend to have an easier time with a 12-string guitar. However, specialized techniques like fingerpicking can be more intricate due to the presence of paired strings.
  • Musical Application: Most players are drawn to 12-string guitars for the distinct shimmery, octave-rich sound they offer. This unique sound stands out in recordings and live performances, making 12-string guitars purpose-driven. Players often choose them with a specific musical idea or need in mind.
  • Tonewood and Construction: Examine the tonewood used in the construction of the guitar. Different woods can significantly impact the instrument's tone. Additionally, assess the overall construction quality, as it influences the durability and longevity of the guitar.
  • Brand Reputation: Consider the reputation of the brand. Established and reputable manufacturers often produce higher-quality instruments. Research customer reviews and expert opinions to gauge the reliability and performance of a particular brand.
  • Maintenance: Acknowledge the maintenance requirements. 12-string guitars may need more frequent tuning and string replacement compared to 6-string guitars. Be prepared for the additional maintenance tasks associated with the doubled strings.
  • Try Before You Buy: Whenever possible, play the guitar before making a decision. Each instrument has its unique feel and sound. Testing it in person allows you to assess whether it suits your playing style and preferences.

Pros and Cons of 6-String and 12-String Guitars

Choosing between a 6-string and a 12-string guitar involves a careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each. Here's a breakdown of the key pros and cons:

6-String Guitars


  • Tonal Versatility: Well-suited for a broad spectrum of musical genres, offering varied tonal options.
  • Ease of Play: Generally easier to play, particularly for beginners, owing to fewer strings and a narrower neck.
  • Lower Maintenance: Requires less frequent tuning and simpler string replacement.
  • Affordability: Often more budget-friendly than 12-string models, making it accessible for beginners.


  • Limited Sound Depth: May not produce the rich, full sound characteristic of a 12-string guitar.
  • Less Unique Sound: The sound is more commonplace and less distinctive compared to a 12-string guitar.

12-String Guitars


  • Rich Sound: Offers a fuller, more layered sound due to the additional strings.
  • Unique Tonal Qualities: Provides a distinctive "sparkle" or chime not achievable with a 6-string guitar.
  • Enhanced Musical Expression: Allows for more complex harmonies and richer tonal textures.


  • Increased Complexity: More challenging to play due to the wider neck and additional strings.
  • Higher Maintenance: Requires more frequent tuning and more complex string replacement.
  • Cost: Generally more expensive due to the additional materials and construction complexity.


In the ongoing debate between 6-string and 12-string guitars, the majority leans towards the former, for its familiarity and ease for beginners. The 6-string guitar serves as a gentle introduction, providing a narrower neck and fewer strings for those navigating the initial stages of finger development.

With practice and stronger fingers, even the difficulties of playing the 12-string guitar can be overcome with time. Although the wider neck and doubled strings seem like barriers at first, they lead to a world of deeper, more complex tones.

For those who enjoy a shimmering tone, the 12-string guitar provides a unique chime that distinguishes it from other instruments in the tonal range. It is difficult to replicate the extra layer of expression this adds to music. Ultimately, the decision to choose one of these two instruments is a mix of artistic vision and your preference.


Is a 12-string guitar worth it?

Both 6-string and 12-string guitars have their unique strengths, and one isn't inherently better than the other. While 6 strings excel in lead playing and bending, the 12-string offers a remarkable, full sound with a chorus-type effect that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Why are 12-string guitars harder to play?

Playing a 12-string guitar comes with added complexities compared to its 6-string counterpart. The higher difficulty level requires skilled players to relearn techniques and strengthen motor skills, fingers, and calluses. Progress varies based on the guitarist's skill level, with some adapting quicker than others through consistent practice.

6-String vs 12-String Guitars, which one is best for beginners?

For beginners, it's recommended to start with a 6-string guitar. Learning to play any guitar is challenging. Muscle memory and finger accuracy can take time to master, and the 12-string's added difficulty might not be the best experience right off the bat. Starting with a 6-string encourages quicker progress, building strength, and reaching milestones before considering the 12-string in the future.

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