I'm wondering if you can tune the second string of a double stringed guitar to something else than the regular octave. You would have to keep the open strings to C Major I guess, so that your barre chords still work, but would it be possible to have the following setup for the open strings?

  • 6th string E and B
  • 5th String A and E
  • 4th String D and A
  • 3rd String G and D
  • 2nd String B and F
  • 1st String E and B again.

This is just an example, and I don't know if it would sound good, but is it possible to experiment with such a thing?

  • Yup, and then everything is G Major. Realistically, the best thing to do would have all the strings outline a triad, I guess. Or maybe a Pentatonic...? Jan 21, 2015 at 12:09
  • @BobBroadley - I'm still concerned about the 5th string F/F#?
    – Tim
    Jan 21, 2015 at 16:23
  • Sure, @Tim. I think it's supposed to be F#, but I didn't want to change it just in case... Jan 21, 2015 at 16:32
  • I admire your willingness to think outside the box. I think this approach could work if optimized for an open tuning - which you would typically only use for the Major and relative Minor key corresponding to that particular tuning. Tune the pairs as fifths based on the particular tuning. Then you could use that guitar for any songs that would work in that open tuning and it might sound amazing. And you could play many of the chords as simple one finger barres instead of learning foreign shapes. Jan 21, 2015 at 20:02
  • Have you tried it by now? I find this a really interesting idea, and would expect it to sound not weird but just very fat, powerchord-ey (provided you use B and F♯ for the second course; a tritone would by tricky indeed...) Jan 3, 2016 at 22:38

9 Answers 9


I don't see any reason why you can't experiment with different tunings for the pairs of strings on a 12-string guitar. But it is worth bearing in mind a few things:

  • you will need to choose the appropriate gauge of strings; a standard set of 12-string guitar strings are designed for the regular tuning.
  • you will have to learn a completely new set of chord shapes; in fact, you will find that a large number of chords are now impossible, or certainly very difficult. For instance, if you have the fifth pair of strings tuned to B and F, you'll only be able to use them in chord types that contain a diminished-fifth (e.g. dominant-seventh chords).
  • this idea, interesting as it is, misses the point of instruments with courses of paired strings (e.g. mandolin, 12-string guitar) altogether. The strings are tuned in octaves or unison so that you can use the same fingerings and chord shapes as with standard tuning, but gaining extra volume and fullness of tone.

Having made that last point, it would be really interesting to experiment with this - I love the idea of creating a tuning that requires completing rethinking the harmony you would be using, and the fact that playing melodic lines of single notes would now become lines of parallel intervals. But this wouldn't be a guitar I'd want to take to a gig! Essentially, an instrument set up this way would require you to very carefully compose music specifically for it.

If you haven't already, have a good search online for guitars and other instruments with altered tunings. This list of instruments made by Harry Partch might be of some interest to you as a starting point.

  • SO the thin second strings will not snap if you tune the so differently?
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 21, 2015 at 11:40
  • 1
    As I say, if you significantly change the pitch of the strings, you'll need to use different gauges. There are other answers on this site linking to suggested gauges for guitar strings for specific pitches. Jan 21, 2015 at 11:42
  • 1
    Indeed if you want to try lots of different combinations you'll be continually having to swap strings which isn't great.
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 21, 2015 at 11:44
  • Obviously, I don't know why you've chosen the pitches above for your 12 strings, but the easiest way to experiment with this, is to only change the pitch of strings a little in either direction, say by a tone or semitone. This shouldn't require changing the standard strings. And this is how the most common alternate tunings arise - they are close to the standard tuning, and so don't require different strings. Having said that, if you regularly play with alternate tunings, it can be useful to choose gauges of string which are more suitable (or if you always keep a guitar tuned this way...) Jan 21, 2015 at 11:48
  • @BobBroadley in an alternate tuning you typically move each string a tone or so... but if you want to tune paired strings not to be a whole number of octaves apart, you wouldn't want (I think) your paired strings to be a 9th apart but a 'nice' interval like a 5th or a 13th?
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 21, 2015 at 14:43

Have you tried it by now? I find this a really interesting idea, and would expect it to sound not weird but just very fat, powerchord-ey – provided you use B and F♯ for the second course; a tritone would by tricky indeed...:

E2,B2  A2,E3  D3,A3  G3,D4  B3,F♯4  E4,E4

as Bob Broadley said, this would probably have the effect of organ stop cascading.

