I was thinking of making a blues box out of my twelve string guitar; since it's a modern dreadnaught I don't expect a perfect tone, but I think something nice may come out.

My idea was to put on medium strings and tune it two tones down, like Leadbelly did, but there are some questions open: is .13 the only suitable gauge, or I should try others? Do you know of notable musicians who used completely different settings? Do I have to increase brutally the action? What kind of strings should I use, bronze, phosphor bronze or nickel? Is the thing possible at all?

  • 2
    One thing I can tell you: when changing string gauge and tunings, you'll probably have to adjust the truss rod at the very least, possibly action too. As for type of strings that is mostly a personal preference. How bright do you want it?
    – charlie
    Oct 17, 2014 at 21:14
  • I'd like to have a very vintage tone, so not bright but loud and punchy in the midrange
    – Fabio
    Oct 17, 2014 at 21:32
  • 2
    In general phosphor strings are a bit warmer, 80/20 brighter. I would start with phosphor and go from there. I've never tried nickel on acoustic so I'm can't say, but you should try all three..strings are pretty cheap. tonefiend.com/acoustic/acoustic-strings-bronze-vs-nickel
    – charlie
    Oct 18, 2014 at 3:19
  • 1
    Would love to hear how you get on with this Nov 14, 2014 at 11:53
  • Sadly, it won't be done shortly due to my laziness, but when I'll do it I'll let you know. Almost certainly I'll put on John Pearse .13 phosphor bronze and tune two steps down; I don't plan to adjust the neck at all, but I'll let a luthier have the final word on this.
    – Fabio
    Nov 14, 2014 at 13:56

1 Answer 1


You can't get a better intro to how to string up a guitar for 12-string country blues than the one that used to be on Todd Cambio's website (he makes the Fraulini line of guitars). I have a Fraulini Francesca, which is basically a copy of a 1920s Stella 12-string like McTell and Leadbelly used. Here is a link to an archived version of the page:


The short version is that many acoustic 12-string players tuned as low as a perfect fourth down, and used very heavy strings:

course 1: .013/.013

course 2: .017/.017

course 3: .013/.026

course 4: .017/.038

course 5: .022/.048

course 6: .026/.066

(The first and second courses are tuned in unison pairs, the third, fourth, fifth and sixth course pairs are one octave apart.)


course 1: .014/.014

course 2: .012/.018

course 3: .014/.027

course 4: .018/.039

course 5: .024 (wound)/.049

course 6: .029 (wound).070

Naturally, if you are going to go this route, you're going to need to assemble custom sets of strings; a stock "12-string" set from LaBella or Daddario isn't going to work.

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