How to Tune a 12-String Guitar

12-string guitar

If you’ve only recently started playing a 12-string guitar, it can feel a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep in mind that with 12-string guitars, there aren’t 12 evenly divided strings but six pairs of strings instead. If you remember this as you’re tuning it, it can make things a lot easier for you. There are gaps between the pairs of strings, of course, but still six separate sets of strings.

Also, each pair of strings is going to be played as if it were a single string on a regular 6-string guitar. After you’ve mastered tuning a 12-string guitar, you can use any alternate tuning that’s available for 6-string guitars.

How to Tune a 12-String Guitar

When tuning a 12-string guitar, you’ll tune the first set of strings as you would a normal 6-string guitar; i.e., E A D G B E. The lower four pairs of strings are tuned an octave higher (E A D G), and the higher two pairs of strings are tuned the same as you normally would (B and E). There are also different ways to tune a 12-string guitar, but the most common is simply known as standard tuning.

With standard tuning, your 12-string guitar will play just like your 6-string guitar does. You just have to keep in mind that you’re tuning six pairs of guitar strings and not 12 separate strings.

The Basics of Tuning a 12-String

Here is a basic diagram showing how a 12-string guitar should be tuned (showing the six sets of strings):

  • E string: an octave higher than the thicker paired string
  • E string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • A string: an octave higher than the thicker paired string
  • A string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • D string: an octave higher than the thicker paired string
  • D string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • G string: an octave higher than the thicker paired string
  • G string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • B string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • B string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • E string: normal 6-string tuning method
  • E string: normal 6-string tuning method

You’ll notice that with the lower pairs of strings, you’ll be tuning the thicker strings just like you would a normal 6-string guitar. The lower four pairs of strings, which are grouped with E A D G, are always tuned an octave higher. In other words, when the lowest string (E) is tuned, it’s tuned an octave higher than the thicker E strings. And while these two notes are an octave apart, when the strings are played together, you get terrific harmony every time.

To write it out another way, here is what the strings will look like: eE aA dD gG BB EE. (The uppercase letters are tuned like a normal 6-string guitar, whereas the lowercase letters represent notes tuned an octave higher than normal.)

Other Ways to Tune Your 12-String

There are also a few other ways to tune your 12-string guitar, and they include the following:

  • Tuning a half-step down. When you tune a half-step down, it takes a lot of the strain off of the guitar. Just tune each string down a half-step (semitone). For example, E becomes Eb, A becomes Ab, etc.
  • Tuning to drop D. With this method, all strings remain the same as mentioned above except that you’ll lower the low E pair of strings down a whole step; in other words, to D. This means that only the lowest pair of strings changes. The set is still an octave apart but is tuned to D instead of E.
  • Open tuning. With this method, you’ll still tune the string in pairs and the lower four pairs an octave apart, but you can change the notes up a little. Some possibilities include Open E tuning (E B E G# B E), Open D tuning (D A D F# A D), Open C tuning (E C G C G C), and Open G tuning (D B G D G D).

You can have a lot of fun with your 12-string guitar when you choose different ways to tune it using the open tuning method.

What About Using a Tuner?

There are a lot of different guitar tuners on the market, but the best way to tune a 12-string guitar is by using a chromatic tuner. The good thing about a chromatic tuner is that it works with any and all notes, which is especially important with a 12-string. To use this tuner, just pick each string individually and let the tuner tell you what the current note is. After you tune the normal 6-string tuned notes, tune the paired strings next.

Other tuners include automatic tuners and a variety of tuning apps that make all guitar-tuning a piece of cake. Some of these apps charge a bit extra for features that help you tune a 12-string guitar, but they are definitely worth it if playing a 12-string guitar is something you enjoy doing. What you want to do is make sure the tuning device you’re using is made to help you tune a 12-string guitar, which should be easy because some tuners are even made specifically for 12-strings.

If you’re a beginner, you should know that learning to play and tune a 6-string guitar first is preferable to starting out with a 12-string. For many reasons, it’s just better to learn how to play and tune a 6-string guitar first and then move “up” to a 12-string. It makes sense for many reasons.

Conclusion

Tuning a 12-string guitar isn’t complex but it naturally requires a few steps that are different from those for tuning a regular 6-string guitar. Tuning it with a chromatic tuner is the easiest way to tune a 12-string guitar, and if you remember that the guitar consists of six pairs of strings and not 12 separate strings, it’s a lot easier to learn to tune it properly.

Twelve-string guitars have a beautiful sound because of the way they are tuned, and once you learn how to play yours, it will be something that you’ll want to continue to play for many years to come.

 

This article on tuning a 12-string guitar originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Previous articleWhy Pastors Are Becoming a Part of the Big Switch
Next articleThis Is Your Brain on Porn
Duke Taber has been a Senior Pastor of various churches since 1988. Prior to that, he was involved in the Christian rock scene opening for such notables as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Rez Band, and once played briefly with Darrel Mansfield. Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world. Currently he is serving as a Technology Consultant for Living Waters Fellowship In Mesquite NV.