Electric 12-string: a fit of sexagenarian GAS

Electric 12-string: a fit of sexagenarian GAS
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I have been hankering off and on for some years for an electric 12-string guitar. I’ve always loved the 12 in general, and there are some classic sounds to be had, ranging from the jangly Beatles & Byrds riffs to Tom Petty & Zep to progressive styles like earlier Genesis. My acoustic 12 is a very nice instrument, but obviously not suitable for many electrified applications. I do have a couple of electric 12-string “models” in my Taylor Variax, but they frankly don’t hold up to much direct scrutiny. Fine as a small accent in a mix, but not really up to being in the spotlight.

I turned 60 a couple of weeks ago, and although I’m not overly concerned about getting older (sure beats the alternative), it does reinforce the notion that at some point, one shouldn’t put off desires for too long… so I figured it was as good an excuse as any to finally get that electric 12.

I’ve been on the websites of every guitar store within a few hours’ drive, and there is exactly one electric 12 on a wall that I could actually try out, but it’s way above my price range (a $4K Gretsch). So I’m ordering online, and worked with a Sweetwater guy to get four models from them, plus one from Musician’s Friend. I was completely up front with the Sweetwater guy that I’d be keeping at most one of the instruments, and it’s all cool. Bottom line is that I’ll have to pay around $125 in shipping costs by the time all is said and done, and to me that’s worth being able to put five guitars through their paces for weeks, see how they do in a recording setting, and really make an informed decision.

Here are the five models that are now on the way (US dollars). I’ll post my impressions as I test drive 'em… No, there isn’t a Rickenbacker on this list. For one thing, they are at least $500 more than the top of my price range. Plus, in my research, it’s clear that Ricks have narrower necks hence tighter string spacing, and I know that will be a problem for me.

Danelectro 59X12: humbucking split-lipstick bridge pup, P90 on the neck. Bridge has 12 saddles so each string can be intonated (most have six, two strings per, clearly sub-optimum). $499.

Ibanez Artcore AS7312: Humbucking pups, top back & sides made of linden wood. $499.

D’Angelico Premier DC 12: Humbuckers, laminated maple body, ovangkol neck. $899.

Reverend Airwave: Body made of korina, 5-piece set neck of korina & walnut, 12 saddles on the bridge, proprietary P90-like pups. $1199.

Guild Starfire IV 12-ST: Humbuckers, mahogany archtop, rosewood neck, ebony fb. $1299.

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Wow Dave, you have some difficult decisions ahead of you :flushed:

And with that in mind I can only advise you to… buy them all!

All right, now on a slightly more serious note, here’s my first impression, completely depending on the you tube vids with all the usual differences in quality of the recording off course.
To me they all sound great, and I suddenly realized there is (just?) one more guitar that I really need (well maybe two, I would love a Dobro as well) :innocent:. The two most exciting guitars to me were the (inexpensive!) Dane Electro and the Reverend Airwave. Both with a lot of versatility in different directions. In case of the Reverend Airwave the enthusiasm of the guys playing some of my favorite songs/ riffs biased my opinion I’m sure, but it sounds fantastic and looks pretty cool too. I want one!
The others sound great in their own way but maybe less well defined as a 12 string? I get the feeling if you want a 12 string electric in a song it has to cut through the mix with an obvious 12 string sound.
Of course playability is quite essential with a 12 string and that is something you can only determine yourself.
Good luck with your choice!

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The classic “good problem to have”!

Agreed on both counts, and being able to test things out in recordings is a huge plus that one can’t get in the store of course. It’ll be fun!

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Since you’ll have them home for a while and can record, have you decided on a series of test songs to try them all out on?

I agree with Aef, the Danelectro sounds good in that recording. Hope the one that shows up for you sounds as good.

I haven’t actually, aside from knowing I’ll run through several obvious choices, like Wish You Were Here, Thank You (Zep), The Waiting, Ticket to Ride… but now that you mention it, I should in fact choose several tunes and record at least parts of them on all five guitars. Now to make the choices… :wink:

That’s a great idea, thanks for including us!

Absolutely! Though maybe in the end, as with any guitar I usually fall for the one the inspires me most, no matter how its sounds in a mix. That’ll be the guitar I pick up to write something new.

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Alright, after due consideration and some noodling in the studio, I’m going to record short passages from the following tunes once I have the five axes. Tones will go from clean early in the list to crunchier later in the list.

