What Are The Best Guitar Tuning Peg Replacements?

If you are looking to replace your tuning pegs then you want to find the best replacement.

What are the best guitar tuning pegs? Generally, the best tuning pegs for guitar are sealed machines because they keep the gears covered in a protective housing where they usually last longer and function the best.  However, if you pay for premium vintage tuners (such as Waverly’s) then these will function just as well.

In this article, I will discuss the best tuning peg replacement more detail…

1. Having Problems With Your Tuning Pegs

If your guitar is having problems with its tuning pegs then your guitar could experience bad intonation and resonance as well as fret buzz.

Tuning pegs are very complex devices.

Actually, it is very surprising to find out how complex tuning pegs actually are!

They are made up of a geared system that is able to change the frequency of the strings under high tension. There are bunches of tiny components that make the sophisticated device function.

However, this also means there are many potential problems that can go wrong. Because of such a complex device, you will not be able to fix them, and if you are having tuning problems then it is time to start looking for replacement tuning pegs altogether.

This is completely normal; changing tuning pegs is a popular modification you need to make if you have had your guitar for a long time (anything over two years).  This is because your guitar is constantly under tension, and eventually your guitar tuning pegs (amongst other things) will strain, eventually crack, and break.

Luckily, there is an upside to this. Manufacturers design guitar pegs in such a way that they can be easily changed and upgraded when the time comes.

2. When to Change Your Tuning Pegs

If you are having tuning problems and your machine head is the root cause then you are probably experiencing one of the Common problems:

  • Wobble of the machine posts – the machine posts refers to the peg that anchors the string to the headstock. For the strings to find the desired tuning requires high amount of tension on the strings. Machine heads can only brace the tension for so long before they start to crack.    
  • Backlash of gear alignment – backlash is the amount of free play felt when a button is turned from one direction to the other. By turning the button results in turning the post (the part that the string loop through), and if there is too much movement when the button is turned, then finding an accurate pitch can be difficult. Backlash of the gear alignment accrues when the teeth on the gears wear out over time.
  • Breaks of the button – The buttons are the grip piece of the machine peg. This is where you grip the machine head and twist to change the pitch. It is also common to see the button break (especially with plastic buttons).

If you are not experiencing these problems then you may reconsider what the possible root cause is. Other possible causes to consider are either down to tension or down to contact. Wherever there is contact (between the string and another component) such as the nut, machine head, bridge, frets and action. If you are having problem with intonation then this is usually an issue with tension, which can include machine pegs, trust rod or even neck joints in some cases.

3. Tuning Peg Types

As I am sure, you are probably aware there are many types of tuning pegs. All the different types’ fall into two categories of either being sealed machines or Vintage tuners.

Types of tuning pegs include:

  • Sealed machine
  • Lock-in machine pegs
  • Vintage open-back machine
  • Vintage closed-back machine
  • Side mounted machine pegs

If you are interested in learning about all the different types of tuning pegs the please visit a post I wrote on all the types of tuning pegs.

4. Tuning Peg Brands

The first types of tuners where the open-backs which were found on any classical acoustic. It wasn’t until the 60’s the closed-back Grover style became popular.

In the 70’s, Schaller tuners hit the scene and was the next best thing to buy.

Then Gotoh hit the scene producing both closed and open gear tuners…

Today, if you want a really premium set of tuners you will look towards Waverly’s.

But, there are also many unbranded types of tuners popular today. These are usually noticed by being plain and having no branded  engraved into the metal surface. The unbranded machine heads usually do not perform well.

5. Choosing the Correct Replacement!

Choosing the right replacement is simple to do but requires a little bit of thought.

Replacement guitar tuning pegs come in many variations but each type of pegs has its purpose. This means you need to be clear what your goals are.

For example, is your guitar a collectable item… Or are you looking to upgrade for functionality?

Generally, there are three goals:

  • Collectability – this is when you want to restore a vintage guitar to its original state
  • Appearance – this is when you want the new tuning pegs to blend in to the original guitar
  • Functionality – this choosing the best functioning pegs. However, some modifications may be made to install which could devalue the guitar.

Overall, deciding which tuning pegs is the best replacement requires a surprisingly good amount of thought depending what your goals are.  

6. What Are The Best Tuning Peg Replacements for Appearance  

When you come to change your tuners, it is recommended to source a set of tuners that are the same shape as the original set (this does not necessarily mean the same brand or type).

Actually, if you are upgrading and appearance is important to you then there are some good quality but also price effective machines on the market.

This can include brands like:

  • Grover – I have some Grover sealed machines installed on my Tanglewood and these are very smooth as well tune to pitch very precise.
  • Kluson – Kluson are very iconic for vintage style guitars if you are looking for a closed-back vintage tuner.
  • Schaller – Schaller are market leaders and produce German quality.

However, looking for a machine head that is the same shape as your old one is your priority.

This is because there is discoloration in the wood tones when you install the new machines of a different size. What you will notice are lines/groves in the wood where the old tuners sat. Furthermore, you will also have problems with the location of the screw holes that pin the machine pegs to the headstock.

Let us look into these more below…

Discoloration of the wood tones

If you are replacing the guitar tuners for the first time, you will notice some discoloration between the lacquers in the wood tones. This discoloration is between the wood under the placement of the old machine head becomes visible once you remove the machine head.

