There’s nothing quite like the large and open sound of a 12 string guitar. In many cases of recorded music, this type of guitar is easily, and unmistakably, recognizable.
These types of guitars are especially notable for providing more presence in a mix. The result is usually a rhythm guitar part that comes alive with a more colorful character.
Just about anyone can appreciate and find satisfaction with music featuring a 12 string guitar. The following songs, which you’ve probably heard a time or two before, are some of the most famous instances.
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“A Horse With No Name” by America
Songs that conjure up hefty doses of mental imagery serve as a reminder of the magic of music. America’s song, A Horse With No Name, is a perfect example of this.
Even if you’ve never been to the desert, you can imagine yourself there with the lyrics of this song. It’s odd, but this song’s desolate story is something that just about everybody can relate to.
Musically speaking, A Horse With No Name is relatively simple, consisting of only a few building blocks. America utilized some highly effective layering in the recording of this song, helping the song’s sound to have an exposition.
The 12 string guitar in this song really fills out the foundation of the song and gives it a folk feel. Perhaps the most obvious aspect here is the layered vocal harmonies, which provide plenty of dimension.
A Horse With No Name will forever be one of the greatest songs to emerge in the 1970s. Its chorus (complete with its share of “la’s”) transcends all constraints of time and remains ever relevant.
“Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
What song would you consider to be Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit? For many, it would have to be Stairway To Heaven.
Playing this song today will definitely evoke a mixed bag of feelings depending on who’s around. It truly is a song that many people either love or hate.
The song was overplayed for quite a long period of time, causing people to tire of it. However, it can’t be denied that Stairway To Heaven is a true masterpiece of an emotional music epic.
It is certainly a long track, which many today don’t quite have the attention span for. Regardless, each compositional section builds the song to its peak.
You can hear a distinct 12 string guitar in the section right before the famous guitar solo.
Jimmy Page’s use of a double-neck guitar for performances of this song has created some of rock’s most historic imagery. It could be said that the double-neck wouldn’t have been quite as popular had this song not existed.
If it’s been a while, you owe it to yourself to unashamedly listen to Stairway To Heaven. You might just remember how good of a song this actually is.
“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty
The iconic Laurel Canyon sound wasn’t purely limited to the 1960s. In fact, Tom Petty was known to employ such characteristics in a way that gave his music a timeless quality.
A great example of this can be heard in the song, Free Fallin’. Musically, this song is extremely simple, but the 12 string guitar provides an effective punch.
Essentially, the song consists of an alternating sus2 and sus4 around a D chord shape. Despite being a common progression, Free Fallin’ seems to have a unique sound in its own distinct way.
Perhaps the most notable is the jangly sound of the 12 string guitar that plays the chord progression. Again, it fills out the sonic space around what would otherwise be a very basic musical structure.
This song helped to put Tom Petty on the map as an established solo artist. Of course, having ELO’s Jeff Lynne (a master in his own respect) as a songwriting partner certainly helped.
“Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart’s smash hit, Maggie May, is another song that utilizes the 12 string guitar throughout. The guitar on this recording has plenty of jangle, having a bit of a buzz similar to a sitar.
Believe it or not, this iconic 12 string guitar part was played by Ronnie Wood. Not familiar with that name?
Ronnie Wood is perhaps most famous for being a member of The Rolling Stones. Before this recording, he and Rod Stewart had previously worked together in the group, Faces.
Maggie May is a telling tale of somebody that is in a relationship with somebody a little older than them. The narrator seems to be having second thoughts about spending time with the object of their affection.
It would seem as if the narrator would rather be doing things that other people their age do. Songs like these really do help portray the bittersweet feelings that often come along with a romantic relationship.
“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” by The Byrds
What song epitomizes the entire California music scene of the late 1960s? For many, that distinct recognition would have to go the Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).
There are so many things about this song that cements it as an anthem of its time period. Perhaps the biggest is the sound of Jim McGuinn’s 12 string guitar throughout the song.
It is, after all, what really defines this track and makes it so easily recognizable. The guitar part is fairly simple and serves as an excellent musical centerpiece for the rest of the song.
If you analyze other music of this time period, you’ll notice that many songs musically emulate this track. It really did help to pave the way for so many great artists to come from the Laurel Canyon area.
