Want to get a great ’60s-style Beatles/Byrds electric 12-string sound? Use flatwound strings. It’s almost guaranteed to up your jangle quotient.
This advice is admittedly counter-intuitive—why should relatively dull-sounding flatwounds improve a guitar’s treble response? My best explanation is that when the lower-octave strings emit fewer highs, there’s less phase cancellation against the higher-octave strings. The round wound sound is pretty in its way, but the flat wounds sound tighter and more defined, and are definitely easier to situate in a mix. The strings simply sound more in focus.
Don’t believe me? Hear for yourself.I’ve recorded the same lick with both types of strings—and you dang well better appreciate it! Do you have any idea what a pain it is to restring a 12-string twice within an hour?
(FYI, the guitar is a ’90s Japanese-made Fender Squier with Duncan pickups.)
One problem with this approach: Not many companies make flatwound 12-string sets, and they tend to be expensive. I’ve used both Pyramids and La Bellas with excellent results. The latter are far cheaper in the States.
And what’s the best amp? Bright Fender? Chiming Vox? Well, “Mr. Tambourine Man” was recorded direct into the board with no amp whatsoever, but tons of LA-2A compression.
Try this recipe: Plug straight into your warmest-sounding preamp. Boost the crap out of everything above 2kHz or so. Scoop a narrow band of low mids around 160Hz. Set the compression between 4:1 and 8:1, but with a slow-ish attack. A touch of plate-style reverb lubricates the proceedings.
On the other hand, maybe you want to liberate yourself from the conceptual prison on jingle-jangle 12-string. There’s no law that says you have to automatically start playing “Ticket to Ride” or “Turn Turn Turn” each time you heft one of these beasts. In that spirit, I offer a mismatched bouquet of alternative 12-string tones:
And that’s not even touching on the trouble you can into if you tune each each string in the octave pair to different notes . . .