No other instrument sounds like a 12-string guitar. With twice the strings and much more volume, the extra harmonic richness makes it a joy to play.
But, what qualities define the best 12-string guitars?
Choosing the ideal instrument for you is a very personal decision. Style and appearance can certainly play an important part. But you should also look for the quality of materials and craftsmanship that defines any outstanding acoustic guitar.
Here are some guidelines to consider:
An acoustic guitar’s sonic fingerprint – its overall tone and resonance – comes mainly from the type of woods used to make the body. Each has its own unique sound. This is why the wood used to make the guitar’s top, sides and back is referred to as “tone wood.”
The most important component is the top. On any decent guitar, it will be a solid piece of wood, usually spruce. An alternative wood is Cedar, which produces a mellower tone. The very best guitars have a top cut from a single piece of lumber.
Common tone woods for the back and sides are mahogany or maple, the latter producing a brighter sound. Cherry is sometimes used, which has a sound somewhere between mahogany and maple. Often, the back and sides are actually a three-layer wood laminate, rather than a solid piece. As long as all layers are the same hardwood, little tonal quality is sacrificed.
As many traditional tone woods have become scarce and protected, guitar makers are trying new alternatives, including ash. Ovation guitars have a molded back and sides of Lyrachord, a space-age resin-impregnated silicone fiber that can be “tuned” chemically or with heat to change its resonance.
Guitar manufacturer C.F. Martin developed the dreadnought guitar body, with a wider “waist” than a classical guitar. It’s now the most common design for acoustic guitars. This shape provides a large sound box that produces substantial volume and an even tone.
Some guitars have a cutaway to enable the left hand to reach the highest frets easily. The effect on sound quality is usually not much, but some of the guitar’s resonance can be lost depending on the design. While, Ovation guitar bodies (except for the top) are made of molded Lyrachord, which makes them significantly louder.
Generally, a guitar’s top and back are both flat. But sometimes one or the other is arched slightly to alter the tone. The effect is subtle.
Acoustic guitar necks are usually wider and thicker than electric guitar necks, and 12-string necks are a little wider than 6-string models. The so-called “C” shaped neck is the most common and is slightly flat in the middle. A “D” neck is thicker and rounder.
The most common guitar neck woods are mahogany and maple. Since even budget instruments have internal steel truss rods to reinforce the neck, it’s up to you which neck wood you prefer.
Guitar fingerboards have traditionally been made from rosewood. This wood is becoming scarce, so manufacturers have begun substituting new woods like Indian laurel or purpleheart. They all work well, so your choice of fingerboard material is purely aesthetic.
Fingerboards aren’t flat; they’re slightly rounded from the highest to lowest strings. The radius of that curvature varies from about 12 to 15 inches. Flatter necks favor melodic playing, while rounder necks make playing chords easier.
The measurement of the length of the strings from the nut to the bridge is termed the guitar’s “scale length.” The average scale length is about 25 inches. A longer scale puts the frets slightly further apart. More significantly, a longer scale means a string needs to be stretched to a higher tension to tune to the same pitch. This can make the tone a little brighter.
Acoustic guitars, including 12-string guitars, generally have necks with 20 or 21 frets. Playing on the highest frets is a little easier with a longer scale. Again, these variations are subtle, and they might not be very important in your buying decision. Of greater importance is whether the fret ends are flush with the side of the neck and polished smoothly. That’s not an issue if the neck sides have plastic binding that covers the fret ends.
A 12-string guitar has twice as many strings to tune, so quality tuning machines are vital if you plan to spend your time playing your guitar, not tuning it. Most of the guitars reviewed have unbranded tuners, though they usually work okay. A few models have premium name-brand parts, particularly Grover tuners.
The nut and bridge saddle should be as dense as possible. This transmits the vibrating string energy to the guitar body more efficiently. For longer sustain, especially with open strings, most of the models reviewed have a plastic nut and saddle. A few are made of “synthetic bone.” This is also plastic, but a much denser product that’s as hard as bone.
