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12-String Guitar Tuning & Tuners

12-string guitar tuning

If you’ve ever played a 12-string guitar, you already know how different its sounds can be. Its rich, powerful tones can add depth and character to your music, but learning how to do 12 string guitar tuning can be a bit like solving a musical puzzle.

This blog will guide you through the process of 12-string guitar tuning. We’ll talk about the details, give you useful tips, and show you how to get your 12-string instrument to make the most beautiful sounds.

Check out this list of famous 12-string guitar songs to learn.

The Difference Between tuning 12-string guitar and 6-string Guitar

If you know what makes a six-string guitar different from a twelve-string guitar, it will be easy to tune your twelve-string guitar in any setting. However, some fundamental differences due to the distinct nature of these instruments. Here’s a comparison of the two:

String Count

Six-String Guitar: A typical 6-string guitar features six strings, which are tuned in the order of E-A-D-G-B-E, from the lowest pitch (thick low E string) to the highest pitch (thin high E string).

Twelve-String Guitar: As the name suggests, a 12-string guitar contains double the number of strings. It features pairs of strings tuned in unison or octaves across six courses. A 12-string guitar typically follows the same tuning pattern as a 6-string guitar, but each pair of strings produces a sound that is deeper and more rich.

Tuning Stability

6-String Guitar: Tuning a 6-string guitar is generally more straightforward and stable. With fewer strings, it’s easier to maintain the desired pitch, and the guitar stays in tune relatively well. The intonations are easily corrected.

12-String Guitar: Due to the increased number of strings, tuning 12 string guitar can be a bit challenging. The paired strings can interact, causing one to affect the tuning of the other. Thus, 12 strings may require more frequent tuning adjustments to maintain proper intonations with each string.

String Gauge

6-String Guitar: The gauge of strings on a 6-string guitar can vary depending on the player’s preference, with lighter gauges for easier bending and heavier gauges for more sustain and volume.

12-String Guitar: 12-string guitars typically have lighter gauge strings to reduce tension and minimize stress on the neck and body. This choice helps compensate for the added tension from the doubled number of strings.

Tonal Characteristics

6-String Guitar: Known for their versatility, 6-String guitars offer a balanced tone suitable for various musical genres, from folk to rock to classical.

12-String Guitar: 12-string guitars produce a distinctive and shimmering tone due to the octave and unison string pairs. This rich sound is often associated with folk and acoustic rock music and adds depth and resonance to chords and arpeggios.

The standard configuration of 12-string guitar tuning

In a typical 12-string guitar configuration, there are six pairs of strings. Each pair is tuned to the same note, but one string pair is thicker than the other. The pairs of strings are typically tuned in octaves or unison, depending on the desired sound. 

The top row strings are tuned in octaves, while the bottom row strings are tuned in unison. The usual way to tune a 12-string guitar is eE aA dD gG BB EE. The first letter stands for the thicker strings, and the second letter stands for the smaller strings that go with them. This layout is designed to produce a fuller, richer sound than a 6-string guitar.

This is a representation of a typical 12-string guitar configuration.

12 string tuning pegs 12 string guitar tuner

The string pairs are grouped in a way that the thicker string sets on the bottom and the thinner string on the top. When you play a chord, you strum all of the strings in the pair together. This produces a fuller, more resonant sound than if you were to play each string individually.

Check out the guitar tuners below on Amazon,

Fender FCT-2

Professional Clip-On Tuner

KLIQ UberTuner

Professional Clip-On Tuner

Snark SN5X

Clip-On Tuner

The Tuning Basics

The tuning basics of a 12-string guitar involve setting the pitch for each of its 12 strings. To remember the order of the strings and their corresponding notes, you can use a mnemonic device similar to how you memorize the order of the planets. While grasping the guitar neck with your left hand and gazing down at the strings, the tuning sequence begins with the bottom string (nearest to your face), and the notes for each string are arranged in the following order:

To remember this sequence, you can create a fun or relevant acronym, such as “Every Amateur Does Better Eventually” or “Eat All Day Get Big Easy.”

It’s important to note that a 12-string guitar, despite the acronym having only 6 distinct notes, actually comprises 12 strings. These strings are paired, so tuning 12 string guitar involves aligning each pair to one of the acronym’s notes. This tuning process starts with the lowest note and progresses to the highest.

