12-String Guitar: Strings and Gauges

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Written By Noah Campbell
guitar strings 12

When it comes to playing a 12-string guitar, the choice of strings and their gauges is a critical factor that can significantly impact the instrument’s tone, playability, and overall performance. In this guide, we will delve into the world of 12-string guitar strings and gauges, exploring the various options available and their implications on your playing experience. Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or just beginning your musical journey, understanding the intricacies of 12-string guitar strings will help you achieve the best sound and playability from your instrument.

12-string acoustic guitar

Overview of 12-String Guitars

12-string guitars are renowned for their rich, full sound characterized by shimmering harmonics and a vibrant tonal palette. Unlike traditional 6-string guitars, 12-strings are equipped with, as the name suggests, 12 strings. These strings are arranged in pairs, with each pair comprising one plain (a single) string and one wound (a double) string, typically tuned in octaves. This unique configuration produces a lush and resonant sound that’s beloved by musicians in various genres, from folk to rock.

12-string acoustic guitar strings

Common String Materials

Acoustic guitar strings are available in a great variety of materials, each with its own tonal characteristics and feel. Common materials include:


two young ladies playing guitars

Bronze strings are known for their bright and articulate sound. They offer excellent clarity and projection, making them a popular choice for acoustic guitar. However, they may not provide as much warmth as other materials.

Phosphor Bronze

Phosphor bronze strings are similar to bronze guitar strings 12 but with added phosphor, which imparts a warmer tone. They strike a balance between brightness and warmth, making them versatile for different musical styles.

80/20 Bronze

These strings, made with 80% steel core,% copper and 20% zinc, deliver a bright and crisp sound. They are known for their clear treble response, making many find them suitable for genres like country and bluegrass.

Silk and Steel

strings for a 12 string pete seeger  guitar

Silk and steel strings combine a steel core with silk winding. They are favored for their soft and mellow tone, making them ideal for fingerpicking and folk music. They also tend to be easier on the fingers.

Nickel-plated Steel

These strings offer a balanced sound with a smooth feel. They are often chosen for electric-acoustic 12-string guitars due to their versatility and durability.

Coated Strings

Coated strings, such as those with a polymer coating, are designed to last longer and help resist corrosion. They can maintain their bright tone over an extended period of time, reducing the frequency of string changes.

Exploring 12-String Guitar String Gauges

String gauges refer to the diameter or thickness of the individual sets of strings on a guitar set. They are typically measured in thousandths of an inch or millimeters. For 12-string guitars, gauges are important because they influence the playability, tone, and overall feel of the instrument.

12 string gauges

How Gauges Affect Playability and Tone

String gauges have a significant impact on both the playability and tone of a 12-string guitar.

  1. Playability: Lighter gauge strings (thinner strings) are generally easier to fret and bend, making them ideal for players who prefer effortless string bending and quick fingerstyle playing. Heavier gauge strings (thicker strings) can be more challenging to press down but provide greater sustain and volume, making them suitable for strumming and aggressive playing.
  2. Tone: The choice of string gauges greatly influences the tonal character of a 12-string guitar. Lighter gauges tend to produce a brighter and more treble-focused sound, which can work well for genres like folk and pop. Heavier gauges, on the other hand, offer a fuller, richer tone with more pronounced bass response, making them preferred for genres like blues and rock.

Choosing the right string gauge for your 12-string guitar depends on your playing style and tonal preferences. Here are some popular string gauge recommendations:

12-string guitar strings gauges

Light Gauge (Extra Light or Custom Light)

Lighter gauges like .010/.010 to .048/.010 are suitable for players who prioritize ease of play and a bright, jangly tone. They work well for fingerstyle and genres where articulation is key.

Medium Gauge (Light or Custom Light-Medium)

Medium gauges around .012/.012 to .054/.012 strike a balance between playability and tone. They offer a versatile sound that suits a wide range of musical styles.

Heavy Gauge (Medium or Medium-Heavy)

Heavier gauges, such as .013/.013 to .056/.013, are chosen by players seeking a robust, full-bodied sound with strong bass response and low back. They are excellent for strumming and bluesy leads.

Custom Gauges

Many players prefer custom string gauge sets that cater to their specific needs. These sets often combine different gauges for the high and low strings to help achieve a custom balance of tension and tone.

Selecting the Best Strings for Your 12-String Guitar

Choosing the right set of strings for and tuning your 12-string acoustic guitar often involves several factors that impact playability, tone, and longevity of acoustic guitar. Here are some essential tuning considerations:

girl holding acoustic guitar
  1. String Gauge: As discussed earlier, the gauge of the strings is crucial. Consider your playing style, genre, and the tone you want to achieve. Lighter gauges are easier to play, while heavier gauges offer more sustain and volume.
  2. Material: Strings are made from various materials, including bronze, phosphor bronze, nickel, and coated options. Each material has a distinct impact on tone and durability. Bronze strings, for example, produce a bright and crisp sound, while phosphor bronze offers warmth and longevity.
  3. Coating: Coated strings have a protective layer that extends their lifespan by reducing corrosion. While coated strings tend to cost more, they are a good choice for players who want longer-lasting strings.
  4. Tension: String tension affects playability and feel. Higher tension can make the strings feel stiffer, which some players prefer for specific styles. Lower tension strings can be more flexible and responsive to lighter touches.
  5. Budget: Consider your budget, as string prices can vary widely. High-quality strings may be more expensive, but they often deliver better tone and longevity.

Expert Tips for Selecting the Ideal Strings

12-string acoustic guitar
  1. Experiment: Don’t hesitate to experiment with different string brands, materials, and gauges. What works best for one guitarist may not be ideal for another.
  2. Consider Your Guitar: The tonal qualities and construction of your 12-string guitar will influence string selection. Some guitars may sound better with specific materials or gauges.
  3. Maintenance: Regularly clean and maintain your strings to extend their life and maintain tone. Wipe them down after playing, use a string cleaner, and consider coated strings for added protection.
  4. Consult with Professionals: If you’re unsure about string selection, consult with a luthier or experienced guitar technician. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations based on your instrument and playing style.

Maintaining and Changing 12-String Guitar Strings

12-string guitar strings gauges

Maintaining your 12-string guitar strings is crucial to your acoustic guitar to keep them sounding great and lasting longer. Here are some maintenance tips:

  1. Clean Your Strings: After playing, wipe your strings down with a clean cloth to remove sweat and dirt. This prevents grime buildup and extends their life.
  2. Use String Conditioner: Apply a quality string conditioner or lubricant to keep your strings smooth and corrosion-free. This helps in preventing rust and maintaining tone.
  3. Stretch Your Strings: New strings can stretch and lose tune frequently during the first few hours of playing. After putting on fresh strings, gently stretch them by pulling them away from the fretboard. This helps them settle and stay in tune.
  4. Avoid Excessive Bending: While bending strings is a common technique, excessive bending can cause them to break prematurely. Use bending sparingly, especially on thinner strings.
strings for a 12 string pete seeger  guitar


In conclusion, 12-string guitars offer a unique and harmonically rich sound, but to fully harness their potential, selecting the right strings and gauges is crucial. We’ve explored the significance of understanding 12-string guitar strings, their materials, and gauges. These elements not only affect the playability but also the tone of your instrument. If you want to learn guitar from experts you can visit Simply Guitar.

When it comes to maintaining your 12-string guitar, proper care and regular string changes are essential. By following these guidelines and considering the factors we’ve discussed, you’ll be well-equipped to embark on a musical journey filled with the vibrant and resonant sounds of your 12-string guitar. So, explore, experiment, and enjoy the world of 12-string guitar playing to the fullest.