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12 string tuning

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mthompso 04 Jan 00 - 01:18 PM
Rick Fielding 04 Jan 00 - 01:30 PM
JedMarum 04 Jan 00 - 01:39 PM
JamesJim 04 Jan 00 - 05:28 PM
Richard Bridge 04 Jan 00 - 05:39 PM
Rick Fielding 04 Jan 00 - 05:48 PM 04 Jan 00 - 06:28 PM
Richard Bridge 04 Jan 00 - 06:48 PM
Melbert 04 Jan 00 - 07:38 PM
ddw 04 Jan 00 - 09:11 PM
catspaw49 04 Jan 00 - 10:30 PM
catspaw49 04 Jan 00 - 10:44 PM
Harry Lewman 05 Jan 00 - 09:18 AM
mthompso 05 Jan 00 - 09:58 AM
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Subject: 12 string tuning
From: mthompso
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 01:18 PM

I have been playing 12 string for over 20 years now. From time to time I have heard people say that you shouldn't tune thme up to pitch, puts too much strain on the instrument. Instead, tune it 1/2 to a whole note lower and capo up when playing with other instruments.

I have never had any problem with stnadard tunings on the 12 string. Anyone have some thoughts on this?

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 01:30 PM

Depends ENTIRELY on the guitar in question. Most twelve stringers (and especially cheaper ones) will be ruined very quickly if tuned up to pitch with medium (or even light) strings. Laskin 12s are designed to be at pitch as are some Taylors, Martins and a few others. What have you got?


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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: JedMarum
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 01:39 PM

I haven't seen any 12 strings on the market, in recent years, that need to be tuned low. I know it was a common practice for some models years ago. I know some players who prefer to have their instrument low to accommodate their voice ... but I guess that'sa different story!

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: JamesJim
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 05:28 PM

I have a Martin Shenandoah and although I can tune it up to pitch, I prefer to tune it down one step and use my capo for playing/performing. I find the action of this guitar to be better when I do so and it certainly does not effect the sound. Jim

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 05:39 PM

THe Old EKOs are structurally OK. Beware of Kincades.

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 05:48 PM

Richard you're Sooooooo old! I'll match your Eko with a Kent! (which were as structurally sound as a batter pudding)

Rick (who can also remember his first Stella!)

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 06:28 PM

I have been a guitar dealer for the last 20 years. Our operation is known for handmade 12 strings (Kottke has one as does Arlo.) The fret placement and scale length on a 12 string are almost always the same as 6 strings. Standard tuning is what these instruments are built for. If you are ordering a handmade 12, you should be very clear to the builder of your instrument if your most common tuning is other than standard so allowances can be made. If you can reduce tension on the guitar's neck you will help your 12 live a much longer, happier life. The older Martin 12-string necks joined the body at the 12th fret, not 14th fret like most modern guitars. This results in less tension when tuned to pitch while using the same gauge strings. Another approach to the tension/survival issue is to use lower tension strings on a 12 string. GHS makes a set of Phosphor Bronze wrapped silk and steels (370S 12) that can tune to standard pitch at much lower tension than other light gauge strings. Guild used to offer a similar set (B-1200) that were 80/20 Bronze-wrapped. I believe those were made by D'Addario, but D'Addario hasn't offered this set under their own brands and it doesn't appear to be available from the new Guild company. String tension can vary from one brand to another, and between sets from any manufacturer so ask your local luthier or contact the string companies directly regarding issues relating to string tension, especially on 12 string sets. Some of the confusion as regards the tuning issue has come from guitar importers and makers. Importers such as St. Louis Music Co. (Alvarez, Bentley) have told customers to tune down there 12 strings to reduce tension. I think they were hoping to avoid warranty repairs on instruments that might not have been braces more sturdily than 6 strings. I'm sure they weren't the only importer to suggest this. When I was a Guild dealer I recall the company saying in some literature that a 12-string should be tuned down, while in info they stated that a Guild 12 was made to be played at standard pitch. One more bit of experience: Almost all customers require nice, low action these days. No one wants to try to play a guitar that requires a Gorilla Grip. This was not always so. Martin guitars were once shipped with extra-high action so the hardest strumming player in the world could flail away and never buzz a string against a fret. These days Martin sets their guitars to more refined specs, with action that modern players can even compare to their electric guitars. A local luthier, if qualified, can improve this even further. This change in what all of us consider to be acceptable action, or playability presents some additional problems on a 12 string. With modern, lower playing action it is much more apparent to the player when changes take place in the neck or top of their guitar. Usually these things can be addressed with a new setup at your local luthier's shop. At some point the "neck set" (angle at which the neck is attached to the body) may need to be improved. This is an expensive repair that has been covered in the past by Lifetime Warranties to original owners. Rather than suffer huge costs from warranty neck re-sets, it seems that some factories are now putting a bit more "back-set" in the neck angle when their guitars are made. Unfortunately, this can prevent a guitar from playing as well as it should when new. Even worse, since this back-set always requires a taller bridge saddle, the torque on the guitar's top is greatly increased. This can lead to warped tops, split bridges and a less stable instrument. This technique of trying to improve the lifespan of the factory neck-set has resulted in more new 12 strings being rejected as unsuitable by shops that understand the problem and have strict standards for playability of all guitars, 6 or 12.

