The humble machine head is an often overlooked part of your axe that plays a critical role in how your guitar plays and performs. Upgrading your guitar tuners can be a fantastic investment for any guitar whether it’s your first Squier or a full-on Fender. As well as solving the obvious in tuning stability issues, swapping out your machine heads can also be a utilitarian upgrade that makes your instrument easier to manage. The best thing of all is, it need not cost you and arm and a leg to get one of these awesome upgrades and have your guitar playing better than ever.
Talking Tuning Issues
Now you may be thinking, ‘I have tuning issues with my guitar, so I’ll change the tuners!’ and may be a surprise to you, but the tuners aren't usually the cause of tuning stability issues. There are a plethora of problems that could potentially affect the tuning performance of your guitar before your guitar tuners. It could be your stringing technique, lack of stretching, and in particular, your guitar nut. All of these things are prime suspects when it comes to problems with tuning your guitar.
That’s not to say a new set of tuners won’t be a fantastic upgrade that will improve the way your guitar plays. But it's important to understand common issues with tuning stability so that you’re not needlessly spending money on an upgrade that won’t actually solve your problem. So, if you are having tuning issues, before you decide to upgrade your tuners, ensure you’ve checked your strings and nut first to see if they are potentially causing your problems. Then, upgrade your tuners anyway! You'll thank us later.
There are quite a few different types of tuner that fit various guitars so its important to assess your current tuners and ensure you’re picking the right ones for your guitar. Different brands will have similar designs but these may not line up perfectly, so be prepared to make some adjustments to your guitar, particularly if you’re changing the type.
Vintage-style tuners typically have a press-in bushing that hold the tuning machine in place. If you’re changing from modern tuners to vintage-style, then you will likely need a conversion kit as the holes will be too big. A lot of vintage-style tuning machines come with matching bushings but if yours don’t, you can find plenty of choice to match here.
Sealed-gear tuners use a threaded collar that encompasses the post, tightened with a nut. These are super easy to install yourself and in a straight swap can be done in minutes. However, if you’re changing from Vintage to more modern Sealed-gear tuners, you will likely need to make the tuning post hole larger to allow the new tuner to fi. You can use something like a tapered reamer to enlarge the hole evenly.
Mounting Screw Location
One of the most common adjustments you’ll need to make when changing machine heads is the mounting screw location as these vary from brand to brand. You may need to drill a new pilot hole to get your new tuners to fit, which can be done easily with a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw you need to install. Wrap some tape around your drill bit the same length as the screw to ensure you don’t go too far into the wood. Another good tip is to fill in the old hole using a small dowel or tooth pick to ensure no moisture gets into the interior of your headstock.
We love locking tuners at Northwest Guitars as they’re pretty much a guaranteed upgrade over any non-locking tuner. They help eliminate string slippage thanks to their mechanism as well as making string changes an absolute breeze. Locking tuners don’t lock your guitar in tune despite their name, they lock the string onto your string post itself. This ensures quick string changes as you won’t have to wind the string onto the peg. If your guitar has a tremolo it’s pretty much a no brainer to upgrade to locking tuners as they drastically reduce tuning problems resulting from whammy bar abuse.
The downsides to locking tuners are few and far between but there are some considerations to make if you’re thinking of purchasing some. If you’re looking to keep your guitar period-correct, then locking tuners may spoil the look somewhat. Likewise they add weight to the guitar, which can be a consideration to people looking for the lightest possible instrument. The third consideration is that you have an extra mechanical element to your guitar that could potentially go wrong. You will also have to get your head around how they work, and how to efficiently make the best use of them.
Now that you know everything you need to about machine heads it's time to roll out our recommendations. We’ve picked out our best selling guitar tuners for you, all of which will be an awesome upgrade on any stock machine heads you have on your guitar.
We’re huge fans of Gotoh here at Northwest Guitars, they make fantastic quality hardware that’s competitive on price and a quick Google search will show you it’s not just us who love them. This set of 6-in-line guitar tuners for right handed guitars will ensure you tune up quickly and accurately with its ‘rock-solid’ string post that improves the stability of the tuner.
The gearing mechanism inside the tuner is completely sealed and permanently lubricated with Gotoh’s ‘Lubri-Coat’ technology. This is a coating applied to the worm gear and spur gear wheel to ensure a smooth action that also increases the durability to give you reliable performance time after time.
Shop all Gotoh Machine Heads here.
Kluson have been making guitar tuners since 1925 so when you buy a set of these you know you’re getting time tested quality. Having helped push forward guitar production in the early days, Kluson continue push the boundaries for quality guitar hardware in the modern age. Designed for Strat and Telecaster style guitar, the Kluson Vintage Style Double Line Machine Heads deliver outstanding performance and add plenty of vintage vibe to any instrument.
These tuners are incredibly lightweight but still durable enough to put up with gigging abuse. They have a smooth action when tuning plus a vintage-correct split tuning post. These tuners are designed as close to original 60s Kluson tuners as possible, so they add performance as well as a sense of authenticity to any Strat or Telecaster style guitar.
Shop all Kluson Tuning Machines here.
These are our own locking machine heads with oval buttons that are suitable for a wide variety of right handed guitars including Fender and Squier Strats and Teles, Yamaha Pacifica’s and pretty much any right handed guitar that has 6 in line tuners. The thumbwheel locking function ensures that string slippage is at an absolute minimum, delivering exceptional performance with a minimum of fuss.
Solid brass gears ensure excellent precision in tuning and this is mirrored by the high quality construction of the machine head as a whole. These tuners will be an awesome upgrade to standard and mid range guitar models they are made in the same factory as a very well known brand so we can deliver you outstanding quality at a far more competitive price!
Shop all Northwest Guitars tuners here.
Designed by well-known guitar guru Trev Wilkinson, these 6-in-line tuning machines are an upgrade on pretty much any stock tuners. They have solid brass gears to deliver superior tuning stability and precision no matter how hard you play. Wilkinson hardware is incredible value for money and these tuners easily compete with higher end products.
They feature the Wilkinson EZ-LOK System which has 2 holes in the string post at 90 degrees to each other. You pull the string through the first hole, wrap it three quarters of the way around the post then pull tight through the second hole to lock the string in place. This ingenious system differs from traditional locking tuners in that it doesn’t require a turn wheel, so it saves on weight and bulkiness, giving you a locking tuner that looks like a regular modern tuner.
Shop all Wilkinson Tuners here.
Upgrading the machine heads on your guitar will almost certainly improve your instrument. Its one of those upgrades that doesn’t cost a bomb, whilst being easy enough for you to do yourself in a short time in the case of a straight swap. Whether you’re moving from locking to non-locking, swapping from modern to vintage or just replacing existing or broken machine heads, this is one upgrade that’s absolutely worth the effort for any guitar player.
Check out all our machine heads here.