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The Martin D12-28: The 12-String Version of the World's Most Desired Acoustic Guitar

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The Martin D-28

All over the world the most desired steel string guitar for amateurs, beginners, and professional guitarist is the classic dreadnought design instrument by C.F. Martin & Company. Though the mahogany body D-18 guitars are every bit as good and even superior for some purposes—countless guitarists prefer the D-28 instruments for their more upscale and beautiful appointments, and many simply prefer the darker tone provided by the rosewood bodies of the twenty-eight style guitar.

There can be no doubt at all that in the world of acoustic guitars the Martin D-28 is the single most copied guitar that there is. Virtually every dreadnought with a spruce top and rosewood backs and sides is either a fine or lower-priced guitar based on that design and those classic combinations of wood. For that reason alone it is perfectly plain that when it comes to a twelve-string guitar, the Martin D-28 model is once again the most used platform from which twelve-stringed dreadnoughts will be based upon.

The Martin D-12-28

The Martin D-12-28

The Martin D-12-28

Now Martin makes many versions of its famous D-28 guitar, and the most desired of these instruments are the HD 28 models. So what is an HD 28? Simple, an HD 28 is a herringbone dreadnought with 28 style appointments. Every guitar that Martin makes that is a herringbone trimmed instrument is also what would be called a "high X" guitar.

Naturally, that leads to the next question: What is a "high X" guitar? When someone speaks of a "high X" they are talking about the bracing pattern underneath the soundboard or top of the guitar. While all fine guitars with only a very few exceptions are X braced instruments—the HD guitars are "high X instruments," which means that the X in the bracing is just below the lower portion of the instrument's soundhole. It's a higher placement of the X than would be featured on a guitar such as this one, the D-12-28. Why is this?

The most expensive and finest sounding acoustic guitars are always very fragile instruments—and this is because what is most valuable in these instruments is not their looks or even their play-ability, but their sound. It's not a rule of thumb that "high X" instruments sound better than other styles of bracing in acoustic guitars. It's a rule of physics. You see—the high X allows for more vibration of the soundboard—but it also makes the soundboard more fragile.

You will not see a high X bracing pattern in a twelve-string guitar, why? Because if six steel strings pulling at the top of the guitar against wood and glue makes for a fragile instrument—then it's just plain logic and common sense that twelve steel strings pulling against the soundboard of wood and glue could easily be catastrophic. This is why the Martin D-12-28 is not a Martin HD-12-28, an HD-12-28 would simply be too fragile of an instrument for Martin to warranty.

There are other differences still, of course, between a D-28, an HD-28, and/or a D-12-28; and because of the six additional strings, you then have a wider neck to accommodate them. The width of this guitar at the nut is 1 and 7/8" as opposed to the standard 1 and 11/16" at the nut of an HD-28. Naturally, people don't typically purchase twelve-string guitars to try to light up the world with speed picking—but most certainly you can pick away on them.

Simply put, people purchase twelve-stringed instruments because nothing on Earth could ever be mistaken for anything other after hearing one. They have a very special sound.

If you do not know, then let me take a moment to explain the tuning to you. The standard guitar tuning, from top to bottom, is E A D G B E—it stays the same for twelve-string guitars—as the additional six strings are merely doubled with the original—so that instead of hitting a single string—you are always hitting no less than two strings. The largest four strings—the E, A, D, and G strings are paired with octave strings—slightly smaller paired strings tuned to the same E, A, D, and G—but an octave higher.

The smaller two strings—the B and little E—are paired as well. However, with unison—strings tuned exactly the same as the strings that they are paired with—and this is what is known as the Nashville Tuning of a twelve-string guitar.

Guess what? Rules were created to be broken. Tune the thing how you wish, but be mindful of the extreme tension of all of those strings, and its effects on not only the soundboard but the neck as well. The chorus effect of twelve-string guitars is always beyond beautiful no matter how it's tuned. Many people prefer to slacken the strings a bit in some form or fashion of open tuning—so that were all twelve strings strummed at once—the sound would be that of a major chord.

The Martin D-12-28

The Martin D-12-28

The Martin D-12-28 Conclusion

I've never owned a twelve-string guitar, but I've played a lot of them. My brother had bought one in need of a lot of repairs once, and I oversaw that it was repaired properly, and we as the Shaw family gave that to my brother for his birthday one year. I've played dozens of them in music stores, specifically, guitar stores, which are my favorite places in the world to hang out.

The Martin D-12-28 is a fine twelve-string dreadnought by the manufacturer that makes the most famous steel-string guitars in the entire world. The Martin D-28 is the universal benchmark for dreadnought guitars, and so it follows that the D-12-28 is probably the most sought after and purchased twelve-string by professionals. It's a solid Sitka spruce top and East Indian Rosewood back and sides instrument in its standard production form. I'd love to have one. I just really would be rather reluctant to ever want to put fresh strings on a twelve-string. Tuning the thing might drive me a bit insane—it can be a chore. If I did own a twelve-string, I'd most certainly be stringing it with Elixir brand strings because they last far longer for me than any other brand of strings.

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I priced this fine guitar at just over twenty-three hundred dollars, but at the publication of this article, there's one on eBay for just $800.00 used. Please keep in mind that these guitars need to be babied even more than a standard Martin dreadnought because of all of the string tension. They do not build these guitars to be tough—they build these guitars to play wonderfully, sound beautiful, and be beautiful.

Martin D12-28 12-string Acoustic Guitar Features:

  • Great tone, looks, and playability come together in this instant classic
  • Solid Sitka spruce top; solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides
  • Martin's comfortable Low Profile neck
  • Solid ebony fingerboard and bridge
  • Hardshell case included

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I bought a new MARTIN D12-28 in 1975. What would it be worth nowadays ?

