What Is a 12 Fret Guitar and Why Get One?

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

what-is-a-12-fret-guitarOnce upon a time a guitar wouldn’t have been anything different from the norm if it was a 12-fret guitar – because they used to be the norm – they are now rarer.

Hang on – what is a 12 fret guitar?

O.k. first let’s cover what a 12-fret guitar is and how it differs from today?s standard acoustic guitars and the reasons why you may or may not want a 12-fret guitar.

What is a 12 Fret Guitar?

A 12-fret guitar is simply a guitar where the body of the guitar joins the neck at the 12th fret.

Most modern acoustic guitars join at the 14th fret.

Does this actually make any difference?

Absolutely.

How a 12-Fret Guitar Differs from a 14-fret Guitar?

There are a couple of differences that a 12-fret guitar brings. Firstly, there are usually fewer frets – usually 18 as opposed to 20 on a 14-fret guitar.

But probably the biggest difference is the position of the bridge on a 12-fret compared to a 14-fret.

The bridge on a 12-fret is further from the soundhole. The scale length is normally the same and the bridge is moved down lower on the?top of the guitar.

what-is-a-12-fret-guitar

How does this affect Sound?

This has a significant effect on the sound of the guitar because the bridge sits on a more flexible area of the soundboard and can move more freely.

The result is usually a warmer tone that doesn’t quite have the attack in the highs or the thump in the lows that you would expect from a more modern steel string guitar. It has a softer, warmer tone.

It also helps to produce more sustain and a less compressed kind of sound. So you can get a bigger kind of sound out of a smaller guitar in that sense.

How does this affect Feel?

I like to think of this as a bit of a looser feel. You get a smoother freer kind of feeling. Everything?s a bit more flexible.

It makes it easier to bend strings and fingerstyle feels particularly good. There is less tension going on so it’s a bit of an easier feel on your fingers compared to the 14-fret counterparts.

Is a 12-fret right for you?

That all completely depends on you. It depends on how you like to play and the sound you like.

If you like to do a lot of hard strumming and explosive flat-picking type stuff, then a 12-fret probably isn?t going to be your thing – you?re probably not going to get as much oomph out of it as you would like.

On the other hand if you like to play fingerstyle and prefer a softer, looser feel – then you’ll probably wonder why you hadn?t played a 12-fret sooner. It could be a revolution for you.

Also, if you like a warmer, more subtle kind of sound, then you’ll love the 12-fret.

If you?re after a brighter, louder, more compressed kind of sound, then you probably won’t be suited to 12-fret.

Final Thoughts

12-Fret guitars are making somewhat of renaissance of late. They were the only option before the 1930s but 14-fret acoustics soon took over, leaving the 12-fret as a bit of an ancient relic for years.

But more and more musicians are going back to 12-fret models for their unique musicality and feel.

They?re not for everyone – but if you?ve been searching for a sound and feel that you just can’t quite seem to get, maybe try a 12-fret – it might just be the revelation you?re looking for.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

8 comments

  1. Nate, I’ve had guitars since I was 12 and I never put this together somehow. All I knew was that one of my guitars was a lot easier to play up at the 12th fret. We bought a really sweet sounding Seagull about 3 years ago, nice, deep mellow sounding – but looking at it just now, it’s a 14-fret. I just played my old Yamaha 12 fret next to it and it’s surprising the difference. The old Yamaha is actually deeper, mellower than the Seagull. I love them both, but all of a sudden, I’m looking at them a lot differently. The old beat-up Yamaha 12-fret deserves a lot more love than it’s been getting!
    Thanks man.

    1. Hey Larry

      Yeah definitely give the old 12-fret some love! Glad I could offer some insight into your guitars. Yeah definitely a difference between a 12-fret and 14-fret. A different feel and different tone.

      What Seagull did you get?

  2. I just bought a Taylor 712 E 12 fret. I put medium strings on it per the recommendation from Taylor. I’m not happy with the sound. Do you recommend going to light gauge strings? I figured that they would be too loose with the lower tension of the 12 fret. Any thoughts? Thnx john

    1. Hi John

      Thanks for your message.

      Often it can be ok to go change gauges so long as you only go one step in either direction – if you go further you might need your guitar to be setup for that. And sometimes it might be a good idea to have a setup done, even if you are only changing gauges by one thing – like mediums to lights.

      But I think the best bet is to experiment. Try the lights on the guitar and if you like the sound, then maybe have someone do a setup so that the guitar is setup better for lights. Also, experiment with brands. Sometimes people just don’t particularly like the sound of certain brands – so it might be the case that mediums are ok for you, but that you don’t like the particular brand you are using?

      But yeah if Taylor recommends mediums, then the guitar is setup for mediums. You might get away with lights without having to make any adjustments, but you may have to make adjustments (or have adjustments made by a professional).

      Hope this helps

  3. “less tension” really is a property of a shorter scale guitar and has nothing to do with where the neck meets the body.

  4. The 12-14 quandary was solved in the 1920s when a luthier built a guitar that is 12 frets on the left and a 14 fret on the right, and hand built a stunning L-0 style guitar, tiger striped maple and red cedar top with an arched back and very little bracing….and it?s loud, melodic and simply a wonder…hand built case with brass fittings, form fit inside for the guitar and two accessory compartments…yep, original 2920s tuners too…no name brand, yet brilliant and inventive….Yes, it?s mine….

  5. I have a 12 fret Recording King ?parlor guitar? and can attest to the unique mellow sound…also the ease of fingering, bending strings, etc. Wouldn?t trade it even for a Martin ! Plays blues so well too –

    1. I have an ROS-O6 and it is great. Gig with it all the time. I like 12 freters so much that I just pulled the trigger on a Blueridge BR-361. Coming tomorrow. Can’t wait!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *