Review: Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII

The Fender Electric XII might be the one 12-string design that’s cooler than a Rickenbacker. Now it’s back in this keenly priced incarnation from Baja California.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII
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SUMMARY

Inspiring sonics, killer looks and stable performance – it’s great to have the Electric XII back.

Manufactured for only four years between 1965-69, Fender’s Electric XII left a significant footprint in the history of rock. Featuring most famously on Stairway To Heaven, the purpose-built 12-string design was aimed primarily at folk-rockers, but found favour with a diverse bunch, from Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend to Lou Reed, Tim Buckley and later Nick McCabe. And although Bryan Adams sang about his “first real six-string” on Summer Of ’69, an Electric XII features prominently in the arrangement.

Returning to the catalogue half a century after it was discontinued, 2019’s Electric XII is one of the stars of Fender’s Alternate Reality series – limited-edition, Mexican-made models which mix and match features from a variety of instruments and eras. As such, our review guitar isn’t a faithful reissue of the 1960s original and some design changes have been implemented.

Unlike the 1960s model, only six of the Electric XII’s strings are strung through-body – the octave and unison strings top-load through the back of the modern bridge, which provides individual intonation adjustment for the full dozen. Surrounded by a plate with a similar outline to the original Electric XII bridge, the new unit has a footprint more like that of a Strat hardtail, while the saddles resemble those used on current Danelectro 12-strings.

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Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII

Electronics comprise a pair of old-school split-coil pickups paired with a master tone and master volume, while the four-way rotary selector switch that delivered series and parallel pickup combinations back in the day has been jettisoned. Fans of the old series setting will lament its passing, but players new to the model won’t know what they’re missing and many will prefer the ease and familiarity of a three-position toggle.

The body’s bass-side horn is a little sharper than a typical Jazzmaster, giving the Electric XII slightly more futuristic lines. Replicating Lake Placid Blue is something of a moving target, but the slightly greenish hue of the gloss polyester finish here, with its hint of Ocean Turquoise, is as cool as a Norwegian plunge pool. The pau ferro board is rich and chocolatey enough not to appear anaemic and the look is completed by the hockey-stick headstock. Despite the size of the peghead and the hardware onboard, strapped-on balance is excellent.

Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII

In use

Neck dimensions are of huge importance to prospective 12-string buyers and happily, our review guitar’s 42.5mm nut width and even string spacing hit the bullseye – it’s neither too cramped nor unwieldy. The combination of a 9.5-inch ’board radius, comfortable ‘C’ shaped satin-finished neck, low action and 21 medium-jumbo frets delivers about as easy a playing experience as you’ll get from a 12-string of any brand. In terms of playing technique, the only adjustment required is the need to be quite deliberate with downstrokes when every octave note is required to ring out.

Once you plug in and get past the familiar Beatles, Byrds and Petty-isms, you’ll find an awful lot of inspiration can be unlocked – it’s a guitar that suits modern-day experimentalists and stompbox addicts down to the ground. The natural wooziness of a 12 adds a hint of shoegaze-y psychedelia to proceedings even when dry, but add a long plate reverb and combine it with echo or tremolo and you’ll quickly find yourself in ambient heaven.

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Despite the low action, it’s great for slide and it loves drive – the octave strings adding new textural interest to otherwise familiar lines. We spend a lot of time exploring the fullness of the neck pickup, but the softer middle setting is ideal for strumming, while the strident bridge unit has plenty of bite and aggression. 50 years on and at such an accessible price point, the Fender Electric XII might just be more relevant than ever.

Key Features

  • PRICE £859 (inc. gigbag)
  • DESCRIPTION Solidbody 12-string electric guitar. Made in Mexico
  • BUILD Offset alder body, bolt-on maple neck with 9.5” radius pau ferro fingerboard, dot inlays, 21 medium-jumbo frets and synthetic bone nut
  • HARDWARE 12-saddle hardtail bridge, vintage-style tuners
  • ELECTRICS 2x Split-Coil Electric XII pickups, volume, tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 42.5mm at nut, 51.6mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 21.7mm at first fret, 23.2mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 38.1mm at nut, 55.3mm at bridge
  • WEIGHT 8.6lb/3.9kg
  • FINISH Lake Placid Blue (as reviewed), 3-Colour Sunburst, Olympic White
  • CONTACT Fender EMEA fender.com

Like this? Try these

  • Guild Starfire IV ST-12 £1,189
  • Rickenbacker 330/12 £2,689
  • Danelectro Vintage 12-String £579
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