If you’re interested in famous 12 string guitar players, you’ve come to the right post!
I don’t often write about the 12 string guitar.
Instead, I usually write about guitar-related instruments and how they relate to the standard guitar like in this article.
However, I wanted to write about something different in this post.
So for this article, I’ll be discussing famous 12 string guitar artists.
Let’s get to it!
The 12 string guitar is an instrument that has been around since the early 20th century! That’s over 100 years of history!
This guitar has the original six strings in six different courses, meaning there is two of each string. This is two 6th strings, two 5th strings, and so on. The resulting tuning of this system would look like this:
- 6th course: one low E string and a one high E string (one octave higher)
- 5th course: one low A string and a one high A string (one octave higher)
- 4th course: one low D string and a one high D string (one octave higher)
- 3rd course: one low G string and a one high G string (one octave higher)
- 2nd course: Two B strings
- 1st course: Two high E strings
As you can see, there are 12 strings total tuned EE-AA-DD-GG-Bb-Ee
One of the most amazing things about the 12 string guitar is the “echoing” effect it has when playing chords or leads. Due to the string pairing, the sound does not come out exactly at the same time from each string. The sound tends to “phase out” a little, creating this wonderful shimmering effect that we all know and love.
Let’s check out some of the most influential 12 string guitar players out there!
1. Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell, born in 1936, was one of the 12 string guitar pioneers of country music.
Glen showed proficiency in several popular guitar genres like country, folk, blues and even classical!
His innovative guitar style was full of complex solo passages and a banjo-like approach toward the instrument. He preferred long, developing lead guitar melodies for his solos.
As for chords, you can hear in the video above how his 12 string guitar sounded like there were various guitars being recorded simultaneously.
He was part of the band Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Band and Full Circle Acoustic Band.
His works include By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Galveston, Wichita Lineman, Rhinestone Cowboy, Southern Lights, Ghost On The Canvas and many other singles.
2. Lead Belly
Born Huddie William Ledbetter (1888-1949), he was commonly known as “Lead Belly”.
Lead Belly was one of the first bluesmen to put his songs on a record, aside from having a successful life playing gigs.
His musical style covers early forms of blues from the South, folk tunes, and gospel traditionals. Therefore, his style focused on singing and playing. And his 12 string guitar approach focused on playing complex comping patterns.
You can hear chord strumming, ornaments, and lead playing, all of this while he was singing! Plus, the shimmering nature of the 12 string guitar allowed him to play loud enough without electric amplification.
Lead Belly’s work was so influential, that his songs were covered by other greats like Creedence Clearwater Revival (Midnight Special) and Nirvana (Where Did You Sleep Last Night?).
Some of his works include Where Did You Sleep Last Night, Midnight Special, Great Goose, Goodnight Irene, The Gallows Pole.
3. Steve Tibbetts
Steve Tibbetts is a jazz and ambient guitarist and composer, born in 1954.
Steve’s works are often considered minimalist style. The 12 string guitar enhances the echoing effect of the melodies, as you can see in the video.
He focuses on both melodic and chordal playing, experimenting with open tunings. The resonating nature of his music, along with the sound of synthesizers, gives Steve’s music an interesting sound.
Some of his works include Vision, Test, Walking, Yumchen Turkar, and others.
4. Roger McGuinn
Guitarist Roger McGuinn was born in 1942, and you probably know him for his work as the leader of The Byrds.
Roger’s work did a lot to promote the greatness of the 12 string guitar. Some of his most famous songs with The Byrds were composed and recorded on either acoustic or electric 12 string guitars.
His guitar playing style is full of interesting chord voicings, ornamented with beautiful melodies. Roger’s comping style is carefully crafted to fit the song’s spirit.
Among his popular works are Turn Turn Turn, Mr. Tambourine Man, Eight Miles High, and several other hits.
5. Leo Kottke
Leo Kottke is an American guitarist born in 1945. Leo is a specialist in jazz, blues, bluegrass, and folk music.
Leo’s guitar playing is focused on acoustic chord melody playing. This means that he plays both leads and chords at the same time.
His 12 string guitar playing makes good use of the resonating effect of the double strings. The result is a vibrant sound that sounds like a whole band.
He also includes slide-playing in his performances, with a style that influenced bands like The Allman Brothers.
Some of his works include One Guitar No Vocals, Morning is the Long Way Home, 6 and 12 String Guitar, and 12 String Blues.
6. Tom Petty
For those familiar with this artist and the 12-string guitar, I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise.
Legendary guitarist and songwriter Tom Petty has a number of great 12 string guitar songs in his repertoire.
Tom’s guitar playing has always been about the groove and serving the lyrics. His 12 string songs focus on simple chords but always with a great vibe.
Some of his works include Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Refugee, Learning to Fly, I Won’t Back Down, and a lot more.
7. George Harrison
The former Beatle and successful solo artist also gave us wonderful 12 string songs!
Born in 1943 and died in 2001, George Harrison was a guitarist and songwriter focused on ornamented playing.
His 12 string guitar style is oriented to create countermelodies – melodies that are the perfect complement for the main theme.
