When it comes to restringing your 12-string guitar, twice as many strings doesn’t have to mean twice the difficulty! A 12-string guitar is certainly less common than its six-string siblings, and the task of replacing its strings can seem a daunting one. But with this helpful guide, you’ll learn how to quickly and effectively complete a restring, and can look forward to the rich chorus tones a 12-string guitar can bring! 

When should I restring my 12 string guitar?

  • If your strings have lost their silver sheen, or they’ve begun to feel sticky or dirty, it’s time for a restring. Although strings can technically be played until they do eventually break, the big and beautiful sound will be lost- and isn’t that the reason you bought a 12-string guitar in the first place?
  • When one or more strings break, consider replacing all the strings on your 12-string guitar at once. A full restring will allow you the opportunity to give your 12-string guitar some basic maintenance like cleaning the fretboard and polishing the body.
  • If you’re having to retune your 12-string guitar more often than when it was first purchased, it could be that the strings have begun to suffer from metal fatigue. When this happens, they’ll become slack (or loose) and your 12-string guitar will go out of tune during playing- a musician’s worst nightmare in the middle of a gig!

How to tune a 12 string guitar

What you’ll need

  • Whether you’re playing a hollowed-out acoustic 12-string guitar, or a Jimmy Page-esque electric, you’ll need a replacement set of 12 steel strings. These can be bought online or in any music store.
  • A string winder is optional but useful. These range in price and effectiveness, but a simple and cheap string winder can help speed up the process- and save some strain on your wrist!
  • Your 12-string guitar, of course!

Step 1: Removing the old strings

  1. Loosen each string of your 12-string guitar one at a time by turning the tuning pegs clockwise. You should feel the string start to come away from the neck. 
  2. Once loosened enough, pull the end of the string out of the capstan (or tuning post). Complete this for each of the 12 strings.
  3. If your 12-string guitar is an acoustic, you’ll need to remove the individual bridge pins. These are little pegs usually made from plastic or wood that fix the strings in place to the bridge- the part that supports the strings over the 12-string guitar body. You can use your fingers to pull them out one at a time, or carefully use a standard set of pliers. Once you’ve done this, the strings should be free to be removed from your 12-string guitar. You can now skip step 4. to the next section.
  4. If your 12-string guitar is electric, you won’t need to worry about removing bridge pins- the guitar doesn’t have them! Instead, pull the string out through the bottom of the bridge. This is the case for most guitar models, but for Gibson or Epiphone 12-string guitars the strings will need to be pulled down and out through the back of the guitar body.

Step 2: Securing new strings to your 12 string guitar

Before beginning to attach your new strings, it is important to understand that playing a 12-string guitar involves playing each pair as if it was a single string. Think of adding 6 pairs of strings rather than 12 individual strings. Each pair consists of a thicker string that makes a lower note, and a thinner string that makes a higher note, called an octave. To make sure you can tune your 12-string guitar properly later, it’s important the strings are secured in the correct order. 

How to tune a 12 string guitar
  1. Remove your new strings from their packaging- they’ll be paired off in 6 envelopes with each low string and its octave. It’s easiest to install each string in these pairs.
  2. When looking at your 12-string guitar with the neck on the left and body to the right, you’ll want to attach the regular, thicker strings to the row of bridge pins furthest from the centre of the body. The thinner octave strings will be attached to the row in front.
  3. Take the thickest low E string and roll the metal ball at the end into the first bridge pin hole on the back row. Make sure the hole in the ball isn’t facing upwards, and then secure the string in place by reinserting the bridge pin. Give the string a gentle pull to ensure it is locked in place.
  4. Take the matching E octave string, and roll the ball into the first hole on the front row. Reinsert the bridge pin and check it’s held securely in place.
  5. Repeat these steps for the rest of your new strings, firstly attaching the A string and its paired octave. Then comes the pair of D strings, then the G strings, then the B strings and finally the high E strings. You can memorise the correct order with the simple mnemonic- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears.
  6. Time to secure the strings to the tuning posts of your 12-string guitar. Turn each tuning peg so that the hole in the tuning post is facing down the neck.
  7. Take hold of the regular high E string. Push the end through the first tuning post on the side of the headstock furthest from you. Allow a little bit of give, wrap the string back around under itself, then pull it tight. Repeat this another 2 or 3 times so you should have a few rows of string wrapped around the tuning post.
  8. Working anti-clockwise, repeat step 7 with each of the remaining strings.
  9. Next comes the string winding- beginning with the low E octave string. Pull the string taut with your right hand, and turn the tuning peg anti-clockwise until the string is tight and flat. This is where a string winder comes in handy! 
  10. Working around the headstock, repeat step 9 for each string. You can now go ahead and cut off the excess of each string with a pair of pliers. 

Step 3: Tune and play

You’ll need to tune up using an electric tuner or by ear, and it’s time to play! Congratulations, you’ve successfully restrung your 12-string guitar!

How to string 12 string guitars

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