How to Tune a 12-String Guitar
Tuning a 12-String Guitar
Tuning a 12-string guitar in standard E tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E, thick to thin) is very common. To tune your 12-string, tune the E, A, D, and G string pairs within an octave of each other. For the remaining high B and E strings, tune their string pairs in unison to the same frequency. Diagram below.
Differences in Tuning a 6-String vs. 12-String Guitar
So you have a 12-string guitar and don’t know where to start with tuning.
That’s perfectly okay, and how every single one of us feels when we get our hands on a 12-string for the first time!
The good news is, it’s not complicated.
The most significant difference you’ll have to be aware of is tuning an octave higher in the E, A, D, and G string pairs.
The B and E string pairs are tuned in unison to a High B and High E.
When tuning the E, A, D, and G string pairs to different octaves, you have to pay attention to the string you’re tuning. The thicker string will always be the low note, and the thinner string will always be for the higher octave.
For example, say you’re tuning the E string pair.
You’ll notice that one of the strings is thinner - tune this string to the octave higher E. You’ll also see that one of the strings is thicker - tune this string to the regular (low) E.
Repeat this all the up through G.
After the G string pair, at B and E, tune both strings in each pair to the same high frequency. The high B string pair should have both strings tuned exactly the same, and the high E string pair should also have both strings tuned in unison.
Once you’ve gotten through all of the strings, you’re done!
It might take a little more time than your regular 6-string guitar, but the richer sound you’ll get makes it well worth it.
Diagram (Chart): How to Tune a 12-String Guitar
To make things easier, I decided to put together a tuning diagram for 12-string guitars (shown below).
As I mentioned in the last section, the most significant difference is the octave-higher and octave-lower tuning in the E, A, D, and G string pairs.
The last two string pairs, high B and high E, are tuned to the same frequency.
Once again, remember to tune the thick string in each pair to the low note and the thin string to the octave higher note.
Tuning a 12-String Guitar with a Chromatic Tuner
A chromatic tuner is a guitar tuner that can detect any pitch on the Chromatic Scale.
What is the chromatic scale? To put it simply, it’s the entire range of twelve pitches on a musical scale including flats and sharps. The C chromatic scale, for example, goes like this: C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B.
So, how do you use your chromatic tuner to get your guitar in tune?
Depending on your type of tuner, the first thing you’ll want to do is get your tuner set up and turned on. If you have a clip-on tuner, this means clipping it onto your guitar. If you’re using a different type of tuner, like a pedal tuner, this means you’ll have to plug it in and have it ready to receive your guitar’s audio signal as an input.
Note: I didn’t have my 12-string on me when I wrote this guide, so I used my 6-string instead for all the examples below. The process is exactly the same, you’ll just have to pay attention to your octave tuning on string pairs.
I went ahead and clipped my tuner on my guitar:
All you have to do is clip it on the end just like that.
After it’s on there, as soon as you play a string it’ll detect the frequency you’re playing and show how far off you are - pretty cool!
Here’s a picture of what happened when I played a low E (thickest string):
You can see that I’m slightly out of tune (somewhat flat) below E.
This is where you want to adjust your tuning knob until you’re dead on in the center.
After I hit E spot on, my tuner turned green (you can also see the arrow lining up in the middle of the tuner).
There we go! One string in tune, a few more to go!
Repeat this with all of your other 11 strings (following the diagram we showed earlier in this article), and you’ll be golden.
Recommended Guitar Tuners
There are hundreds of different types of tuners out there.
Snark and KLIQ are well-known brands that make high-quality guitar tuners. Some of the big guitar manufacturers make some excellent tuners as well.
Lately, I’ve been using a clip-on tuner from Fender (the one shown in the pictures above, Fender FT-1 (check price on Amazon) is the model) and it’s been working reasonably well for me. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles, it just does one job well.
If you are looking for a tuner with more features though (especially accuracy), then I would recommend the KLIQ UberTuner (check price on Amazon). It’s another clip-on tuner just like the Fender one I’m using, but it’s much more accurate (not to mention it also shows the frequency on its display!)
Everyone I’ve talked to (including a long-time musician friend) said that the KLIQ tuner was super easy to read, and the fact that you can tune your guitar at any time (even with ambient noise in the background), makes it that much better.
