What is Nashville Tuning? Its History, Best Guitar Strings & Uses

What is Nashville Tuning? Its History, Best Guitar Strings & Uses

Today, we cover everything from the history of Nashville Tuning, to its uses, the best guitar string gauges to use, and how it sounds in different genres.

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Today we’re talking about a topic that’s pretty close to home, quite literally, Nashville tuning. So Nashville tuning, or high-strung tuning as it’s commonly called, but it actually isn’t, which we’ll get to a little bit later, was popularized in Nashville studios several decades ago and it has a couple different uses, primarily in the studio but some players have used it live as well for different purposes.

What’s It Used For?

A better fit in the mix.

The first reason cats in studios would use Nashville tuning back in the day is that when you’re strumming a guitar with Nashville tuning you get a lot of that sound, the strum of the guitar, without it having that really heavy low, mid sort of presence that you typically get out of a standard acoustic guitar. A lot of people just felt like this sits in the neck really nicely. A thin pick with Nashville tuning will give you a really light, airy sort of strummed pattern that worked really well in a lot of old country music back in the day.

The jangliest of jangles.

The second studio trick that Nashville tuning enables you to do is to get the sound of a 12-string guitar without really having to learn the different nuances of a 12-string guitar and also getting a little bit of a different or almost even better sound, which we’ll talk about in a second.

So basically, if you’re using Nashville tuning and you also double it with another guitar that’s in standard tuning, you’re gonna get the same sort of sound that you would out of a 12-string guitar, except that your octave up strings, or just the second course of strings that you’ll see on a 12-string guitar, are going to be played just a little bit differently because humans never really play something exactly the same way twice. As a result, you’re going to get a really particular sort of jangle that has a really sort of organic feel and it takes up a lot more space than in my opinion you would typically see with the standard 12-string guitar.

How Do You Tune to Nashville Tuning?

So how is Nashville tuning actually tuned? Well, the first and second strings, so your high E and your high B are going to be exactly the same as they are in the standard. In fact, all of the individual pitches of each string on the entire guitar are going to be exactly where you would expect them to be, which is why this is one of the most interesting alternate tunings. You don’t have to play any differently in terms of how you’re actually fretting notes. It’s just that it’s going to come out differently because the bottom four strings in this guitar are going to be up an octave from where they typically are.

This is exactly how most 12-string guitars are tuned. You have a second string that’s an octave up on the low E, A, D and G, and then you just have unison strings on the B and E. So Nashville tuning is basically taking that secondary set from a 12-string guitar and only using it and leaving out the standard set.

Is it the same as High-Strung tuning?

A lot of people will call this high-strung tuning as well. Even some sets of strings that I’ve seen from other brands will call it high-strung tuning. It’s nothing exactly wrong with that but isn’t technically correct. High-strung tuning officially is the exact same idea except that your G string is going to be the standard octave instead of being an octave up like it’s supposed to be in Nashville tuning. It’s a semantic point. If you say high-strung tuning, a lot of people will probably know what you mean anyway, but technically that’s just a slightly different variation than traditional Nashville tuning.

What Strings Should You Use?

So as you may guess, because the tuning is substantially different from what you’re typically playing on a standard electric guitar or acoustic guitar for that matter, you really cannot use a standard set of guitar strings for Nashville tuning. You would have just massive amounts of tension on the bottom end. It would not be a pretty thing at all. So instead, we’ve got kind of a hybridized set that we’re going to go through today.

So I built this set off of a standard set of 10s. Basically, I’m mimicking a lot of the similar tension that I would expect out of a set of 10s in standard, except, of course, with the octave strings in Nashville tuning. So we’re going to start off with a 10 on the high E. We’re going to go to a 13.5 on the B, which is what we typically like to pair a 10 with. Then, instead of going to a 17 were we typically would, we’re going to go with a 9 for the G. Tuned up an octave, that’s going to have about 18 pounds tension on this particular scale, which is slightly more than the 10 and the 13.5 are, but basically what I like to do with Nashville tuning sets is to get just a little bit more tension on the octave strings to kind of make it feel a little bit more familiar to how your standard electric guitar is probably balanced out. So that’s why I like a 9. You could go with an 8 if you wanted to go that way, but for me a 9 is the jam.

Next up, we’ll go with a 12 on the D string, a 16 on the A string, and then a wound 24 on the low E string. You certainly could look at using a plain string, something like a 22 plain would work really well from a tension perspective down here. A lot of players have always used a wound string on the low E. I kind of like the tonal balance of it, so that’s the reason that I hold true to that. But if you wanted to go all plain steel, there’s nothing stopping you at all.


Our Pick for Electric: .010 – .0135 – .009 – .012 – .016 – .024w
Our Pick for Acoustic: .012 – .016 – .009 – .014 – .018p – .028

Build out this set or a different one as a Custom Guitar String Set HERE.


What Does Nashville Tuning Sound Like?