Some tunings that might also work well:

B3,E2  E4,A2  D4,D3  G4,G3  B3,B3  E4,E4

This is almost standard 12-string tuning, except the two low strings are now doubled with tritaves instead of octaves. Which are overtones proper, so this tuning should never cause any harmonic problems. Could also be done with the low string of the two lowest coursest replaced:

E3,B3  A3,E4  D4,D3  G4,G3  B3,B3  E4,E4

This might give you a very silky sound that works in rich mixes without ever getting boomy, while still retaining some illusion of having bass strings, albeit with missing fundamental.

E4,E2  E4,A2  D4,D3  D4,G3  B3,B3  E3,E4

This one has the sympathetic strings going down from 6th to 1st course. As a result, there isn't really an orientation of high strings vs low strings anymore, but you can still play chords and, to some degree, melodies like you're used to. D-shape chords will sound very rich in this tuning, not so unusually lean as they do with standard tuning because only using the upper four strings.

E4,G♯4 A3,E4  D4,A4  G4,G3  B3,B3  E4,E4

This uses for every string the highest combination which only contains overtones of the standard-tuning fundamentals. Make sure the G♯ forms a just major-third, not a 12-edo third. This tuning will sound very light and thin, probably not too useful on its own but might be extraordinarily effectful for doubling a 6-string guitar.

E3,G♯3 A3,C♯4 D4,F♯4  G4,B3  B3,D♯4 E4,G♯4

It's getting a bit more experimental here. This is the same general idea as the all-fifths tuning, but with thirds instead (it's paramount that these are all in just intonation). Will give a very peculiar sound, but it should still be musically comprehensible if you're playing standard guitar stuff in this tuning.

G♯3,D₇4  E3,G₇4  A3,F♯4  B3,G4  D♯4,F♯4  D₇4,G♯4

Ok, now none of the courses actually contain the note you'd have in standard tuning. Still, provided you tune the harmonic sevenths correctly, they should all be coherent to the standard fundamental. This will sound pretty crazy, but perhaps be actually usable for some stuff. Try chords with capo 7 or something.

  • Very interesting. I wonder if you could set up benders on one of each pair to adjust the temperament from 12edo to just. May 26, 2019 at 6:13
  • @luserdroog I don't know what you mean. You'd just use the normal tuners for doing that, wouldn't you? May 26, 2019 at 12:07

If you are going to tune the strings all in perfect fifths (in other words use B and F# for the fifth pair, instead of B and F natural), I think it is worth me adding a different answer (which I wouldn't usually do otherwise!) Essentially, every chord you play will also have the notes of the same chord type transposed up by a fifth (as @Tim points out, these will tend to extend simple chords, such as triads, and make them more "jazzy").

There is a precedent for this. You are essentially creating the same effect that some organ stops, known as mutations do. These add a different overtone from the harmonic series of a fundamental note, for example a twelfth (also known as a compound fifth, or octave-plus-fifth).

However, strictly speaking, the fifth above a note is not an overtone of that note's harmonic series, as the first overtone is the octave, and the second overtone is the compound fifth above the fundamental (as I say above). For this reason, the effect will certainly be to create new harmonies, with added notes, rather than creating a sound that seems to be simply accentuating the resonance of the upper overtones of your fundamental notes.

On a practical level, all the issues relating to string gauges mentioned in my other answer, remain.

  • If one used a pickup which had one pole for each pair of strings, each pair of strings could independently be subjected to an effect similar to a distorted power chord, wherein intermodulation distortion produces sum and difference tones. The difference tones for two notes a fifth apart would include a sub-harmonic (octave down from the lower note), and all other frequencies would be harmonics of that.
    – supercat
    Jan 21, 2015 at 19:19

For strumming it will be awkward, as with that tuning, you'll have, for example, on an open E chord, an E chord AND a B chord simultaneously. Thus you'll hear E, F#, G#, B, and D# all together. For an idea, try it on a piano. It gives a major 9th chord. Moving to an Em shape will give an Em9. Only if that B string is matched with an F#!! On second thoughts, it's an interesting idea. Don't think it'll work well with 3rds,although poss. 4ths.