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 06:48 PM

I know people who still play the old EKOs. They balance fairly well but do not have the presence of modern guitars. THat presence comes from livelier tops. THat means less or different bracing (compare a ladder braced stella!). TANSTAAFL. I have a friend with a Martin from the cricket bat era. It is horrid, but it will last for ever, even if you use it to drive nails.

That's the point. Flattop guitars carry more destructive stresses than archtops did. I think I am rihgt that the compressive force on the table of a 6 with 13s on is 6 tons. But the damage comes from the twist at the saddle. The saddle almost always bellies before the neck moves much. Watch out for that belly at all costs. If it shows, change to a ligther set within minutes, not days.

If you want to be able to chord a 12 up the neck you'll need to use lights anyway. Or tune it down to reduce the tension. The body and sounhole of a guitar set the resonances. If a guitar "sounds" in standard tuning at E it is likely to sound different in E flat. Suck it and see. What sounds and plays best is best - subject to keeping an eagle eye on that table.

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: Melbert
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 07:38 PM

I still have my old EKO which I bought new in 1966 for the princely sum of £34 (including a case of sorts). I remember the dealer telling me to tune two full tones lower, and I played it this way up until about two years ago. In my ignorance and naivity I assumed until then that all twelve strings were thus tuned. It came as something of a shock to learn otherwise.
I have tried tuning up to pitch, but it doesn't sound the same (I guess it's just what I'm used to) and I must admit to being apprehensive given the guitar's age and sentimental value. I find that the sound (irrespective of tuning) doesn't carry as well as my newer six stringed instruments, especially in pub sessions, so I don't play it too often now.

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: ddw
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 09:11 PM

Yaaa, Rick. I'll see your stella and raise you a Kay — which was my first guitar back in 1962. It had a dreadnaught body and a neck that was so weak it bowed even with nylon strings. Real beast, but I still have fond memories of playing it until my fingers bled.



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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: catspaw49
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 10:30 PM

Or perhaps we could battle it out with a Framus match...since as I recall, several of us have owned them! The Framus 12 has the added benefit of being able to double for use in Field Hockey and LaCrosse.

We've had a couple of good discussions on 12 tunings, but they have been on threads not marked as such...and I can't find them. But we do also have THIS THREAD which had some decent info on it.

For those of you wanting a new 12, I have recently acquired the North American rights to the "Implosive Pedro Guitar Corp." of LaSplinterio, Mexico. Go ahead...ask Rick Fielding, he knows ALL about them!!!


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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: catspaw49
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 10:44 PM

"Give my regards to Broadway......."

Well I whupped up!!!! Whatever that was, it wasn't!!


If this doesn't work, not to bring religion into this, but opt for prayer.....or better yet, just skip it.


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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: Harry Lewman
Date: 05 Jan 00 - 09:18 AM

I have played 60's Stellas, Framus, Guilds, Yamaha, Martin, Gibsons all 12 stringers. I was always searching for the Lead Belly sound. (check out the Lead Belly songbook For that old 12-string sound, you kinda need an old 12-string, but Marc Silber has made a few that really sound great. If there are any 12-string makers out there who would like to be listed on my web site, feel free to contact me.

I often tune a fourth below standard: B,E,A,D,F#,B but I use very heavy strings. 14's 18's etc. I like this sound and string combination on longer scale length necks. When used on a light weight ladder braced guitar, your bass runs can sound like the word of God, or at least cut though some typical bar noise.

On a standard scale length guitar, lighter sets tuned to pitch or just a little below sound best. It does depend on the construction and the type of sound you are going for. Please check out my sound clips at

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Subject: RE: 12 string tuning
From: mthompso
Date: 05 Jan 00 - 09:58 AM

EKO, my first guitar, I loved it. One day at church, a kid nocked it over, the peghead snapped off. The next 12 string was a yamaha, didn't care for it, action was too high. While trying to lower the action, I tightened the truss rod 1/4 turn and it snapped (the truss rod that is ). I just picked up a Dean. For an inexpensive 12 string, it sounds good. Has a solid top and grover tuners, so it can't be made all that poorly.

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