Most of the 12-string guitars reviewed here include a piezo pickup built into the bridge, connected to a preamp mounted in the guitar body. Preamps usually have a volume, treble, and bass controls. Some include a midrange gain control and frequency range switch. Most also include an electronic tuner.
Now let’s look more closely at some of the best 12-string guitars currently available and find the perfect one for you…
Top 10 Best 12-String Guitars Of 2020 Reviews
1 Oscar Schmidt OD312CE-A-U 12 String Acoustic Electric Guitar
Oscar Schmidt has a long history as a quality maker of guitars, banjos, mandolins, and other stringed instruments. Established in 1871, it’s now a brand of U.S. Music Corporation, which also makes Washburn and Parker guitars.
The OD312CE-A-U 12-string features a dreadnought wide body shape with a single cutaway, making it easy to reach the highest frets. The top is solid spruce, made of two-pieces. Sides and back are made of mahogany, with a high-gloss finish.
The neck is also mahogany, with dot inlays. The fretboard and bridge are constructed from a very durable engineered wood. A version with a rosewood fretboard is also available at a slightly higher price.
The nut is made of a hard synthetic material known as “NuBone,” a derivative of Graph Tech’s TUSQ. It doesn’t dampen string vibration the way a plastic nut does, Chrome die-cast tuners do the job, and the instrument holds tuning well.
The OD312CE is equipped with a Barcus Berry EQ4T preamp and a built-in tuner.
- Beautiful look and sound.
- Low cost.
- Tuning machines are just average.
2 Ibanez AEG1812II 12-String Acoustic-Electric Guitar
The Ibanez AEG1212II 12-string delivers a powerful and balanced sound. The slightly slim body has a solid spruce top with Sapele mahogany back and sides and a purpleheart bridge and fretboard. It comes with a unique Dark Violin Sunburst finish and an abalone soundhole rosette.
With a 25-inch scale, the AEG1212II neck is made from Okoume, a Central African hardwood that is similar to mahogany. It has 21 frets and a 9.84 fretboard radius. Some users report “fret sprout,” where fret edges stick out slightly and need to be filed.
The nut and bridge saddle are plastic. Tuning machines are die cast with chrome-plating and half-moon knobs.
The guitar comes strung with Ibanez IACS12C strings, .010/.010 – .047/.027. They’re secured by Ibanez Advantage bridge pins, which are easier to remove or insert than standard pins.
For amplified playing, the AEG1212II includes a Fishman Sonicore piezo pickup and Ibanez AEQ-SP2 preamp with balanced XLR and ¼-inch outputs. An onboard tuner is included.
- Comfortable thinner body
- Ibanez Advantage bridge pins.
- Plastic nut.
- Possible “fret sprout.”
3 Fender CD-60SCE Right Handed 12 String Acoustic-Electric Guitar
The CD-60SCE is one of the first affordable acoustic 12-string guitars from Fender, which is more famously known for its iconic electric guitar models. Its dreadnaught shape with Venetian cutaway offers easy access to the highest frets. The solid spruce top has scalloped “X” bracing, and the back and sides are laminated mahogany.
The neck is made from nato, a mahogany-like hardwood from South and Central America. With a 25.3-inch scale and a comfortable profile, it features a walnut fingerboard with a 12-inch radius and 20 frets. The nut is plastic, which is normal for a guitar at this affordable price.
The CD-60SCE includes a Fishman Isys III piezo pickup and preamp system, including an electronic tuner.
Overall tuning and intonation are excellent. String action is low but without fret buzz. And the scalloped X-bracing on the top increases resonance.
- Venetian cutaway shape extends the playable upper range.
- Laminated back and sides.
4 Yamaha FG820 12-String Solid Top Acoustic Guitar
Yamaha FG guitars, first introduced in 1966, have a classic dreadnought design. The FG820 12-string has a natural finish, with a solid Sitka spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Scalloped braces on the top enhance the lower midrange response without sacrificing brilliance.
The FG820 neck is made from nato wood and has 20 frets and a 25-inch scale. It’s bound with cream-colored plastic, so there are never any rough fret edges to worry about. An adjustable truss rod guarantees a superb action and perfect intonation. The fingerboard is covered with rosewood and has a relatively flat 15.75-inch radius.
