String instruments are the bane of our existence, spiraling beauty into our lives with the sweet complexities of the tunes they produce. While the abundance of string instruments is quite diverse, we can’t deny that guitars are the alpha in that run, securing the supreme position at the top.
If you own an acoustic guitar and want to set yourself up for a challenge, I’d highly recommend looking into different 12-string guitar songs.
So, why don’t you give it a try? And, before you say, “Oh, I don’t know which songs to try out?” Well, you can leave that burden to us because we have sorted out the best ones for you.
Top 12-String Guitar Songs of All Time
In this list, we have assorted some of the best 12-string guitar songs for you to get started with. Some of them are completely played on 12-string guitar, while a few others have a riff or few notes that give them their iconic 12-string flair.
1. “Suicide Note Part 1” By Pantera
Although Pantera is more famous for heavy hitters such as “Cemetary Gates” or “Primal Concrete Sledge”, it’s songs like “Suicide Note Part 1” that truly embody the more emotional sides of each band member.
This tune sounds great on all acoustic instruments, but when played on a 12-string guitar, its hauntingly gorgeous melodies truly come to life. Beginners can easily pick up on it, as it is neither complex nor fast.
2. “Wanted Dead” or Alive By Bon Jovi
“Wanted Dead” is arguably one of the most popular Bon Jovi tunes. With mere hints of overdriven guitar, it managed to go toe to toe with far more intense rock ballads. Richie Sambora might make it seem effortless, but most beginners may face a challenge or two tackling all the chord changes.
The infamous intro of “Wanted Dead or Alive” was originally recorded on Sambora’s 12-string Ovation axe. It may sound great on a traditional acoustic, but you can only capture its atmosphere with a 12-string.
3. “Ocean” By John Bulter Trio
A beautiful arrangement for a 12-string guitar performed by the John Butler Trio, the “Ocean” sounds gorgeous but is quite technically demanding. Although there aren’t too many repetitions in this song, the melodies are catchy, and even beginners should be able to remember the main parts quickly.
John uses a capo on the fourth fret while playing this song, which greatly helps him execute all the tapping and legato techniques.
4. “Wish You Were Here” By Pink Floyd
“Wish You Were Here” is a heartfelt ballad authored and performed by the legendary Pink Floyd, as well as the name of the album it is featured on. A 12-string was used for the intro and bits of the core theme, as can be heard by the beautiful natural reverb in its sound.
Technique-wise, “Wish You Were Here” is a rather straightforward song. The slow rhythm, only a handful of chord changes, and easy solos make this tune great for people who’ve just picked up a 12-string guitar.
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5. “A Horse with No Name” By America
The powerful chord play in “A Horse With No Name” is difficult to pull off without an airy 12-string guitar. Simple chords and verses nearly all rock fans know by heart come to life with the backing of a twelve-string guitar.
You don’t need a capo, and you certainly don’t need to be an expert player to play this America song; learn the intro and the chorus, and you will have learned the whole song.
6. “More Than a Feeling” By Boston
Beginners who aren’t sure if they ever heard what a 12-string guitar sounds like should just remember the intro of “More Than a Feeling” by Boston. Released in 1976, it is still counted among the most powerful rock tunes ever written.
Not many people know this fun fact about Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”, but Tom, the band’s founder and lead guitar player said that the process of writing this song took as many as five whole years.
7. “Hurricane” By Bob Dylan
The king of folk rock, Bob Dylan has a diverse catalog of songs, but “Hurricane” stands out among the bunch with an upbeat tempo, Bob’s peak storytelling, and a beautifully-sounding arrangement for a 12-string guitar.
Even though Dylan composed and played nearly all of his songs, he had a bit of help with “Hurricane”. A session guitar player named Vinnie Bell played a 12-string in this tune, or more specifically, a vintage Danelectro Bellzouki.
8. “Ticket to Ride” By The Beatles
Seeing The Beatles smile while performing a song as joyous as “Ticket to Ride” made many fans think it was a happy tune about wanderlust. John Lennon named it after seeing the procedure Hamburg police officers followed while declaring night workers healthy (or unhealthy) while The Beatles toured over Europe.
It was another one in the string of #1 hits The Beatles made in the mid-70s, even though its idiosyncratic construction might not be too well-suited for beginners.
9. “Early Morning Rain” By Gordon Lightfoot
“Early Morning Rain” talks about hope and people who could use a bit of luck in their lives. Gordon demonstrates impeccable fingerstyle technique on his 12-string guitar in this tune, although the repetitiveness of the chords makes it a bit simpler than it seems.
The original, sadly, did not make it too far, but after being featured on the “Fifth Album” by Judy Collins, it was featured on the US Charts Hot 100.