This is because when you expose your guitar to natural light the wood of the guitar will fade to a lighter color.

If you have your heart set on a completely different shape of tuning device then it may not cover the faded area very well. If these grooves are still visible, once you install the new machines then you may consider sanding down the back of the headstock and in some cases, you may want to paint over it to make the color even.

If you do not mind how it looks then you can always leave them as they are.

Filling in the Location of the screw holes

When you change to a different sized machine head the screw hole placement is also another problem you will run into. To get around this problem you will need to drill new holes into the headstock.

Overall, replacing a vintage guitar’s tuners with a different design may not necessarily be in keeping with the guitar’s original ‘vibe’.

Overall, for the best replacement for an appearance factor is searching for a machine pegs that is the same shape as the current machine.

7. Best Replacements For Collectability

If you have a vintage guitar that is a collectable, or you have just purchased a vintage guitar then you want to be careful when changing the guitar pegs.

The best replacement will be vintage style machine pegs, and you have two variations being the vintage open-back or the vintage closed-back.

I would advise that you look into Gotoh tuners as these will go really well on a vintage guitar.  Also, for the really high end brand you can look Waverly tuners (which are 3x the cost). For a guitar, that is a collectable and worth a lot of money, I would straight up replace the tuners to some Waverly’s Vintage open-back tuning pegs.

Yes, these are very expensive. But, they are hand crafted and just the highest quality on the market.

Open-Back Vs. Closed-Back

If you have a vintage guitar, you can decide between vintage open-back or vintage closed-back then I would always suggest open-backs just because they have such beautiful aesthetics.

Why not sealed machines on a vintage guitar?

I would never upgrade to sealed machine on a vintage guitar because this type of upgrade will require some modifications to the guitar. This can include drilling into the headstock or reshaping the borehole for the new machines to fit.

Drilling new holes into the wood of your guitar is definitely something you want to avoid as the modification is permanent.

This can be a tricky task and may require you sanding down your headstock to make everything match. However, sanding down your headstock can devalue your guitar, as it does not look attractive.

Converting from Sealed Machines To Traditional Tuners

It is common that you have purchased a vintage guitar and someone has already changed out the vintage tuning nuts to sealed machines.

If this is the case then you may consider changing them back to the original tuning pegs and try to restore some of the value that has been lost.

The problem you have when you want to revert the vintage guitar back to its original state is that the borehole will have been enlarged and the old vintage machines will no longer fit snug as they once did.

This is because the vintage open gear tuners are about 11/32″ (8.75 mm) in diameter. Whilst, the sealed gear tuners are larger 13/32″ (10.0 mm) in diameter.

If the existing hole has been already been enlarged you need to purchase a set of reduction bushes. This is so that the machine head will fit snug like it once did.

8. Best Replacements for Functionality

The best type of guitar tuning pegs for functionality are the sealed machines.

Because of the advancements in technology, the sealed tuning pegs are without a doubt the best tuning pegs.

If you have an old guitar and looking to upgrade the vintage tuners then making existing holes larger for new tuners is inevitable.

My personal favorites are Grover’s but Schaller’s are also a good choice for sealed machines.

Enlarging the bore hole

When upgrading from vintage tuners to sealed tuners something you will definitely encounter is that the sealed machines do not fit through the hole of the vintage tuners whereby you will have to enlarge the boreholes and drill new placements for the screw holes to fit.  

Converting From Traditional Tuners To Sealed Machines

To install the sealed machines the borehole is drilled straight through without a step to accommodate for the bigger housing of the sealed gear machine. 

This means if you are installing this type of machine nut on a vintage guitar then you will need to enlarge the peg holes (the tools for the job is tapered reamer).

Another thing to consider is the position of the mounting screw tab. The position of the mounting screw are always different. 

So when switching out from vintage to sealed then expect to drill new holes for the screw which may affect the value of the guitar.

You will also have to make the decision of what to do with the old screw holes, you could leave them of fill them in. It would be best the fill them so debris and mister does get down there and spoil the wood which is common to happen over a few years after changing them out.


What Are The Best ‘Type’ of Tuning Pegs?

To do this we need to understand the type of machine peg and the brand. Its then best to understand your goals. There are three types of goals when changing out your tuning pegs and these include goals for appearance, collectability and functionality.

If you looking to change your tuning peg then replacing it with the exact same machine is usually the best option. However, there are circumstances when this may not be the best option depending on the type of guitar you have.

For example, if you have purchased a classic guitar and looking to upgrade for functionality then you would consider a sealed machine. However, if you are looking to upgrade for collectability then you would look towards the vintage-open back as these increase the value of your guitar. 

Furthermore, some people like to have control of bending pitch whilst playing. So some people like to use the whammy bar. However, string slipping is a common issue that can occur by having these types of effects. Whereby, locking tuners can help alleviate this issue.

The sealed gear machines are obviously the best tuning machines. However, if you are playing a vintage guitar then the chances are they have also the vintage machine heads.

However, there may come a time where you purchase a collectable addition guitar. The value of the guitar will be worth more with the traditional vintage open-Back tuners. If you guitar is a collector’s item then I would advise to change the vintage machine as it will lose the value of the guitar.


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