The 12 string guitar is an instrument that adds a distinctly wondrous characteristic to any song – and when used in the right context – magic happens.
The 12 string guitar has proven time and time again to be the garnish of guitars, that extra element that elevates a song from great to sparkly immortality. Known to be wielded by musical maestros such as Jimmy Page, Tom Petty and David Bowie, its sparing use means that the bright and jangly tones it brings are an event for the ears.
There is a big difference between a great 12 string song and a great song with a 12 string guitar sprinkled on top. So with a song for each string, this list will exhibit the top 12 songs that place the dozen-string in centre stage.
More Than a Feeling – Boston (Tom Sholz)
Starting off our list is an icon of classic ’70s rock and bands most famous track, is More Than a Feeling by Boston. Guitarist Tom Sholz makes use of a 12 string acoustic in the verses of the track, bringing an esoteric and magical feel, before switching to an overdriven and powerful electric for the pre-chorus and chorus.
This contrast between sections allows the song to really come to life and kick into gear as you scream “MORE THAN A FEELING” in your Corolla on the way to work.
Closer to the Heart – Rush (Alex Lifeson)
In a similar way to the previous track, Closer to the Heart by Rush pairs a magical 12 string acoustic with an explosive electric guitar, resulting in an electrifying power rock track that is still distinctly Rush.
Alex Lifeson’s performance is what makes this track stand out, with the dynamic change launching the band fiercely full speed ahead until the very end.
A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (George Harrison)
An early example of 12 string guitar in a rock context, A Hard Days Night is a boppy song with a bright and thick texture. George Harrison and his 12 string Rickenbacker play a major role in developing the songs sound, with his part adding a bright and bouncy feel.
The track also features a short two-phrase solo in the middle, that perfectly compliments the track’s raucous dancefloor atmosphere.
Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds (Roger McGuinn)
While made famous by Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man is a song originally written and performed by The Byrds and features Roger McGuinn on a Rickenbacker 12 string guitar.
The song’s signature jangly sound saw it rise in popularity quickly. The live video below sees Roger McGuinn with a Fender XII electric, only three days after the band’s television debut.
Like the Way I Do – Melissa Etheridge
Few guitarists lay into the 12 string as aggressively as Melissa Etheridge. In some hands, the 12 string chimes in a delicate, folky kind of way. In Etheridge’s it’s pure rock ‘n’ roll, with the Ripper harmonics provided by the extra strings serving to inject energy into this banger.
The percussive and energetic style couples so well with hi-hats you could think that they are same instrument. It’s the perfect rhythmic foil for her passionate vocal delivery.
A Horse with No Name – America (Gerry Beckley)
As the bands signature song, A Horse with No Name by America is a mysterious and eerie tale, that owes its warm texture and slightly uneasy tone to its harmonising vocals and Gerry Beckley’s 12-string guitar part.
To this day, the track remains to be a goosebump raiser despite its major key and relaxed demeanour.
Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones (Keith Richards)
Like a breath of fresh air, the opening chords of Wild Horses serve to soothe the listener before taking them on the journey of intense love that the song describes. Keith Richards and his Harmony H-1270 jumbo 12-string keep the track grounded and perfectly encapsulate the emotions felt by the protagonist of the song.
While very different to the rocking and rolling he is known for playing, Keith’s sense of subtlety serves the song well.
Space Oddity – David Bowie (John Hutchinson)
Space Oddity is a truly magical and dreamlike experience and has stood the test of time as one of David Bowie’s signature tracks.
Guitarist John Hutchinson is responsible for the fantastical 12 string parts in Bowie’s band, ‘The Spiders from Mars’, a signature sound of his are the soothing chords he brings to Space Oddity.
Hotel California – Eagles (Don Felder)
Boasting one of the greatest guitar solos of all time (on a 6-string), Hotel California has a certain mystical and spectral sound that beautifully encapsulates the mood of the track, all thanks to Don Felder and his Takamine 12 string.
When played live, Felder used a white Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck, playing harmonies with fellow guitarists Joe Walsh and Glen Frey, resulting in an epic with a twist of tight funkiness.
Sparks Fly – Taylor Swift
Aside from perhaps Ed Sheeran, no other modern pop star has elevated the acoustic guitar to stadium-sized proportions like Taylor Swift. She doesn’t rock the 12 string all the time, but when she does, it makes a huge impact.
Check out this stunning intro to Sparks Fly. Never has a 12 string sounded so impossibly chimey. And what manufacturer does this superstar prefer? Well, Taylor, of course.
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
The comforting yet slightly eerie opening of this Pink Floyd classic is instantly recognisable, owing to its distinct sound to the metallic jangles of the Martin D12-28 12-string acoustic.
As the centrepiece in the album of the same name, Wish You Were Here takes a step back from the powerful and ambient guitar licks David Gilmour is mostly known for, and demonstrates his acoustic prowess, resulting in a song that gives you butterflies and goosebumps.
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
As one of the most recognisable rock ‘n’ roll bangers of all time, it should come as no surprise that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been crowned the king of 12 string. While Jimmy Page made the double-necked Gibson EDS-1275 famous with his live performances of this track, the studio recording features a Fender Electric XII for the 12 string parts.
Stairway to Heaven is a song that will truly never be forgotten, its 12 string chimes a rite of passage for every budding guitarist.