Read Next: Top 70+ Greatest Fingerpicking Songs for Guitarists
10. “Free Fallin’” By Tom Petty
Light-paced and soothing would be the two words that best describe Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin”. This soft rock superhit is a go-to 12-string guitar song greenhorn players start with, not just because of its simplicity but because of the legendary riffs.
This song is a product of a collaboration between Tom Petty and ELO’s Jeff Lynne; Jeff actually advised Tom to keep “Free Fallin” light and smooth, which is precisely what we’re hearing today.
11. “Best of My Love” By The Eagles
“Best of My Love” blends soothing chords on a 12-string guitar with a groovy bass line and hints of piano notes. The bass and vocals are playing the role of lead “instruments” in this song, although it would be impossible to imagine the “Best of My Love” without the delightful chords and notes played on the 12-string.
This was such a hit when it came out that a couple of underdog bands took the title’s name for their own songs. The Emotions had the most success with it, reaching #1 on US Charts, which was coincidentally the very first instance of two songs sharing the title name reaching top charting slots.
12. “California Blue” By Roy Orbison
“California Blue” kicks off as a day in the life of a blue-collar worker before turning into a heartfelt ballad for a sweetheart far away. The alluring 12-string guitar work remains steady from start to finish while Roy’s beautiful voice changes the scenery.
What makes this song perfect for 12-string guitar players, regardless of skill level, is that the echoing of the double strings synergizes perfectly with Roy Orbison’s unique voice and singing style.
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13. “Carry On” By Fun
The piano and 12-string guitar parts bounce the leading roles back and forth throughout “Carry On”, one of Fun’s most popular songs. From single strums to blasting riffs, guitarists playing this tune won’t have a second of boredom.
Note-for-note, “Carry On” is a very basic song for a 12-string guitar. However, Nate Ruess’s unique singing style and rhythm in this song may “misguide” some beginner players from time to time.
14. “Mama, I’m Coming Home” By Ozzy Osbourne
One of Ozzy’s strongest ballads ever since he began his solo career, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” features amazing 12-string guitar parts performed by Zakk Wylde, famous for helming Black Label Society.
Ignore the words “Mama”, as Ozzy is calling out to his wife, Sharon. This tune marks a pivotal moment in Ozzy Osbourne’s life, as he became clean shortly before recording and writing it. The statement “I’m coming home” means that Ozzy is prepared to take his life into his own hands, and “Mama”, or Sharon in this case, is credited for helping him achieve this.
15. “Closer to the Heart” By Rush
Hailed among the pioneers of progressive rock and metal, Rush is known for everything but simple ballads, and then there’s “Closer to the Heart”. Alex Lifeson is using a distorted guitar throughout this tune, but he composed and arranged the intro and several other parts for a 12-string guitar.
“Closer to the Heart” may be one of the easiest Rush songs, but there are quite a few chord changes; the tempo is slightly above average, so if you’re a beginner, you may sweat a bit, but you’ll eventually nail it.
16. “Nothing Else Matters” By Metallica
The most famous heavy metal ballad of all time, “Nothing Else Matters” is a tune that popularized the use of distorted guitars and aggressive drums in otherwise soothing, slow-tempo songs.
Even though Kirk did not use a 12-string guitar to record the original “Nothing Else Matters”, you can easily play it on one. There’s also this version of the song which does in fact use a 12 string guitar and is more orchestral.
17. “Hard Luck Woman” By Kiss
For people who’ve known Kiss for bangers such as “Detroit Rock City”, “Love Gun”, or “I Was Made For Loving You”, listening to “Hard Luck Woman” may reveal another side of the band.
It’s a true rock & roll ballad more in line with what you’d expect from The Beatles. It is a remarkably powerful, deep song where Paul Stanley had an opportunity to show off his 12-string guitar-playing skills to his fans.
18. “Hotel California” By The Eagles
Candles, lighters, and cellphone lights brighten the sky whenever “Hotel California” is played. Not many bands can boast about having a hit so strong that it would continue to inspire generations decades after its release, yet The Eagles have more than a few.
This intro to this tune, as well as the recurring melody that follows “Hotel California” were recorded with a special Takamine acoustic 12-string guitar. There are multiple guitars playing fills that rarely repeat in “Hotel California”. It’s an intermediate-level song, but with a bit of practice, it shouldn’t be too difficult to master.
19. “Give A Little Bit” By Supertramp
Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” is one of the strongest rock tunes composed and arranged for not one but two 12-string guitars. It was released in 1977, and to this day, merely a handful of bands managed to replicate this authentic, beefy tone.
It’s a tad faster than contemporary rock ballads, but the arrangements are fairly straightforward – three chords go in and out throughout “Give A Little Bit”, neither of which is too complex for beginners to tackle.
