When exploring the 12-string, it all begins with Lead Belly, who used his huge, dropped-tuned Stella flattop to orchestrate such folk-blues classics as “Rock Island Line,” “Goodnight Irene,” and “Midnight Special.”

Ace Nashville luthier Joe Glaser and his crew reveal their recipes for maximum chime and jangle.

A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs a little extra jangle. As such, 12-string guitars get a smaller part of a player’s setup budget and are rarely checked, despite the fact that they may suffer more from string tension issues than their 6-string siblings. That’s too bad, because when a 12-string’s action is too high or it’s not set up correctly, it feels twice as hard to play.

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Turn your spare acoustic into a sparkling wonder that transforms songs from mundane to magical.

It’s a safe bet that every Nashville session player owns a high-strung guitar. Flattops configured this way are essentially half of a 12-string guitar, with strings 6–4 tuned up an octave. When you strum a guitar in this “Nashville tuning,” you get shimmering chords with lots of deliciously close intervals that are impossible to finger in standard tuning. But the high-strung guitar isn’t limited to Nashville studios—many guitarists bring a high-strung flattop onstage to add glistening tones to their live shows. While Nashville tuning simulates a 12-string, it’s much easier to tune and play, and it takes up considerably less space in a mix.

Fortunately, it’s easy—and cheap—to explore these jangly sounds. Switching a guitar from traditional to high-strung tuning requires only a basic knowledge of stringing and setup, and it only takes a few minutes, too. If you fall in love with the ringing timbres after trying it out on your axe, you can optimize the guitar for Nashville tuning by installing a new nut. Best of all, you can always return the guitar to its original state by simply reinstalling the old nut. Because it’s reversible, this is the perfect mod for acoustic guitarists.

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