Locking Tuners Explained

Posted by Andrew Marshall on

Here's a few hints and tips that might help you when deciding whether to upgrade to locking tuners, and help you choose what type if you've already made that decision. Many guitar companies don't fit them as standard, but installing them is an easy project for people at all levels of skill.

Like regular or traditional tuners, you can find locking tuners in a wide range of set ups, the most common being 3x3 or three per side (as found on many Gibson, PRS and Epiphone guitars, to name a few) and 6 Inline as found on the Fender Strat, Tele and Jazzmaster style of guitar. You can also find them in a range of different finishes to match the hardware on your guitar. If you have something different though, we can usually find something that will work. Over the years, we've built sets for 12 strings, 4x2's, 5x5's, 4x4's, 4x3, 3x4 and 7 and 8 inline. SportHiTech has a lot of different post length and options in stock so we can usually find the perfect match for your guitar.

SportHiTech usually stocks around 10,000 tuners at any one time from all the major brands - Fender, Hipshot, Sperzel, Tone Ninja, Kluson, Schaller, Gotoh and Grover to name a few. If you have an odd or very specific requirement, we can usually put it together from stock parts for you.

We've learned a thing or two over the years, so here's a few things you might not know or might not have thought about:

String changes are faster and easier with them. Just back off the thumb-wheel to open up the hole in the string post, pull the string through, tighten up the thumb-wheel and tune up by about half a turn you're done. This makes string wrap and string winders a thing of the past, which I think we can all agree is a good thing.

Acoustic guitars like locking tuners too, these aren't just for electric guitars. The only thing to watch out for is that acoustics tend to have thicker headstocks, so make sure you buy posts that are long enough to work. If you're lucky enough to own a 12-string acoustic, you'll save a lot of time on your string changes as well as getting the benefit of tuning stability.

7 and 8 String Guitars (and beyond) use thicker gauge bass strings. If that's you, then you need to make sure that the lower strings can take the gauge that you need. We do stock tuners that will take up to 0.104" diameter strings, so we can usually build a set to meet your needs. A typical 8 string set will have an 8th string post hole diameter of 0.104", a 7th string diameter of 0.080" and the rest a standard size such as 0.060".

Different types of locking systems exist, so make sure you're getting the one that will work best for you. The system that most people think about is the tuner with a locking pin in the string post that locks the string, and a thumb-wheel on the back of the tuner to tighten and loosen it that was invented by Bob Sperzel back in the 70's. There are other systems though, including some that claim to be locking but really aren't.

You can customize the buttons. For most tuner brands you can buy button upgrades to match the look and style that you want, or create something entirely new. We stock many buttons for many different brands, including exotic material and wood buttons. Just ask!

Tuning stability If you have problems keeping your guitar in tune, there's no doubt that a guitar with locking tuners will be an improvement, but there are other things you should check also. Firstly, the nut - are the strings binding or sticking at the nut? This often happens with 3x3 headstocks because of the angle of the string. (A great solution here is a Tone Ninja lubricated pre-slotted nut, by the way). Secondly, if you have a bolt on neck, is the neck joint secure? Check these things also, add locking tuners, and before you know it your guitar will stay in tune.

To Stagger, or not to Stagger? Although this applies to non-locking tuners as well, it's worth talking about here as it often comes up when we're talking about locking tuners. Basically all tuners that are 6 in line will be non-staggered, except on guitars (usually Fender style guitars) where the headstock is parallel to the fretboard (think Strat, Tele, Jazzmaster, Jaguar etc). These guitars or other guitars built with that parallel headstock and 6 Inline tuners should use staggered sets to improve the break angle (the angle of the string from the nut to the tuning peg post).

Some brands such as Fender use a '3 and 3' system of staggering, with three long post tuners, and other brands such as Hipshot, Sperzel and Tone Ninja use '2+2+2' with two long, two medium and two short tuners. In either case the longest tuners should be installed closest to the nut and the shortest tuners furthest away.

On most staggered sets, the shortest tuner is about 19 mm (roughly 3/4") from the rear of the headstock to the center of the string hole. Most Fender and Fender-style guitars have slim enough headstocks for this to work just fine, but it's worth measuring. We've seen some aftermarket necks that are a little thicker and can cause problems.

Ratio - You'll see a lot about the 'ratio' of a tuner. All that means is how many times you need to turn the tuning button to get 1 complete turn of the tuning post, so you'd need to turn a 16:1 tuner sixteen times to turn the string post once. Generally the higher the ratio the better, as you can get much more accurate with your tuning. As you're upgrading your tuners already, you may as well get the benefit of an upgrade in ratio as well.

Installation is normally fairly easy. You need to check to see what diameter peghead holes you have (most modern guitars are 10 mm, most vintage and vintage re-issue are 8.5 mm) to make sure you order the right tuners. Some tuners will be drop-in - such as two pin Fender style upgrades - and others might need you to drill holes to relocate the small mounting screw. If that is something you don't want to do, then there are no-drill options from Sperzel (the EZ-Mount) and Hipshot (the UMP plate) that will work for most 3x3 and 6 inline headstocks.

If you still have questions, don't hesitate to get in touch by sending us an email to support@sporthitech.com. We've sold and installed literally thousands of sets of tuners to thousands of guitar players, and can help you find the perfect match. Whether you use standard tuning or something more exotic, locking tuners can help you keep your strings tuned.

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