Did you know there are SIX main types of tuning machine heads? These are important to understand as they can vary in tuning accuracy and design!
Machine Head Types? There are SIX main types of tuning machine heads which include Sealed tuners, Lock-in tuners, side mounted tuners, vintage closed-back, vintage open-back, and staggered posts.
There are many types of tuners but they generally fall into the category of Vintage or Sealed Machines.
Let’s get started! We will look at these in more detail below…
1. Sealed Tuning Machines
The sealed tuning machine heads are the most common tuners that you will find. These are mainly made from steel making them very robust. However, functionality can vary depending on what brand you purchase.
1.1 The BEST Types of Sealed Tuning Machines
Gotoh Schaller-style Knob Chrome Tuners (6-in-a-line) with mounted screw
6 in-line are made for Fender design headstock where the tuners are is rows of 6
Gotoh Large Schaller-Style Knob Tuning Machines, 3 Left & 3 Right, Chrome with mounted screw
3 left & 3 right for Gibson designed headstock where the tuners are in rows of 3
If you are looking to replace, or upgrade your machine heads then I would personally recommend Gotoh as the gear system is really smooth and precise for accurate tuning capability, as well as holding the tuning extremely well!
1.2 How to Identify the Correct Replacement
As you can see from the product image above the sealed tuning pegs have a housing casing that contains the gears. Thus, not exposing the gears to the outside. 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 10mm depending on the brand.
Sealed Machine Type?
Firstly, it is important to identify the type of sealed machine that your guitar uses. There are two types of sealed tuners.
Sealed tuners are either 6 in-line or 3 left & 3 right (check product details in the table above). Each of these can also have two types of variations. This basically means that machine heads are positioned in a row of 6, or row of 3.
Mounted Screw Vs. Index Pin
Your guitar can also be mounted to your headstock in two different ways.
- Sealed tuning nut with Mounted screw – the most common of the sealed tuners are mounted with a screw. These fix the machine head onto the headstock.
- Sealed tuning nut with indexing pin – very rarely you will find the machine head is not fixed and is held by a indexing pin. You will notice underneath the housing that there is a pin. The machine head will fall out once you take the strings off as the tension of string then holds the machine in place.
1.3 Advantages & Disadvantages of Gotoh Sealed Tuners
2. Lock-In Tuning Machine Heads
These are an absolute god send and i could not recommend them enough!
Locking-screw machine nuts have the locking screw built onto the sealed unit. These come as kind of an add that are only built on the sealed machine.
Important note: these are not compatible with headstocks that offer a floyde rose but will work on a Fender type whammy.
If you are looking to upgrade your guitar then I highly recommend lock-in tuner. This is because the pressure applied by locking screw prevents string slippage. I hardly need to tune my guitar anymore, and i use the Gotoh Magnum tuners.
2.1 Example of lock-in screw (without Floyd Rose)
The particular Fender Stratocaster of mine (demonstrated in the above image) has locking screws built into the tuning machine.
As you can see I have taken the bottom locking-screw just so that you can see clearly how easy the locking screw latches onto the side of the tuning machine nut. Thus, adding pressure on the thread of the string keeping it in place.
I think this is a perfect example of how Fender has prioritized stability but still making the tuning option very flexible.
2.2 Lock-in Screw Machine Head VS. Floyde Rose Lock-in Nut
Instead of locking the strings where they would normally wrap around the tuning machine nut, the Floyd Rose lock the strings at the base of the headstock (where to headstock meets the fretboard).
This guitar is fine-tuned at the tremolo.
If your guitar has a Floyd Rose tremolo then it will definitely have locking screw on the nut and at the bridge. Making the tuning process slightly more complicated for a Floyd Rose.
3. Vintage Open-Back Machine Heads
The vintage open-back tuners are the first type of machine head that has come into existence. Back in the day you would see that they were originally made from wood. But, as technology advances so does the materials that we use to make them.
