Dallas Arbiter 12-string

Posted on: 18th September 2013

Hi, Guy from the guitar collection org …

I noticed someone called Julie inquiring about Dallas Arbiter 12-string acoustics. For many years in the seventies I played almost exclusively on one of these wonderfully robust yet LOUD instruments. It features on several of my earlier recordings, especially on the vinyl album “Largo” from 1979. There are a couple of tracks taken from it out there on you tube that I ran into recently, which give a good idea of the sound. Here’s what I wrote recently about it, in context, from a section of an article to be published soonish:

“… My very first guitar, after the one I had borrowed, was an Eko. This Italian brand was famous for making rugged instruments with rigid, easily fingered, electric-style necks. But they were equally famous for building so rugged that the guitars absorbed most of their own tone, so my big instrument produced a thin sound that didn’t get much fatter even when I hit it really hard … just louder and more jangly.

However, the feel of the neck did influence me to play in a more electric style than most other acoustic guitarists who were all a bit folky at the time and I wasn’t scared of having it damaged while playing in the subways. Fortunately, Paul and I were lucky to have the use of a nice pair of matched Yamahas for our recording sessions (and many gigs too), otherwise I’d never have made the grade in the studio.

Then, soon after moving to Germany, and just in time to save me from tonal meltdown I found my first satisfying instrument: a Dallas Arbiter 12-string. This was a surprise offering for a firm that was known for building sound equipment. The Arbiter range of guitars never caught on, but I loved mine. It had a big, gutsy sound, despite (or maybe because of) being lightly built out of spruce veneered cedar-ply. It became my trademark sound: big, airy cathedrals of piled-up chords, as can be heard on “Saints”, “Streetcar Magic”, “Peace on Earth”, “Thursday at Eleven” or “Carry on the song”. Unfortunately I could not find anyone to re-fret it for me quickly enough (it was my only 12 and I had a lot of gigs at the time) so I was obliged to sell it. I’d been through a similar experience with my first electric – an early sunburst Fender Jaguar that collectors would kill for these days – and although I’d vowed never to part from a favourite again … here I was, constrained to do so. It hurt me.”

I hope this information is useful. My guitar was sold and resold, but the owners have contacted me in the last few years, so it should be traceable. A fan also found one in a flea market (a cheaper model, I think, from the bridge design) and gave it to me, it needs some restoration work. I haven’t got around to that yet, so I don’t know how it sounds.

Kind regards,