There could literally be a jet plane engine sitting next to you while you’re tuning your guitar -- as long as it doesn’t affect the vibrations going through your guitar’s headstock, you can still tune your guitar! (ok, I know a jet engine might be a bit excessive and would vibrate the wood.. but you get the point!)
Anyways, no matter what tuner you get (a cheaper one like the FT-1 or a more accurate tuner like the KLIQ), just remember to tune your guitar periodically.
After you tune your 12-string a few times, it’ll become second nature!
Apps for Tuning a 12-String Guitar
Nowadays, with us carrying our cell phones around everywhere, we can literally have portable tuners in our pockets.
I spent some time combing through the iPhone App Store & Android Google Play Store in search of a good tuner, and have one that I’d recommend.
However, please note: I do not recommend using a phone app for tuning your guitar.
It’s not as accurate as what you’d get from a clip-on tuner, and on top of that, if you’re in a loud environment (or practicing in a band setting) your phone’s microphone just won’t pick up the notes. This is why I still recommend you go with one of the clip-on tuner recommendations I made above.
If you’re still adamant about an app, read on. I found one app that’s risen to the top for both iOS and Android.
I would recommend GuitarTuna. It has fantastic ratings overall. The only bad thing about GuitarTuna is that you have to pay for an in-app purchase to tune 7 & 12 string guitars… it’s only free for regular 6-strings.
I personally thought this was a bummer, which is why I still recommend the physical KLIQ UberTuner (Amazon) that you can carry around in your hand (or guitar case).
For Android Phones:
I found that the Google Play store has the same exact app as the top tuner on the iOS App Store - GuitarTuna.
Just like for the iOS version, the GuitarTuna app is paid if you want to tune your 12-string.
If you’re adamant and really want an app, this one will get the job done.
But if you’re looking for a more long-term and accurate solution, you shouldn't rule out getting a physical clip-on tuner (or even a pedal tuner like the PolyTune 3 from TC Electronic if that’s more your style)
Online 12-String Guitar Tuners (with your microphone)
I’ll recommend a few online guitar tuners that I’ve used in a minute, but before I do I wanted to mention a point I brought up earlier (and try to convince you not to tune through your mic!)
I do not recommend tuning your guitar through a microphone, only because it puts another “layer” between the sound coming out of your guitar and the tuner.
A physical clip-on tuner reads what frequency you’re currently playing through vibrations in your guitar - there’s only one intermediate layer, the solid wood material the sound passes through.
If you tune through an app or a microphone, on the other hand, several more intermediate layers stack on top of each other and introduce noise.
If you play the E string on your guitar, for example, that sound wave has to travel through the air to the microphone and get picked up alongside any background noise that comes in.
It’s then converted into an audio signal on your computer (based on your mic quality, settings, and background noise, this can induce clipping or lost conversion data) and is processed again in the app or tuning software.
I didn’t even mention that if you practice in a group setting (band, orchestra, etc.), it’ll be impossible to tune your guitar through a microphone if multiple people are tuning or playing at one time.
Here’s the 12-String Online Tuner I Recommend:
I searched for a while, and it took some concentrated effort to find an excellent 12-string tuner online (one that works through your microphone).
A good one I found was: Tuner-Online.
Once you hit that page, all you have to do is allow access to your microphone (if you’re using Google Chrome it should ask you if you want to do that), and then play the sounds at the bottom.
The tuner’s arrow will show how flat or how sharp you are.
12-String Guitar Tuning Frequencies
Want to know the exact frequencies you’ll be tuning your 12-string to? Here’s a list.
From Thickest to Thinnest Strings (eE-aA-dD-gG-BB-EE):
(e) E3: 164.81 Hz
(E) E2: 82.41 Hz
(a) A3: 220.00 Hz
(A) A2: 110.00 Hz
(d) D4: 293.66 Hz
(D) D3: 146.83 Hz
(g) G4: 392.00 Hz
(G) G3: 196.00 Hz
(BB) B3: 246.94 Hz (x2)
(EE) E4: 329.63 Hz (x2)
Wrapping It Up
And that’s all there is to it!
We talked about tuning a 12-string, using clip-on guitar tuners, recommended tuners, and even looked at a great online microphone tuner you can use in case you’re missing a physical one.
You should feel more confident in tuning a 12-string and have everything you need to go out there and make it happen.
Wishing you the best of luck with your twelve amazing strings - get out there, practice, and never give up!
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