History of the Twelve String Guitar

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History of the Twelve String Guitar

History of the Twelve String Guitar

The origin of the twelve string guitar is shrouded in mystery. First appearing in America around the turn of the century, there is some debate as to whether it was invented by Italian luthiers or imported from Mexico. One thing is for sure though, when the twelve string finally caught on, it caught on big.

From Led Zeppelins "Stairway to heaven" to The Eagles' "Hotel California" the twelve string guitar has made its mark on rock-n-roll history. It's unique chorus sound lends a dramatic tone to a song while also giving it that "old world" sound.

The first musician we know of to make regular use of the twelve string was "Blind Willie" McTell. After playing six string guitars, Willie found he preferred the twelve string for its louder volume. Songs such as "Travelin Blues" and "Statesboro Blues" brought Willie's Piedmont sound to the forefront in the 20's and 30's

Twelve string guitars are also widely used in Latino music, and have been since the beginning. One of the early starlets of the Latino music scene, Lydia Mendoza made her mark when she graduate from mandolin to twelve-string and eventually recorded her hit "Mal Hombre" which made her an overnight celebrity.

No discussion of the twelve string would be complete without mentioning Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter who so famously used his twelve string to "sing his way out of prison." The reality is that in both cases Leadbelly had already served almost all of his sentence, but his music also played a role as he was well known for performing in prison for his cellmates and was even recorded for the Library of Congress.

Leadbelly went on to a rich career and penned many of the staple songs of the blues genre. Leadbelly songs like "Goodnight Irene" "Gallis Pole" "Midnight Special" and "The House of the Rising Sun" have been covered by so many artists and have become so ingrained in our culture that most people don't even realize that its a Ledbelly song.

In the 60's and 70's with the rebirth of blues music, the twelve string made a big comeback. Rock artists such as The Who and Led Zeppelin used the same versatility and dramatic sounds of the twelve string to great effect. Folk artists such as Arlo Guthrie, Paul Simon and Neil Young used the melodic chorus to widen their sound and enrich their music.

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