The Byrds hit a grand slam in creating a unique folk-rock sound with this song. You’ll want to learn this if you have a trusted 12 string guitar hanging around.
“Mama, I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne has been an ever-present figure in rock and roll since the late 1960s. His career really took off when he embarked on a solo career throughout the 1980s.
The 80s and 90s were certainly decorated with some classic Ozzy songs. Many of these songs remain just as popular as they were when they were first released.
Mama, I’m Coming Home, was Ozzy’s biggest hit upon its initial release, which may come as a surprise to some. It certainly isn’t the edgy rock music that Ozzy’s reputation is partly built from.
Rather, Mama, I’m Coming Home is a power ballad on every level. Zakk Wylde’s 12 string prowess really sets the mood for this track.
This particular guitar part has a signature descending characteristic that makes the song instantly recognizable. You’ll want to learn this if you’re looking for 12 string guitar songs to play.
“I Stay Away” by Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains is a band known for both their hard rock edge as well as their acoustic stylings. The band was prominent in the 90s grunge sound, though they weren’t willing to be boxed into the genre.
Their track, I Stay Away, is a classic that comes from their acoustic EP, Jar Of Flies. Layne Staley’s large and haunting vocals are very much on display here.
Though this song does have its harder rock elements, a 12 string helps to provide a tapestry during the verses. Jerry Cantrell’s descending lines help give the song a very familiar sound that makes the song easily recognizable.
Unfortunately, this song wasn’t featured on the epic MTV Unplugged album. Nevertheless, it remains an important song from the 90s that packs a potent punch.
“Over The Hills And Far Away” by Led Zeppelin
Over The Hills And Far Away is generally considered one of the most popular instances of Zeppelin’s folk inspiration. This is a big claim, especially because it’s not from the band’s most folk-based album (Led Zeppelin III).
If you play guitar, you likely used this song to learn how to use hammer-ons and pull-offs. It’s become a sort of rite of passage amongst learning guitarists over the years.
In fact, the song’s signature riff is chock full of those techniques, giving it an iconic rolling feel. While the riff itself is undeniably awesome, the supplementation of chords makes it come alive.
You’ll actually hear a 12 string guitar specifically in the spaces between the main riff’s phrases. It adds a sense of depth that a standard 6 string guitar likely wouldn’t have been able to produce.
Of course, the way the song punches into rock riffs might be one of the greatest things about it. If you were listening to the song for the first time, you might have been a little surprised by this.
“More Than A Feeling” by Boston
The opening track to Boston’s massively successful debut album features excellent use of a 12 string guitar. This entire album is highly regarded, particularly because of the depth of sound throughout.
More Than A Feeling really helps to set the stage and tone for this iconic album. Its 12 string guitar lines have a swirling effect, giving the song a sort of dreamy quality.
You don’t have to be the biggest Boston fan to appreciate the sheer dedication required to pull this song off. Tom Scholz spent 5 years in his basement crafting this song to completion.
This is actually a massive accomplishment, and one that few people at the time had access to. Musicians of the late 1960s had to rely on the use of extremely expensive equipment to record anything.
Being able to do this (at the time) would generally require a record deal to have access to this capability.
Today’s musicians are spoiled with the ability to record a record in a bedroom. We could all stand to eat a bit of humble pie and appreciate what went into crafting this song.
“Wanted Dead Or Alive” by Bon Jovi
Are you wondering what song might be the one that has the most iconic 12 string guitar lines? If it doesn’t take the cake, Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive definitely ranks up there.
Who can deny this song’s fabulous intro? You don’t even have to be a fan of Bon Jovi to appreciate Richie Sambora’s guitar work.
For starters, the 12 string intro makes the song feel as if it came out of a cowboy movie. That, alone, is a massive feat for any instrumentalist, as it’s always a plus to evoke imagery through music.
Whether or not it has the same anthemic effect as Bob Seger’s Turn The Page remains to be seen. It does take inspiration from that song, particularly in the emotional undertone of the song.
You can be certain that this track is loved universally by Bon Jovi fans, and beyond. If you’re getting into playing the 12 string guitar, this really is a classic choice to learn.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd generally isn’t known for having a massive catalog of soft ballads. In fact, one probably couldn’t sum up the band’s sound and mention “ballad” at any time during the summary.
