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12 string tuning

Q: I am now the proud owner of a Takamine 12-string guitar. Every web site I have found says to tune down a half-step, a full or in some cases TWO full steps. The usual reason given is to ease tension on the neck. I'm all for making my guitar less stressful. But if the guitar was manufactured for a certain tuning, tuning down, for me at least, has the logical consequence . . . there is a lot more slack in the strings. So when I strum away, the E and A strings buzz against the frets. What should I do? Should I bring it to my local luthier and see if he can make it not buzz? Live with it? Or never change tunings again?

[PS: I haven't tried an open tuning yet, but I imagine the same thing will happen. ]

Thanks very much!
Mark Horowitz

A: It would seem logical that at some point someone thought that adding six more strings to a guitar would make it cooler. The truth is that twelve string guitars evolved from the same roots as six string guitars, at the same time. There was never a time when there were guitars but not twelve strings.

Traditionally twelve strings were tuned to C#, guitars were tuned to E. The top and neck were designed for and adjusted to that amount of tension. If you wanted to play a twelve string with guitars you would put a capo on the third fret. In the mid 1960's Guild came out with the F212XL. This was an instrument that was designed, from the ground up, to hold the tension of twelve strings tuned up to E. People are quick to pick up on a cool idea and slow to understand the engineering involved. Within a year every twelve string in America was tuned up to E. The tops pulled, the necks bowed, it was not a pretty sight. The nicest twelve strings were hit especially hard. Cheap twelve strings were more likely to be over-built. Martins were balanced to maximize the C# tuning. They quickly got an undeserved reputation for being unreliable. Buy 1970 all twelve string guitars were built to hold the higher tension. Your guitar is in no danger tuned to E with light gauge strings. About 10 years ago the tuning fashion changed again (still with little understanding of the physics involved). Medium Gauge strings tuned to C# sound great on modern twelve strings. Remember

that the neck/top system on a guitar is not rigid. Increase the tension, the neck bows forward, decrease the tension, the neck bows back. If your guitar is adjusted perfectly, and you tune it down, the strings will buzz. Decide on the tuning and the string weight that makes you happy and

Visit your luthier to have the guitar adjusted to that amount of pull.

Steve Mason