Hard Day’s Night (that opening chord, or as least as close as it can be approximated with only one guitar)
Wish You Were Here
Thank You (Led Zep)
The Waiting
If I Needed Someone (Beatles)
Mr. Tambourine Man
Livin Lovin Maid

I’ve got the DAW project file all set up with the amp sims & compressors appropriate for each of these tunes. Guitars should start arriving by Thursday…

Interesting bit on that Hard Day’s Night chord:

I will say, from a pure sexiness standpoint… I’ve always found Reverends to be great and this one is no exception! Love me some P90’s too. I wish the demo vid had better audio though.

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Small detail: the sales guy at Sweetwater seemed to lose all interest in communicating with me once it became clear I was doing this test-drive thing. I guess he won’t make any money off me. While I was waiting for him to get back to me and actually initiate the order, one of the models went out of stock. Also, I could find one of the others elsewhere in exactly the color I would want if it were the winner, so in the end I got only two from SW (just ordered as usual without waiting for the guy any longer) and the other three from Reverb, Musician’s Friend, and American Music Supply. I have 30 days minimum for all of them, so it will be no problem to get the due diligence did.

OK, Here are some results of the electric 12-string shootout. All the guitars look great, and have their pluses and minuses. First some subjective comments on each, then some short sample recordings to get a feel for the sounds. For comparison of the neck widths given (measured at the nut), a typical Strat or Les Paul neck is 1.65 to 1.69 inches, whereas a Rickenbacker 360/12 comes in at 1.63 inches. Not surprisingly, several of these suffer from tuning issues, and you can even hear it in some of the recordings.

I don’t get the chance often to have five variants on a guitar on hand, so had to take some pics…! Left to right: Danelectro, Reverend, Guild, Ibanez, D’Angelico.


Danelectro (w=1.78): Sounds good on recordings, feels good but not great. Seems to pull out of tune easily. Significant retuning needed if using capo on fret 7 (and then after). Very nice tones. Playable, but not as fun as the Reverend. Has 12 adjustable saddles on bridge. Intonation is second best behind Reverend.

Ibanez (w=1.69): Feels good, albeit noticeably narrower neck, sounds nice. Intonation on E, A, D not true, but fine on G, B, E. Only 6 bridge saddles. Significant retuning needed if using capo on fret 7. Overall stays in tune only OK. Better than the Dano.

D’Angelico (w=1.87): includes backpack-style gig bag. Wide neck very apparent, can definitely feel it. Cannot get it to stay in tune at all, G string is particularly problematic, when in tune open it is way off on just the second fret. Bailed on recordings after the first two because it’s so bad – disqualifying.

Reverend (w=1.75): Plays and sounds great. Holds tune well. Very little retuning needed when using capo on 7. Intonates almost perfectly on 12th fret. Controls are master vol, master tone, and a low-frequency rolloff knob. At min low cut, you get some deep boom out of the pickups, and you can dial it to taste without affecting the other settings. Very versatile. Definitely feels the best. Also has 12 saddles on the bridge for individual intonation.

Guild (w=1.69): includes hard shell case. Sounds delicious but nearly impossible to get in tune. Same problem on G string as D’Angelico (both shipped from Sweetwater). Very surprising for a $1300 Guild! Disqualified.

Recordings: I played fragments of a handful of songs just off the cuff to capture their sounds. Guitars are DI into my new Focusrite Scarlett 3rd gen interface (my old PCIe-based E-Mu card finally bit the dust, this is the replacement), and each song track has just an amp sim (Amplitube 4, Scuffham S-Gear 2, Nomad Rock Amp Legends) and some reasonably aggressive compression to bring out some of the nuances of the double strings. I started with a preset from each sim and then tweaked a bit to get what I wanted, as usual. I gave up on the D’Angelico after the first two song bits, so there are only four samples after those. Each guitar has all volume knobs at max and all tone knobs at max treble.

Hard Day’s Night opening chord: at least a one-guitar approximation. Played first on bridge p/u, then mid position, then neck for each guitar (except the Danelectro, where the order is reversed). Clean amp settings with some reverb (Amplitube).

D’Angelico:

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

Wish You Were Here: Mid p/u position, same clean settings as HDN (Amplitube).

D’Angelico:

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

Thank You: Neck p/u, bit of mild crunch in the amp (S-Gear).

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

The Waiting: Mid p/u position, mild crunch (Nomad).

