Finnish luthier Ville Tyyster has expanded his Pelti guitar line with a gorgeous 12-string. It excels at the crisp, jangly tones of classic 12-string electrics from Rickenbacker and Fender while adding new angles of its own.
“Pelti” is the Finnish word for sheet metal, and the guitar’s body is fashioned from steel. The unbound, bolt-on neck is maple. In my book, there’s nothing controversial about the metal-plus-wood recipe. For years, my favorite modern guitar has been a Trussart Steelcaster with a steel body and koa neck. Players who haven’t tried a metal-bodied guitar sometimes assume its tones will be brighter than normal, perhaps with an edgy resonance. But guitars of this type can sound perfectly warm and sweet.
Not that you’d know the Pelti 12-string is metal-bodied just by looking. Unlike Trussart guitars, which announce their composition with rusted surfaces and ornate engraving, this body is coated with a thick, mirror-perfect purple finish. The same finish covers the entire neck. (The guitar is also available in a turquoise finish.) A cream-colored plaque adorns the headstock’s face, echoing the pickguard color. A small, horn-shaped soundhole is a sly Rickenbacker tribute. A quality hardshell case is included.
The Pelti 12-string feels as comfy as fuzzy slippers. Despite the extra headstock hardware, it balances perfectly whether seated or standing and weighs a modest seven pounds. The frets are fastidiously seated and rounded, with a perfectly consistent feel in all positions. The straight-edged cutaway provides easy access to the topmost frets.
Even up there, the intonation is spot-on. And it has to be—the bridge is a variant on the vintage Gibson “lightning bar” design, where you can’t set the intonation string-by-string. Still, I found the Pelti easier to play in tune than any electric 12-string I’ve encountered. The neck’s broad and relatively flat playing surface provides lots of space to explore complex and extended chords.
When Transducers Collide
The Pelti 12-String has two amplification systems: a pair of humbuckers wound by Ville Tyyster and a contact mic mounted inside the steel body. Each system has its own volume control, and they share a single tone control. You need a stereo cable to output both sounds, but you can use a standard mono cable for the humbucker or the contact mic sound alone.
The electric tones are straight out of the ’60s (though, admittedly, just about any clean electric 12-string tone evokes the decade). But once you get past playing “Ticket to Ride” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” you’ll find the Pelti surprisingly versatile. The consistent feel and tone across string pairs and registers makes the guitar unusually suited to single-note lines. The intonation is solid enough to play twinkly, mandolin-like figures in the highest octave perfectly in tune. And while you don’t encounter the sound much on Beatles and Byrds records, unison and octave string pairs do strange and wonderful things when fed through anarchic fuzz pedals. As usual, the top two string pairs are unisons, while the other four pairs are octaves. On the octave pairs, the high string resides above the low string, so it sounds first when downpicking.
Of Mic and Mix
The Pelti 12-String’s internal contact mic is its boldest break from tradition (though in some respects it seems inspired by Rickenbacker’s underutilized Rick-O-Sound system). Using a stereo output cable, you can send your pickup signal to an amp and the mic signal to a direct box, a preamp, or another amp or amp channel. The dual volume controls let you blend the sources to taste.
Heard in isolation, the mic sound can seem dull, distant, and a bit noisy. To get close to a miked 12-string sound, you’ll probably need to dial in extra treble on your amp, or add brightening EQ if recoding direct. (My mic-only audio example was recorded direct through a high-quality preamp with no added EQ.) Also, whenever you employ an internal electric guitar mic, it amplifies every errant tap and clack on the body’s surface, so you may need to summon extra-clean picking-hand technique.
While I don’t love the mic sound alone, mixing it with the humbuckers is a different story. Blended that way, the humbuckers provide all the needed treble edge and intensity, while the internal mic fills out the mids and lends a grand sense of space. For my mic-plus-pickups clip, I dialed in equal amounts of each source and panned them far left and right. To my ear, the mic adds lovely depth and animation to the already fabulous humbucker tones. It’s a sound you won’t often hear from vintage-style electric 12-strings.
I dig the Tyyster Pelti more than any electric 12-string I’ve played. It looks beautiful. The workmanship is flawless, and it plays like a dream. It outperforms vintage models on their own terms, and then adds more cool colors via its internal mic. Bravo.
But there’s a solid-gold elephant in the room: the daunting $4,570 price. To be fair, the amount isn’t out of line compared to other high-end, handmade guitars with metal bodies or ornate metal engraving. Still, you’d have to really love electric 12-string to invest so much in this specialized instrument. But for such hardcore jangle-holics, it’s hard to imagine a more gratifying fix.
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