How to Tune a 12-String Guitar – The Ultimate Guide

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Tune A 12-String Guitar
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Tuning a 12-string guitar can seem pretty intimidating, especially if you’re used to a standard 6-string. I remember my first encounter with a 12-string guitar. A friend gave it to me because she couldn’t figure out how to tune it. I spent hours trying to tune it by ear (therefore these tips, I wish someone had given them to me back then).

With a bit of practice and the right tools, you can get the hang of it. In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to tune your 12-string guitar perfectly, from the basics to some advanced tips.

Before you start tuning…

A 12-string guitar has six pairs of strings. Each pair consists of two strings that are tuned to the same note or an octave apart. The lower four pairs (E, A, D, and G) are tuned with one string an octave higher, while the higher two pairs (B and E) are tuned to the same pitch.

Fun fact: The 12-string guitar is not that popular and you probably won’t get a chance to see it among musicians in local pubs. However, some timeless hits feature this instrument, adding a magical touch to their sound.  We all love “Hotel California“, and “Wish You Were Here“, don’t we? Well, pay attention to the guitar sound next time you listen to it.

Standard tuning

12 String Guitar - Tuning

The most common tuning for a 12-string guitar is Standard Tuning, which mirrors the tuning of a standard 6-string guitar. In Standard Tuning, the pairs are tuned to E A D G B E. Here’s a quick reference for the notes:

  • Low E pair: E3 and E2
  • A pair: A3 and A2
  • D pair: D4 and D3
  • G pair: G4 and G3
  • B pair: B3 and B3
  • High E pair: E4 and E4

Tools for tuning

Investing in a good chromatic tuner is essential. Chromatic tuners can detect all notes, making it easier to tune each string accurately. Guitar tuner apps are also a great option, and some automatic tuners like the Roadie can make the process even simpler by tuning each string for you.

Step-by-step tuning guide

Step 1: Tune the primary strings

Start by tuning the primary strings of each pair (the thicker string). Use your chromatic tuner to get these strings to the correct pitch: E A D G B E.

Step 2: Tune the octave strings

Next, tune the octave strings of the lower four pairs. These are the thinner strings in each pair and should be tuned an octave higher than the primary string. For example, if the primary string of the E pair is E3, the octave string should be tuned to E2.

Step 3: Tune the unison strings

For the B and high E pairs, tune the unison strings to the same pitch as the primary strings. These should both match the pitch of the thicker string in their respective pairs.

Step 4: Check and fine-tune

Once all the strings are roughly in tune, go back and fine-tune each pair. Play each pair together to ensure they sound harmonious and adjust as needed. This step is crucial for achieving the rich, full sound that 12-string guitars are known for.

Fun fact: Apart from his Ray-Ban sunglasses and top hat, the legendary Slash from Guns N’ Roses will always be remembered for his signature Gibson Custom Slash 1966 EDS-1275 guitar, famously used in “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

Alternate tunings

Half-step down tuning

To reduce tension on the neck and achieve a warmer tone, some players prefer tuning their 12-string guitar a half-step down. This involves tuning each string down by a semitone. The tuning will be: Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb.

Drop-D tuning

Drop-D tuning is another popular choice. To achieve this, tune the low E pair down a whole step to D while keeping the other strings in standard tuning. This can create a deeper, more resonant sound, perfect for certain genres and styles.

This type of tuning is very popular among modern metal musicians. Many bands aiming for an aggressive sound use drop-D tuning, with notable examples including Bullet for My Valentine, Bring Me the Horizon, and A Day to Remember.

Open tunings

Open tunings can add a unique flavor to your playing. Common open tunings for 12-string guitars include:

  • Open E: E B E G# B E
  • Open D: D A D F# A D
  • Open C: C G C G C E
  • Open G: D G D G B D

These tunings can create a resonant, drone-like effect, ideal for slide guitar and certain folk styles.

Read more: What is the Standard Tuning for DADGAD?

Tips for easier tuning

Tuning 12-String Guitar

The best way to tune your guitar is by ear, as it helps improve your playing skills. Use can also use professional tuners, but they cannot be found in average local stores.

Try a guitar tuner app

There are several guitar tuner apps available that are specifically designed for 12-string guitars. These apps can guide you through the process and ensure each string is in tune.

How do humidity and temperature influence the tuning of a 12-string guitar?

Humidity and temperature significantly impact a 12-string guitar’s tuning. High humidity causes the wood to absorb moisture and expand, while low humidity makes it dry out and contract, both affecting string tension and tuning.

Temperature changes affect the metal strings and wood, causing them to expand or contract, which can alter pitch and tuning stability. To maintain tuning, monitor humidity with a hygrometer, keep the guitar in a stable temperature environment, use humidifiers or dehumidifiers as needed, and perform regular maintenance.

Just like Patches Co. ensures quality in every patch they sell, caring for your guitar with the right environment and tools ensures it stays in perfect tune.

One of the most influential guitarists, according to many the unsurpassed Jimmy Page, the guitarist of the greatest rock band of the seventies, Led Zeppelin, used this type of guitar in many songs. The model he used is the Gibson 1969 EDS-1275 Doubleneck.

Challenges that might appear…

String breakage

String Breakage - 12 String Guitar

Tuning a 12-string guitar puts extra tension on the strings, which can lead to breakage. To minimize this, tune the strings slowly and evenly. If you notice any strings fraying or showing signs of wear, replace them promptly.

Intonation issues

With more strings, intonation can become a problem. Regularly check and adjust the intonation of your guitar to ensure it stays in tune across the fretboard. This can often be done with the help of a professional guitar technician.

Maintaining consistency

12-string guitars can be more sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature. Store your guitar in a stable environment and use a humidifier if necessary to maintain consistent tuning.

The bottom line

Although tuning a 12-string guitar might be challenging at first, with some practice, it becomes second nature. Just be patient! The rich, full sound you get from a properly tuned 12-string guitar is worth the effort.

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