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During those years [Chicago late 30s] there was also a blues singer by the name of Dr Clayton out of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was very popular and made a lot of records. Danny Boy was his favourite and he could really sing it, but he was more of a blues singer - Oh, Didn't He Ramble: The Life Story of Lee Collins as told to Mary Collins

Author Topic: thin-sounding 12-strings  (Read 2895 times)

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Offline a2tom

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thin-sounding 12-strings
« on: April 11, 2005, 06:51:27 PM »
The other thing I'm considering adding to the collection (other than a resonator) is a 12-string, a very Weenie-stimulated idea.  I'm a complete novice here (as in many things...).  So, I go into the guitar store, and I can only desccribe any 12-string I picked up as "thin" sounding.  This included some Martins, so these couldn't be considered low end.

Am I expecting the wrong thing?  With the unisons on the high strings should I expect a guitar with a lot of treble, a net "high" sound"?  Is part of the problem the whole tuning issue, with the blues that I am used to hearing tuned down from where the guitar store guitars presumably were?    Is a lot of it in the playing (I have no skill at all on how to maniplate a 12-string)?  Do you get more tonal depth from the other side of the guitar (i.e. listening, not playing)?

tom

Offline Cambio

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Re: thin-sounding 12-strings
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2005, 08:00:56 PM »
Am I expecting the wrong thing? With the unisons on the high strings should I expect a guitar with a lot of treble, a net "high" sound"? Is part of the problem the whole tuning issue, with the blues that I am used to hearing tuned down from where the guitar store guitars presumably were?

Quote
Hi Tom,
The 12 strings at the guitar store most likely had a stock set of strings on them and were either tuned up to E or down to D. ?If you're listening to Leadbelly or McTell, they are probably tuned down to C, B or even A. ?The guitars that you were looking at also had a shorter scale length than the old 12's, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25.5", while the old 12's were around 26.5". ?The longer scale length makes it easier to tune down without using super heavy strings.
I don't know if you can make those guitars sound "right" with the proper string set, I don't have much experience with short scale 12's, but others here do. ?A good 12 shouldn't sound thin though, but fat and greasy. ?It should rattle your teeth loose.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: thin-sounding 12-strings
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2005, 08:24:05 PM »
Hi Tom -

There could be any number of factors that resulted in the thin sound. I played a fair number of 12-strings before I bought one and I can safely say that most of them sounded like crap regardless of the price. I'm not in guitar heaven by any stretch, so I'm sure there's good examples out there in more guitar-friendly places. But some factors included:

- bad guitars, period. You can't overcome this, just walk away no matter what the name on the headstock may be.
- old strings. 12-strings don't move as much in the stores, I'll bet, and tend to get neglected.
- light strings. 12's are viewed as harder to play - slap some lights on there so the customer's hands don't hurt. ?
- tuning to concert pitch. They can still sound nice here, and I certainly tried them tuned there, but I tuned down as low as the strings would allow to get a better idea. Not ideal, but I knew I'd be playing down there so why try it tuned only to concert pitch.

I'm sure there's some construction issues that I don't know enough about to offer words of wisdom.

I ended up with a Larrivee, which was head and shoulders above any 12 I tried in the stores. Perhaps a little pricier than you might want, but still pretty reasonable. I'm still working on the string guages but it sure is a fun beast.

I'd check out Todd Cambio's website at www.fraulini.com. He's got some good information on there and thinks about 12-strings as played by the country blues greats, not jangly pop-folk things.

Also do some searches here on Weenie Campbell. There have been some very useful posts from a number of folks which helped me in getting my head around the 12-string country blues concept.

Offline harpe

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Re: thin-sounding 12-strings
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2005, 05:43:22 AM »
I concur with what was said by Uncle Bud and Todd.

But there's more to consider, as well. Bracing. Just about every "modern" 12-string guitar has "x-bracing". In my experience, "ladder braced" 12-strings have a certain sound (best described as a "growl") which is hard to get from most x-braced instruments I've played.

Lots of folks say that "heavy gauge strings" must be used. I suppose this is fine if the player enjoys them. I do not. I have been playing long scale Stella 12-strings for many years. I tune mine down to "C".? I use either John Pearse or D'Addario light gauge strings (first course is .010). The sound I get is neither "buzzy" nor "jangly".

I often enjoy playing in sort of a "Lonnie Johnson" style on the 12-string....lots of string bending and stuff (of course, I'm nowhere near as proficient as Lonnie!). I get a strong, clear, loud tone with the light gauge strings. And this set up works equally well when I play in the styles of Lead Belly, McTell and Barbecue Bob.

Neil
« Last Edit: April 12, 2005, 05:48:13 AM by harpe »

Offline Cambio

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Re: thin-sounding 12-strings
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2005, 12:19:46 PM »
I think that the whole issue of 12 string can be a bit discouraging, since there are so many elements that go into a "good" sounding one.  Usually you have to enter into the $2000 range to get an instrument that fits all the criteria (ie. ladder braced and long scale) and that can be cost prohibitive for the majority of players out there.  My advice would be, don't get discouraged.  Look for an old Yamaha or Harmony  and start playing around with different string sets on that.  If you have more money to spend, get something better.  I've heard sound clips of Andrew's Larivee and I'd say it sounds great.  That is X braced and has a shorter scale.
Regarding strings, find something that sounds good to you and is comfortable.  That's going to vary from one guitar to the next.    We don't know what some of the old guys were using for string gauges but there is some good speculation out there.  Leadbelly certainly had some heavy strings on his guitar when he left it behind, from a pair of 14's on the first course to a 14 & 70 on the sixth.  But heavy strings don't always make for a good sounding guitar.  On six strings, I tend to prefer light gauge strings with slightly higher action than medium gauge strings with lower action.
Good Luck.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: thin-sounding 12-strings
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2005, 09:53:46 AM »
Acoustic Guitar magazine has a cover story on 12s in the current issue. It's not really geared to a low-tuned country blues use of a 12, so of limited value here, but may give you some ideas. All the guitars are x-braced, a number are dreads, etc. It's online at: http://www.acousticguitar.com/article/149/149,6352,FEATURE-1.asp

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