54. Revelation RJT60-12 Electric 12-string
I’VE been on the lookout for an electric 12-string for our studio, Rooks Yard for some time now. Aside from playing the jangly bits in “Stairway to Heaven” and sundry Byrds and Beatles tunes, 12-strings are incredibly useful in the studio for all sorts of semi-hidden jobs, such as thickening up tracks, adding a different sound to riffs and adding a sense of “otherness” that merely using a chorus effect never quite achieves. For similar reasons, we bought a cheap acoustic 12 last year for the studio and it’s been used a few times, usually quite subtly.
Having just finished my fake Gretsch hollowbody (No 53) the original plan was to build an electric 12, based loosely on the classic mid-60s Fender Electric XII that has featured on so many classic tracks down the years. (Interesting fact: Jimmy Page didn’t play his Gibson 6/12 doubleneck on the studio version of “Stairway to Heaven” – it was a Fender XII.)
It actually got rather further than the planning stage… I’d bought a neck, a body and a bridge, though the components were on opposite sides of the Atlantic! I’d found an American guy on eBay selling very reasonably-priced 12-string necks, modelled on the Fender Xll, with its distinctive “hockey-stick” headstock, but made to fit a Telecaster body. I bought one and had it sent to my boy Owen in Los Angeles, where it was to wait until I next visited (sadly, an unknown quantity, given the current, restrictions on transatlantic travel.)
Instead of a Tele body, it occurred to me the neck might work better and balance more comfortably on a Jazzmaster-style body – the original Fender XII had an offset Jazzmaster-style body, so the hunt was on for a “Telemaster” body. Telemasters – guitars with a Jazzmaster-shaped body, routed to accept a Tele neck and pickups – have become a bit of a “thing” in recent times – even Fender and its Far Eastern sister brand, Squier, make them these days. So do quite a few of the companies who make necks and bodies for prospective builders like yours truly, who lack the necessary woodworking skills or equipment.
The excellent British company, Guitarbuild made the body I found for mine. It was a good price, secondhand on eBay and turned out to be unused, unmarked and made from a couple of very nice bits of alder. I also bought a hardtail Strat 12-string bridge, a clever thing, with six strings anchored through the body, hardtail-style, and the rest hooked through holes in the back bridge plate.
All I needed then was two sets of Kluson-style tuners – one left-handed and one right – some pickups…and a trip to California to collect the neck. I’d also started looking at what else I’d need to finish the guitar, such as tuners and a pickguard. In the process of working it out I went as far as to mock up they guitar I was planning, using PhotoShop.
The original 60s Fender Electric XII sported pair of odd-looking split pickups, not dissimilar to those fitted to Precision basses. The American Curtis Novak company makes very fine modern versions of these rare pickups – Fender even uses them in its recent and rather pricey Electric XII reissue – but they’re too expensive for my limited budget.
I was still pondering on the kind of pickup I could afford when an opportunity dropped into my lap, in the shape of the subject of this blog. I spotted it for sale on Facebook for a price too good to miss. Better still, the chap selling it lived five minutes off the route I drive almost every weekend to visit my girlfriend. Had to be done!
Said visit was an enjoyable affair. The guy selling it, Big Ray, is a veteran local muso and we soon discovered countless mutual friends as well as a shared love of all things guitar and amp-related. What was supposed to be a quick, socially-distanced in-and-out, ended up as a protracted and very companionable guitar chat before I handed over the sponds and walked out of his house bearing a very shiny, just-like-new electric 12-string.
My marvelously indulgent girlfriend was a bit taken aback when I rocked up toting yet another guitar, but, bless her, took it in her stride. She even smiled and sang along indulgently when I spent much of the evening serenading her with sundry 12-string ditties – from the Byrds and the Beatles to the theme from that God-awful TV soap, Crossroads!
So is the Revelation Xll any good? The short answer is most definitely YES! Brand new, these guitars sell for about £300. At that price they’re great value for money. At the price Big Ray let me have this one, bless him, it was a stunning bargain.
After doing a bit of homework, I learned the Revelation brand was originally owned by the German company Hohner (you know – harmonicas, accordions etc) in the 90s. Brit pickup guru Alan Entwistle was involved in the design of the series and when Hohner ditched Revelation, Entwistle took up the brand name and used it in 2010 to launch a new line of great quality budget Far East-built guitars, including this Jazzmaster-shaped 12-string.
The offset body is almost identical to a Jazzmaster’s – in this case, finished in a very fetching sunburst – and fitted with a rather handsome neck with a large, straight headstock holding a dozen Kluson vintage-style tuners. The head isn’t quite as elegant as Fender’s hockey-stick, but it’s a tad more compact and reminiscent of the heads Fender used on the Japanese 12-string Strats it made a few years ago. It’s quite a classy neck, with neat edge-binding and block inlays. More to the point, it’s REALLY easy to play, even for someone like me, who has fingers like a pack of oversized chipolatas! It’s nice and wide at the nut, which means it feels a bit of a handful when you put your hand around it. However, the extra width definitely makes sense as soon as you start playing chords and arpeggios across it, as the string spacing is not dissimilar to that on a Strat or Tele.
The oddest thing about it is the bridge. The saddles are very similar to the one I bought for my project guitar, with 12 individual, intonatable saddles and six of the strings loading from the rear of the guitar and six through the back of the bridge plate. Weirdly though, the saddles are attached to a Strat-type tremolo unit. There was no arm for it and the trem been blocked off so it won’t move (presumably at the factory). But why fit a trem at all to a guitar like this? 12-strings are notoriously a pain to keep in tune at the best of times. You’d have to be pretty brave – or incredibly foolhardy – to gig a 12-string with a floating trem system!
My first thought was it must have been because Revelation used the same body for six and 12-string variants and so was stuck with a tremolo rout. This, however, was disproved when my pal Richard Tuckey showed up at Rooks Yard a couple of weeks after I bought my guitar to record a few overdubs on his mum, Suzy Quatro’s new album with his own baby blue Revelation Xll. Richard’s guitar has no trem rout, sporting instead, a Gibson-style stop-tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge. Curiouser and curiouser…
Having pondered long and hard upon the best pickups for my 12-string project, I’d settled on either P90s and Filtertrons. The Revelation answered that question, sporting a pair of Entwistle-designed P90s which sound as good as the guitar looks. These soapbars really fit in with the jangly 12-string vibe. The guitar is topped of with a toggle pickup selector switch on the lower bout (roughly where you’d expect one on a Jazzmaster) plus a four-way rotary tone selector on the top bout. The latter was a bit of a mystery, but in practice, it’s a waste of space. Maybe it works better on the 6-string variants, but on the Xll, tonally, it starts at “bright” before covering the full range from dull and quiet, to even duller and even quieter!
Mind you, that’s just about the only thing I can find wrong with what is a marvellous guitar. It now lives in the control room at Rooks Yard, where I have no doubt at all it will make itself a LOT of friends over the next couple of years!
FOOTNOTE: The neck pretty soon fo7nd a buyer out in LA, aNd the body? Weeell…you need look no further than what is likely to be the next entry in this blog.