How To Tune A 12 String Guitar

We all know that the standard and commonly used guitars are the six strings guitar and the four strings bass guitar, in their acoustic and electric forms. However, there exists a 12-string guitar. And yes, it comes in both forms, electric and acoustic. While it may not be popular with modern-day guitarists, this guitar is a legend on its own.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Since you are here, we would assume that you have taken an interest in this beauty or have recently purchased one and you are trying to figure out its tuning process. Tuning a guitar with twelve strings is quite similar to tuning a standard guitar with the regular 6 strings. It is quite easy, just follow each described step. But first, a little background history.

Origin Of The 12 Strings Guitar

The 12 string guitar is a steel-string with 12 strings like its name implies. This guitar, while sharing similarities with the 6 strings guitar, produces a thicker and more ringing tone than the standard guitar. 

The origin of the modern-day 12-string guitar in America is not fixed. However, it is placed between Italian and Mexican immigrants. Due to the known fact that Italians have a rich history of creating double stringed instruments like the lute, some believe that they might have experimented with a standard guitar by doubling its strings.

The Mexicans are entangled in this too as they also have known history of adding more strings to the regular 6 strings guitar.

Despite its irregular origin story, the 12-string guitar worked its way into folk music and blues through the likes of Fred Gerlach, Lydia Mendoza, and few others. In the 1960s, it gained more fame through the likes of George Harrison and Pete Seeger. Soon, it was adapted into the rock music genre as it was used in the works of artists like Tom Petty, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

How To Tune Your Guitar

A guitar with 12 strings can be played and tuned like a 6 string guitar because of the similar strumming techniques. The only challenge comes in the form of the six pairs of strings on the guitar which creates higher and stronger cumulative tension. However, with constant practice, you will get the hang of tuning your 12 strings guitar. 

Before you start tuning your 12 string guitar, pluck each guitar string. When you do so, you will note that the guitar does not have 12 different notes. You will realize it consists of six pairs of guitar strings tuned to six notes, which are two strings per note. In each pair, the thinner string serves as the low note, while the thicker string is tuned an octave higher. In simpler terms, one of the strings tuned an octave below the standard note of its twin string.

  • To tune, ensure that you tune each pair of the guitar strings to the standard guitar tuning. Instead of the usual pattern of E, A, D, G, B, E, it becomes, e E, a A, d D, g G, b B, e E. The significant difference in this pattern is that there is 
  • Start with the pair of strings at the bottom, the low E note. These are the strings closest to your body while playing and would be the 6th string on a standard guitar. Tune the thicker string of the pair to the regular low E and tune the thinner string to an octave higher. 
  • Proceed to the fifth pair of strings. These strings will be tuned to A, the same A pith a regular guitar would have. After this, tune the top string on the pair an octave higher than the lower string.
  • The fourth pair of your guitar strings will be tuned to D, just like that of a six-string guitar. After this, tune the thicker string on the pair an octave higher than its twin string.
  • Tune the third pair of strings to G. Repeat the process of tuning both to the G pitch of a standard guitar tuning. While maintaining the G pitch, tune the thicker string an octave higher than the thinner string.
  • Proceed to the second pair string. Tune the strings to B. Same pitch as that of the standard tuning. However, this does not require tuning the thicker string an octave above the lower string. The two strings in this pair maintain the same pitch.
  • Tune the first pair of strings. They are referred to as the high E note or strings. Tune both strings to the E pitch. These strings are not tuned an octave higher or lower than the other. They maintain the same pitch

Using A Chromatic Tuner

If you find it hard to tune by hearing, then invest in an electronic tuner. Electronic tuners are great devices that help to perfect your guitar tuning and reduce the odds of making mistakes by displaying the pitch of musical notes being played.

Using a chromatic tuner to tune a 12 string guitar helps to make it less tedious. It possesses a chromatic scale, also known as the twelve-tone scale, which detects all the available twelve pitches. You can see why it is the perfect tuner for a 12 string guitar.

The setup of your chromatic tuner depends on the type you purchased. If it is a clip-on tuner, clip it onto your guitar. If you opt for a pedal tuner, you will need to plug it in. After this, put on your tuner to enable them to receive signals from your guitar.

Now, simply follow the steps above, pluck each string on each pair on your 12 string guitar. When you do this, your tuner will identify the frequency at which you are playing. In other words, it helps to detect if you are too flat, high or right on the perfect pitch.

Drop D Tuning

This is an alternative guitar tuning that involves tuning the lowest string on a standard guitar from e down a whole a step to d

Tuning your 12-string guitar to drop-d is very simple. Once you have tuned the six pairs of strings to the standard tuning of a 6-string guitar. Proceed to lower the sixth pair of strings, the low E strings, down a whole step to D pitch. Ensure that the other strings maintain their respective standard tuning. And that is all. 


As you can see from the explanation above, tuning a 12 string guitar is not as difficult as you may have thought. All you need is the knowledge of the standard guitar tuning.

Also, invest in an electronic tuner to make the process easier. If you can’t afford that, there are several guitar tuning apps for android and iOS. Download a good one and tune that guitar.

Do you want more information on this in a visual format? Then we suggest you click the video below.