Wish You Were Here, on the other hand, is definitely a heartfelt ballad on almost every level. The song is primarily acoustic, featuring a 12 string throughout, although it isn’t readily apparent at first.
It could be said that the song’s acoustic approach makes it received much better. This is a track that almost anybody in the world can find appreciation for.
And really, that’s saying quite a bit for a band known for producing decades of innovative psychedelic rock.
Wish You Were Here has probably only gotten more famous as time passes by. Legions of people will sing this simultaneously if an artist performs it at a show.
In a way, this song is the perfect ode to Syd Barrett, one of Pink Floyd’s original founding members. Regardless of the lore around Syd and this album, it shows the band still thought of him, despite their successes.
“Closer To The Heart” by Rush
Rush provided a breath of fresh air to fans desiring a progressive rock element in their music of choice. Despite being a trio, Rush was able to produce a sound that was much larger than their individual members.
The song, Closer To The Heart, features a 12 string guitar, giving the song a feel akin to a ballad. Compared to the band’s other works, this is perhaps one of the more straightforward rock songs in their catalog.
This is a fairly short song, making it fit to be a hit single on rock and roll radio stations. Even so, it still manages to showcase Rush’s penchant for crafting dazzling musical compositions.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds
Bob Dylan’s success only continued with the song, Mr. Tambourine Man. When The Byrds released their own rendition, the song became extremely famous.
This track has all of the hallmarks that The Byrds are known for. The most recognizable is McGuinn’s 12 string guitar parts throughout the song’s entirety.
You could almost say that the jangly tone of the guitar perfectly matches the song’s lyrical content.
Again, this is another song that truly defines the counterculture society that came to be in the late 1960s. It’s been featured in countless films that take place during that time period, furthering its iconic status.
What’s unique about this is that The Byrds added their own musicality to an otherwise simple song. The part during the intro and outro is one of the most famous 12 string guitar parts of all time.
“A Hard Day's Night” by The Beatles
The influence of the jangly 12 string guitar heard in 60s groups like The Byrds wasn’t only popular in America. In fact, The Beatles began to incorporate the iconic sound into their own songs.
You can hear a great example of this with A Hard Day’s Night. This song helped to cement The Beatles as a worldwide phenomenon, no doubt aided by the 12 string guitar sound.
The Beatles are often highly revered for their contributions, which helped change popular music forever. What’s often underrated is the fact that the band wasn’t afraid to try new things.
Their experimental nature has produced some of the biggest hits to have ever been released. A Hard Day’s Night remains a classic in the band’s repertoire.
It’s also one of the few songs that anybody can easily identify with the sound of the opening chord.
“Breaking The Girl” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
As far as 90s mainstream funk rock is concerned, Red Hot Chili Peppers were really in the driver’s seat. Their album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, is definitely one of the funkiest albums to land in the 90s.
This album put the band on the map, featuring hits like, Give It Away, and Under The Bridge. If you’re a person that enjoys albums in their entirety, this one can be played front-to-back without skips.
It’s true, every song on this album has its own merits. The track, Breaking The Girl, brings the energy down so the listener can recoup before the next funky throw-down.
Breaking The Girl features a strummed 12 string guitar throughout the entirety of the song. It helps to fill the space of the band’s minimal instrumentation, providing an excellent vocal platform.
This track also has a very memorable chorus and features an effective melody utilizing a falsetto.
It might not be the most popular track on the album, but it definitely hits when needed. The band did an excellent job considering the track’s location on the album with respect to the album’s pacing.
“Give A Little Bit” by Supertramp
The song, Give A Little Bit, is probably the most recognizable Supertramp song by those who aren’t Supertramp fans. Ever since its release in 1977, the song has been featured countless times in many commercials and films.
Many would cite the song’s lyrics (and vocal delivery) as the song’s identifiable features. However, Give A Little Bit is also one of the best-known songs to feature a 12 string guitar.
Immediately from the beginning, the full strum of the 12 string can be heard. The natural chorus effect of the 12 string is undeniable here.
Despite being released in the 70s, you can tell this song takes inspiration from the music of the late 60s. The jangly tones of the 12 string guitar should be a dead giveaway.
What’s great about this song is that the 12 string isn’t reduced only to playing simple chords. During the song’s climactic break, the 12 string plays a vital role with its rhythmic chord progression.
