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I don't want to sound like I'm Ralph Towner or anything, but I know when my 12-string is in tune. It's just a matter of all the harmonics aligning, at least to my ears, but with the tuner I have, it just does not seem to do the job.

Tuning a 12-string is a fiendishly difficult job, but there must be something better out there than a cheap piece of plastic that clips on to to the headstock and tunes by the vibration of the wood, not the vibrations in the air. My tuner says a note is perfectly in tune, but I can actually move the tuner heads and hear the pitch change slightly but the tuner still says it's the same pitch. Now that can't be right!

When I played a 6-string I didn't need a tuner, but with a 12-string, it's imperative. Any suggestions?

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    Sounds like you might just need a better tuner, rather than necessarily a 12-string-specific one? Is your instrument an electric or an acoustic? Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 23:44
  • It's an acoustic . . . an Alvarez AD60-12, to be precise. But I just bought a Taylor 150e which is being set up as we speak! Can't wait to see how that compares!
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:39
  • Yes, a better tuner. Any recommendations? Very fine increments would be good . . .
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:41

3 Answers 3

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Tuning a 12 string should actually be very simple. If you can tune a 6 string, tuning the first string of each pair is exactly the same. Use your tuner exactly as you normally would.

On an expensive 12 string, tuning the other 6 is also straightforward - the unwound pairs are unison tuned, and the wound pairs are an octave apart (as per @KirkA's comment), and I would never use a tuner for this, but instead trust my ear to identify when they are an octave apart. However, what will slightly bite you on most 12 strings, as Tim mentioned, is intonation.

One of my 12 strings has angled saddles to make this work, but my twin neck Gibson SG just has your 6 basic knife edge saddles - each with 2 grooves for the 12 string neck. So typically what I do is alter intonation to benefit the higher pitched string in each pair, as I find intonation issues more annoying at higher pitch. This then means my lower string may be a few cents off in some areas, but I can usually bend or even just press a little harder on them as needed.

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As you seem aware, well trained ears do a good job. It appears that you can spot tiny tuning imperfections, so don't rely on any tuner - apart from a solid reference A, for example, but just tune by ear. Tuners have been known to tell fibs, so don't rely totally on them.Use the 5th fret method initially, and when it's close, harmonics will be fine - 12th fret on the low E gives the other in that pair open, and so on.

The inherent problem with 12 strings is that intonation is not easily solved. You'd need 12 saddles for that to happen.So, in tune open doesn't guarantee in tune above 5th fret.

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  • Yes, and regrettably, there is also the phenomenon that tightening one string makes others go out of tune. For a 6-string that's not a big hassle, but it gets out of control pretty quickly on a 12-string and you end up giving up the session in frustration. Maybe my Taylor will be better in this respect than my Alvarez.
    – Kamakiri
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 6:54
  • @Kamakiri - That shouldn't be much of an issue, once the thing is close to tune. If it is, then a replacement seems just around the corner. It's a great excuse for getting 'yet another guitar', as my other half says, often...
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 12:58
  • Unless you have a floating bridge, this really shouldn't happen. It implies you have wider problems with that guitar
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 14:48
  • @DrMayhem - are there many, any, 12 strings with floating bridges? I presume you mean with vibs.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 14:52
  • I have seen a couple, yes. I don't own one, though. And by floating I mean a trem that isn't blocked.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 15:04
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No every string double string is one octave higher that the other so EE AA DD GG BB EE any chromatic tuner will work

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    I thought that the unwound string pairs were unisons (and that the wound string pairs were an octave apart).
    – Kirk A
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 12:23
  • @KirkA You are correct. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 13:14
  • @KirkA that is correct Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 12:58

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