Traditionally high B and E strings are tuned in unison.

  • Why are they tuned like this? Unlike the rest of strings.
  • If this can be done anyway, could this be achieved with the standard set of unwounded strings?
  • Should I increase one octave of the higher paired string or reduce one octave the lower paired string?
  • Even if possible, why would doing this be unideal or discouraged?

I don't want to break my strings, so I'll start by lowering one octave the lowest paired strings.

But I'm guessing that in order to be the same, it should be the other way around? Or maybe I would need wound strings for the lowest paired strings?

  • 4
    Take a look at Nashville tuning.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 6:46

4 Answers 4


Why are they tuned like this? Unlike the rest of strings

Simply put because there aren't any strings made that can go high enough without breaking.

Could this be achieved with the standard set of unwounded strings?

No. Or at least not without sounding terrible and having intonation problems.

Should I increase one octave of the higher paired string or reduce one octave the lower paired string?

Trying to increase an octave of a string will break the string, the guitar or both. Tuning a string an octave below its pitch will result in it being floppy, quiet, with a muddy tone, and to go completely out of tune at the slightest touch

Even if possible, why would doing this could be unideal or discouraged?

Including a 1 octave up b and e could be cool, it's just not really possible on a guitar with a normal scale length. You could include a low b and a low e, but that would then mean that the E and B strings were essentially an octave below the other strings, the B string would now be lower than the G and D string not higher. It's not wrong per se, but it would make a lot of common chord voicings sound very different (and mostly bad), and make playing the guitar well more difficult: you'd've more or less invented a new tuning where the last 2 strings of the guitar are tuned an octave down. Sorta like the opposite of a ukulele...

  • 1
    I guess it might actually be possible to achieve a high e with something like carbon-fibre reinforced kevlar. Of course that would not be compatible with magnetic PUs, but should be ok on an acoustic 12-string. Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 10:13
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    @leftaroundabout wouldn't the high tension required put strain on the neck of the guitar, something it's not built to cope with?
    – MeanGreen
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 11:09
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    @MeanGreen a 12-string already has to cope with a lot of tension. And kevlar strings would be higher-pitched mostly because of their lower mass, not because of higher tension. Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 11:11
  • @leftaroundabout when I Google "kevlar strings" "12 string guitar" I find this post first on the list and then something about bass strings. Would you recommend any brand of these kind of strings? I think this idea is very interesting and I would only need to change 2 strings. Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:37
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    @SalchiPapa no, I don't think there any strings of the time I envision available commercially. They probably wouldn't sound very good on their own as guitar strings, maybe that's why – but as the high string of the top 12-string pair, they could make sense. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 6:10

Octave4Plus has made 12 String Guitar String Sets (1A & 1B) that have Octaves on the bottom 5 pairs & unison on the top one cause they've successfully made a High B4 String, & I even have a prototype .004 gauge Super High E5 string for a 25.5 in scale. However to get more volume, I've converted it from a solid headstock to a slotted headstock which puts the strings at a sharper angle over the nut. The other thing I did to ensure good durability is I added pencil graphite to the bridge & nut.

  • The basic solution would be a shorter scale length. Making Strings that can tune to an E5 up on a 25.5 in scale length is kinda like making a Covid19 Vaccine.
    – user68506
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 18:00
  • Octave4Plus has 12 String Sets with a High B cause the High B string is a .006. However the All Octave Set for E Standard the Octave Higher E String would have to be a .0001 and there just isn't a material made that's strong enough for a string to tune to E5 on a 25.5 in scale. If there was then it would have to be rocket wire.
    – user68506
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 17:05

On a normal 12-string, the thinnest string is the octave G, and is usually a 0.008" (aka "an 8"). The thinnest readily available string gauge is 0.007". They don't make strings thin enough to resonate at the octave B and E frequencies required, and even if they did, they would be likely to break when played loud enough to compete in terms of volume with the other strings.

  • 2
    I guess also - it would instantly slice your finger in half! Anything that is like 0.003, say, is basically "A razor blade".
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 17:48
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    You could always tune waaay down like Leo Kottke and to the point where 7s and 8s will work as your octave E and B strings, but this changes the timbre of the instrument. Personally I love the sound, but it's not for everyone.
    – Bort
    Commented Oct 3, 2019 at 12:12
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    @schadjo I am currently tuned to C# standard tuning and I love it. I can bend the strings, action is lower, mellower, fits in mi vocal range lol. Which strings would you recommend for this Kettle tuning? I'd really like to try those tiger octave difference :). Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:31
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    I would buy some single 0.007"s and 0.008"s (possibly 0.0075" if you can find them) online (you can buy them as singles without buying a whole pack of strings) and experiment, since you won't be able to find thinner strings, but you know they need to be as thin or thinner than the high G 0.008". Also check out Leo Kottke's album "6 and 12-String Guitar" or the live album "My Feet Are Smiling"... His tunings are mostly Standard, D, and G tunings tuned down 4 semitones or so, so the highest-pitched courses could be C#-detuned D instead E.
    – Bort
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:43
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    I don't believe Kottke used octaves on the B and E courses because I don't hear it, and I don't think they made 7s in 1969. But I imagine at this low of a tuning, there is enough slack to make 7s and/or 8s work as octave B and E strings. For a few bucks for singles, it's worth a shot.
    – Bort
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:44

If you're really dedicated to this, you can put a nail in the fretboard at the 12th fret that will hold just those strings down

  • 6
    Except the strings won't play properly anymore - they'll be B4/E5 until you fret above 12.
    – J...
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 12:16

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