This is a transcription of the video above, so if you want to hear it, play that video and skip to 5:08 in.

So that’s enough talking about it. Let’s say we get this set of strings I just went through strung up on here and see what it actually sounds and plays like. One final note before we get there, because Nashville tuning is so far away from standard tuning, in terms of both the gauges that we’re using and the pitches that they’re tuned up to, it isn’t going to intonate really well if you’re not making any adjustments. I do not plan on keeping this guitar in Nashville tuning forever so I’m not going to go and totally redo my bridge. But if you were sticking with a guitar in Nashville tuning full-time, you would definitely want to set it up particular for that so that everything will be intonated really well. We’re kind of skipping that today so it might have kind of a chorusy effect as we play up the neck. We’ll find out.

…(changing strings)…

Alright, so we got everything strung up. It’s not necessarily perfectly intonated but it’s not too bad, and the cool thing about this is that even if you’re playing the most boring sort of trite stuff on the guitar, it kind of adds a new sort of life to it. If you’re just playing, just messing around in that regular G box even, it can be a lot of fun.

I particularly like it for hitting big chords or bar chords. It just has this awesome sort of richness and jangliness to it. But I think what’s so much fun about Nashville tuning is that it’s not just the predictable ways that it works really well. It actually works well for a lot of different genres and I think it’s just a ton of fun to try out riffs that you know in standard tuning and see what they sound like in Nashville tuning. For example, I never would’ve thought jazz would work really well with Nashville tuning, but I think it works great. Really anywhere you play on the guitar you’re getting that same glassiness that you usually get with your plain strings, but it’s kind of weird because it doesn’t’ matter where you fret. You’re getting those same notes and that same tone. It’s pretty cool and a lot of fun.

I know a lot of people are going to ask what it sounds like with a bunch of overdrive and fuzz, and we’re not going to let you down on that side. One thing I will say is that it kinda just sounds like you’re playing lead no matter where you are in the guitar. If you’re just playing in that typical E riff box even, it sounds like you’re playing a solo. But it can enable you to take advantage of some pretty cool sort of pull-off options that you don’t always have on standard.

Want To Try It For Yourself?

So as hopefully this has shown, you can use Nashville tuning for a bunch of different techniques. If nothing else, it’s just a really cool way to mix it up a little bit. You can play the exact same riffs as you would otherwise except they’re going to sound totally different. So it’s not just a cool studio trick, though it definitely can be a really cool studio trick if you’re recording a lot. But it can also be used to spark a little bit more creativity, come up with some cooler riffs that you might not have otherwise thought of or that you couldn’t necessarily play in a guitar tuned standard.

So if you want to mess around with Nashville tuning, and I highly recommend it, you’re going to need some strings for it. Head on over to our shop and build your own from one of our custom guitar string options. You can use the gauges that I’m using right here or you can modify them a little bit according to your own tastes or needs. If you have any questions about that, just hit me up at [email protected]. I’ll be happy to help you out.

So what do you think? Has this video inspired you to try out Nashville tuning for yourself? Have you already been playing it for many years? Let us know down in the comments.

12 Comments

  1. If you want z designated guitar for this. is there one that works better. Is there much difference in overall tension, etc. on the neck. Do the nut and bridge need to be changed to accommodate thinner strings.
    • The tension isn't any different—tension is a combination of gauge and tuning, so the lighter gauges and higher tuning balance out to a similar tension. As far as the guitar goes, any regular guitar will work fine, but yes you would likely need to adjust your intonation a bit if you were going to play in Nashville tuning full time.
  2. Scott, great video! I never realized what Nashville tuning was till now and I'm going to give it a shot. I lead worship for my church from electric guitar and I play a combination of leads/rhythm but am always looking for ways to differrentiate tonally in the mix from the acoustic. Up an octave on the bottom 4? Bam. Can't wait to try it.
  3. Thanks: You guys really do go out of your way for customer satisfaction!. Now if you can just find a method that we can recycle our old strings. Not necessarily for the $$$ but to be greener. However I still am so glad you guys individually wrap the string. It make for an easier and quicker change.
    • Hey Don, thanks for the kind words! I've not looked up every city code, but as far as I understand it, almost all cities recycle scrap metal, so you can recycle your strings in your regular recycling bin.
  4. I've had a shallow body Hamer Ferrington electric acoustic Nashville tuned for years. It is great plugged or unplugged. The string selection was an easy matter. I just took the light 6 out of a 12 string set.
  5. Not my thing....sorry, it just doesn't sound good to me. I'll stick with the standard strings. In all fairness, the sound may have something to do with my old ears.
  6. I have always heard this tuning referred to as the “cheater’s 12”. Works great in a mix when recording, pan the standard-tuned guitar about 1/3 in one direction, pan this tuning the other way, and the spread really opens things up!
  7. Nashville tuning ..... a hard pan gives you a killer stereo 12 string think I’ll order a set just to have

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