12-String Bass Tunings

There are many different ways to tune a 12-string bass. Most players use Standard tuning but the possibilities are almost endless. Here are some of the tunings commonly found. All of these diagrams are based upon the Standard string arrangement.

WARNING: Some of these tunings may require truss rod adjustment to prevent neck warping or bowing. Consult a qualified luthier before changing from the Standard tuning!


Standard Tuning

This is the "normal" way a 12 is tuned, with the high octave strings both tuned exactly one octave up. The vast majority of 12's are tuned this way, usually to the 440 pitch even though there are other possibilities. Since it is consistent with the standard tuning found on a 4-string bass it allows for players to easily switch between the two instruments.


Drop D

In this example the E strings have simply been dropped down to D. Given the number of songs that have been recorded in Drop D this tuning is now much more commonly used. Other possibilities certainly exist, such as dropping the E strings down to C#, C or B.


Drop D / Drop G

The E strings have been dropped down to D and the A strings are dropped to G.


Raised G

It is unusual to see a bass tuned up instead of down. This tuning was reportedly used by Tom Petersson when he played the song "You're All Talk" during live performances. This way he could play the G in the open position and wouldn't have to fret the low G throughout the entire song. He had a Kids bass tuned this way and it was only used for the one song.


Low B

The Low B tuning uses the same configuration as the lowest 4 strings of a 5-string bass. There's nothing like shaking the walls to scare everyone else in the band: That's Rock & Roll!


Low C Dropped to A#

In his Interview Tim King of the band SOiL describes this tuning, which is a C tuning with the lowest string dropped to A#. Larger string gauges are used.


Low A#

Ian Ringler uses this tuning with the band Section 16. See his Interview.


Low C#

Another tuning used by Ian Ringler.                 


 

 

 

 

Full Fifths

The Full Fifths tuning creates a 1-5-1 chord within each group of three strings.

 

This can give a thicker sound but eliminates being able to play a single note in octaves. It also requires that single positions be played instead of chording, since any chords played are going to have extraneous notes in them and may sound rather bizarre.


 

 

 

 

Split Fifths

The Split Fifths tuning keeps the E and A strings as octaves and only the D and G strings use the 1-5-1 chord.

 

In his instructional video, bassist Chris Squire of the band YES states that he tunes his 8-string Rickenbacker bass in fifths.


Paul Chandler's G in Fifths

In his Interview Paul Chandler states that he uses this tuning to add a "power chord" to his 12-string Royale bass.


15-String Bass Tuning

Based upon the standard 5-string bass tuning with the Low B.

 

The tuning used by Jauqo III-X on the first 15-string bass.


18-String Bass Tuning

OR

These are the same basic configurations as standard 6-string bass tuning.


A configuration based upon standard 6-string guitar tuning.
This is the tuning used on the Modulus 18-string bass owned by the late Allen Woody.


Using Strings of Differing Gauges

All of these examples have presumed that the two high-octave strings, when tuned to the same note, have been strings of the exact same gauge. There is another option. There are a few players who use strings of differing gauges instead of exact pairs. For instance, the high-octave G strings could use a .020 gauge string paired up with a .018 gauge string. The theory behind this is that it gives a different sound to the instrument. The differing gauges will resonate off of each other in a different manner than will strings of the exact same gauge, creating different tonal possibilities. One problem that may occur with using different gauge strings is that they may not intonate precisely unless the bass incorporates a 12-saddle bridge. But since most players slightly detune the two upper octave strings from each other anyway, an 8-saddle bridge may work just fine in the Real World.

If you've been using different tunings or have other ideas that haven't been covered here please email me with details.