Answer: I'm seeing those online in the $2,700 - $3,000 range.

© 2011 Wesman Todd Shaw


Anonymous on March 31, 2013:

Hate to bust your chops, but the Judy Collins and Tom Petty models are both HD12 series guitars. Additionally, Martin has produced limited quantities of the HD12-28's upon special request. Martin will warranty any instrument that they make so... if you really want an HD12-28 you can have any authorized Martin dealer contact CF Martin on your behalf and commission the sale of a Special Order HD12-28, which will take +/- 6 months to get.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 27, 2012:

Andrew, thanks so much for your comment!!!!!!!!!

Heck I hadn't thought about FRAMUS instruments in forever, so thanks very much just for mentioning them!!!!

I most certainly agree with you concerning the sound of a Martin....they all have some special something that nobody else can do anything but hope to mimic.

Sounds like a perfect love story to me!!!! Glad you've got that guitar!

Andrew on July 25, 2012:

I was in a small guitar shop in York, PA in 1971, to get my Framus 12 string worked on. The owner asked if I'd be interested in looking at a Martin D12-28 that a guy had left on consignment - he was going to Viet Nam. I told him I'd be glad to look at it, but I certainly couldn't afford it.

He handed me the guitar, I made one strum - and I HAD TO HAVE IT!!! I would have sold my soul to get it - instead I gave everything I had plus my old guitar plus that month's rent.

It was a 1967 model - it is now 41 years later. I took my Martin into a guitar store to get it re-strung (I'm too old to restring a 12 string). The owner said it was the best guitar he's ever touched. It still has that magic sound that only a Martin 12 string can give you.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 04, 2011:

Thanks Dusty!!!

You know - I totally agree with you. I'd LOVE to learn to build acoustic guitars!

I know a guy close to Dallas that builds his own guitars - and as soon as I remember his Irish last name, I'll see if and what I can find on the net - and write a hub about his guitars.

I met this guy when I needed some frets replaced on my Santa Cruz guitar - Of course I have no transportation to get anywhere, which is a real problem.

That's totally sad about the Takamine - I'd imagine that putting steel strings on that guitar made the warranty void, and it it was a thousand dollar guitar - then it probably came with a lifetime warranty!

Dusty 50 caliber on November 04, 2011:

Wesman, dude great article! One, that many who like touching stuff, needs to read. I like cruising through a guitar shop or two and playing guitars, and I treat them like glass and cringe every time I hear the sound that is like no other, "the box bang" with a string ring unless they are holding it like a ball bat and silence the strings.

Dude you put out some good knowledge here and looking backward, all your guitar articles are good and show that you've a love for the topic. Writing is a clean job, but you should think on going to a trademark school for Luthiery. You combine your know with do and you get Wesman signature series guitars. How cool would that be? Your probably set to pass the history of styles of building and the why of it all. The working with power tools you may have as well. There is no time like today to look at that possibility!

This article kicked ass, it was laid out perfectly anf easy to follow and taught me a few things I had no clue on. I'll be sticking my hand inside my guitars the next string change to see the design of bracing they have. I've seen people take a classical guitar and put steel strings on them and totally ruin them by lifting the bridge or finding it torn off when they open the case, now I know pretty much why but I've warned them in the past and got the thousand mile stare when telling them that something bad was going to happen over time from wiping out the gear heads to neck warping and of a wave forming in the top. I had a friend who did it and the glue held the bridge but looking down the body to see the neck, I saw a rise behind the bridge and a dip in front that went to the sound hole. He asked me why the strings were vibrating against the frets, go figure? I don't know how or if it could be undone at all to fix it. It is a Takamine and They make pretty decent guitars from the Japanese side of makers, he paid about a grand for it I'm thinking it was a TC132 or some such, it was their top of the line offering at the time 2 or more years back and it played pretty sweet when he brought it out for show and tell, even with the crappy Ernie Ball strings that screeched on fingering changes. Next time I saw him and it, he had trashed the good in it. I told him to buy a good low tension studio grade string and a full height bridge insert that was made for hand fitting for height to raise the strings off the frets and a new nut to raise and balance the strings or take my 100 dollar bill and leave it with me and if I could figure a way to untrash it he could buy it back for the hundred plus my labor. I haven't seen him since.

So,"if you do something you love, you'll never work another day in your life," eh?

Peace Bro',


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 31, 2011:

Well Thank You Sue Swan!!!

You can well believe I've got a whole bunch more of em to come.

Eventually I'll think of something else to write about as well.

Guitars are....well, just musical instruments - is what I find so wonderful.

Sueswan on October 31, 2011:

I am fascinated on your knowledge of guitars.

Voted up, up and away!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 28, 2011:

T - Parker, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!!!

I can't claim to be an awe inspiring player at all. I'm just a guy that grew up running around with his grandfather, who never ever stopped talking about acoustic instruments.

I surely do wish I lived in Dallas again - I'd take the buses and trains to all the different music stores, and just spend time "kicking tires" at all the beautiful instruments. There's not a whole heck of a lot of things I like better than doing that!

T-Parker from Greater Toronto Area on October 28, 2011:

Takes me back to the first and only time I ever played a 12-string... I wandered in (incapable of refusing the impulse I'm sure you're so familiar with) and just loved that beautiful sound.

Being a lifelong woodshedder and not much more, I've never paid a great deal of attention to the construction and composition of a well-built guitar (I've only focused on acoustic-playing in the last 7 or 8 years anyway...) So I really enjoyed your descriptions!

...And only just NOW took the time to check out just who it was that wrote this awesome hub... Wesman Todd Shaw - I should have known! Thanks you for this and all your other beautifully informative and entertaining hubs!

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