How To Choose Replacement Tuners For My Guitar?

How To Choose Replacement Tuners For My Guitar?

Did you know that machine tuning heads is the most frequent part of the guitar to break (after guitar strings)? I have found that the cheap machine tuners will usually last about 2 years before they need replacing.

How To Choose Replacement Tuners For My Guitar? To choose replacement tuners for your guitar you follow a simple process. This process includes:

  • Assess the configuration of the headstock
  • Is the left or right handed?
  • Identify the type of headstock your guitar has
  • Measure The Diameter Of The Bore Hole
  • Assess the brand of your current tuning nut
  • Identify the type of machines your guitar uses already
  • Calculate the placement of the screw holes
  • Finally, match the finish

If you want to replace your old machine, tuning heads, to new tuners that match, or you want to upgrade for performance then all the above factors matter!

In this article, I will cover all these so that you can better understand how to choose the right replacement tuners for your guitar.

1. Assess the Configuration of the Headstock

In this section, I will discuss why the headstock matters when choosing replacement tuners.

If you are interested in learning about the different headstocks designs, you can look at the post I wrote “different types of headstock”.

When we assess the configuration, our main concern is just observing the location of the machine-tuning pin as this helps to justify the type of machine nut we are dealing with.

Electric Guitar Headstock

The standard electric guitar is probably the most common headstock. This usually has 6 strings but is not dependent on the amount of strings it has.

Whether it is a 7-string or 8-string guitar, the chances are, they could be using the same machines (but we diagnose this later).

Acoustic Guitar Headstock

There are TWO main types of headstocks for the acoustic guitar.

The first being the standard acoustic and the second being the classical acoustic / or Spanish flamenco.

Even though the standard acoustic may have the same type of machines as the electric guitar the classical / Spanish flamenco are a total different beast.

This is because on the classical acoustic guitar the tuners are located on the side of the headstock instead of the back.

The Standard Bass

The headstocks on bass guitar are slightly bigger and stronger to accommodate for higher tension required to string thicker strings.

This also means the machine that holds the strings are also bigger.

2. Is It Left Or Right Handed?

Identifying whether or not they are left or right handed is a vital assessment when you are making any changes to your tuning machines.

This is because left-handed tuning nuts are designed different to right handed ones. The design is mirrored between right-handed and left-handed machine heads as these are mounted on a different side of the headstock.  This point is also applicable to guitars with reverse-headstocks too.

Even though we rarely see left-handed guitars this cannot be overlooked because when you come to install right-handed machines on a left-handed guitar will not work. .

3. Assess the Brand of Your Tuning Nut

Now we have identified the type of headstock we are dealing with (mainly electric, acoustic, classical acoustic or bass) and we have identified the handling of the guitar (left-handed or right-handed). We now want to identify the brand:

  • What brand the original machines are using, or
  • The brand that we want to upgrade

To find the brand we want to upgrade to we will need to observe the individual machines for laser print grooving’s.

If your machine does not have any laser grooving’s, the chances are that they are low budget machines. IF you guitar is supplied with low budget machine. Otherwise, I would advise replacing the machine with the original ones. 

If your machine has no grooving laser printed on, I would recommend changing your machines to a common trusted brand. The THREE main brands for machines are as Grover, Schaller and Waverly.

Schaller Machine Nuts

Overall, Schaller tuners are good being that some are better than others.

You cannot go wrong with Schaller’s they are good quality and compete with those at the top of the market but do not cost as much.

In addition, the very worst Schaller tuners are still better than low budget ones.

These are the cheapest, of the branded ones I discuss in this article but it is important to note that they are Germany quality.

Grover Machine Nuts

Grover are recognized worldwide as industry leaders for high-quality and they are a good replacement.

The original Grover’s where made in the U.S Cleveland Ohio. However, more recently they are manufactured in China. Nevertheless, the good quality remains.

These are a good brand to buy, value for money. They are cheap but still a good quality nut.

Waverly Machine Nuts

Waverly are by far the most premium brand on the market and can be very costly.

These are hand made in the USA and I would say they are the benchmark for quality.

These are also very costly and to install these you will have to ream the borehole on the headstock if converting from vintage tuners (discussing this in more detail in the next section).

4. Assess The Type Of Machines Your Guitar Uses

A bass guitar, electric guitar and stand acoustic guitar will use either vintage or sealed tuners. Whilst classical acoustic open-back machine.

Read my article on machine types for more detail.

Vintage Tuning Machine

The best way to identify traditional vintage tuning nut is by the gear being exposed. However, this is not always the case. They will  Because of this, the traditional vintage tuning nuts are known to be called Open-Back tuners.

This includes the following;

  • Waverly’s open-back traditional tuning nuts
  • Kluson open-back traditional tuning nuts – Such as the Keystone and Six-Inline
  • Three on a plate open-back
  • traditional tuning nuts – Such as the golden age tuners

The vintage tuners all consist of a press fit bushing, which will fit into ¼-inch holes on the headstock.

Sealed Tuning machine

The best way to identify sealed tuning pegs is by not being able to see the gears. Sealed machines a housing casing that contains the gears. Thus, not exposing the gears to the outside. 