For instance, when looking down at your guitar, first the top pair of strings consists of one thin string and then a thicker one paired together. Both of these strings will carry the tune of the first note in the acronym, which is “E.” However, the thin string will be tuned to E, which is an octave higher than the thicker string. It’s the same note but at a different pitch.

This pattern is repeated with all the pairs of strings on your guitar until you reach the top two pairs, which are both of matching thickness. These sets of strings are tuned to “B” for the second-to-top pair and “high E” for the top pair, and they are in unison with no octave differences.

Tuning to standard: Step by Step

The 12 string standard tuning involves setting the pitch for each of its 12 strings. Here’s how to tune a 12 string guitar:

12-string guitar tuning

1. Start with the Larger Strings

Begin the 12 string guitar tuning by correcting the pitch of the six larger strings first. Use a chromatic tuner, either a clip-on tuner or a tuning app, to help you achieve accurate tuning. Rest your hand on the strings you’re not tuning to prevent vibrations from interfering with the tuner’s accuracy.

Begin with the thickest E string and pick each of the six larger strings individually. The tuner will display the current note. Adjust the tuning peg while picking a string to bring it to the correct pitch.

2. Use a Chromatic Tuner

A chromatic tuner is ideal because it can detect any pitch, including sharp and flat notes. It will display whether you need to tune up or down to reach the correct note.

3. Tune the Thinner Paired Strings

Once the larger six strings are correctly tuned, move on to the thinner paired strings. Remember that the lower four strings in each pair should be tuned an octave higher than their counterparts. Turn the 12 string guitar tuning pegs to align the pitch of the strings in each pair, and then keep adjusting until they are precisely one octave higher.

4. Adjust to the Right Frequency

To achieve more accurate tuning, you can also tune by frequency. Here are the exact frequencies for each of the guitar’s 12 strings:

e (thicker string): 164.81 Hz

E (thicker string): 82.41 Hz

a: 220.00 Hz

A: 110.00 Hz

d: 293.66 Hz

D: 146.83 Hz

g: 392.00 Hz

G: 196.00 Hz

B (both strings): 246.94 Hz

E (both strings): 329.63 Hz

how to tune a twelve string acoustic guitar

5. Repeat the Tuning Process

After tuning the first four strings, recheck and readjust if necessary. The tension from tuning the other strings can sometimes knock the initial strings out of tune.

Check out this video to learn more about how to tune a 12 string guitar.

Tuning a 12-String Guitar a Half-Step Down-Step by Step

Tuning a 12-string guitar a half-step down is popular, especially for older guitars. This is because regular tuning can strain the guitar’s neck. Lowering the tuning helps protect the neck and makes playing the guitar easier. Here are steps to tune a 12-string guitar a half-step down.

tune 12 string guitar

1. Tune to Standard Tuning First

Start by tuning your 12-string guitar to the standard tuning. Make sure all 12 strings match the standard notes, which are E A D G B E, for each of the six pairs of strings.

2. Tune Down a Half-Step

6 string guitar tuner

After tuning your guitar to standard tuning, the next step is to lower the pitch of each string by one half-step. Here’s the sequence of notes after tuning down.

The low E pair (thickest strings) will become Eb (E flat).

The A pair will become Ab.

The D pair will become Db.

The G pair will become Gb.

The B pair will become Bb.

The high E pair (thinnest strings) will become Eb.

3. Use a Tuner

We recommend using a chromatic tuner to ensure accurate tuning when you lower each string by a half-step. A tuner will display the correct pitch and help you achieve the desired tuning without guesswork.

4. Capo for Standard Tuning

If you still want to play songs written in standard tuning, even with your guitar tuned down, you can use a capo. Placing the capo on the first fret while your guitar is tuned down a half-step will effectively bring it back to standard tuning. This allows you to use familiar chord shapes while changing the key of the song.

Tuning a 12-String Guitar to Drop-D

Just lower your low E a bit down towards the D and you are in the first step of tuning your guitar Drop D.  For reference point you use the the open D string.  But make sure your sixth string is exactly an octave lower than your 4th string. But don’t worry because, on a steel string guitar, it takes less than a full turn on the tuning peg.

