A sweet 1966 custom-color Fender Electric XII nestles against a ’64 Bassman and spring-equipped, all-tube Fender Reverb unit. The latter defined the sound of surf-rock guitar.
The 12-string guitar was never as popular as the regular 6-string. Although 12-strings were used by some folk and blues players of the 1930s, notably Lead Belly, it was not until the folk boom of the late 1950s that the instrument began to attract a larger following.
The folk music trend inspired Gibson and Danelectro to make electric 12-string guitars by the early ’60s, but tradition-bound folk artists ignored these unconventional electric guitars. It wasn’t until early 1964, when Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison received a new 360/12 from Rickenbacker, that the electric 12-string sound gained prominence.
He immediately put it to use on such songs as “You Can’t Do That” and “Hard Day’s Night,” exposing the world to a chiming new sound akin to a harpsichord. The electric 12-string soon appeared on numerous other ’60s records by the Who, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys.
Configured with six Fender “F” tuners on each side, the painted “hockey stick” headstock matches the body’s color.
The popularity of the new “jingle jangle” folk-rock sound inspired Fender to begin work on their own 12-string model in late 1964, and the Electric XII was introduced in June of 1965. While the guitar became an indispensable tool for studio recordings (used on Cream’s “Dance the Night Away” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”), it never became a popular seller. The Electric XII was dropped from the line by 1970.
The early 1966 example pictured this month has characteristics common to other custom- color late ’65/early ’66 Electric XIIs. These include an offset contoured alder body, a tortoiseshell pickguard (3-ply white on other custom colors), a “hockey stick” headstock matching the body’s color, six Fender “F” tuners on each side, a 21-fret rosewood fingerboard with pearl dot inlays (bound with block inlays by mid ’66), two split pickups, a 4-way rotary switch, and master volume and tone knobs. The strings are loaded through the body over a fully adjustable 12-saddle bridge.
Strings load through the body onto the Electric XII’s fully adjustable bridge.
The May 1966 list price was $356, and its case cost $59.50. The current value for one in excellent all-original condition is $4,000.
The amp in the background is a 1964 Fender Bassman. The original price was $379.50. The current value for the amp is $2,500.
Sources for this article include Fender: The Sound Heard ’Round the World by Richard R. Smith, Rickenbacker Electric 12-String: The Story of the Guitars, the Music, and the Great Players by Tony Bacon, and Fender: The Golden Age 1946-1970 by Martin Kelly, Terry Foster, and Paul Kelly.