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?

  • 1
    '5th' strings as B and F# puts them in the same 'perfect fifths' pattern.Looking at the numberings, do you mean 1st to be the thinnest or thickest? Most people regard the thick E to be 6th. – Tim Jan 21 '15 at 12:06
  • 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...? – Bob Broadley Jan 21 '15 at 12:09
  • I counted the first string as the low E string. – Neil Meyer Jan 21 '15 at 12:11
  • @NeilMeyer, I just changed the string numbers to what I think you mean (so that each standard tuning string has an added 5th). Using standard numbering, String 6 is the thickest string. If this isn't what you want, just do a rollback. – Bob Broadley Jan 21 '15 at 14:44
  • @BobBroadley - I'm still concerned about the 5th string F/F#? – Tim Jan 21 '15 at 16:23

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • SO the thin second strings will not snap if you tune the so differently? – Neil Meyer Jan 21 '15 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. – Bob Broadley Jan 21 '15 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 '15 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...) – Bob Broadley Jan 21 '15 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 '15 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,G₇4  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.

| improve this answer | |
  • Very interesting. I wonder if you could set up benders on one of each pair to adjust the temperament from 12edo to just. – luser droog May 26 '19 at 6:13
  • @luserdroog I don't know what you mean. You'd just use the normal tuners for doing that, wouldn't you? – leftaroundabout May 26 '19 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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 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 '15 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!

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    It should be better for the B to go to F#. I realise it now. – Neil Meyer Jan 21 '15 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. – Bob Broadley Jan 21 '15 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...!) – Bob Broadley Jan 21 '15 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!

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I'm not sure if this is a helpful answer or if it should really be a comment? – Mr. Boy Jan 21 '15 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 '19 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.

| improve this answer | |

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.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.