Explore different tunings for your 12-string this month with a composition from Paul Brett
My main tunings for 12-string guitar, apart from dropped D, are open major and minor tunings. Most are dropped a tone or a tone and a half in pitch from concert. So, for example, I’d use open Gm tuned down to Fm – this pitch gives the 12-string a lot more depth. My dropped D tuning is down a tone to dropped C and also has the same effect. I find that these tunings are a bit easier on my voice too. When I first started playing in a duo with John Joyce, he would detune way down so that his dropped D shapes became B in my concert tuning which, for soloing on acoustic guitar, was a little uncomfortable and limiting. However, with a bit of practice, it did work well.
On my 14 frets to the body Aria signature guitar (released in the mid-1970s), I always used a capo on the second fret and tuned to concert, but on my Vintage signature 12-string, I never use a capo. I did for a little while use a 1970s Ovation 12-string as it plays very well at speed and produces a tight and bright sound – and is especially suitable for my solo orchestral style, but it wasn’t so good for blues. I still use it occasionally for orchestral stuff, although I don’t feel wholly comfortable with the bowl-back design. When Ovations first appeared on the market, everyone played them. Country music icon Glen Campbell used one all the time and I remember our own Gordon Giltrap using his on a regular basis with his band.
The big Stellas from the 30s don’t handle open tunings too well but they are masterful for blues picking and do produce “that sound” everyone associates acoustic blues with. Very rare to source and priced to match, these iconic old masters are not ones to risk on a gig-by-gig basis for many reasons. Theft and accidental damage are two issues that immediately spring to mind, not to mention the insurance policy that you would need to take out to cover the aforementioned!
My signature Vintage 12-string carries the Fishman Matrix System which I absolutely love and I have them fitted on all my Vintage by JHS instruments. They are not invasive into the body structure, easy to use, and just have one volume and one tone control that are usually mounted internally, just below the inner soundhole ring. The pickup strip is under the saddle as the battery is mounted in a pouch on the inner heel of the neck. It’s more inconvenient to get at than an external battery compartment, but it doesn’t bother me as I always check them regularly. The jack is inserted via the lower bout strap button. The reason I designed my signature 12-strings like that is because it gives players the opinion to put in their own preferred pickup system with the Fishman being fairly easy to remove without causing any damage to the body of the guitar.
The tab I have offered this month is my own composition called ‘Taxed’. Enjoy – thanks to Mark Thompson for the tablature.
Download the Taxed – Full Score