How to tune a 12 string guitar

Author: Ian-Bush   Date Posted:18 August 2016 

Artist Guitars

Tuning a 12-string guitar is a little more complicated than a regular 6 string.  There are twice as many strings and a lot more tension on the guitar.  You may find you'll need to tune it a few times over before you get it right because, by the time you finish the first round of tuning, the tension on the neck will have increased which will make the first few strings you tuned sound flat.

A common problem with 12 string guitars is that the higher octave G string is prone to breakage.  This is due to the high tension on the string to reach the high pitch. There are a couple of ways to stop this:

1. Tune the G string gradually. Don't wind it all the way up straight away.

2. Use a higher gauge string (9 instead of an 8)

3. Rub a graphite pencil on in the string groove of the nut.  This will provide some lubrication and stop breakage from friction.

4. Tune the whole guitar down a Tone/Semitone.  The lower tension will make your G string last a little longer

It's difficult to avoid altogether, so we recommend always carrying a few spares! You can pick up a set here, or just grab a pack of singles here.


What to notes to tune to?

When the strings are different thicknesses then you tune an octave apart (Low E,A,D,G)

When the strings are the same thickness you tune in unison (B and High E)




Comments (2)

Extra light guague strings

9 January 2020
i agree with you about tuning dow two semitones, but xtra light work very wel for me 009 to 045. i find the neck relaxes and the guitar settles down action like butter and 009 s give a sweet tone, capable of vibrato and bending. People overstring. I have a Bruce Taylor 12 string as made for pete seeger with triangular sound hole made for me. pete used Telegraph wire up to 072 bass and 13 or 14 top strings! sound second tuned down to C 4 semitones and I am using 11 to 52 and it's enough tension. to detune and then overstring puts the same bad tension on the guitar.imho, regards Jonathan


19 July 2013
I've been playing 12-string (the sound of heaven) since 1970 and only recently discovered it's good to detune the whole guitar by at least one semitone (1fret's worth). Personally, I am always tuned down a whole note (2 fret's worth) which gives many bonuses ... 1) 12 strings exert heaps of extra stress (vs 6 strings) on the neck and bridge, making it more likely for the neck to curve up, and the top wood behind the bridge to bulge up. Tuning down means less likelihood of needing service repair work. 2) slacker strings actually improves the sound ... much 'richer' 3) slacker stringer easier to press down for barre chords and finger picking 4) slacker strings are MUCH easier to bend NOTES: a) To play with others, and if tuned down a whole note (so your are playing DGCFAD) just put a capo on fret 2, or transpose all your chords up accordingly (C becomes D, Eb becomes F, etc.) b) Use strings where top E is at least .010, e.g. D'addario "LIGHT" or Artist brand which I've just ordered. ("Extra Light" strings tend not to hold their tune, or provide good tone, when detuned). Cheers, Greg

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up