12-String Guitar, Lap Steel, Piccolo Banjo
by Gregg Miner, as part of www.minermusic.com)


Sleigh Ride
(Mitchell Parish & Leroy Anderson, 1950) EMI Mills Music, Inc.


Twelve-String Guitar - Guild F212, 1971

Double-neck Steel Guitar
- National Grand Console, 1954

Piccolo Banjo
- J. B. Schall, ca. 1900


Listen on Bandcamp


Disclaimer to Internet readers: The following text is a humorous essay written for the layperson. It originally appeared in a companion booklet to my 1995 Christmas Collection CDs. The information, while factual, is presented in a personal, unorthodox manner. No offense is intended toward my fellow musicians or fellow musicologists.

While the Martin Company was at last re-bracing its guitars for steel strings and cementing its history (see previous Instrument group), others were already taking the new acoustic guitar a step further and inventing the twelve-string. More than just a sis-string with double courses, it really owes its rich, loud jangly sound to the four lower courses which are tuned in octaves rather than pairs (“course” and other confusing terms are explained in the Appendix). This ingenious stringing arrangement causes intonation problems, however, and also made it more difficult to play – though it proved ideal for a handful of blues and “bottleneck” guitarists, one group presumably untroubled by the twelve-string’s inability to play in tune. The instrument really didn’t take off until one night in the mid-1960s when Glen Campbell played it on his television show (at least that’s when I had to have one), and has been growing in popularity ever since. By 1970 the Guild Company had rapidly established itself as one of the finest manufacturers of twelve-strings. I bought this “jumbo-size” Guild new in 1971 and haven’t had any pressing need to upgrade it yet. NOTE: Jan, 2005: Until I played a newer maple-bodied jumbo Guild in the late ‘90s – much better for 12-strings than mahogany, and so I switched. The main instrument in “Sleigh Ride,” I’m using it in the popular alternate tuning, “open G,” lowered further to F (cC,fF,c’c,f’f,aa,c’c’).

This bizarre double-neck National instrument is just another of the endless designs of lap steels, the name commonly used for electric, solid-body Hawaiian guitars. Played with a steel bar or “slide,” the number of “necks” (one to three), as well as the number of strings (six to eight), can vary to offer different open tunings.

The piccolo banjo is an unbelievably rare creature, almost unheard of today. It differs from the fairly common four-string ukulele-banjo in having a fifth short, high-pitched string adjacent to the lowest string, just like the common five-string banjo. In fact, it’s tuned exactly the same as the five-string but an octave higher (I tuned it down a whole step for this song). It’s adorable.


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