How to tune a 12 string guitar – the complete guide

If you’re passionate about the distinct sound of a 12-string guitar, you understand how crucial it is to keep it properly tuned. Acquiring the expertise of 12-string guitar tuning is vital for enhancing your playing experience and creating beautiful music.

Tuning a 12-string guitar can be somewhat more intricate than tuning a standard 6-string guitar. However, with the appropriate techniques and tools, you can quickly and effectively master 12-string Guitar Tuning.

In this article, we’ll delve into the steps necessary for 12-string guitar tuning, as well as provide useful tips to ensure your instrument sounds its best every time you play it.

What is a 12-string guitar?

A 12-string guitar, as the name suggests, has 12 strings instead of the standard 6 strings found on most guitars. The strings are organized in pairs, each tuned to the same note but with one string slightly higher in pitch than the other. This configuration gives the twelve-string guitar a unique, fuller, and richer sound than a standard guitar.

The additional strings also enable the creation of complex chord voicings and harmonies, making it a popular choice for many musicians across various music genres.

However, playing a twelve-string guitar necessitates specific techniques, as the extra strings can be difficult to manage. The paired strings must be played together, and the player must be mindful of the increased string tension and the wider neck of the instrument.

12-string guitar tuning can be more challenging than tuning a standard guitar, as there are more strings to tune, and the paired strings must be in tune with each other to ensure the best sound.

The twelve-string guitar comes in both acoustic and electric varieties.

Twelve-string acoustic guitar

The 12-string acoustic guitar is the traditional version of this instrument and is popular in folk, country, and acoustic rock music. The acoustic version has a hollow body and is played acoustically without the need for an amplifier.

The sound of the 12-string acoustic guitar is warm and rich, with a full-bodied resonance due to the natural acoustic amplification of the hollow body.

Twelve-string electric guitar

The 12-string electric guitar is popular in rock and heavy metal music. The electric version has a solid body and requires an amplifier to produce sound.

The sound of the 12-string electric guitar is bright and powerful, with the ability to sustain notes for longer periods than the acoustic version.

What is the difference between 6 and 12-string guitar tuning

The primary difference between tuning a six-string acoustic guitar and a twelve-string guitar lies in the number of strings and their arrangement.

A six-string guitar has six strings tuned to E, A, D, G, B, and E from lowest to highest pitch. In contrast, 12-string guitar tuning involves 12 strings arranged in pairs, each tuned to the same note but with one string slightly higher in pitch than the other.

Both guitars utilize the same tuning system, which is usually Standard tuning, drop D tuning, or some other variation. However, 12-string guitar tuning demands more attention to detail, as there are more strings to tune, and each string affects the instrument’s overall sound.

Additionally, the paired strings on a twelve-string guitar must be tuned to the same note and in tune with each other to ensure that the chords and harmonies sound full and in tune.

The Standard tuning for 12-string guitar


tune 12 strings guitar to standart tuning


The Standard tuning for a 12-string guitar is similar to a six-string guitar, with each string doubled. The tuning is typically in the key of E, starting with the lowest string (the thickest string) and progressing to the highest string (the thinnest string).

The tuning is as follows: E3-E2-A3-A2-D4-D3-G4-G3-B3-B3-E4-E4.

  • E3(e) – one octave higher
  • E2(E) – standard tuning
  • A3(a) – one octave higher
  • A2(A) – standard tuning
  • D4 (d) – one octave higher
  • D3 (D) – standard tuning
  • G4 (g) – one octave higher
  • G3 (G) – standard tuning
  • B3 (B) – standard tuning
  • B3 (B) – standard tuning
  • E4 (E) – standard tuning
  • E4 (E) – standard tuning

Frequencies for tuning a 12-string guitar

Frequencies for 12-string guitar tuning in hertz (Hz):

  • E3(e) – 164.81 Hz
  • E2(E) – 82.41 Hz
  • A3(a) – 220.00 Hz
  • A2(A) – 110.00 Hz
  • D4 (d) – 293.66 Hz
  • D3 (D) – 146.83 Hz
  • G4 (g) – 392.00 Hz
  • G3 (G) – 196.00 Hz
  • B3 (B) – 246.94 Hz
  • B3 (B) – 246.94 Hz
  • E4 (E) – 329.63 Hz
  • E4 (E) – 329.63 Hz

Tuning a 12-string guitar to alternate tunings

Tuning a 12-string guitar to alternate tunings can be a fantastic way to experiment with new sounds and create unique music.

The process for tuning to an alternate tuning is similar to tuning a 6-string guitar but with the added complexity of the doubled strings.

12-String Guitar Half-Step Down Tuning

Many people tune their 12-string guitar a half step down. This way, part of the tension that the strings exert on the neck is released. High string tension can cause the neck to warp or the bridge to lift, leading to intonation issues and other problems.

Tuning to a half-step down means lowering the pitch of all strings by one fret.

To tune your twelve-string guitar to half step-down, start by using the standard 12-string guitar tuning method. Then, lower each string by one semitone, which is equivalent to half a step. For instance, the E string will become E flat, the A string will become A flat, and so on.

As each of the 12 strings is paired to form six pairs, the lower four pairs will still maintain an octave difference. However, each string will produce a tone that is one semitone lower than the standard 12-string guitar tuning.

half step down tuning for 12 string guitar

Tuning a 12-string guitar to Drop-D

Drop D tuning is a popular method for tuning a twelve-string guitar, with many songs utilizing this tuning.

