Best folk guitar songs

February 15, 2024
With this song, the style was

When considering the choices for this list, we realized it wasn't as easy a task as we first thought.

What makes for a great 12-string guitar song as opposed to a great song that just happens to have a 12-string guitar somewhere on it? Let's face it, if Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" had a ukulele on it, it would immediately be in the running for Greatest Ukulele Song of All Time.

That being said, we looked at not only the legacy of the song but how prevalent 12-string guitar is in the song and how influential the song would be in inspiring others to pick up their 12-strings.

Without the 1964 Beatles film A Hard Day's Night, the Byrds might not have existed as you now know them (assuming you know them—and you should know them), and without "Stairway to Heaven, " the doubleneck guitar might be sitting in a museum as a one-time oddity produced by Gibson.

So what song will we crown as the Greatest 12-String Guitar Song of All Time?

Read on ... (And yes, we threw in an extra song; our math isn't too good. Enjoy our top 31!).

31. Pantera, "Suicide Note, Part 1"
The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)

This song marked one of the most experimental moments in Pantera's catalog, with Dimebag Darrell's dark 12-string guitar part perfectly echoing the song's somber subject matter.

30. John Butler Trio, "Ocean"
John Butler (1998)

The newest song to make the cut, John Butler's instrumental masterpiece "Ocean" stands as a fine example of the timeless sound of the 12-string. Keep an ear out for Butler's use of two-hand tapping ala Satriani in "Midnight."

29. America, "A Horse with No Name"
America (1971)

Although the 12-string acoustic guitar plays only a supporting role in this ubiquitous folk-rock tune about a nameless equine, it actually plays a major part in its overall sound. When "A Horse With No Name" was released, a lot of people thought it was a Neil Young song, which is ironic because it replaced Young's “Heart of Gold” at the Number 1 spot on the U.S. pop chart.

28. Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"
Desire (1976)

Most assume it was Dylan himself who played the 12-string here, but it was actually session guitarist Vinnie Bell manning the Danelectro Bellzouki 12-string guitar on this classic cut.

27. Gordon Lightfoot, "Early Morning Rain"
Gord's Gold (1975)

Gordon Lightfoot re-recorded this old Gordon Lightfoot tune for his 1975 compilation album, Gord's Gold, and it's this lush, radio-friendly version that became the hit. While 12-string electric guitars were all the rage in the Sixties, 12-string acoustics had taken their place in the Seventies; this song is a prime example of that shift.

26. Alice In Chains, "I Stay Away"
Jar of Flies (1994)

If ever there was a rock band who had an equally strong handle on menacing drop-D riffs and menacing, introspective acoustic music, it was most certainly Alice In Chains. "I Stay Away" from Jar of Flies is not only the band's best 12-string moment, but it marks the first track Jerry Cantrell wrote with then-new Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez.

25. The Hollies, "Look Through Any Window"
Hollies (1965)

As you'll see, 1965 was a huge year for the electric 12-string guitar. It was big like synthesizers and skinny black ties were big in 1982. You had your Byrds, of course, your Beatles—and your Hollies, who rode the 12-string bandwagon to great heights with this song written by Graham Gouldman and Charles Silverman. That's Tony Hicks on the 12-string, by the way.

24. Queen, "39"
A Night at the Opera (1975)

Brian May's massive-sounding 12-string acoustic is an integral part of this sci-fi masterpiece, the B-side of "You're My Best Friend." It's about a group of astronauts who set out on what they think is a one-year journey, but when they get back, they realize they've been gone for 100 years. They simply don't write Einstein allusions like this anymore.

23. Mahavishnu Orchestra, "You Know You Know"
The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)

It's undeniable that Mahavishnu Orchestra had many fine 12-string moments in their career, but "You Know You Know" off their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame, stands out as guitarist John McLaughlin's shining moment with the instrument. Fun fact: This song was later sampled by both Mos Def and Massive Attack.

22. Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Breaking the Girl"
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

One of only two Chili Peppers songs in 3/4 time, John Frusciante's main 12-string riff in this song was inspired by none other than Jimmy Page.

21. Jimi Hendrix, "Hear My Train a-Comin'"
Blues (1969)

Jimi Hendrix sitting alone playing blues on a 12-string acoustic guitar is a reminder that, despite all of his distortion and psychedelia, he always felt a strong connection to his roots, including Delta blues. Although he performed and recorded electric, full-band versions of this song (as heard on the Valleys of Neptune album), this version is more stark and disarming.

20. Supertramp, "Give a Little Bit"
Even in the Quietest Moments. (1977)

This international hit for Supertramp is a pop masterpiece in the key of D, which, as the Byrds proved a decade-plus earlier, is the 12-stringiest of all the keys. It was written by Roger Hodgson, and a solo Hodgson performance is featured in the video below.

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