The 12-string electric guitar has been around for well over 50 years, with the first commercially produced instrument appearing in 1954 courtesy of Stratosphere, a small company based in Springfield, Missouri.
Danelectro was next to offer a standalone electric 12 some seven years later, in the typically oddball Bellzouki, but the concept really took off in 1963 when Rickenbacker introduced a multi-strung equivalent of its 360 semi.
12-string success was soon guaranteed via high-profile use by bands such as The Beatles and The Byrds, heralding an era in the late sixties when virtually every electric guitar maker offered at least one 12-stringer. Since those heydays, the instrument has become more niche, coming into fashion as its unique appeal is rediscovered, before once again being discarded in favour of the next musical trend.
Choice and availability also tends to echo these changing market moods. Some models prove to be more short-lived than others, but Rickenbacker’s benchmark status has ensured consistent popularity and constant production that now spans five decades.
However, these resolutely US-made classics don’t come cheap, so more affordable alternatives have long held an attraction for those keen to explore the 12-string electric experience at a lower price point. The current crop of examples is pretty plentiful, indicating that the instrument is enjoying yet another periodic resurgence of interest.
As with any successful electric, a 12-string ideally needs to be designed from the ground up. However, only a very few have been built along these lines and many makers choose to merely modify existing six-string models. This is usually the easier and cheaper option, but it can adversely affect performance and playability.
Our review quartet effectively reflects these significantly different approaches. The Hutchins is simply an adapted six-string, the Fender and Duesenberg models incorporate function specific features, while the Burns is firmly based on a purpose-built original design.
Interestingly, the Hutchins and Duesenberg employ a traditional six-saddle bridge, while Burns and Fender favour Gotoh’s clever and compact 12-saddle design, which has virtually become the industry standard component for providing individual intonation adjustment on all 12 strings.
Reflecting their affordable ethos, all four instruments emanate from the Far East, spanning China, Japan and Korea, although the Duesenberg adds German assembly - a cachet that increases the cost quite considerably.