Global Bass Online July 2001
An Intro to the 12-String Bass Guitar
by Low-End Monster
The 12-string bass guitar.
Many know of it, but to date few have lived to tell the tale.
To understand the concept of this mighty instrument, we have to learn
more about its beginnings. Back in
1977, Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick approached Hamer Guitars to help him develop
an 8-string bass to replace the Hagstrom 8-string he was currently experimenting
with. The Hagstrom was a nightmare
to contend with as the overall playability and construction was unimpressive to
say the least. As Hamer and
Tom collaborated, they started pushing the designing envelope and Tom asked if
Hamer could build him a 12-string bass in the form of 4 fundamentals with two
octaves each (eeE, aaA, ddD
& ggG). Hamer was leery
about the concept but agreed to “test-build” him a 10-string bass (eE, aA,
ddD & ggG) as a confirmation that the neck would or would not be able to
withstand the tension. To
everyone’s surprise and delight the design prove worthy of the task and Hamer
went ahead with the construction of the world’s first 12-string bass guitar.
Since then the 12-string bass guitar has become a force to be reckoned
with in the world of the bass player.
Early 12-String Basses were built
as Short (30-30.5") or Medium (31-32")
scales due to the effects of stress on the neck by the added octave strings.
It wasn't until the implementation of dual truss rods, graphite slabs/ rods that
the ability to build viable longscale 12-string basses was realized.
There are many proponents of both scales. As usual it remains a personal choice/
preference. Today all but one (the
Hamer B12S 30.5” Shortscale ) of the standard models manufactured are 34 “
The 12-string bass guitar sounds like a handful, (and to some
it can be) but overall there are only a few differences to be concerned with.
Tuning the 12-string is quite simple (though a good chromatic tuner is a
must!). With the four fundamental strings tuned to concert/ standard
pitch (E,A,D,G) the two octaves for each fundamental are tuned in unison one
octave higher. (Tuning them two
octaves higher would have a catastrophic effect on your neck with respect to
tension.) It is basically the same
tuning configuration as an 8-string bass with an extra octave for each group,
but it sounds nothing like it. The
sound / tone of the 12-string bass is much fuller and louder than you would
Most 12-string bassists use a pick to strum the 12ver to
life, although there are those that prefer to use a finger style (in this case
however both the octaves are usually strung below the fundamentals… i.e.
Eee, Aaa etc.) Experienced
12-string bassists can manipulate the octaves (which are both above the
fundamentals) and or fundamentals separately to accent
the notes they play, but the most common method is to depress three
separate strings for each note simultaneously.
Do you feel a hand cramp coming on already?
Like most things it is more technique than strength, but until you are
used to it, it will wear you down more quickly than a 4-string.
In the last year the 12-string bass has become a more readily
available instrument with the introduction of low cost “Korean” models
entering the market namely the Galveston 12-String Bass, Dean Rhapsody 12,
Musicvox SpaceCadet as well as Hamer’s own CH-12 ( a Korean version of the
B12L model) . They all run around
the US$1000.00 list price area, but can be found on eBay ranging between
US$300.00 to US$700.00 brand new! Higher
end USA made models such as Hamer’s B12A,S and L models, and the Chandler
Royale can push into the US$3500.00 range and up depending on the options you
request. But like most things in
life, you get what you pay for and / or buy what suits your needs/ budget.
There are many options available with your twelve string bass
(more notably with the higher end models) with respect to your electronics.
The ultimate expression of the 12-string bass is to have 3 outputs (one
for each pickup) that are each sent to a separate amp.
Neck and middle pickups are each sent to individual guitar amps (highs
and mids), while the bridge pickup is sent to a bass amp (lows).
The highs are usually distorted to give the bass a mean growl like
nothing you have heard before. This
as I said is the ultimate rig for a 12-string bass player like Tom Petersson.
For the rest of us on a lower budget (and a less dedicated / patient
soundman) we have the more familiar mono setup.
All pickups are routed through one output to one bass amp or spilt
between a guitar and bass amp via a crossover or a SansAmp Bass Driver DI.
Most 12-string bassists find that a good 4x10 combined with a 1x15
cabinet (with a generously powered bass head) as the best mono bass rig for a
gig. These are just some of the
setup /rig options you can experiment with to customize the tone of your
12-strting bass guitar.
Many who have never played a 12-string bass are intimidated,
as it looks too hard to play. Some
consider it as a novelty for use with a song or two in a set.
With the affordability of the new Korean models, many are taking the
plunge to discover that these pre-conceived conceptions are not the rule.
More than ever the 12-string bass has come into its own as bass players
discover the diversity and power of the instrument.
Some call it the “pocket piano”, while others refer to it as the
“wall of sound.” At the very
least, it is by far the biggest threat to your rhythm guitarist’s job
security. The look on his / her
face will be priceless. Isn’t
that a good enough reason to own one?
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