Tips for 12 string guitars

Hi There,

Does anyone have tips in general for playing a 12 string? This red Takamine here is the one I am talking about. I have always loved the angelic sound of 12 strings so I finally bought one a few months back when I bought the Fender electric. I soon found out there are a lot of differences. You have to tune it a lot for one thing and arpeggios are obviously different. I want to give her some use and practice, but would appreciate some tips on fundamentals. Thanks


I have both a 12 sting and mandolin and play them both the same way I play my 6 string acoustics. The mandolin is more picking than strumming. You could try tuning down 1/2 a step or even a full step and capo first or 2nd fret to bring it back up to pitch until you get used to the extra tension.
Jumping from an electric to a 12 string will take some time but you will get used to it. As for tuning a lot you’ll get good at it and tweak more than tune.

Obviously, finger placement will be a bit different in order to not mute strings accidentally. On the other hand, muting both strings of a course requires a bit more effort at first.

I hardly ever play single note melodies on my 12 string so I can’t comment on that - I find upstrokes difficult in general given that the thicker strings are “below” the thin ones.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same as 6 string guitars.

  1. Make sure that it’s correctly set up.
  2. Drop it a full tone to start with and Capo Fret2.
  3. When you’re comfortable with it tune it up a semi tone and Capo Fret1.
  4. When you’re comfortable tune it to normal tuning no capo, play away!
    Hopefully that will get you going!

Thanks for the tips guys.

4 posts were split to a new topic: Strange change tips for winding on new strings

I have a (fairly cheap, admittedly) 12-string, and I find that the thinner G-string breaks very frequently, enough that I’m cautious about using the guitar for performing. Is that normal? I’ve seen advice to drop the tuning a semitone or two and capo it up to ease the tension and reduce the risk of snapping, but honestly while I can do that, I find it harder to play that way (not sure why, I can normally play capo just fine). But surely it should be possible to play normally without strings breaking all the time?

Should I be using heavier strings for my 12-string than for a normal acoustic? Or lighter? I’ve been using 10-gauge, which is what I use on my 6-string.

Or is it likely to just be that the guitar’s cheap, and I need to invest in a better one?

What are the circumstances of string breakage? Is it just random or is there an underlying reason?
How long have the strings been on for, how often do you play it, does it go out of tune, when you restring it which strings go on first?
I’ve never used less than 11’s on an acoustic, usually 13’s, I do get the odd string break when it’s really hot, nothing that unusual about that happening!

Just playing, mostly. No underlying reason that I can see, it’s a lot more frequent than on a 6-string is about all I could determine. It’s been a while since I’ve played the 12-string, as the breakage was quite annoying TBH, so I don’t really recall the details.

I’ll try putting 11s or 13s on instead, maybe I’m just using strings that are too light. Thanks.

DarrllW is right on here. I play a 12 string Tak and I use .010 extra light strings as the guitar is 45 years old.
Take it to a good luthier and have them do a good setup. Then do what DarrellW suggests to build strength.
Best of luck. You will really enjoy a 12 string.

Thanks very much. I love the 12 string. I played a friends 12 string recently who has it set up better than mine. I can really tell the difference between a good set up vs not.

I consider 12-string my main instrument, so I hope I can offer some helpful advice.

Strings: Stick with extra light, so 10s. I’ve had the best luck with DR Rare Bronze and GHS Vintage Bronze, both of which are relatively low-tension. I’ve had the least luck with Martin strings, which tend to be rather stiff, and I find the G & E strings snap easily while tuning up a new set.
To avoid breaking the steel G string, tune it up last and very gradually. Give strings a good stretch when putting on a new set.

Technique: The best advice I got was to learn to use a pick, and beyond strumming, picking individual notes takes a lot of practice. Picking individual notes on 12-string forms the basis of many riffs & pieces you will want to play. This picking exercise from Justin’s classic course is extremely helpful. Don’t look at your hand while picking. Learn by feel.

I found it helped in the beginning to use a thin, flexible pick like a Dunlop celluloid thin, Tortex .50, or a Dunlop nylon .60 for a firm, textured grip. The better you get, the thicker, stiffer picks you can use accurately. Use a metronome on a slow tempo, 40-60 bpm and speed up only when you can consistently pluck both strings of every course. Down strokes are most important with 12-string. Up and DU strokes are much more challenging. Getting so good at this that it’s second nature takes a lot of practice.

Also, try the beginner finger stretch exercise and scales for both finger strength & accuracy. This is all more picking practice. Work toward playing these exercises using alternate DU picking accurately, without accidentally striking the strings of adjacent courses.

For strumming practice, concentrate on barre chords, particularly F. Barre chords are more difficult on 12-string because of the added tension and the varying thicknesses of strings in each course.

Practice consistently and be patient, and prefer accuracy to speed.

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I greatly appreciate the tips. Arpeggiated picking is something I need to work on in general, but more so on the 12 string. I found my hardest challenge so far was bar chords in general. A few weeks ago my friend was jamming with me and was looking at me crazy because I could not fret the barre chords for a Motley Crue song (Home Sweet Home has a G# and A#) on the 12 string. When he tried to show me " how its done" he was like man your guitar is not set up right and he couldn’t do it either as a journeyman guitarist. Was kinda funny, but at least I knew it was not just me. I think I need to have it set up better, maybe lower the tension at the nut and go with extra light strings like you said. I love how she sounds once I get it set up. For your other tip, I think finger stretch exercises is a good idea, esp the pinky exercises Justin mentions in level 2. Thanks again for your suggestions.

Rock on


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