“Space Oddity” by David Bowie
Life was definitely a little more colorful when David Bowie was alive and contributing music. He truly was a rare musician that found a way to stay relevant in almost every decade of his career.
Like many of the greatest, David Bowie was not afraid to experiment with his musical approach. Because of this, you really can’t label Bowie’s music as having one particular sound.
His earlier works do seem to take inspiration from folk music. Even with rudimentary musical assets, Bowie was still able to establish and display his own unique musicality.
A great example of this is the song, Space Oddity. This song utilizes a 12 string guitar to provide a fertile platform for all of Bowie’s distinct musical character.
Space Oddity is likely the first song somebody who doesn’t listen to David Bowie would think of. The dialogue between the song’s astronaut and the base on Earth is cemented in pop culture.
While this track is fairly tame, it gave the world a glimpse of the David Bowie that was to come. May his legacy continue to live on, and find new ears.
“Birds Of Fire” by Mahavishnu Orchestra
If you’ve never listened to Mahavishnu Orchestra, their name might be a bit misleading. You wouldn’t want to listen to Birds Of Fire in bed, thinking it might be a calm and peaceful experience.
Rather than sleeping, you’ll find yourself laying wide awake, astonished at the musical prowess at play. Birds Of Fire comes from a very innovative time period in music and remains a fossil of achievement.
Jimmy Page is often most associated with using a double-neck guitar, particularly during Stairway To Heaven. John McLaughlin, on the other hand, used one as his primary guitar during Mahavishnu Orchestra.
This gave him an incredible range of versatility, allowing him to adapt to any musical situation.
For those who aren’t familiar, Mahavishnu Orchestra is a jazz fusion group that combines Indian elements with progressive rock. The music they created is worlds apart from what was popular at the time, though it was more cutting-edge.
“Hotel California” by Eagles
Hotel California could likely be considered to be one of the biggest rock hits of all time. It would seem as if this song has all of the elements of every successful song formula.
For starters, Hotel California features an expansive 12 string guitar sound prominently throughout the track. Glenn Frey and Don Felder were both playing a 12 string on the recording of this song.
Just about anybody can sing the song’s chorus from memory. It’s been implanted in the common knowledge of pop culture.
Of course, Hotel California’s biggest takeaway is the guitar solo and the leads at the end of the track. When done tastefully, harmonized guitar leads really do hit the spot.
Love it or hate it, Hotel California seems as if it’s here to stay. It is still one of the most popular classic rock songs on playlists and radio rotations.
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” by The Beatles
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away shows a side of The Beatles that is inspired by 60s folk music. If you didn’t know any better, you would probably get some Bob Dylan vibes just from the musicality alone.
Again, this shows how The Beatles were very receptive to all kinds of music that was around at the time. While it could be considered a fairly basic song, they still manage to make it into something unique.
For the most part, this is a pretty easy strummer, though it does have a signature descending riff. This is amplified to great effect with the use of a 12 string guitar, just before the chorus.
The Beatles covered a wide range of different emotions in their songs. This song does a great job of portraying somebody who has some bad luck when it comes to love.
“Carry On” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young
The end of the 1960s saw society experimenting with things far beyond the established norms. Yes, it’s true, this is the era that saw the hippie movement become a cultural phenomenon.
Along with this, new systems of values started to emerge, some of which clashed with the beliefs of previous generations. However, this was a way that the youth of the late 60s were able to leave their own imprint on the world.
History was certainly never the same, as this generation proved to be full of ideas that were deserving of respect. Of course, having some of the most groundbreaking music at their side certainly helped push the cause.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young were only one of many groups that came out of California during this era. Many attribute this group to creating a sound that defined its region during this time period.
Their song, Carry On, is especially anthemic, as it clearly expresses the values held by many at the time. It also showed that, despite differences in looks, many people hold the same values.
One interesting thing to note is that Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead) played pedal steel on this song. Although he had only been playing a short while, his addition certainly gives the song a country feel.
Top 12 String Guitar Songs, Final Thoughts
The 12 string guitar is an incredibly useful tool for providing a sense of depth to a song. These tracks should have provided you with plenty of examples of this fact.
Listening to these songs can give you some great ideas for incorporating a 12 string into your own music. You can be sure that your songs will take on another dimension with the use of a 12 string guitar.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!