Some are probably wondering, what is this unusual guitar? Before delving into the Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII review, let’s begin with the backstory.
In the latter half of the ’60s, Fender produced a 12-string electric guitar mainly intended for the folk-rock market; the Electric XII. It didn’t sell very well and was soon discontinued, but some prominent musicians used it on very iconic songs, and it gained a legendary status.
This is the guitar behind that almost-forbidden Stairway to Heaven goodness. The Who, Jeff Beck, and Velvet Underground are other famous examples. Ironically, this is also the guitar playing in the background when Bryan Adams sings that timeless line about getting his first real six-string.
50 years later, Fender has released a new version with upgraded features. Let’s see how it performs.
Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII Physical Features
- Body material: Alder
- Scale length: 25.5" (648mm)
- Neck: Modern C-profile Maple
- Fretboard: 9.5" radius Pau Ferro
- Frets: 21
- Nut width: 1.685" (42.8 mm)
- Nut material: Synthetic bone
- Pickups: 2 Special split-coils
- Tuners: Fender Vintage-Style
An alder Jazzmaster-style body lays the foundation of the Fender Alternate Reality XII. But it has an ergonomic offset design and a sharper horn than a Jazzmaster. The neck has the iconic '65 hockey-stick headstock and a modern C-profile for better comfort. Fitting 12 strings on a regular Fender neck sounds almost ridiculous, but they've pulled it off in flying colors.
What’s most different from the original is the bridge. It’s smaller, and only half the strings go through the body. The others mount through the back of the bridge. This, together with the 12 individual saddles, provides superior intonation. Setting it up may be a chore, but it’s worth it.
There are some clear upgrades in this section. First off, there are two special vintage split-coil pickups specifically designed for the Alternate Reality Electric XII. Nonetheless, they give you that classic Fender tone with its crisp, twangy shimmer.
Next, the rotary four-position pickup selector from the old Electric XII is gone. Instead, there’s a regular three-position switch. And there’s no serial/parallel pickup switch. Fans of the original may not be too happy about this change, but most players will prefer it this way.
Lastly, there’s a knob each for volume and tone.
Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII guitars have a urethane gloss finish and come in three different colors. The classic 3-color Sunburst and Olympic White finishes have tortoiseshell pickguards. On the Lake Placid Blue version, there’s a Pearloid pickguard instead. All colors match beautifully with the dark Pau Ferro fingerboard.
How the Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII Plays
Neck width is usually the main choking point of 12-string guitars. Some are too wide to be comfortable, others are thin but the strings are too cramped. Fender’s Alternate Reality Electric XII strikes a sweet balance.
It’s very slightly wider than a typical Stratocaster or Jazzmaster neck. So, it’s got the same playability. The satin finish of the neck and the rounded fingerboard give it a very universal fit that should allow most guitarists to play fast and cleanly with great comfort.
As for the string action, it’s nice and low. So, despite the additional resistance from the extra strings, there’s no need to strain your hand. And it’s still high enough to work great with a tube slide.
Alder is a very balanced tonewood with a nice resonance. The hardware and electronics provide a lot of jangly shimmer to the sound. It’s rich and clear with a warm midrange.
While Fender targeted the folk-rock market with the original Electric XII, there’s so much more to this guitar. Of course, those classic Byrds and Beatles vibes are still there. But it has a lot of uses in other genres, especially if you have a couple of guitar effect pedals.
The shimmery 12-string sound lends itself well to country, pop, and church music. But its dreamy timbre also works well for psychedelic and experimental music. Slap some overdrive and a lush reverb on it, and you get some heavenly ambiances.
With the bridge pickup selected, it’s got a jangly twang. The middle setting is mellow and ideal for harder strumming. The full resonant neck pickup tone really benefits from the bright octave strings.
The Fender Alternate Reality Electric 12 has a list price of $999. That isn’t much for such an elaborate Fender guitar, and I haven’t seen any comparable guitars at lower price points. So, it’s good value. Get it here.
Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII VS Danelectro ‘59 Vintage 12-string
This electric 12-string guitar has a simpler overall design. The pickups are retro covered single-coils, and the components are of lower quality in general. Some players also say it’s a bit neck-heavy. However, it only costs about half as much. If you’re interested, check it out here.
Pros & Cons
This has been an in-depth look at the Alternate Reality Electric XII, and there’s a lot to remember. Here’s a quick summary of the key takeaways.
- Comfortable neck
- Great retro tone
- High-quality components
- Cheap for a Fender
In short, it’s got all the usual Fender qualities. It’s just the pickups and number of strings that are different. Plus, it’s very affordable.
- Not an exact reissue
- Quite basic
It’s not a faithful remake of the original Electric XII but rather incorporates features from various other models. At the same time, it’s lost one of its signature features. But if you like simplicity, it’s all good.
Is a Fender Alternate Reality Electric XII the Best Guitar for You?
This is certainly a fun and somewhat quirky guitar that’s bound to get some reactions. It’s player-friendly and sounds dreamy while retaining that distinct Fender character. Mixing old-school and modern features makes it a really interesting instrument, and it sells at a good price. Overall, it’s a really cool guitar.
Are you looking for other options? Keep browsing my electric guitar reviews to learn and compare.