22 12 String Guitar Players You Should Know About In 2023

Table of Contents

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.

The Best 12 String Acoustic and Electric Guitars

Before we dive into these guitarists, if you’re feeling inspired by the 12 string and don’t own one yourself yet, I have some recommendations.

Entry-Level Acoustic Pick
Vangoa 12 String Acoustic Electric Guitar

This is a great starter acoustic instrument with hundreds of positive reviews!

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Mid-Range Acoustic Pick
Fender CD-60SCE Right Handed 12 String Acoustic-Electric Guitar - Dreadnaught Body - Natural

If you're looking for a higher-quality instrument, check out this Fender with nearly 1,000 reviews, most of which are extremely positive!

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We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
Electric Pick
Ibanez 12-String Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar

I own several Ibanez instruments, and they make great mid-range guitars!

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We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Now let’s get to these 12 string guitar players!

1. Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell Sings "Galveston" (soft acoustic version)

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

Leadbelly - Where Did you Sleep Last Night

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 traditional.

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, and 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

Turn Turn Turn - full version of solo performance by Roger M

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 contains 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 - Vaseline Machine Gun 12 String Guitar CNN

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

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Mary Jane's Last Dance (Official Music Video)

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 several 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

You Can't Do That (Remastered 2009)

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 Rock Island Line 1966

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 - Space Oddity, Live, 1969

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 - Sparks Fly (DVD The RED Tour Live)

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 Thomas "A Walk In The Park" (12 String Instrumental)

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: She'll Be Waiting

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. This video shows 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

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

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 Group - San Lorenzo (1977)

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 influences.

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.

And if you want to read more about Hendrix on this blog, check out the post: Is Jimi Hendrix Overrated?

18. Chet Atkins

I had trouble finding a video of Chet playing on the 12 string, but here he is on a 6-string!

Chet was an incredibly accomplished musician whom many credit with creating (at least in part) the country sound we know of today.

Though he died in 2001, his legacy in country music is hard to overstate, even today.

With guitars named after him and virtuosos crediting him as a major influence, Chet certainly deserves a spot on this list as an accomplished 12-string player.

19. Doyle Dykes

Doyle Dykes: Fingerstyle Playing on a 12-String Guitar

Speaking of virtuoso guitar players, Doyle Dykes is an amazing 12-string player (who also credits Chet Atkins as being a major musical influence in his life).

In fact, many consider him one of the best fingerstyle guitar players in the world, being particularly famous for his guitar medleys.

20. Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot - Early Morning Rain (Live in Chicago - 1979)

One of the oldest active guitar players at the moment, Gordon Lightfoot is another name that comes to mind.

In particular, Lightfoot is responsible for helping define folk-rock music.

And, of course, as it goes with the genre, 12-string guitars have their serious use there.

He’s been pretty famous for his use of Gibson’s B-45-12N.

In fact, you can see this particular guitar model on the cover of 1974’s “Sundown” record.

And the album’s title track is just one of the examples of how he knew to implement this fine instrument.

However, we can’t ignore the greatness of “Early Morning Rain.”

In this piece, a 12-string guitar serves its purpose as a backing instrument.

But although it complements vocals and the pedal steel guitar on top, it also fills the space with some additional sonic content.

21. Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn - On Twelve String

Canadian folk-rock musician Bruce Cockburn is one of the genre’s most prolific artists.

His work started in the late 1960s, and Bruce still keeps his same signature style alive.

Most importantly, 12-string guitars have been very important in his work.

Bruce had a very interesting approach to both writing and performing music.

While he’s mostly known for playing 6-string guitars, the addition of 12-strings just made things more interesting.

It added a new dimension to his generally very sophisticated playing style and technique. 

22. Neil Young

Neil Young 5-18-92 Clev Music Hall 12 Powder Finger.mpg

It doesn’t matter what genres you are into.

If you play guitar, Neil Young is one of the musicians whose music you just need to know.

The legendary singer-songwriter has changed our approach to acoustic guitars.

Sure, he’s not exactly your virtuoso kind of player.

However, you always know that it’s Neal when he starts playing.

Although 12-string guitars weren’t that prominent in his music, there are some great examples.

And when he plays it, he brings the instrument up to its full potential.

You can actually hear how full things can sound on a 12-string guitar.

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)!

23 Responses

  1. Where is Chet Atkins on your list?

    1. Hey Glenn!

      You’re right, Chet Atkins needs to be on this list, so I added him!
      I went ahead and added Doyle Dykes too.

      1. Caryn Maroni says:

        What?!? How could you forget the legendary Melissa Etheridge ????

      2. Hi Caryn,

        I’ll see about adding her to the list! Let me know if you have any other recommendations!

  2. Al Stewart was a notable 12-string artist in earlier years but recently(!) I have only seen him play a 6-string whilst ‘importing’ a 12-string player to his act. Have I missed something?

    1. Hi Austen,

      Thanks for writing in. I’m actually not super familiar with Al Stewart so I couldn’t tell you. I wish I could be of more help!

  3. flo foster says:

    Canadians Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Randy Bachman, Neil Young, Colin James, Avril Levine ????

    1. Hi Flo,

      There definitely could be more Canadian representation on this list! Thanks for listing these, and hopefully I’ll get to adding some of them soon!

    2. Brandon Gallite says:

      Gordon Lightfoot is my favorite 12-stringer

      1. Hey Brandon!

        Gordon is great. I’ll see if I can add him to this list!

  4. david MacDonald says:

    Lightfoot was a surprising omission from your list, so please add him.
    Very interesting article though.

    1. Hi David,

      The Student of Guitar team got Lightfoot and a few others added. Thanks for your input!

  5. What about John Denver? He played a 12 string guitar.

    1. Hi Ross!

      Denver did play the 12-string! It’s hard to decide who exactly should be on this list since the list would be far too long if we included every artist who occasionally played the 12-string. That said, I’ll look into how many of Denver’s songs were on the 12 string to see if he should be added!

  6. The legendary legendary Jimmy Page…Led Zeppelin

    1. Both are amazing guitarists and did occasionally play the 12-string! However, I’m trying to make this list full of artists who often played the 12-string or are uniquely known for their 12-string skills.

  7. Gerald (Jerry) Arseneau says:

    Lenny Breau should have made the list along with all the notables you have included !

  8. Barry Hurst says:

    Paul Stookey of PP&M.

    1. Hi Stan!

      These are solid candidates for our list. We will look into getting them added!


  9. Turbo Phone says:

    John Stanfield was highly regarded as thr greatest living 12 string guitarist when Leo Kottke quit using him as an opener. John’s loyal fans followed him everywhere he played in the Carolinas & GA. We still talk about his performances at The Post Office and Spirit Square in Charlotte with pals David Bromburg.

  10. Other 12-string guitarists:
    -Triumph (Rik Emmett)
    -Rush (Alex Lifeson)
    -America (Dewey Bunnell)
    -Cheap Trick (Tom Petersen – 12-string custom Hamer bass)
    -Marillion (Steve Rothery)
    -Yes (Steve Howe)

    1. Hey Steve,

      Thanks for sharing these! I’ll look into adding them.

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