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Hello,

I am looking to buy a used 12-string acoustic guitar.

I know that 12-string guitars have a problem of

of all that string tension eventually causing the bridge

to lift. I was told that I would need to tune-down

the guitar a full step in order to help stop that

from happening, and that standard tuning, EADGBe,

would hurt the guitar eventually.

I also was told to use extra light strings, to help ease

the tension. I’d like to ask if this information is correct.

Thank you,

-Arthur

Tags: 12, 12-string, bridge, guitar, string, tension

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The answers to your questions depend on the make of guitar. String tension takes a toll on any flattop guitar eventually; 12-strings sooner than 6-strings. Inexpensive 12 strings have compromised construction with features like ply tops and laminated bridgeplates. They will obviously suffer sooner than higher quality instruments.
I agree with Greg's remarks but I would like to add that tuning down isn't such a big issue for some 12 string players because they feel that tuning down one step and using a capo makes the instrument easier to play. I can't say that I agree with that but then I like the lower tuning anyway.

Since I don't know anything about you, Arthur, I will say that I strongly recommend that you DON"T buy a 12 string guitar unless you already own a good 6 string. 12's are fun but they are not suited for everything and it not uncommon for 12 string guitars to end up setting around in cases for prolonged periods of time because people got tired of them.

Ned
Thank you Ned. I do have a nice 6-string. It is a Martin DXM.
I have been playing acoustic guitar off and on for 20 years now.
I just got the Martin, by far the best guitar I have ever owned.
I want to try-out a 12-string, but cannot afford a high-priced one.
I have two 12's.One is tuned down a step and I use light strings(10's).
The other one I wanted to tune differently-but I ended up tuning it the same,but with extra-lights(9's).
Both are 14 frets clear,so if I put a capo on the 2nd fret I'm in concert & still have 12 frets clear.
Ease of playing & damage limitation are factors,but I find I not only get a better sound,but I can sing stuff I couldn't
in concert.
Not sure what model you are thinking, but I have found my Seagull 12 string sounds nice, plays well, is not collapsing, and has a bolt on neck making future adjustments REALLY easy, compared to a dovetail joint. (I used to have an old Hoyer 12 string, which may be the single worst instrument that it has ever been my bad luck to own.)

I'm not sure why people think these things need to be tuned a step down. It's not like a good manufacturer is going to turn out a deliberately inferior product that is just going to collapse on itself!
Thank you Mark. The model I was looking at is a Rogue. I know it is not a great model,
but I cannot afford much better.
Please do yourself a HUGE favor and keep saving for a better instrument. I've had several Rogue acoustics come through the shop. They are inconsistent and have several major issues right out of the box. Even at their bargain basement prices, they are (in my experience) VERY poorly made instruments. Actually, some of the worst out there.

Also, the down-tuning thing is a bit archaic. Back in the 60's when the lightest 12 string sets you could get were "12's", down tuning was critical. With a modern well made instrument and sensible string gauges available today, it's not an issue. It's OK if a matter of personal preference (which I highly respect), but as SOP, it's not necessary.

BTW: +1 on the Seagull suggestion. They are a tremendous value as are some of the more recent Washburns and especially IMHO, the Tanglewoods. Just try to audition them at a local (hopefully independent) shop before buying. You never know what you're going to get when you buy via mail-order from the big box guys.

Best of luck with your search.
My Seagull was used, and cost $200, which can't be that far off from the Rogue. You get a solid top (of rather soft cedar, which can be a concern as far as dings and dents go) and a really nice build quality. Rogue is REALLY hit and miss, mostly miss. But yeah, try before you buy.
String tension should never make a bridge lift if the string balls are pulling on the bridgeplate. Often however, they string balls pull through the bridgeplate and through the spruce and pull directly on the bridge itself, either cracking it through the bridgepin holes, or pulling the bridge up. If the proper system is intact, the strings are pulling on the plate inside the top, not the bridge.

Some 12-strings are engineered better than others. I have a Martin D-12-20 that's been tuned to concert for 44 years and it's doing just fine. Guilds tend to hold up well too. Seagulls are a great value, but don't yet have the track record of Martins and Guilds. Taylor makes a well-thought-out 12-string as well. Get the best one you can afford.

In my experience, people tune 12-strings down either because they're easier to play, or they like the deeper, more Lead Belly-like sound they get.
Cheap 6-strings can sometimes be OK. Cheap 12 strings are almost always horrible. High string tension and high action and unstable tuning will drive you crazy and you just stop playing the thing. The Seagulls are the best I have seen in the low price end of the market. Don't go any cheaper - it will be false economy. The main benefit of tuning down is less string tension and more playability. There is still more pull on the soundboard and the neck joint than a 6-string at concert pitch and all 12-strings die from this eventually.
Unless you are wedded to the idea of a new guitar, try finding a good used Yamaki 12-string. They were high quality Martin copies produced in Japan in the '70s & '80s, and were noted for their strong neck joint construction (unlikely to ever need a re-set). Nice pix here: www.pinebaskets.tripod.com/guitar.html, similar one sold for £577 in UK recently.
FYI, I played a new $400 Washburn 12-string recently (made in the Far East) and was underwhelmed.
Paul nailed it.... the string tension should be against the bridgeplate, not pulling on the bridge. Granted that, over time, the bridgeplate can deflect and put a "curve-tension" into the bridge (via also bending the top), but that takes many years and happens to the best of 'em. It's hard to beat a good initial bridge glue-up to combat that effect and keep it from lifting.

When a 12-string comes through the shop for bridge work, I always make sure it has (and many do) 6-32 bolts to help with the load. If it doesn't, I'll ask the owner for permission to install them when the bridge goes back on, explaining the process and the reasons. Most will opt, although some want the work "invisible" while others want to sport MOP dots to match neck dots.... cosmetic preference.

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