  • Sealed tuning nut with Mounted screw – the most common sealed tuning nuts have screw that fix the machine onto the headstock.
  • Sealed tuning nut with indexing pin – these include an indexing pin underneath the housing that hold the machine pin in place without having a screw. The tension of string then holds the machine in place.
  • Staggered tuning nuts – Each tuning post on a staggered tuning device will be different is length. Typically, staggered tuners give the B and high E strings the shortest height, the G and D strings fall in the middle, and the low E and A strings are the tallest, removing the need for string trees.
  • Locking-screw machine nuts – locking-screw machine nuts have the locking screw built onto the sealed unit

Sealed tuning nuts have a diecast housing that encloses the worm and cog gear (basically a metal alloy that surrounds the gears) to keep out dirt and debris out. They also have the added benefit of keeping them permanently lubricated.

These usually have a 10mm threaded bushing with surrounded washer and held to the headstock by a single screw piece.

Sealed tuner peg holes can vary from 3/8-inch to 10mmdepending on the brand.

5. Measure The Diameter Of The Bore Hole

Whether you are changing, your machine head or upgrading you will have to measure the diameter of the borehole to ensure the replacement fits.

Depending on the type and age of the guitar, the diameters all vary. Even replacements of the same type have different sized diameters.

However, this is an easy job to do but you will need to ensure you have the correct tools for the job.

You can use a basic caliper to get the measure.

If your goal is to get an exact replacement then there will be replacement parts readily when going through the next steps. However, if your goal is to upgrade to a better brand then look for one with the exact diameter.

If you are looking to upgrade the brand does not have your size borehole then you may need either to reduce the hole or extend the hole depending what your goal is.

Reduction Bushing

If your guitar has had sealed machines on and you are wanting go back to the vintage machine heads then the diameter of your headstock will need reducing as the vintage bushings and posts are thicker on the sealed machines.

To do this you can use reducing bushing that are custom bushing especially made for the job.

Check out some reduction bushings here….

Expanding the Holes

If your guitar has vintage tuners and you want to change to sealed machines then the diameter of your headstock will need expanding.

It is important to note that any modifications like this will devalue the guitar.

At this point, you may want to re-assess your options.

You can alter the size of these holes with a ream.

7. Tuning Configurations Types

Tuning configuration is also important assessment to consider when choosing replace machines. This means where about on the headstock are the tuning machines located.

Are they located three each side? Or, six in-line…

The location can affect both the length of the post (if staggered tuning nuts) and the position of the fixtures (discussed in the below section).

6-Inline

Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters usually have the 6-in-line, which means all six machine heads are mounted on one side of the headstock.

3-a-Side

On the other hand, Gibson Les Paul has three tuners mounted on each side of the headstock. These are usually a 3 + 3 configuration, or 3-a-side set.  

Other Layouts

Some guitars have different layouts to the standard 6-in line or 3-a-side configurations. Lets take the Sterling Stingray for an example. These are commonly seen with four tuners on one side with two on the other side.

6. Measure the Placement of the Screw Holes

Measuring the placement of the screw hole is probably the most important consideration when changing your machine heads.

This is done by looking how the machine head is mounted onto the headstock. The machine head is can be secured onto the headstock in many different ways depending how they are manufactured.

The two most common ways they are mounted is by either a screw or a pin:

  • Screws – Most commonly, the machine heads are fixed to the headstock with a small screw. It is important to be aware the location of the mounting screw flange. There can be different variations such as underneath the tuner, whilst other can fit 45-degree angle off the right side of the machine.
  • Pins – If a tuner does not have a screw then they will usually have a pin that is fixed underneath the body of the machine. The pin braces the tuner and is held by the tension of the strings. It sits in the headstock and prevents it from moving about. 

Use Existing Hole

Assessing the placement of the screw holes is a vital assessment when you want to switch out your old tuners for new tuners.

This is because you want the screw holes to match up with your new machine head. Otherwise, this means you have to drill new holes and by doing so can affect the value of the guitar. 

Furthermore, when you purchase a new machine head they are usually supplied with a new set of screw. However, it is advised to use the original screw to avoid cross threading.

Fill Old Hole

Ideally, as discussed, you want to use the old screw hole but this is not always the case. If your new machine do not line up with the original screw holes then you have the option to fill the old holes or leave them open.

Usually leaving the old holes can be the ideal solution if you intend to switch them back out later on. Otherwise, for the purpose of looks you may want to fill in the old holes.

7. Assess The Finish

The last thing to consider is to match the type of finish you original tuners have.

There are many different types of finishes in the market such as chrome, satin chrome, nickel, gold and black.  

These can vary in price but chrome and nickel finishes tend to be more popular and are also cheaper than the gold and black designs.  

A vintage guitar generally fade over time and the new machines may have a bright finish that will look a little out of place. But, there are methods to age your new tuners so that they look right at home.

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed everything you need to consider when wanting to choose replacement machine heads on your guitar.

These considerations are:

  • Assess the configuration of the headstock
  • Is the left or right handed?
  • Identify the type of headstock your guitar has
  • Measure The Diameter Of The Bore Hole
  • Assess the brand of your current tuning nut
  • Identify the type of machines your guitar uses already
  • Calculate the placement of the screw holes
  • Finally, match the finish

I hope you enjoyed the article and if you have any questions then please leave them in the comment section below and I’ll be sure to answer you.

Thanks for reading and have an awesome day!

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