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Wow, what’s that guitar for? You may have seen these mutant-like guitars in a show and wondered if there’s any practical reason to have one! I wondered this myself and decided to do some research. Here’s what I found.
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Double-Neck instruments allow the player to contribute multiple instruments into one song, including but not limited to 6-string guitar, 12-string guitar, and the electric bass in multiple configurations. Furthermore, a double-neck has a huge (unquantifiable) wow factor.
From my research, I learned there were actually a lot of advantages to having a double-neck! It’s actually possible to play them at the same time and increase that return on investment! Read on to see why they’re even used.
The Purposes Of a Double-Necked Guitar
There are actually many reasons why to use a double-necked guitar! Let’s get into it.
Adding Multiple Instruments With Tiny Transition Time
The most important purpose behind having a double-neck is the ability to have multiple instruments without having to find another guitarist. A single player can play two instruments!
Because the double-neck configuration, the player can transition between instruments within a moment. Typically an instrument transition would require taking the guitar strap off the body and picking up another instrument, which can’t be done safely under 5 seconds. With a double-neck the player can transition quickly between the two guitar styles within a moment.
Let’s talk about some examples of some combos that you might see:
12-String and 6-String Combo
This is the iconic double-neck combo. The 12-string guitar has a built-in chorus effect from 6 pairs of strings tuned to the same note an octave apart.
This sound was really popular in many incredibly famous songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s, including Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive, The Eagles’ Hotel California, and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven to name a few.
If you listen to these songs you can’t deny that the 12-string sound is married to the song–you can’t really perform the song without that instrument.
I love this performance by Don Felder because you see the obvious advantage of having a 12-string and a 6-string at once
You can see how the two instruments are used for two different purposes. The melody of the song he plays with his 12-string but when he wants to solo he jumps to the 6-string guitar.
This type of musical experience is made possible and even convenient with the double-neck 6-string 12-string combo.
6-String and Bass Combo
Typically the world of bass players and the world of guitarists mix as well as oil and water. There are actually double-neck configurations with a 6-string bass.
This brings an incredible versatile sound possibility. A bassist / guitarist can play a bass solo and then switch to a guitar solo in the same song. Some would argue that no good could come from such an arrangement, but I won’t press the subject.
The point is that a single player is now capable of playing two radically different instruments in a song at the flip of a switch. If skilled enough, the player can play the bass notes as a baseline for his guitar music. This is a tricky venture and not common, but still possible.
The combos don’t stop there. You can find combos mixing basses, 6-string guitars, 12-string guitars, mandolins, and even the banjo. All these combos bring a versatility not possible with a single neck guitar.
Another reason why you might see a double-neck guitar is not because one neck is a 12-string and the other a 6-string–but you can see double-neck guitars with two 6-string guitars.
What’s the purpose of that? It seems like one guitar should be plenty!
Well, one thing a double-6-string guitar can do is give the ability for multiple tunings. Guitarists love multiple tunings as you can achieve a different feel and sound simply by changing the tuning.
With a double-neck guitar, the guitarist can have one neck with an alternate tuning, and the other with standard tuning, or even another alternate tuning. The possibilities for the guitarist are HUGE with this kind of configuration.
I admit when I started learning about the double-neck guitar I thought this was the only reason why someone would use one.
So, there are a LOT of reasons, but the wow factor definitely is a strong one. It’s something where if you see one, you have to go learn more about them. It’s imagery that’s strong enough that if you see it in person you’ll never forget it.
Just like ice cream, you can’t eat it in every meal (well……… I guess you can), you shouldn’t wear it out, but when used in the right place in the right way in the right song, it can knock the proverbial socks off the audience.
Another reason that can’t be understated is giving the right tools to the musician to create. If you give a musician two spoons and an empty room, by the end of an hour they will have a song. Singer-songwriters for years have created with nothing but a guitar, a notebook, and a pencil.
A double-neck is like adding an ensemble of creation all in one place.
For instance, on an electric 12-string and 6-string guitar double-neck, the player can experiment with a 12-string guitar and create the same type of feel as an acoustic guitar. *CLICK* The player can switch to the 6-string and start improvising over a blues scale. What does this give you? Hotel California!
Giving more tools to the musician opens the windows of possibilities and has created some of the amazing music that you grew up with.
There’s another reason incredibly intriguing reason why a double-necked guitar can be relevant, and that is for simultaneous play. It’s actually possible to play both necks of the guitar at the same time without plucking the strings but instead solely relying on hammer-ons and pull-offs.
I’m nowhere near as skilled for a venture like that, but this guy who calls himself T-cophony is:
Talk about a rabbit hole topic, right?
This is definitely untapped potential–this is not a skill you see every day. However, it shows that there is some serious versatility and potential with a double-necked guitar that can’t be replicated with a synthesizer or effect.
T-cophony isn’t the only one, other players like Michael Angelo Batio are famous for playing both necks on a double-necked guitar at the same time.
Closely related to simultaneous play is looped play. With a looper, the guitarist can create rhythms and melodies and make an incredible sound with just one musician. I knew theoretically this was possible, but Justin Johnson showed me the way.
Justin Johnson is his own rhythm guitar and lead at the same time. Tastefully done, even!
Loopers require extra coordination, but it can easily turn a guitarist into a one-man band.
Is A Double-Neck Guitar Worth It?
So, I just explained many reasons why double-neck guitars are useful and what they can be used for as a way to discover the purpose of this unique instrument. But, it begs the question… are they worth it?
Well, worth what? The time it takes to learn how to play one (effectively)? The money? The storage space?
Let’s talk some specifics.
Double-necked guitars are rare (i.e. expensive… check out some that are on sweetwater.com). They are often made to order and are often customized simply because there’s no point in manufacturing them and stocking them up if nobody buys them.
If you’re planning on buying a name brand (like Gibson) double-neck, you should be prepared to spend several thousand dollars.
There are a few under $1000 that are from generic companies, but you will be taking a gamble on the instrument.
Double-neck guitars are heavy. The Gibson EDS1275 (wikipedia) clocks in at 13 lbs! That’s twice as heavy as a dreadnought acoustic guitar and at least 3-6 lbs heavier than a regular solid body electric guitar.
This can be a huge downer, in fact. Having a 13 lb weight on your neck from the guitar strap is not conducive to a multi-hour gig. That’s probably one strong reason why they are only pulled out for certain songs.
Limited Novelty (Gimmick?)
As we’ve learned from the above discussion, double neck guitars are just cool. They’re versatile, they’re powerful, and they just can make your presentation pop! But just like pyrotechnics, you have to use the explosions sparingly, because as with anything, it becomes blasé if overused.
Such a unique (and expensive instrument) holds its mysticism and shock-factor only if it’s used sparingly.
It could also be argued that the multiple necks don’t really add anything to the song but are just a gimmick to wow the crowd. This is absolutely true if the potential of the double-neck is not reached. If the player uses one neck the entire time and then plays the 12-string guitar (or the mandolin, or the bass) for one riff, then it’s not exactly worth the hassle of holding the thing for the whole gig, anyway.
I really enjoyed this discussion from Rik Emmett:
He makes the point that double-neck guitars are going out of style simply because what can be achieved with a double-necked guitar can be achieved with digital help such as with sophisticated effects pedals or with synthesizers.
If you read the rest of this post, though, you can definitely see that the double-necked guitar is a niche and should be used for special circumstances, but that it still holds a place as an instrument with a massive versatility and potential if used with some creativity.
Is it outdated? Yeah, probably, but it’s still got a spot in the planet that will keep it around in lively, dynamic, and impressive ways.