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

If I Needed Someone: Bridge p/u, mild crunch, capo on 7th fret (S-Gear).

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

Mr. Tambourine Man: Mid p/u position, mild crunch (S-Gear).

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

Livin’ Lovin’ Maid: Bridge p/u, crunchy w/slapback (S-Gear).

Danelectro:

Guild:

Ibanez:

Reverend:

Happy to get your comments…

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I haven’t had a detailed listen to all of them, but overall I found myself liking the Ibanez tones the most.

Man I really wanted to like the Reverend but I wasn’t a huge fan of the mids on it… at the end of the day, for me it was between the Guild and the Ibanez… with the Ibanez having the best overall tone to me. It comes out of the box with what sounds like a bit of a mid scoop which was really nice to my ears.

Because I still love the Rev… and it feels the best… if it were me I’d consider that and see what replacement pickup options have more of a response I was looking for.

Tough decision!

One feature the Reverend has that the rest don’t is the so-called “bass contour” knob, which is basically a built-in HPF. Very easy to dial back the low-mids that way. I left it fully engaged for these tests, but at other settings it sounds just fine.

The Guild and the D’Angelico are no-go, however, because of the atrocious tuning/setup problems.

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@Chordwainer just curious, Guild and D’Angelico are pretty famous, would a little tweaking by a set-up guy get them back in the running?

I doubt it, because I’m having a hard time even understanding how they could both have this same problem. Here’s the deal: I can tune the pair of G strings so that they are perfectly in tune in the open position. But then when I play an A on the second fret, not only is the note not A, but the two strings aren’t even the same note any more, they’re off by very noticeable amounts. It’s super glaring. I futzed around with the two of them for quite some time trying to get them to cooperate (and yes after giving the guitars a full 24 hours to equilibrate). Total showstopper.

Also, for both instruments, I just could not get the guitars in tune in the first place. Again, I spent quite a bit of time messing with them. You can hear in most of the Guild clips, for example, that things are not right-- you can even hear it being pulled out of tune in the 30 or 40 seconds of playing.

Finally, for the D’Angelico, that wide neck is a dealbreaker even if it were perfect in every other way. Just too fat. The action is also higher than I’d like, although that’s easy to fix of course. But this one wasn’t gonna make the cut just on the neck alone.

I’ve now settled on the Reverend. I should have rolled off that “bass contour” some in the recordings so that the clips weren’t so low-endy. I’ve played it a lot and having that along with the regular single volume and tone controls is really pretty slick, it can really sing. Stays in tune, and feels the best hands down. Also has the 12-saddle bridge, allowing intonation of each string individually. It’s the only one that makes me want to keep on playing, and that’s the thing we want, eh? I really don’t have the time or energy to try to salvage these others.

And here’s the final irony. The Reverend’s 3-way switch apparently has a loose connection to the bridge pickup. A good part of the time, I hit the switch to select the bridge pickup and… silence. Have to jiggle the switch a bunch. Yes, easy to fix, but again, I don’t want to have to deal with it. So I’ve RMA’d all five of these guitars, and have ordered another Reverend, this time from Wildwood, who also happen to sell the proprietary hardshell case made by the company. And there is a really cool finish made available exclusively to WW called “faded burst”, which has a lot more red and orange than the regular 3-tone burst I have now.

Now I just have to ship these things back… I’ll end up spending probably a hundred bucks on shipping, maybe a little less, but that’s well spent for how I was able to really take my time and thoroughly check these out.

Here’s the finish comparison, with 3-tone burst at top, the Wildwood exclusive faded burst below.

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OK, I now have the final instrument, which arrived yesterday (Friday) afternoon. I let it sit in its case for about 18 hours to come up to temperature (some crisp weather the past few days while it was en route) until this morning, and have been playing it all day until my fingers are too sore.

Guitar is in perfect condition and setup. Action is exactly as I requested, intonation is perfect, it stays in tune really well, requiring just minor tweaks every so often. Feels great, sits well on my lap (I play sitting down most of the time), and looks pretty damn bitch’n if you ask me. Major thumbs up on this experience buying from Wildwood Guitars.

Here’s a few photos, then a quick and dirty clip of a progression that came to me while I was playing it today. That’s a great sign, when a new guitar prompts finding some little bit of possibly useful composition…


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Nice progression…Looks like you’ve found your next muse. :+1: (Might prove a rather expensive songwriting tactic, though :slight_smile:)