I'd be inclined to spell out some regular chord shapes with all the notes, and see what you get. Don't think there'll be any triads, though! Loads of jazz chords should abound!

  • 1
    It should be better for the B to go to F#. I realise it now.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 21, 2015 at 12:28
  • +1 Good examples, @Tim. As I thought, triadic tuning before the change to adding fifths, makes the chords more manageable. Adding fifths to the standard tuning (as Neil has, above, if he uses F#) gives Em11 as the open strings. Jan 21, 2015 at 12:49
  • Hang on - I see what you mean, @Tim. It's a B and E chord combined if you play an E chord (got it...!) Jan 21, 2015 at 12:53

Absolutely, you can. But it would probably mean you have to play much more carefully - I guess chords might stop working in many/most cases. Having your paired strings 3rds apart or 5ths, maybe might work for picking... my guess is also basing it around an open tuning might be easier.

I wonder also if you tune strings so all notes are be in the same chord when played open... if you could then play with a slide?

It sounds like a great opportunity for you to try something and answer your own question with what you find out!

  • 1
    I'm not sure if this is a helpful answer or if it should really be a comment?
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 21, 2015 at 11:24
  • Pairing strings a third apart? Not so good for picking. Think about harmonising roots and thirds - diatonically some are major, some minor!
    – Tim
    Sep 23, 2019 at 13:58

It occurred to me that a 12 string guitar might be set up as follows: a) remove the b and e string pairs. b) move the other 4 pairs down. c) replace the two top pairs with strings suitable to be tuned in octaves to G and C d) tune this to G-C-F-a#-d-g

This would produce a lower toned guitar with octave pairs on all strings and the traditional chord patterns but in a different key. I am fascinated with this idea but reluctant to try it as it would require nut alteration.


A very easy way to hear what some of these tunings sound like would be to use one of the many polyphonic pitch-shifters now available from Electro-Harmonix with a standard six string guitar;the PitchFork pedal would probably be the cheapest, though it doesn't cover the range of some of the larger pedals.


I've seen that Bill Monroe used a tuning in his mandolin for "Get Up John", where the low G strings are split between F# and A and the high E strings are split to A and D. This being a mandolin tuning, those are normally tuned in unison.

12-strings have two in unison and four are tuned to octaves, but the octave-up for the G string gives you a much thinner and breakable third string, such that you often see three octaves and three unison strings.. You could adjust the string gauge so that the tension works out, but you would have to decide if you want to go lower or higher; with the low E2, whether you go to B3 or B4. Time with a string tension table should allow you to get a custom set with appropriate gauges that give you what you want without killing your fingers or instrument.

The next question is what your intent is. With the "Get Up John" tuning, I believe that the melody playing was on the D and A strings, but the others were meant to drone as a D major chord. With the fifths (surely B and F# not F for the 2nd string?), each course would be a power chord, so you could not really combine them for fuller chords, which is exactly the primary use of the 12-string guitar.

So, clearly, nobody will stop you. In fact, there are string companies that will gladly take your money to help you do this thing. But I know the 12-string guitar is over a century old and ...


Jimmy Bryant was a country guitar player in the 50s and 60s, and he endorsed the Stratosphere guitar, which had a 12-string neck where the courses were tuned in major and minor thirds: Low to high, A-F C-A F-D A-F C-A E-C So, unlike what I was about to write, there was a guitarist (and one I really like) who experimented with the tuning of a 12-string with intervals beyond unison and octave. Cool.

The how part is still the same. You can get single strings online or at your local shop that should work, and a search for guitar string tension table should get you started. Granted, half would likely be dedicated to steel guitar, because they play with this more, but you should easily find something to do what you want. Making it work for you is the hard part.


I tuned my 12 string as below - shown with string gauges (high to low) so as not to stress the neck (lower case is unwound), it is a Yamaha APX-4-12A - it worked really nicely.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12

C# G# G# D# E  B  B  F# F# C# C# G#

12 8  17 12 28 16 38 23 44 30 56 40 

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