Read Next: The Best Sing Along Songs of All Time: Sing Your Heart Out
20. “Magic Bus” By The Who
The Who brought quite a few revolutionary concepts to rock & roll, and using an electric 12-string guitar is one of them. “Magic Bus” was composed on a Fender XII, and Pete Townshend drives the song with a groovy, inescapable rhythm.
The “Magic Bus” is a perfect song for R&R 12-string players who want a tune they can bang their heads to. Even though it was originally written on an electric one, you can easily play it on an acoustic 12-string guitar.
21. “A Hard Day’s Night” By The Beatles
Upbeat and energetic, “A Hard Day’s Night” is precisely what you’d expect from The Beatles. The rhythm and groove of this tune were used as a recipe by countless bands that followed in The Beatles’ footsteps.
George Harrison kicks “A Hard Day’s Night” off with his Rickenbacker 12-string, pulling off a series of simple yet powerful chords. The way this song is arranged for this particular type of guitar helped it withstand the tests of time, but at its core, it is a very basic, danceable tune.
22. “Sister Golden Hair” By America
Gerry Beckley’s 12-string axe standing atop a slide guitar in America’s “Sister Golden Hair” is one of the smoothest licks in the history of rock music. This song flows like a river, and its melodies are as creative as they are pleasing to the ears.
Even though there are several mini-solos in “Sister Golden Hair”, the repeating riffs on a 12-string guitar are leading the music. There aren’t techniques as complex as arpeggiated tapping or sweep-picking, but there are quite a few chord changes beginner guitarists may want to look out for.
23. “Solsbury Hill” By Peter Gabriel
Released in 1977 and rereleased thrice, “Solsbury Hill” is a staple in the history of pop rock. Gorgeous, simplistic, and straightforward, the sonic themes prominent in this tune are inescapable.
Originally composed on an electric axe, Bob Ezrin who produced the song told the band’s guitarist Steve to use a 12-string one for the main riff. Some say that an acoustic Martin was used instead with a second fret capo.
24. “Suite Madame Blue” By Styx
“Suite Madame Blue” is a deeply emotional power ballad featuring a long-winded, gorgeous intro arranged for a 12-string guitar. The iconic chorus is performed on a gritty overdriven guitar, but as soon as it is finished, John and James take it back to its acoustic form.
Styx isn’t known for supersonic songs, and “Suite Madame Blue” is not an exception, yet what makes it slightly more difficult to play relative to other power ballads is a series of tempo and chord changes.
25. “Over The Hills and Far Away” By Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin brought its own jazzy perspective into rock and gave birth to a unique style of progressive music. “Over The Hills and Far Away” is a part ballad, part improvised rocking jam organized in an odd time signature.
The intro can be a bit unpredictable for people who are unaccustomed to Led Zeppelin’s writing style while the remaining licks are more in tune with traditional prog rock. If you own an electric 12-string guitar, you’ll have a blast with “Over The Hills and Far Away”, although it is perfectly playable on a regular acoustic 12-string axe.
26. “Mr. Tambourine Man” By Bob Dylan
“Mr. Tambourine Man” is among the top 10 most famous Bob Dylan songs for a good reason. It is as catchy as it is intricate, yet nearly all of the beautiful melodies that comprise this tune are fairly easy to learn.
A widely known fun fact among Bob Dylan fans is that the song was inspired by Dylan’s guitarist, Bruce Langhorne, who used an acoustic guitar for “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The way it was arranged, this song is perfectly fit for 12-string guitar players.
Best 12 String Guitar Songs [Infographic]
6-String Vs. 12-String Guitar – What are the Differences?
As the name suggests, compared to a traditional acoustic guitar, the 12-stringed guitar features double the number of strings.
The only difference is that the 12-string guitar consists of both higher and lower octaves of the root notes, while the 6-string guitar features only the low octave.
T skill level required to play a 12-string guitar is a bit higher than what’s required for its 6-string counterpart. If you’re not used to playing 12-string you may mess up on fretting hand placement and will quickly notice that bends are much more difficult.
As for the design, the 12-string guitar has a larger headstock, body, and neck, which is justifiable because it has to accommodate 12-strings. Keeping that in mind, you should know that they are heavier in weight too.
Can I play 6-String Guitar Songs on 12-String Guitar Songs?
Well, there’s nothing you can’t do.
However, you need to realize that working with extra strings means a different sound. So, a song meant for 6-strings will have a different timbre when you play it on a 12-string guitar.
The benefit of playing a 12-string guitar is that you get to play notes at both octave ranges at the same time. So, yes, you can play your 6-string guitar songs on the 12-string guitar and versa.
Playing a 12-string guitar is no joke and requires practice.
Although it’s much more difficult to do any solo work, 12-string guitars are great for adding depth and intensity to the rhythm section of a song.
I hope this guide gave you insight into where to start in finding 12-string guitar songs.