The nut and bridge saddle are made from “synthetic urea,” a hard plastic derived from synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide.
Unlike most of the guitars reviewed here, the FG820 does not include a pickup, preamp, or electronic tuner.
- Solid wood.
- Excellent tone and intonation.
- So-so plastic nut and saddle, but these can be easily upgraded.
- No electronics.
5 Ovation Applause 12 String Acoustic Guitar
The Ovation Applause 12-string guitar (model AB2412II-4) offers a mixture of traditional design and modern technology. Its “layered” solid spruce top has scalloped bracing for improved tone projection, while a composite Lyrachord® mid-depth body allows effortless playing.
The 20-fret neck has a 25.3-inch scale and a 10-inch fingerboard radius. It’s bound in ivory-toned plastic. The fingerboard and bridge are ovangkol, an African relative of rosewood. The die-cast tuners are chrome plated.
The Applause comes with an under-the-saddle piezo pickup, plus a built-in preamp with three-band EQ and electronic tuner.
- Very comfortable to play.
- Plenty of volume.
- Synthetic body material may not appeal to all musicians.
6 Dean Exotica Quilt Ash Acoustic-Electric 12 String Guitar
Of all the 12-string guitars reviewed here, the Dean Acoustic-Electric 12-string is probably the most visually striking. It features a magnificent solid body and top of quilted ash with triple binding. This hardwood not only looks stunning but also lends the instrument a distinctive, clear tonal quality. A deep cutaway makes it easy to play all the way to the 21st fret.
The Exotica has a mahogany C-shape neck and rosewood fingerboard with a scale of 25-1/4 inches and a 12-inch fretboard radius. Grover tuners ensure accurate and steady tuning. The nut is plastic, made by Daeil Chemical Company of Korea.
Mounted in the Exotica’s uniquely-shaped Balsamo bridge is a piezo pickup. This connects to Dean’s DMT preamp, with a 3-band EQ and built-in tuner.
- Beautiful quilted ash body.
- Grover tuners.
7 Epiphone DR-212 Acoustic 12 String Guitar
Epiphone has a very long reputation for making quality guitars, and the DR-212 doesn’t disappoint. It’s constructed from the perfect combination of hardwoods to give an ideal tone that balances brightness and warmth. This includes a select spruce top with scalloped bracing, with a mahogany body and neck.
The body is a traditional dreadnought shape with no cutaway to reduce resonance. And both the neck and body are bound. The DR-212 has a D-shaped neck with a rosewood fingerboard and white dot inlays. Scale length is 25.5 inches. The nut and bridge saddles are plastic.
This is a fully acoustic instrument and does not include a pickup or preamp. It’s strung with .011 – .052 strings, a slightly heavier gauge than usual.
- Beautiful sound of a full-size dreadnought 12-string guitar.
- Well-respected brand holds resale value.
- No pickup, preamp or tuner.
8 Seagull Coastline S12 Cedar Guitar
Seagull guitars are handcrafted in Quebec, Canada. Their Coastline S12 12-string acoustic-electric guitar has a full dreadnought body made from the finest tonewoods. It produces a rich timbre with warm midrange.
The S12 features a pressure-tested solid cedar top with an ultra-thin semi-gloss finish, which lends it a mellower tone than spruce. It’s slightly arched above the sound hole, leveling out near the bridge. This compound curve greatly improves sound projection. The top is braced with quarter-sawn spruce that is scalloped and carved to conform exactly to the curvature of the top.
The back and sides are a three-ply laminate of locally grown wild cherry wood, which is somewhere between mahogany and maple in tone. The neck is made from silver leaf maple and feels very smooth. With 21 frets, it has a scale of 24.84 inches. The tapered headstock provides a straight string pull, which helps maintain tuning stability.
The S12 includes a Canadian-made Godin QIT preamp that’s custom voiced for this guitar. It has treble and bass EQ and a built-in tuner with automatic shutoff.
- Hand-made in North America.
- Arched cedar top for better sound projection.
- Straight pull headstock.
- No preamp midrange tone control.
- More expensive than most other models.