George also focuses on the electric 12-string over the acoustic. Thus, most of his 12 string guitar recordings were made on a 12 string Rickenbacker.
Some of the works include songs with The Beatles and as a solo artist – My Sweet Lord, You Can’t Do That, Here Comes The Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and many more.
8. Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger was an American folk guitarist and songwriter that focused on acoustic styles.
As such, Pete’s guitar playing was using fingerstyle, along with the usual chords.
Additionally, his open tuning and percussive playing on the 12 string guitar evokes unique influences.
Some of his works include On Top of Old Smoky, Kisses Sweeter than Wine, Goodnight Irene, The Midnight Special, and many more.
9. Larry Coryell
Larry Coryell was an American jazz guitarist, famous for his daring approach to jazz fusion and avant-garde music.
For his version of Ravel’s Bolero, Larry frequently alternates between chords and vibrant bass lines.
Some of his works include Ravel’s Bolero, Larry Coryell at the Village Gate, Lady Coryell, and other albums.
10. David Bowie
David Bowie was a legendary British singer, guitarist, and songwriter. He has an eclectic sound which is apparent in his approach to the guitar.
Bowie used the 12 string guitar prominently during the first part of his career.
His 12 string guitar style was conservative, typically limited to chord comping. However, the strength of Bowie’s guitar playing lies in how the harmonies fit the well-thought-out melodies and lyrics.
Among his greatest songs and albums, are Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Space Oddity, Aladdin Sane, Young Americans, and many others.
11. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is an American singer, guitarist, and songwriter with a great influence on today’s pop music.
Taylor is not particularly known for her guitar-playing skills. However, as a songwriter, she delivers songs with great melodies and interesting supporting harmonies.
In this video, we can see her approach the 12 string guitar by doing chord melody, comping, and melodic ornaments.
Some of Her popular works include the songs and albums RED, 1989, Blank Space, Shake It Off, and many more Billboard hits.
12. Guthrie Thomas
Guthrie is an American singer-songwriter focused on country, folk, and blues genres.
His 12 string guitar style centers on creating pedal tones on the low strings, arpeggiated chords, and melodies, all at once.
In A Walk in the Park, Guthrie demonstrates how folk music can develop into ambient music. He achieves this by relying on the echoing effect of the 12 strings.
Among Guthrie’s important works are A Walk in the Park, Sarah’s Song, Emily, and other acoustic instrumentals.
13. Anthony Phillips
Anthony Phillips is an English guitarist, singer, and songwriter famous for being Genesis’ first guitarist.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Anthony focused on recording acoustic guitar albums. In these recordings, we can hear some well-crafted and beautiful 12 string guitar songs.
His approach to guitar is full of suspended chords, quartal harmonies, and chord melody. In this video, we can see the ethereal nature of Anthony’s music on the 12 string guitar.
Some of his albums include Privates Parts & Pieces, The Meadows of Englewood, and Field Day.
14. Don Felder
Don Felder is an American guitarist, known for his work as part of The Eagles.
Don’s guitar playing is that of a rock musician focused on chords and lead parts. As such, Don primarily plays the 12 string electric guitar.
In fact, the famous intro and comping in Hotel California was recorded on an electric 12 string guitar!
Don approached the guitar with a focus on ornamented lines and lead playing. As a result, some think his 12 string guitar lines sound like a mandolin!
Among his famous recordings are Hotel California, Bella Donna (Stevie Nick’s album), and The Long Run.
15. David Gilmour
David Gilmour is an English musician, known for his guitar work as part of Pink Floyd.
The majority of David’s work is on 6 string guitars. However, he still uses the 12 string guitar occasionally, often playing in open tunings.
Gilmour’s acoustic work is blues-oriented, with shades of folk melodic playing.
Some of his works include Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Dogs, and many others.
16. Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny is a legendary jazz guitarist, singer, and songwriter, famous for his outstanding work fronting The Pat Metheny Group.
Pat has been around since the mid-1970s, and his approach to guitar is full of ethereal harmonies, jazz fusion, and avant-garde music.
His 12 string guitar approach is a mix of Eastern and jazz influence. Since Pat prefers the pick over a fingerstyle approach, most of his licks and chordal playing is single-note oriented.
He uses the mandolin/overdub feature of the electric 12 string guitar to create interesting soundscapes like the one you can hear in San Lorenzo.
Some of his works include The First Circle, Into The Dream, San Lorenzo, and many remarkable works.
17. Jimi Hendrix
The one and only! Jimi Hendrix was an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter of blues, rock, and psychedelic rock.
Hendrix is credited for elevating the art of the rock guitar to its current heights. Interestingly, there’s still evidence of him as a bluesman on the 12 string guitar!
In this video, you can see how Hendrix plays comping and lead effortlessly, in an organic way that blends perfectly with his singing.
His remarkable works include Electric Ladyland, Axis: Bold as Love, All Along the Watchtower, and other legendary works.
12 String Guitar Players: Conclusion
I hope this post has helped you get a better understanding of some famous 12 string guitar players who use this unique instrument!
Let me know in the comments if you have questions or if one of your favorite 12 string guitar players is missing from this list (and I need to add him or her)!