12 string guitar tuner

Here is a step-by-step guide to tuning your guitar to Drop D:

  • Tune your guitar to standard tuning (EADGBE).
  • Loosen the tuning peg for your low E string until it is about a half step below standard pitch.
  • Pluck the open D string and then the low E string. Slowly adjust the tuning peg for the low E string until it matches the pitch of the open D string. This is how the tuning order will look: dD aA dD gG BB EE
  • Once the low E string is in tune, play all six strings to make sure that they all sound good together.

Tuning a 12-String Guitar to Open Tunings

Open tuning is a type of alternate tuning that makes your guitar produce a chord when you strum all of the open strings at once. This can be a great way to create a unique and interesting sound for your music.

There are many different open tunings available, but some of the most popular include:

Open E: E B E G# B E

Open D: D A D F# A D

Open G: D B G D G D

Open C: E C G C G C

DADGAD

To tune your 12 string guitar to an open tuning, simply tune each string to the desired pitch. For example, to tune to open E, you would tune all of your strings to the notes E, B, E, G#, B, and E.

Once your guitar is in open tuning, you can start playing chords and riffs simply by strumming the open strings. You can also use your fingers to fret individual strings to create different notes and melodies.

Check out Easy 12-String Chords here. 

how to tune a 12 string guitar

Recommended Tuners for 12-String Guitar

There are tons of tuners available in the market. But here are 5 of the best 12-string guitar tuners:

Fender FCT-2 Clip-On Tuner

This is the best seller item on Amazon in the musical instrument category and it has received 16k plus reviews. This is a very portable and reliable instrument tuner with great accuracy.


Korg Pitchblack X – Pedal Tuner

This tuner is accurate and reliable, and it has a large, bright display that is easy to read in any lighting conditions. It also has a variety of tuning modes, including chromatic, strobe, and reference pitch. 


Boss TU-3 – Pedal Tuner

This tuner is a classic for a reason. It is durable, accurate, and easy to use. It also has a built-in metronome, which is a useful feature for practice. 


Check out the best guitar metronome just by clicking here.

TC Electronic PolyTune 3 – Pedal Tuner

This tuner is a great option for guitarists who want a polyphonic tuner. This means that it can tune all of your strings at once, which can save a lot of time. It also has a large, bright display and a variety of tuning modes. 


Peterson StroboStomp HD

This tuner is the most accurate tuner on the market. It uses strobe technology, which is the same technology that is used by professional tuning forks. This tuner is also very durable and can withstand even the most demanding conditions. 


Snark SN5X Clip-On Tuner

This tuner is a great option for guitarists who are looking for a small, portable tuner. It clips onto the headstock of your guitar and is very easy to use. It also has a large, bright display and a variety of tuning modes. 


These are just a few of the many great 12-string guitar tuners on the market. With so many options to choose from, you are sure to find one that is perfect for your needs.

Apps for Tuning a 12-String Guitar

It’s impossible to say enough about how useful and accurate a good tuner is for setting a 12-string guitar. With so many people having smartphones these days, having a tuner app right there is very appealing. You can quickly tune-up with these apps at home or while you’re out and about.

It’s important to note that if there is a lot of background noise or you are practicing with a band, the microphone on your phone might not be precise enough to pick up the different tones of each string.

Still, if you want to use an app, there are a few that stand out.  They are GuitarTuna, Fret Trainer, Pro Guitar Tuner, Cleartune, PitchLab Guitar Tuner, insTuner, Panotuner, etc.  

If I had to recommend one, I would choose Guitar Tuna. GuitarTuna is one of the most popular guitar tuning apps available, and it has a specific mode for tuning 12-string guitars. It is easy to use and very accurate, and it also has a variety of other features, such as a chord finder and a metronome. It’s free for 6-string guitars, but you have to pay to tune a 12-string guitar. 

Conclusion

In the end, fixing a 12-string guitar is a fun task that can help you hear the full sound of this unique instrument. While it may appear intimidating at first, this guide can make the process more manageable.

From my personal experience and the guidance provided, it’s clear that taking the time to ensure each pair of strings is in tune is essential. The doubled strings create a lush, resonant sound that defines the 12-string guitar’s character, making it a favorite for folk, rock, and more.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you tune your 12-string guitar, the more comfortable and proficient you’ll become.

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Sharif Leen
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