Crazy 12-string build part 1 – design & preparation

When I was last at Crimson Guitars, Ben Crowe told me that experimentation is good.  OK, he probably said that to make me feel better about the fact that he didn’t like my guitar…but still, it’s a good precept.  And when the only other explanation for this build is clinical insanity, we’ll go with experimentation!

I’ve never built a 12-string guitar before, so this is an experiment.  The fact that I’ve never even played a 12-string before might make you question the decision to make one.  Seeing the design of the build will have you reaching for the phone and dialing the men in white coats!

Whimsy aside, this new build is, like all of my builds at the moment, definitely an experiment.  I’m still learning how to make guitars, but I have no interest in learning by making endless copies of strats or teles.  I will learn far more by practicing *designing* guitars as well as *making* them – and my designs give me challenges that force me to learn new construction methods.  This build includes three experimental aspects, which I will come back to below.

The overall idea is to build a hollow bodied 12-string guitar.  I’ve been looking at PRS hollowbodies for a while, and recently I saw a 12-string hollowbody for sale at Thomann, which was particularly lovely but also rather pricey.  So I decided to build something like that myself.

I don’t know how PRS makes their hollowbody guitars, and I don’t think I have the equipment or skills to replicate their builds anyway, so I came up with my own design.  It’s essentially a hollow body with a centre block which is simply an extension of the neck down to the bridge, but not all the way to the end of the guitar.  I don’t feel up to trying to make an archtop, so I just decided to use two zebrano caps that I’d previously bought, one for the top of the body and one for the back.  For the sides, I thought it would be nice to create a chequered pattern out of blocks of different woods, and that’s basically the concept.

I started by making a diagram of the guitar from the side, in order to work out the required angle for the neck:

Side profile drawing, mainly used to work out the neck dimensions and break angle

I rummaged around in my stock of offcuts from previous builds, and found a couple of decent-sized chunks of sycamore and padauk that I thought would be good for the side pattern.  I took some photos to use as textures, and made a mock-up of the pattern.

Mock-up of the sides of the body

This seemed pleasing, so I had my plan!  The guitar will be build from three main components:

(1)  The neck, which as usual would be a laminate, partly for cosmetic reasons and partly for strength, particularly since it needs to withstand the tension of 12 strings;

(2) The top and back – zebrano caps, as mentioned, with a depth of approximately 5.5mm and 7.5mm respectively.

(3) The side walls, built from small blocks as above, plus a strip of something dark in the middle – for that, I found an offcut from an ebony fretboard that I was able to carefully saw into enough thin strips to go around the body.

Regarding the 12-string aspect of the build, I did some research to see what it affects, and to find the necessary components.  Although I’ve made nuts for 6-string guitars, I decided to buy a prepared nut for this.  I found a suitable 12-string bridge, and was pleased to discover that it is actually the same width as a 6-string bridge, which means that normal pickups can be used too.  Since 12 strings will produce greater magnetic disturbances than 6 strings, I figured that low output pickups would be the best choice.

The other major issue is the headstock, which needs to bear 12 tuners (I’m not going into strange designs like 6 tuners at the headstock and 6 at the bridge).  I wanted mini tuners to keep the size of the headstock reasonable, but had great difficulty in finding suppliers with sufficient quantities in stock.  I ended up buying two sets of mini tuners from a Dutch website that I’d never used before – the slight (deliberate) twist is that I bought one set of chrome, and one gold, and I will alternate them on the headstock.

Here’s a quick picture of most of the components that I bought (plus a Tusq nut):

Tonerider Alnico IV pickups, Gotoh GTC-12 bridge, Gotoh mini tuners and D’Addario strings.

I mentioned the three experimental aspects of this build above, and for me they are the 12-string aspect, the sides of the body and the neck through into the centre block.  None of them should be too difficult, although the sides will be a lot of work.  Altogether, though, I expect to learn a lot during this build – and hopefully come out of it with another unique and striking guitar!

Page 2 will cover the preparation of the three main components.