Guitars are unique and they are designed for a certain purpose. For example, the neck is attached to the body of the guitar in different positions and different methods. Speaking about the position, there’s a very popular argument between a 12-fret vs 14-fret acoustic guitars. What are these? Well, this article will detail everything about them, their characteristics and how they impact the sound and playability of the instrument.
The 12-fret and 14-fret refer to the positions where the neck meets the body. So, a 12-fret acoustic guitar means that it has 12 clear frets right before the neck joins the body. Likewise, the 14-fret guitar has an extra 2 frets, joining the body a little later, at 14th fret.
For those of you who don’t know what a fret is, it’s the raised part of the neck that divides the fretboard into several segments. Frets appear as vertical lines (or markers) traversing on the fretboard from the nut towards the body. So, just count these lines and you’ll know whether your guitar is a 12-fret or 14-fret guitar.
The history of neck/body joint positions can be traced back to the early day of steel-string acoustic. Classical guitars, as you might have observed, have their necks join the body at the 12-fret. A 12-fret acoustic guitar can be associated with wider necks. You can see this design on vintage flattop guitars, too.
However, during the late 1920s to early 1930s, as the banjos and mandolins became popular, so are the 14-fret acoustic guitars. Because of this, many have thought that the 12-fret is old-fashioned when it was the standard. Yet, since the 12-fret has its unique characteristics, modern guitars slowly beginning to fall in love with the classic.
12-fret vs 14-fret: Playability
Mathematically speaking, their only difference is two frets, but this much has a lot to say about playability, and sound, too. With the 12-fret guitar, since the neck joins the body a little earlier, the bridge is pushed towards the lower bout and you can see that its body is elongated.
Small players will surely love the 12-fret guitar because of the shorter spacing between frets and there isn’t much string tension. However, if you tend to play the upper frets more often, you might find it challenging. Yet, many 12-fret guitars now feature cutaways for smaller players to be able to access the upper frets without problems.
Since the 14-fret seems to be the norm for acoustic guitars, many have been accustomed to it. It’s quite compact with extra two clear frets. Even without a cutaway, it’s easier to play the upper frets on a 14-fret guitar compared to a 12-fret. In general, the 12-fret guitar accommodates fingerstyle better, while the 14-fret guitar is good for strumming and flatpicking.
12-fret vs 14-fret: Sound
These two largely differ in the sound output primarily because of the location of the bridge. Since the neck of the 12-fret joins earlier than a 14-fret guitar, the bridge has to be moved towards the center of the lower bout. This movement is crucial because it puts the bridge in a very strategic position.
With the bridge further away from the soundhole, it offers more sustain, hence, you’ll get warmer and fuller sound characteristics. Since its bridge is located in the sweet spot, you’ll get more power and volume with a 12-fret.
On the other hand, the 14-fret guitar has a bridge closer to the soundhole. So, you’ll surely get more attacks on the highs and get brighter and more focused sounds.
12-fret vs 14-fret: Advantages and Disadvantages
This comparison will not be complete without a summary of the benefits and drawbacks of these two. Below is a list and a YouTube video to better your understanding of the 12-fret and 14-fret acoustic guitars.
- Easier to get great response compared to the 14 fret
- Has a more balanced sound, with better bottom-end response
- Perfect for fingerstyle and strong rhythm
- It might be difficult accessing the upper frets, especially without the cutaways
- Usually has wider neck
- Small-sized and compact
- More focused sound, brighter
- Great for strumming and flatpicking, especially that you can easily access the upper frets
- Doesn’t have enough bass response
- Not a good choice for those who are accustomed to fingerstyle
This YouTube video explains further the differences between these two popular neck/body joint positions:
12-fret vs 14-fret: Which is Better?
Since then, until now, the choice of whether to get a 12-fret or a 14-fret guitar depends on the player’s preferences in terms of sound and playability. One must be comfortable playing the guitar before he can appreciate how the instrument fits his playing style.
Of course, for those who have been accustomed to a 14-fret, if you’re comfortable with it, you don’t need to shift to the 12-fret. However, if you feel like you want to do more fingerstyling, then, the 12-fret is better for you. After all, each player is unique, so it’s wiser to pick up the right guitar based on your personal taste, rather than what’s the norm.
The difference between 12-fret vs 14-fret acoustic guitar goes beyond two frets, it affects both playability and sound. As you can see, the 12-fret guitar is perfect for smaller players, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t play the 14-fret guitars. What matters is the preference of the player.
If you want to achieve brighter sounds with a more high-end response, there is no other guitar better than 14-fret models. Likewise, if you want warmer and fuller tones, similar to classical guitars, don’t hesitate to get the 12-fret guitars. This is not a question of which is better, this is more like a question of which serves the players better.