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History of The Double-Neck Guitar

by | Gear Reviews, Guitarists

There’s always going to be somebody who pushes the boundaries of innovation and invention when it comes to instruments. Some inventors may choose to alter a design to improve its ergonomics, while others may want to create something bizarre. Today’s article is all about the double-neck guitar, which sits somewhere between the two aforementioned design concepts. We’ll briefly discuss the double neck’s origins and journey into modern music, as well as showcase some of the most popular designs and players.

Origin Story

The history of the double-neck guitar dates back as far as the 1700s. French Luthier Nicholas Voboame Alexander II is believed to have pioneered one of the first versions of the instrument with a double-neck as early as 1690. The invention was an acoustic lute about the ukulele’s size with six strings on both necks and a similar cut to modern acoustic guitars. The concept was carried over to Vienna, which ultimately led to the creation of the contraguitar. Also known as a Shrammel guitar, the design featured a standard acoustic guitar with a second fretless neck that hosted nine bass strings. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, luthiers began to develop harp guitars, which added to the necessity of incorporating an extra neck into the design. By the turn of the 20th century, these guitars were not widely used, and as such, did not see much commercial success. However, you can still find luthiers in the modern era that know how to build these older models at keen guitar collectors’ request.

Modernization and Electric Double-Necks

The electric guitar’s advent helped to breathe new life into the double-neck guitar and catalyzed a significant shift in its usage and design. A notable progression is how the design was incorporated into lap steel and slide guitars, particularly amongst American and Hawaiian luthiers of the 1940s. These luthiers had realized that the guitar could produce highly impactful resonance when tuned to open tunings. Most commonly, the guitar would have one of the necks tuned to open G or D tunings, with the other neck tuned to standard tuning for regular phrasing and articulations.

Throughout the 1950s, the electric guitar became one of the most exciting builds of the music world. Many guitarists credit this time as the most forward-thinking time in electric guitar innovation. The famed pioneer Paul Bigsby would develop the first commercially available double-neck electric guitar. He presented one to popular country star Joe Maphis who would use the instrument for a handful of tv performances. Maphis was well known for being a guitar virtuoso and served as the perfect poster child for the instrument’s popularization. Soon after, the guitar would find its way into the classic and progressive rock circles of the 1960s and ’70s, and the guitar would become more of an exhibition piece during bigger stadium shows.

Popular Models

Ovation CSE225-RRB Double Neck

The Ovations CSE225 was one of the first commercial acoustic models to make its way to guitar stores during the 1970s. Featuring a bottom neck comprising a standard six-string guitar, with a second twelve-string built above it, this guitar boasts an incredible resonant body and remarkable tone presence. Since its inception, the guitar has gone through a few minor upgrades but has featured the same design for over 50 years. It may be most remembered for Richie Sambora’s duet version of Jon Bon Jovi’s Dead Or Alive for the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.

Epiphone Limited Edition G-1275

The Epiphone LE G-1275 looks like something out of a Star Wars movie. With its gold-plated humbuckers and pearl white body, it is by far one of the flashiest double-neck models on the market today. It possesses a deadly tone with a sharp attack and two rosewood fingerboards to host a 6 and 12 string setup, respectively. Though the guitar may look bulky, it is surprisingly lightweight at just 15.2 pounds.

Finding 6/12 Acoustic-electric double neck

The Finding acoustic-electric is perfect for players who want to utilize more than one type of tone for their performances. The build consists of a six-string acoustic guitar, with a 12 string neck of equal fret count placed on top. This guitar’s soundhole is placed in between both sets of strings, and the guitar is designed primarily for playing open tuning style songs. The body comprises laminated spruce and mahogany, which gives the guitar great structural integrity without compromising the resonance or tone.

Famous Double-Neck Guitar Players

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page is the iconic rock wizard behind the legendary Led Zepplin. Page was and still is one of the most revered and mimicked guitar players of the classic rock era. Page’s riffs and compositions feature in almost every modern guitar teacher’s lesson books or curriculum. One of these masterpieces is the unforgettable Stairway To Heaven, which Page famously performed on a Gibson double-neck through most of the band’s touring life in the 1970s.

Mike Rutherford

Mike Rutherford founded the iconic Genesis together with Phil Collins, and the two enjoyed massive success with the band throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s. Rutherford had a unique custom-built modulator guitar made for his Genesis performances. Featuring a complex system of switches, dowels, and thumbscrews, the guitar could change between six-string, twelve-string, and bass modes and is still considered one eccentric guitar design of the modern era.

Pete Townshend

The Who are one of rock music’s longest endearing acts with over 40 years of touring and recordings to their name. Guitarist Pete Townshend quickly helped garner the band a reputation thanks to his over-the-top strumming style and progressive song arrangements. Townshend’s signature SG ED 1275 was first used at a show at Atwood Stadium in Michigan during a 1967 hour. The guitar had an interesting design that set the necks at a V-shaped instead of parallel. The design is thought to result from a repair job from a split in the body that had been patched up.

Final Thoughts

Music is made up of equal parts tradition and innovation. There will always be guitar purists that argue around the playability or practicality of the double-neck guitar. However, there are seldom any set rules in the world of music and design, and those that do exist are meant to be bent, perhaps even broken. Thanks for taking the time to read our brief history on the double-neck guitar, the instrument so nice you’ll have to play it twice.

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