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Thread: 12-string guitar to very nice sounding bouzouki. Easy conversion.

  1. #1

    Default 12-string guitar to very nice sounding bouzouki. Easy conversion.

    You may already have a very resonant bouzouki in your closet ---

    A 12 string guitar can be extremely easily turned into an extra-resonant Bouzouki
    simply by changing the gauges of the guitar's strings.

    I used an nice old Epiphone/Gibson 12 string for this conversion. Nothing need be modified or changed on the guitar - just the strings.

    For reference in this article, I've numbered the strings like this (1st string referring to the guitar's high E). Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan sells individual strings. After a LOT of experimenting, I ended up using these gauges:
    1st string pair - .010/.010 (bouzouki E)
    2nd string pair - .014/.014 (bouzouki A)
    3rd string pair - .024W/.012 (bouzouki D)
    4th string pair - .040W/.016 (bouzouki G)
    5th string pair - .016/.016 (sympathetics but occasionally played)
    6th string pair - .012/.012 (sympathetics but occasionally played)

    Lower-pitched wound strings were initially used for the 5th & 6th pairs but the thinner, plain steel ones seemed to resonate better.

    TO HAVE THE SYMPATHETIC STRINGS SING IN DIFFERENT KEYS:
    I either tune the two extra string pairs to resonate sympathetically with whatever key the bouzouki part of the instrument is beings played in OR you can keep the thing in (high-to-low) EADGGD tuning (optimum sympathetic string tuning for playing in the key of G) and simply reposition the capo accordingly:
    Key of A, put capo on 2nd fret
    Key of C, put capo on 5th fret
    Key of D, put capo on 7th fret
    The higher the capo goes, the more it starts to sound like a regular mandolin rather than a bouzouki, because of this I like to retune the sympathetics when I play in D.

    RE. SUGGESTED SYMPATHETIC STRING TUNINGS:
    D, G and A (& their relative monors) are the keys I mostly play in and I tune the sympathetics accordingly. Here are some suggestions. Generally you can tune the sympathetic pairs to any note of the desired key - 1sts, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths & minor 3rds (note that the 5th string pair in this conversion is a purposely heavier gauge than the 6th string pair):

    Key of D sympathetic string tuning:
    A
    A

    D
    D

    Key of G sympathetic strings tuning:
    G
    G

    D
    D

    Key of A sympathetic strings tuning:
    A
    A

    D
    D

    Key of C sympathetic strings tuning:
    G
    G

    C
    C

    The key of G is my favorite on this instrument - especially when the sympathetics are occasionally picked along with the bouzouki strings. Resonance abounds what with 8 strings sounding a G chord. I tend to keep the instrument in G: (high-tolow) EADGGD.

    While the thing works fine with the bouzouki strings tuned normally, for over a half-century, whenever I play in the key of D on a fiddle or mandolin-family instrument, my personal preference is to raise the lowest note from G to A. On this instrument this makes for the bottom 10 strings all sounding in a D chord.

    Likewise, if you raise the bouzouki part's G to A and it's D to E, you get all 12 of the strings singing away when you play tunes in the key of A.

    If you'd rather not retune the sympathetics when you play in different keys, there's yet another way - a "compromise tuning" that can be used - albeit with lessened resonance:
    Tune the four individual sympathetic strings like so:
    G
    A

    E
    D
    At least two of the four strings will resonate sympathetically whenever you play in the key of D, G or A (just one of the sympathetics will resonate in the key of C).
    Aside from the decreased resonance, you can't pick a chord on the sympathetics like you can with them tuned to a chord.

    I have a couple of nice commercially made bouzoukis & have played many more but because of the extra sound provided by the sympathetic strings, I've become especially fond of this converted 12-string.

    IF YOU DON'T HAVE A 12-STRING GUITAR:
    Not only a 12-string guitar can be thus converted but if you only have a regular 6-stringer, this conversion is well worth the effort if you ever thought you might like to diddle with a bouzouki. Of course you'd only have a single string instead of two strings for each note but it's still a lot of fun & opens up a portal into the world of bouzouki/octave mandolin playing. String gauges for six stringer:
    1st string - .010 (bouzouki E)
    2nd string - .014 (bouzouki A)
    3rd string - .024W (bouzouki D)
    4th string - .040W (bouzouki G)
    5th string - .016 (sympathetic but occasionally played)
    6th string - .012 (sympathetic but occasionally played)

    That's about it as far as this conversion goes.
    Additional but related stuff below:

    ---------------------------------------

    FIGURING TOTAL STRING TENSION

    Total string tension on the 12-string conversion tuned EE AA DD GG GG DD. I used phosphor-bronze type for all wound strings. Other sympathetic tunings may affect the total pull but not by much and certainly within the instrument's capabilities, especially when tuned a step low & capoed at the second fret (see below).

