12-String Bass Strings
The Center Fundamental String Arrangement

Center Fundamental String Arrangement

If the fundamental strings can be either above or below the two high-octave strings, why can't they be in between them? And are there any good reasons to put them there? Thus far no 12-string basses have been documented that are strung this way, so in this regard this discussion is completely hypothetical. However, the Colombian tiple is the instrument that is the closest "relative" of the 12 and it is strung using this arrangement. See the Creation of the 12-string bass page for more details.

Close-up of the Colombian tiple

The theory behind this arrangement is that it would solve a "problem" that occurs with both the Standard and Inverted arrangements on 12-string basses. There are significantly different sounds that result when the strings are played with downstrokes versus upstrokes. Playing one way may give a bassier sound while playing the other way may emphasize the high-octave strings. Whether or not this is actually a problem is a matter of personal opinion. Most players think that this diversity of sounds is an inherent strength of the instrument. Changing from downstrokes to upstrokes gives a completely different flavor to the sound, and this change can be a welcome addition in many musical situations.

The Centered configuration would eliminate this situation altogether. Regardless of how the strings were played the sound would always be the same. Therefore this string configuration creates consistency at the expense of diversity. It also creates mechanical problems. The only way to actually accomplish the Centered string arrangement is to use a 12-saddle bridge. There are no manufacturers currently making a production model 12-saddle bridge of any kind.

Other idiosyncrasies arise in terms of the playability of the Centered arrangement. First, while it is theoretically possible to play chords similar to those that occur when using the Inverted arrangement, in practice these chords may not be all that useful or even playable. The chart below shows a 1-5-1 G chord as it could be played using this string configuration:

 

Centered Arrangement 4-String G Chord

Muting all of the red strings through the fundamental D strings leaves only 4 strings left to create the chord. Or does it? The proximity of the high D string to its fundamental may shield it from actually being played. It's very possible that this string would frequently get missed with the result being that only the standard two octaves worth of G would sound.

The final problem arises due to the fact that the two high-octave strings are now separated by the fundamental string. A primary component of "The Sound" of a 12-string bass is the interaction of the two high-octave strings with each other. These two strings interacting and feeding off of each other is what creates the chorus and detune effects that are the trademark of this instrument. But since the two high-octave strings would be separated, one of these strings would be somewhat protected by the fundamental string. The pick would likely 'bounce' over one high-octave string, striking it with significantly less force and therefore volume. The resulting sound may be much more similar to an 8-string bass than a typical 12-string.

So are the perceived benefits of the consistency of the sound worth the certainty of less tonal diversity and the probability of an overall smaller sound? And can the mechanical considerations be easily overcome or will this string arrangement require the total redesign of the instrument? The Standard string arrangement is a much better idea as it has the advantages of simplicity, practicality and the typically big sound.