Acoustic Guitar, November 1997

12 String Guitar

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Kottke Steps In

      Although the acoustic 12-string disappeared from the charts, it didn't die.  It retreated back to small clubs and coffeehouses, where players like Peter Lang, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke began to explore the sonic possibilities of 12-strings.

      Kottke in particular is seen as the great 12-string innovator after Leadbelly.  With a prodigious technique, he blended an unlikely mixture of blues, folk, classical, and jazz into a completely personal style.  Throughout the '70s, Kottke kept the solo 12-string alive in an era that was more interested in disco dancing, stadium rocking, and punk sneering.  Kottke played a number of different 12-string guitars over the years, including instruments made by Gibson, Bozo, and Martin.

      In the late '70s, hand troubles forced Kottke to give up the 12-string, and for ten years he didn't play one in concert.  He began experimenting with different hand positions and picking techniques, and in the '80s he started playing a Taylor 555 mahogany 12-string.  Bob Taylor looks back on this event with pride.  "Leo called me one day to say that he had stayed up until 4:30 in the morning playing my guitar, and starting with the show tonight he was playing 12-string in concert again.  It was my guitar that got the 12-string king to play 12-string again."

      Over the years, the luthier and the musician worked together to create a guitar that would meet Kottke's demands, and in 1990 the Leo Kottke Signature Model was introduced.  Bucking the trend for 12-strings that could be tuned to E, the Kottke model was designed to be tuned down to C#, in effect making it a modern version of the old Stellas.  It is also unique in being the first artist-designed and -endorsed 12-string guitar.

      Kottke's success opened the door for other players...Players like Kottke, Geremia, and Reid, who started playing in the '60s and '70s, are becoming the grand old men of the 12-string...

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