Today, vintage tuners have the ability to perform just as well as the sealed machines, they only really differ in price (Yes, they are generally more expensive) and aesthetics. For example, if you are restoring a vintage guitar then i would definitely recommend investing in the vintage style tuners. Anything that is a close representation of the original will increase the overall value of the guitar.
3.1 Comparison of Vintage Open-Back Machine Head
When discussing the above you get what you pay for. For example, Waverly is the BEST of ALL brands as they promise life time guarantee and the tuning is so smooth and most accurate. In addition, the Groovers are a really close second, these are what I go for personally as the performance is close to Waverly. I would only recommend the unbranded vintage tuners if you are repairing a cheap budget guitar.
3.2 How to Identify Vintage Open-back Tuners
The best way to identify the traditional vintage tuning machine heads is from the exposure of the gear cogs and the groove bushing on the front of the guitar headstock. If you are not familiar with the component on the headstock then please read the article I wrote entitled “all the components of a machine head” where I explain them all in detail.
Because of the vintage open-backs, have the exposed gear cogs they are often referred to open-back tuners. Overall, the vintage tuners all consist of press fit bushing, which will fit into ¼-inch holes on the headstock.
3.3 Pros & Cons of the Vintage Open-Back Machine Heads
4. Side-Mounted Machine Heads
The side mounted machine heads are a very similar design to the Vintage open-back but have two major differences. This includes 3 tuners being mounted on the side of the headstock. As well as always 3 in-line (meaning that 3 of the tuners are attached onto a single plate).
In addition, they have similarities to the vintage open-backs as just like the vintage open-backs they have no housing and the gears are exposed.
The side-mounted machine heads are only found on classical acoustic / flamenco guitars that use nylon strings and attach to the tuning post in a slightly different way.
4.1 Comparison – Side-Mounted Machine Heads
|Gotoh (recommended) Side-mounted Machine Heads
|Tenor Dragon and Phoenix (Premium) Classical Guitar Tuners
|Golden Gate Side-mounted Machine Heads
|Ammoon Alice AOS-022V1P 2pcs(L&R) Acoustic Classical Guitar Machine Heads
|Lover Music Classical Guitar Machine Heads
|Andoer Alice AOS-020B3P Gold-Plated Machine Head Classical Guitar
|Alomejor Guitar Machine Heads
|Andoer Alice AO-020HV3P 3Pcs(Left + right) Classical Guitar Tuning Key
|Golden Gate F-2101 Classical Guitar Tuners – 2 Planks (3+3)
|Classical Guitar Tuning Keys Pegs
Classical guitar tuning machine heads can be identified by the position being mounted on the side of the headstock.
The way the gears attach to the post is a different design and so the side-mounted tuners won’t work with the stand electric guitar.
They are usually metal with plastic handles and come in sizes of 11cm*5cm*4cm.
4.2 Pros & Cons of the Side Mounted Machine Heads
5. Vintage Closed-Back Machine Heads
Vintage closed-backs machine heads are also similar to the vintage open-back in terms of functionality. However, they differ in design because of the casing (formally known as housing) that surrounds the gears.
The best way to identify the traditional vintage closed-back is by the bushing in the front end of the headstock (same as that on a vintage open-back). The bushing presses in (pushed in), to the headstock to ensure it is secured.
5.1 Example of a Vintage Closed-Back Machine Head
|Kluson Vintage Closed-Back
|Kluson Vintage Closed-Back
|Goover Vintage Closed-Back
|Gibson Vintage Closed-Back
|Kluson Vintage Closed-Back
|3 on a plate
|KAISH Vintage Closed-Back
|3 on a Plate
As you will see from the above table (in the details section) there are THREE types of closed back tuners. This includes:
- 6 in-line: the 6 in-line machine heads is the typical design you see on Fender guitars. This is when the tuners fit linear on the headstock. Sometimes the tuners themselves have contact with each other to provide support.
