Strum My Strings.

Dear Millions,
Another day, another question. What is the difference between six and twelve-string guitars. Now before you answer that one has double the strings, I want to know what the practical difference is, and why there are some whith twelve. A richer sound prehaps?
Secondly, what is a steel stringed guitar?
H. J.

The strings are arranged in six pairs, not twelve individual strings so it’s played similarly to a six string. IIRC some of the pairs are the same note but some are an octave apart - same letter note but a doubling or halving of the frequency. This gives a different and more complex tone than a six string.

Steel strings are just that, steel as opposed to nylon or gut on a classical guitar. It’s not just a matter of putting a different kind of string on a guitar as steel strings require a much stronger top and neck to not warp under tension. Many other big differences. A classical guitar has a shorter scale and much wider neck. The fingerboard is flat and the neck has a very retangular cross section. The neck joins the body at the 12th fret, almost the exact middle of the string.

Steel stringed guitars have narrower necks with a fair amount of curve in the fingerboard across the neck with a more semicircular profile to the back of the neck. The neck usually joins the body at the 14th fret.

The lower four string pairs (EADG) on an acoustic twelve string consist of a normal wound string and an overtone string tuned an octave up. The high strings, (normally unwound) are just doubled. The lightest guage string on the whole business is the G overtone string.

Guages for Martin phosphor bronze light guage twelve string sets:

.012(.012) / .016(.016) / .025(.010) / .032(.014) / .042(.020) / .054(.030)

Other manufacturer’s string guages will be in the same ballpark.

The overtone strings impart a nice extra “ring” to chords. The basic techniques are the same, but there are some things that sound lovely on a 12, and some that just don’t work. Every so often I get “12 string”-itis and think about buying one.

Roger McGuinn’s trademark “swirly” sound on early Byrd’s records was done with an electric 12 string - he played a Ricky.

Some guitarists think the extra strings on the 12-string make the notes and chords sustain less or otherwise not work so well. So in the studio, some have been known to double-track a regular six-string with another six-string strung light and tuned to the higher tones of the six string, i.e., with the low E, A, D, and G strings tuned up an octave. They claim the two double-tracked six strings makes for an even richer sound than a 12-string.

General agreement with all of the above, with one addition:

Some “steel guitars” don’t LOOK like guitars… think country music. Sometimes they stretch the steel strings over a pickup on what looks like a small table, so intead of looking like a standard guitar, it looks like a funky kind of {url=“”]keyboard…

Gives a whiney-kinda sound when played right…:stuck_out_tongue:

Damn! keyboard

Sometimes also referred to as a “pedal steel” because they are equipped with pedals to change the chord produced by the strings. This picture on that same site gives a better view of the pedals:

I’m not a pedal steel player, so I can’t tell you what typical string tunings and effects of pedals are. I do know that there are about as many variations as there are pedal steel players. And yes, this instrument produces the typical sliding “wha wha wha” whiney sound you associate with Country Western. I think it is an interesting, and vastly underexplored instrument.