Thoughts on a 12-string

Originally posted August 28, 2015

Just got my 12-string Ovie Balladeer out of mothballs to play in a church service. I’m the guitarist they call in when the other three guitarists can’t make it. But I don’t mind, since it gives me most Sundays off but lets me keep my hand in.

Mostly I play “rhythm guitar”-style parts, since we have a very good lead player, but, based on past experiences of the praise band falling apart when he goes to a lead, he won’t play leads unless someone is giving some very solid rhythm behind him. One of our pickers used to bring a classical, so that didn’t contribute as much to the fast and pop-style songs as you might think. About a year ago, I thought about bringing my 12-string. I can play rhythm parts on it just fine, powerchords if necessary, etc. But it would help me build up my left-hand strength, which hasn’t been as good as I would like since I had nerve damage in 2010. Then the fellow with the classical started bringing in HIS twelve-string. Never mind.

Last week he was going to be out, so I took his place, and I brought in my 12-string. In order to do that, I had to restring it – the strings were at least three years old (I know, some of you are gasping, but that’s the last time I played it.)

It also turned out that the double elastic capo I had in with the guitar has worn out. I use cheap capos because I can keep them on my guitar strap when not in use, and I store extra flatpicks in them. Generally they last for 10 or more years. The one I had to replace for my 12-string would probably have worked fine on any of my 6-string or 5-string axes, but it didn’t have quite enough strength left for the 12-string. Instead of swapping it out with the capo in one of my banjo gig bags, I have simply replaced it. At the neighborhood guitar store, it cost all of $5.49, so that’s not too bad.

With the new strings, the Balladeer was way brighter than the Legend or Longneck I usually use for this – so bright I thought the amp was misfiring. How often do you have to turn the treble DOWN on the amp when you have an acoustic guitar plugged in?

While I had the guitar out, I tried several songs that I’ve worked up since the last time I had it out. It’s amazing how just adding those high strings can change the whole character of a song. One song that is distinctly (and deliberately) Country on my 6-strings took on a much more “organic” or “roots” feel. Others sounded like a Byrds revival.

My first “real” guitar was a 12-string, by the way. A mariachi guitar that came back from Mexico and had a 2 1/4″ nut. I played it for years, until I started playing places where I needed more dependable amplification, so I found my first Ovie – a used 1970s electric/acoustic Legend I could afford, and I sold the Mexican guitar to help pay back our scant savings account. The solid-topped Legend was louder and sweeter acoustically than my old 12-string, and was much, much easier to amplify effectively in tough settings. So I didn’t miss the old guitar all that much.

That said, my first 12-string sounded and more-or-less played like any laminated-top 12 string. But when I came across the My Ovie 12-string solid-topped electric/acoustic Ovie some 15 years later for a “steal” price, I realized just how much I had been missing that 12-string sound. About the same time I bought that guitar, set it up, and restrung it, I saw – of all things – Harry Belafonte on the original Muppet TV series. I became seriously nostalgic for folk music. At the time I was singing exclusively “Christian” music, due to membership in a legalistic church, so I wrote up gospel versions of two popular folk songs and played them on my 12-string in churches, campgrounds, and music festivals. I have a recording of that song here: http://paulracemusic.com/downloads/09_sloopmedly.mp3. Ironically, I don’t remember whether that recording uses my 12-string or the Ovie Longneck that I bought later. The point was that acquiring a professionally-built 12-string some 15 years after retiring my laminated-top one inspired me to write new songs based on old sounds. And that’s not a bad thing, is it.

By the way, I now have GREAT callouses on my left hand, the kind you need for really long gigs. As well as some new sounds for some old songs. Folks who don’t play guitar never understand why one guitar is not enough. 🙂

Paul

About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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