To begin, tune your guitar to the Standard 12-string guitar tuning. After that, lower the pitch of the bottom pair of E strings by two semitones, transforming them into D notes. The remaining strings will keep their standard tuning. This alteration applies only to the bottom pair of strings, which remain an octave apart but are now tuned to D.

drop tuning


Tuning a 12-string guitar to Open Tunings

Open tunings are quite popular on the twelve-string guitar because of their unique tonal possibilities.

You can tune a 12-string guitar to any open tuning of your choice. However, remember to tune each string in its pair and ensure that the lower four pairs are one octave apart.

Here are some common open tunings that can be used on a twelve-string guitar:

Open D tuning: D-A-D-F#-A-D

Open-D Tuning tuning guide


Open E tuning: E-B-E-G#-B-E

12-string guitar with a chromatic


Open G tuning: D-G-D-G-B-D

strings on the guitar

Other open tunings, such as Open G, Open C, or Open E, can also be applied to the 12-string guitar. Just ensure that you follow the correct tuning process for each string in the pair and maintain the one-octave difference between the lower four pairs.

What is Nashville tuning?

Nashville tuning is a technique used to achieve the sound of a 12-string guitar on a standard 6-string guitar. This method involves using different strings, which is why it’s also known as “high-stringing.”

Typically, the higher octave strings from a 12-string set are used for Nashville tuning. The first two guitar strings (high E and B) are left unchanged, while the lower four strings (G through low E) are tuned an octave higher than standard tuning.

For a medium set, the high E to low E gauges are .012, .016, .010, .014, .020, and .030. For a light set, the gauges are .010, .014, .009, .012, .018, and .027. Except for the low E string, all the other strings are unwound.

For a light set, the gauges are .010, .014, .009, .012, .018, and .027. Except for the low E string, all the other strings are unwound.

12 String Guitar Tuning: How to Tune with a Tuner

12 string guitar tuning using a tuner follows the same principles as tuning a standard six-string guitar, although it can be more time-consuming due to the additional strings. It’s important to note that a standard non-chromatic tuner may not be efficient for tuning twelve string guitars.

Non-chromatic tuners are designed to detect only the standard tuning of a guitar at a specific octave. Therefore, they might not accurately recognize +1 octave strings in 12 string guitar tuning. On the other hand, chromatic tuners recognize any note played, making them essential for 12 string guitar tuning, especially considering four of the strings are tuned to +1 octave in standard tuning, with more variations in alternative tunings.

Different types of chromatic tuners are available, including clip-on tuners, plug-in tuners, or pedal tuners.

Here are the steps for 12 string guitar tuning with a tuner:

  • Plug in or turn on your tuner.
  • Tune the bottom E strings (the thickest ones) first. Tune the first E string (the highest-pitched one) using the tuner, and then tune the second E string (the one an octave lower) to match the pitch of the first string.
  • Repeat this process for the A, D, and G strings.
  • Tuning the B and E strings requires a slightly different approach than tuning the E, A, D, and G strings. You must ensure that the last two pairs of strings are tuned to the same octave or pitch.
  • Once you have tuned all 12 strings, double-check your work by playing chords and listening for any out-of-tune strings.

12 String Guitar Tuning with Smartphone Apps

Guitar tuner apps offer an easy and effective way to perform 12 string guitar tuning. Most smartphone tuner apps include a specific mode for tuning 12-string guitars. By playing each string one at a time and adjusting the tuning peg until the app indicates the string is in tune, you can quickly tune your instrument.

However, there are some potential downsides to using guitar tuner apps for 12 string guitar tuning. They may not always be 100% precise, particularly in noisy environments or with low-quality microphones, resulting in slight tuning discrepancies that can affect your guitar’s sound. Additionally, ensure your device has enough battery life to last through the tuning process and be aware that some tuner apps may have limited functionality or may not be optimized for 12-string guitars, making tuning more challenging.

Tips for keeping your 12 string guitar in tune for longer

Ensuring your 12-string guitar remains in tune for longer periods can be challenging due to the extra strings and tension involved. Here are some helpful tips for maintaining your 12 string guitar tuning:

Stretch your strings

When installing new strings on your 12-string guitar or adjusting tunings, gently stretch each string to help it settle into the correct tension. This practice will contribute to longer-lasting tuning stability.

Keep your guitar in a stable environment

Changes in temperature and humidity can cause your guitar to go out of tune. Store your guitar in an area with consistent temperature and humidity levels to preserve your 12 string guitar tuning.

Use quality strings

Investing in high-quality strings from reputable brands can reduce stretching and improve tuning stability.

Check your intonation

Poor intonation can make tuning more difficult and cause your guitar to go out of tune more easily. Use a tuner to examine the intonation and make any necessary adjustments.

Use a reliable tuner

A high-quality tuner can help you achieve more accurate and efficient 12 string guitar tuning. Consider using a clip-on or pedal tuner for optimal results.

Check your tuning regularly

Frequent tuning checks make it easier to maintain your guitar’s tuning. Verify your tuning each time you play or at least whenever you switch to a new song or tuning.


While 12 string guitar tuning may be challenging, the right tools and techniques can transform it into a routine and enjoyable experience. Remember that maintaining your guitar’s tuning is crucial for achieving the best possible sound. By taking care of your instrument, keeping it in a stable environment, and using quality strings, you’ll be able to relish playing your 12-string guitar for years to come.

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