    Total string tension on converted instrument (at regular concert string pitches):

    .010 = E, 16.2 lbs
    .010 = E, 16.2 lbs

    .014 = A, 14.1 lbs
    .014 = A, 14.1 lbs

    .24W = D, 16.9 lbs
    .012 = D, 18.5 lbs

    .040W = G, 20.1 lbs
    .016 = G, 14.7 lbs

    .016 = G, 14.7 lbs
    .016 = G, 14.7 lbs

    .012 = D, 18.5 lbs
    .012 = D, 18.5 lbs

    TOTAL: 197.2 lbs

    IN COMPARISON,
    Total tension on unconverted 12-string guitar using a set of Martin M190 12-string guitar strings (at regular string pitches):

    .012 = E, 23.3 lbs
    .012 = E, 23.3 lbs

    .016 = B, 11.6 lbs
    .016 = B, 11.6 lbs

    .025W = G, 32.8 lbs
    .010 = G, 5.7 lbs

    .032W = D, 30.5 lbs
    .014 = D, 8.3 lbs

    .042W = A, 29.9 lbs
    .020 = A, 28.9 lbs

    .053W = E, 26.0 lbs
    .030W = E, 34.1 lbs

    TOTAL: 263.4 lbs

    ---------------------------------------

    A few words about tuning a 12-string guitar as well as this conversion a step low:

    While certainly not "mandatory", my preference for tuning any 12 string guitar is to give the instrument a break by tuning the whole thing a full step (2 frets) low and then using a "permanent" capo on the second fret. I've seen way too many 12 stringers with bowed-up soundboards & pulled-up bridges. I recommend this not only for 12 string guitars in general but for this bouzouki conversion as well.

    To give you an idea of how much easier this is on the instrument:
    A set of Martin M190 12-string guitar strings exerts a pull of 263.4 pounds when the guitar is tuned to regular (concert) pitch. The same set of Martin strings exerts a pull of only 212.8 pounds when tuned one step lower than regular pitch & capoed at the 2nd fret.

    Similarly, the strings described for this guitar-to-bouzouki conversion exert a pull of 197.2 pounds when tuned to regular (concert) pitch but the same strings exert a pull of only 156.6 pounds when tuned one step lower than regular pitch & capoed at the 2nd fret.

    This lower overall tuning does adversely affect the tone, but negligibly so in my opinion. Tuning lower & capoing is well worth doing.

    And yes - the thing does end up sounding guitarish - go figure!
    This is not an issue - google "guitar shaped bouzouki" -- many commercial companies are selling guitar shaped zoukis.

    Ideas? Comments?

    Dennis Havlena
    Straits of Mackinac
    northern Michigan
    dhavlena@gmail.com
    My instrument-diddling webpage is at:
    http://DennisHavlena.com

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  3. #2
    Registered User NotMelloCello's Avatar
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    Default Re: 12-string guitar to very nice sounding bouzouki. Easy convers

    You realize none of this is new to those of us who read this forum daily?
    The difference between death and taxes is that death does not grow worse every time Congress convenes. - Will Rogers

  4. #3

    Default Re: 12-string guitar to very nice sounding bouzouki. Easy convers

    One of the reasons I like playing CFAD Greek bouzouki is that you have an instrument that you can play melodies much easier on than a 12 string guitar, but that you can also still play very full sounding chords (and these chords have much easier fingerings than their guitar equivalents). Some have lightheartedly accused me of playing Greek bouzouki like a 12 string guitar, which I guess is the opposite of this.

  5. #4

    Default Re: 12-string guitar to very nice sounding bouzouki. Easy convers

    Quote Originally Posted by NotMelloCello View Post
    You realize none of this is new to those of us who read this forum daily?
    Not aimed at the hotshots

  6. #5

    Default Re: 12-string guitar to very nice sounding bouzouki. Easy convers

    I would be interested in trying a variation of your concept on a bajo sexto, could yield a very interesting instrument. I just need to acquire an affordable one sometime.

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