Tips, Techniques, Examples about my favorite musical instrument, the Twelve-String Guitar.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Finally - the 12 String sound I've been looking for!

Through a odd combination of events involving changing strings between the Taylor 355 and LKSM 12-strings, I ended up playing them both with heavy strings and tuned down 5 steps. The courses are tuned to B, E, A, D, F# and b. I've done this before, maybe more than a year or so ago, but this time the guitars sounded very juicy, very tubby and full, in a nice way. One had new strings, the other had strings that were several months old. They both sounded very good.

I fiddled around a bit with the neck relief, loosening it up, and raised the treble strings a bit via a half shim on the LKSM. This was doable because the strings are fairly slack in the range.

Why does this work?

There have been a lot of changes in the studio since I last tried this low tuning; for example, there are a lot of tuned and broad band bass traps. These may have helped reveal a sound that was always there. But I think that tuning the LKSM 12-string like this is one of those things that Taylor should be more forthcoming with; the LKSM as shipped with heavy elixir strings tuned down 3 steps does not feel like a good finger picking guitar. It has no jangle, no rumble, and plays like a crowbar. Tune it down a couple of more steps and it comes alive. Why is that?

It could be that most finger picking players use some version of open tuning on the LKSM like Leo Kottke does. Open tunings usually involve dropping strings down a few steps. This would produce some of the improvements that I hear. Also I think many 12-string guitarists use some sort of picks - either a flat pick, or finger picks. This may sharpen the sound. Flat pickers especially would appreciate the high tension, or what I'm calling the crowbar effect.

In any case, I'm really enjoying the LKSM. You can hear some noodling around here.

Image - Tangled Up In Strings c. 1980 (c) 2013 Art Sulger


Anonymous said...

12-strings just seem to be at their best as more of a Baritone instrument.

The tuning that you are using with the Elixir heavies yields about the same tension as the strings that I use (13/13, 17/17, 26/10, 35/14, 45/23w, 56/30w) tuned down 3 half steps and in an open tuning - G down to E for instance. Leo's set-up is very similar.

I latched onto this quite a while ago and never looked back.

Anonymous said...

I have settled on Elixir heavies tuned down to C on my Taylor 355. I like the sound I get from it and it's not too hard to play.
I have pretty much given up using open tunings on it though because the sound really falls apart when tuned lower than C. Not enough string tension to really get a good sound out of this heavily braced guitar I guess, which is why I'm always looking out for an LKSM on the used market.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to say your playing sounds fantastic!

Scott C. Nevin said...

Interesting reading. I've been playing a Taylor 355ce now since March and diving into some Kottke tunes. I've found the lights to be a bit tinny sounding and I've been thinking about going to heavier strings. I've got a couple of questions... Going with the heavier gauge strings I know I'm going to have to go down 3 to 5 half steps so that the guitar doesn't self destruct. Would you expect that the neck will need to be reset after making this switch?

Also, I've noticed an intonation problem with my 355ce, the 5th course of strings (up from the bottom), the 12th fret is sharp by about 12-15 cents. The good news is that my ear can now detect this (I've been playing about 2 years now). The bad news is that it has driven me sufficiently nuts and the guitar is now back in El Cajon at the factory for them to look at it. Have you seen intonation problems with your 355 up at the higher frets?

Anyway Art, I dig your stuff. My friend brought it with us to listen to on our way to this year's Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. Now I'm hooked on your 12string playing.

12String said...

With the extra heavy strings you will have to detune. Taylor ships the LKSM tuned down 3 steps.
Elixir Lights tuned to Concert E:256.92#
Elixir Heavy tuned to C#:317.02#
Elixir Heavy tuned to C:282.43#
Elixir Heavy tuned to B:248.4#
Elixir Mediums gauges tuned to C#: 206.45#
Elixir Mediums gauges tuned to D:231.74#
Martin 80/20 tuned to C#:227.97#
Martin 80/20 tuned to D:255.89#

re: intonation - My electronic tuner says the 355 is okay with lights tuned to concert. String types plus nut and saddle height can affect this, I guess. If you get it exact you probably can't change anything else. I'm cursed (or is it blessed?) because a few cents between friends is okay :-)

Glad you like the tunes. I'm a good bit through a new CD - longer tunes, more complex - weird stuff. The guitars sound really nice...very full, with more of the classic acoustic 12-string sound. The sounds of the 355 tuned to concert nicely complement the LKSM tuned down a 5th.

Scott C. Nevin said...


My 355ce arrived back from Taylor last week. They did a full neck reset for Open-G and replaced my strings. The intonation is now perfect across all the strings!

I talked with the Tech at Taylor while they had the guitar and solving this type of problem is pretty straight forward.

Total cost: $24.62 for shipping one way. I just love the guys and gals at Taylor. (They have a great tour at their El Cajon facility, check out my blog for photos and commentary).

However you are right. Pick your strings, pick the tuning, set everything up and don't deviate.

The curse of the 12-string.

I played it all weekend and it sounds so sweet now.



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