- 3 per-side: the per-side machine heads are most commonly seen on Gibson guitars. You will recognise 3 tuning units on each side of the headstock.
- 3 on a plate: the 3 on a plate have three tuners attached to a plate which then fit onto your headstock. You will recognise 3 tuning units on each side of the headstock connected by a single plate on either side.
5.2 Pros & cons of Vintage Closed Back Machine Head
There are THREE main disadvantages. The THREE disadvantages of the vintage closed-backs are in design, heaviness and material.
6. Staggered Tuning Machines Heads
Staggered tuning machine heads are different in length. Machine heads with staggered post heights are typically found on guitars that without a pitched (angled) headstock and do not make use of string trees.
6.1 Example of staggered tuning machine heads
Staggered tuning machine heads mean the tuning posts change in height from the low E to the high E.
Typically, staggered machine heads give the high E string the shortest height and the low E the tallest height.
6.2 Pros & Cons of the Staggered Tuning Machine Heads
7. Does The Types Of Tuning Machine Heads Affect Performance
By performance I am referring to how well does the machine hold tuning.
The types of tuning machine can somewhat effect the performance of your playing. But, this doesn’t come down to the type of machine but rather quality of the machine.
The quality of the machine is determined by the type of brand you are using. If you use a known common brand such as they Waverly’s open-back and you have tuned-up using the correct techniques then you will should not have a problem.
The type of machine head should not affect the performance of your playing.
However, there are some considerations.
From my experience using an adjustable tremolo can have an effect on intonation more than anything can if you choose not to use lock-in screws.
This is because when you bend your tremolo the string become lose, as the strings become lose the direction the strings coil around cylinder gets disturbed and even when the string are flat again it will cause a disturbance in the intonation and the strings will most likely need to be tuned once again.
Furthermore, I care about intonation more than anything else, as there is nothing more frustrating when a guitar keeps going out of tune. I have found that Gotoh 510 (18:1) or Gotoh 510 Delta (21:1) sealed-lubricated tuners seem to hold the tuning very well.
8. Does the Type of Machine Head Affect the Quality of My Sound?
I am also a huge believer that tuners affect the tonality.
This is because every material has a slight different range of vibrations, which of course affects resonance.
When it comes down to open back tuners such as the Waverly’s are the materials they use is solid gold plated thicker metal.
I also think vintage open-back tuner do get a better quality tone because the high end guitars are still being installed with these machines.
However, it is important to add they only do it for design, if it did affect the tone in a negative way they would not do it.
That is part of the reason why so many high-end guitar makers are now installing them on their guitars.
However, even though open-gear tuners are far superior today, they are impervious to random dirt and dust getting in the gears, and they still do not ever need lubrication… but the truth is, you would have to get your guitar in some mucky places for dirt to get in your tuning machines.
Overall, I would suggest closed back just because when you carry your guitar in a carry case they will get caught on your guitar bag and get damaged in the process.
To conclude the machine head types we learnt that there are two main types of machine heads being the vintage and sealed machines.
There are three types of vintage machines which are the open-back vintage tuners, closed-back vintage tuners and classical side mounted vintage tuners.
In addition there are also three types of sealed machine tuners. You got the standard sealed machine, lock-in nut machines and the staggered tuning posts.
- Vintage Open-Back Machine Heads
- Side-Mounted Machine Heads
- Vintage Closed-Back Machine Heads
- Sealed Tuning Machines
- Lock-In Tuning Machine Heads
- Staggered Tuning Machines Heads
We also learnt that generally, the types of tuning machine does affect performance comparing the cheap brand to expensive brands as the cheap brand affect intonation. Which can also lead to the quality of the tone it produces.
However, two different types of the same quality machines somewhat perform the same. But, the big part of installing the vintage open-back machine heads is for people that want ‘period-correct machines on it. This more about what is “fashionable” rather than what is best functional.