9 Takamine GJ72CE-12NAT Jumbo Cutaway 12-String Acoustic
The Takamine GJ72CE-12 features a jumbo body style with a deep single cutaway for access to higher frets. The top is solid spruce with quarter-sawn X bracing, while the back and sides are flame maple. An abalone sound hole rosette, plus body and neck binding, make this guitar a joy to look at as well as play.
Its relatively thin maple neck comes with an Indian laurel fingerboard and head cap. The 12-inch fingerboard radius makes it very comfortable for electric guitarists to play. With 20 frets and a scale length of 25.4 inches, it includes an abalone “reversed mountain” inlay at the 12th fret.
Both the nut and the split bridge saddle are made of synthetic bone. Harder than normal plastic, it increases sustain and wears longer. The split saddle design makes more accurate intonation possible. Tuners are gold-plated with pearl buttons.
The onboard Takamine TK-40D preamp offers a three-band EQ with a midrange contour switch, notch filter, and bypass switch. It includes a built-in tuner.
- Jumbo body produces greater sound volume.
- Cutaway design provides upper fret access.
- Synthetic bone nut and bridge saddle.
- Gold-plated tuners.
- More expensive than other models.
10 Gretsch G5022CWFE-12 Rancher Falcon White 12-String Acoustic
The Gretsch G5022CWFE-12 Rancher Falcon Jumbo 12-String is the guitar of choice for American singer/songwriter Israel Nash. It combines a classic 12-string tone with Gretsch Falcon style. The jumbo cutaway body is finished in gloss white, with gold sparkle binding on the top, back, soundhole, fingerboard, and headstock.
The Rancher Falcon has a solid spruce top with scalloped “X” bracing and an iconic Rancher triangular soundhole. A gold pickguard with Falcon graphic and Gretsch logo adds to the visual appeal. The sides and arched back are constructed of laminated maple.
The mahogany neck has 21 frets and a scale length of 25 inches. It features a rosewood fingerboard with gold sparkle binding and neo-classic “thumbnail” inlays. Both the nut and the compensated saddle are synthetic bone.
A V-shaped tapered headstock makes accurate tuning easier. And like the Takamine we’ve just reviewed, the deluxe die-cast tuners are also gold plated. It comes strung with D’Addario EJ38 Phosphor Bronze 12-String Light strings (.010 – .047).
The Rancher Falcon really shines when it’s amplified. It includes a Fishman Sonicore under-saddle piezo pickup and Isys+ preamp system, with controls for volume, bass, midrange and treble, a low-battery indicator, and a built-in tuner.
- Dramatic appearance looks great onstage.
- Synthetic bone nut and saddle.
Some More Acoustic Choices
Not quite sure if you can handle 12 strings? No problem, check out our reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitars under 500 Dollars, the Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners, the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars under 200 Dollars, the Best Acoustic Travel Guitars, and the Best Acoustic Guitars for Kids currently available.
And a great acoustic is nothing without a set of quality strings, so our review of the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings may also be of interest.
So, What Are The Best 12-String Guitars?
Which is the best 12-string guitar for you to buy? Every guitarist knows that the correct answer is “all of them!”
But assuming you can afford only one, we think the…
…is a great choice. Its jumbo spruce and maple body makes it sound superb as an acoustic guitar, with a deep and resonant tone. And the preamp’s 3-band EQ makes it easier to dial in the perfect amplified sound.
The deep cutaway means the entire range of the instrument is available. Meanwhile, the thinner neck will make it easier for electric guitar players to adapt to it quickly. A synthetic bone nut and saddle provides longer sustain, while the split bridge allows for more accurate intonation.
If you’re looking for something a little different, the…
…is an excellent choice. It’s a very well-made guitar with a unique sound. And the price is quite reasonable for an instrument of this quality.
Having made our choices, we want to point out that all the guitars reviewed here are excellent instruments and a joy to play. They differ slightly in features, more significantly in their physical appearance and sound.
We’ve tried to describe the tonal differences among models, but you’d be wise to watch some product demo videos online and take a good listen for yourself, using headphones is also helpful in getting a better fidelity of sound.