You’ve just purchased your first 12-string guitar. So naturally, you can’t wait to sit down and play it, but you have one problem: How do you tune a 12-string guitar? After all, you are used to tuning a six-string, and now you have six more strings to tune, and they need to be tuned to other octaves. It can seem overwhelming for someone who has never owned a 12-string before.
Believe it or not, it isn’t all that difficult to tune a 12-string guitar. In fact, once you know what you are doing, it is just as easy as tuning a traditional six-string guitar. Today, we will give you the basics on how to tune a 12-string guitar. Let’s get started.
First, the Basics
12 Strings Instead of 6
The most significant difference between a 12-string and a six-string guitar is twice as many strings on the 12-string. But, instead of looking at it this way, try looking at it as having six sets of two strings.
Each set of two strings is the same note, but each of those notes is an octave apart, except for the two top strings (more on this later). So, you have six pairs of strings, with each string in a pair complementing the other string.
The strings are laid out in the same manner as those on a regular six-string guitar. The bottom string is the one closest to you, and the top string, which is the highest-pitched string, is farthest away from you.
Something else you will notice is that four of the pairs have different string thicknesses for each pair; the other two pairs have strings that are the exact same thickness. This is something we will discuss later on in this article.
Machine Head Layout
Next, we will look at the machine heads or tuning pegs. These are located on the head of the guitar, and there are six machine heads on each side. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with the layout of the machine heads.
If you are a right-handed player, you will be holding the guitar with the neck in your left hand. Look at the guitar head. The machine head that is located nearest you, on the left side, is the one you will use to tune the bottom string. The next machine head is for the next string, and so on, and so on.
Now, look at the right side of the head. Again, the bottom machine head will tune the top string. Now, move down the head, and you will see that the machine heads coordinate with the other strings in the same way they did for the bottom strings. The only difference is that the strings go in the opposite direction – down instead of up.
When it comes to tuning any guitar, you have a few options. You can adjust it by ear, but unless you have perfect pitch, chances are you will never get your guitar perfectly tuned. Most guitar players prefer using a chromatic tuner or tuning apps.
Whether you prefer to use an app in the long run, it is always a good idea for any guitar player to have at least one chromatic tuner. But, again, this is an inexpensive investment. In fact, you can get some decent chromatic tuners for under $20 at any music store or online at a music store website or even Amazon or eBay.
If you haven’t already purchased your 12-string guitar, you may want to consider buying an electric acoustic. This is basically an acoustic guitar with pickups.
In addition, it also has another excellent feature: a built-in chromatic tuner and equalizer (yes, you can use this without having to plug the guitar into an amplifier). This can come in pretty handy, especially if you tend to misplace small items such as a guitar tuner. If you are using a basic acoustic 12-string guitar, you will need to get the type of tuner that will clip onto the guitar’s head.
So, how does a chromatic tuner work? In a nutshell, it senses the vibrations when you pluck on a string, and it will read that frequency and tell you what the note is that is being played.
Now, if you are a guitar player who plays music in different tunings, this will come in quite handy, as these tuners will pick up any note and automatically go into that particular tuning.
A digital display will tell you whether the note is flat or sharp (too low or too high) and how close that note is to the next one in the scale. In addition, there will likely be a little arrow that lets you know whether you need to tune the string up or down.
Since chromatic tuners rely on batteries to function, you should keep a few spare batteries lying around, just in case the one on yours decides to quit at the worst possible moment.
Online Tuning Apps
One of the greatest things about cellphones and the internet is literally an app for just about anything, including tuning your guitar. These apps work pretty much like chromatic tuners, and some even have settings specifically for 12-string guitars.
These apps are available for Android and iPhone users. Remember that the apps will never be nearly as precise as an actual chromatic tuner. But, they will be close, which may be okay for practice.
But, if it comes down to ensuring your guitar is tuned and not embarrassing yourself while playing in front of others, it is probably best to stick with a real chromatic tuner. But, if you don’t have a chromatic tuner, an app will do the trick until you can get one.
Time to Start Tuning
Now we can get into the nitty-gritty of tuning your 12-string guitar. The six notes you will be tuning the strings to are as follows:
E A D G B E
If you are already an experienced guitar player, you already know this. However, if you are still in the learning stages, you may want to create an acronym to help you remember which strings are which.
You can use the same acronym with a 12-string guitar, and because each pair consists of the same note in different octaves, you won’t have to add any extra words. Try something like this:
Eat At Diners Get Bacon & Eggs (or any acronym that will work for you)
Earlier, we discussed how the top two sets of strings are the same thickness, while the other pairs have different thicknesses. Therefore, the notes are the same in each of the bottom four pairs of strings.
The only difference is the pitch, with each note being one octave apart. Again, this is because the strings are the same thickness as the top two pairs, and both strings are tuned to the same note and octave.
Tuning Each String to Perfection
If you are already used to tuning a six-string guitar, tuning your 12-string will be a piece of cake. Start with the bottom E, and work your way up to the top A in the following pattern:
EE AA DD GG BB EE
Tune the bottom E string to the correct note. The following string in the pair will also be an E, but one octave higher in pitch. Continue working this way until you get to the top B and E strings. Both B strings will need to be tuned to the same note and pitch and both E strings.
Tuning a 12-string guitar is as simple as tuning a six-string guitar, and it doesn’t take much more time to do it. Whenever possible, always use a chromatic tuner to ensure your guitars are perfectly tuned.