When searching for the tricks and tools to sharpen your guitars tuning stability. Allowing it to stay in tune for longer, making it an overall easier and less frustrating instrument to play.
Locking tuners are certainly an option for upgrading the tuning performance on any electric guitar.
However, before rushing to the nearest online retailer and investing in a set, there are some key things you should know before buying.
What You Will Learn
In this post, I will list the pros and cons of locking tuners helping you decide whether they are a worthy investment for your guitar. So are locking tuners worth it? Let’s get into it starting with the pros…
1. Can Increase Tuning Stability
The bread and butter reason why locking tuners are so hyped and valued, is because they are designed to increase your guitar’s tuning stability at the tuning peg.
Keep in mind, the tuning peg is not the main factor hinging on your guitar’s overall ability to stay in tune.
You have to view the tuning peg as one slice of the pie that combines with the rest of the guitar’s construction impacting on the overall quality of tuning stability.
These other slices that make up the rest of the pie include the nut, bridge, saddle, headstock angle
How Locking Tuners Work
Unlike conventional tuners, locking tuners include a mechanism within the eye of the tuner, that ‘clamps’ or ‘locks’ the string down when wrapping the string around the tuning peg during a restring.
This locking clamp prevents the string from ‘slipping’ allowing it to hold its pitch more accurately.
This clamping or securing of the string can hold the tuning more effectively when any assertive string bend or general aggressive string abuse comes from its player.
String Slippage is The Enemy
‘String slippage’ is likely to occur if the string has not been correctly secured using a solid re-string method that locks the string on to itself.
When a string loses its grip around the peg, it can push the of tuning out by a couple of cents which is super annoying for any guitar player.
Strings essentially slip out of tune when they lose tension, usually, the G and high E strings are the most likely culprits, which explaining why calls for a separate article altogether.
Why Strings Slip
Typically aggressive bends are the main culprit that can cause string slippage hence why strings need to be anchored securely at the machine head to prevent slips from happening.
Therefore if you like to play ‘aggressively’ or ’emotionally’ with heavy bends and vibrato then locking tuners can be a worthy and useful addition.
Locking tuners are therefore useful for securing and anchoring the strings to the machine heads for better tuning stability resulting in a more playable, fun, better sounding and studio worthy guitar.
2. String Changes Easier and Quicker
Depending who you ask, some players view restringing their instrument as a bonding exercise more than a boring mundane task. Basically another way of connecting with their instrument without actually playing it.
Hence why the Gibson Les Paul Robot guitar, with its futuristic self-tuning machine heads flopped so spectacularly back in 2008 (sorry Gibson I still love you!)
Love or Hate Restringing?
Alternatively, for the players out there who hate restringing. Locking tuners have the benefit of quicker and easier string changes meaning more time for better things…like playing and learning.
The reason is that when restringing with locking tuners, all you do is feed the string through the hole, wind a few wraps, cut off the excess string and away you go.
Whereas, with traditional tuners, your strings will need to be wrapped and wound in a way so that the string will clamp on to itself in order to secure it to the peg to prevent string slippage.
From personal experience, this is fiddly and which takes a while to get right which can result in you stabbing yourself with the sharp end a few times in the process.
Situations This Can Be Useful
A fast string change may not be that be important when at home, but when a string breaks mid-set during an important gig is a different story.
Hence another reason how locking tuners can benefit you a quick string change when you need it most, and in the process improve your guitars ability to stay in pitch.
3. No Headstock Modifications
Locking tuners are designed to effortlessly slot into your current headstocks drill holes removing the need to drill any additional holes.
Something not desired by uncrafty guitar players out there like myself. For me personaly, I don’t trust myself taking a drill to a wall, never mind to a wood crafted precision instrument.
How to Install
Installation is as easy as reaching for your nearest flat headed screwdriver remove the current tuners and drop the new ones in, fasten them in, restring and you‘re ready to go. Installation can take as little as 5 minutes. Easy work!
Locking tuners can fit a range of headstocks, the ‘3+3’ which is standard with Gibson and Gretch guitars and the ‘6 inline’ arrangement typical of Fenders & Ibanez guitars.
Keep in mind, depending on the manufacturer, some tuners come with a metal bracket plate. This is installed first, then the tuners screw over the top. I guess this offers more support for the machine heads.
You can choose to buy a set without brackets meaning the tuners are independent and free to fit a number of headstock configurations depending on where the holes are drilled on your headstock.
For me, upgrading a guitar without handing it over to your local guitar tech, adding unnecessary expense is always a bonus in my eyes.
The ballpark figure for a reliable set of locking tuners (depending on the brand) ranges from $30-$90 which is an affordable upgrade for any guitar.
The investment is for potentially boosting your guitars performance, playability and shortening string changing times. Locking tuners are certainly a viable upgrade for getting the best from any affordable guitar.
With that said, expensive gear will not sound good combined with a guitar that won’t hold its tuning right?
What About Unbranded Sets?
The super affordable option is the unbranded sets knocking around on Amazon and eBay for around $10-$20.
I would not be tempted
Yet, people seem to take a chance on them hoping to get a full set in full working order. For as little as $14, I suppose it’s not a massive risk to take. If they have a defect in any way, simply go back to your regular tuners.
Some players know this and buy two sets for $30 knowing that one maybe faulty, meaning they can use the other set as spares to make up for the one or two bad apples within the one set.
5. Can Install on Acoustics
This point is actually a little bit of a bonus tip here! People do ask about combining locking tuners with acoustics, but not many people actually talk about it.
Fortunately locking tuners can be installed on nearly all acoustics with the standard ‘solid headstock’ design.
Acoustics with the ‘slotted headstock’ (mostly classical guitars) cannot be upgraded unfortunately as it removes the ability to clamp the string on to itself.
However, nylon strings usually hold their tension well and string bending is not the usual technique when it comes to flamenco and classical playing. Removing the requirement for locking tuners compared to a steel stringed guitar.
Weight and Balance Issues
Installing locking tuners to your favorite acoustic can certainly upgrade your guitars tuning accuracy which improves the overall playability.
The only downsides, however, is the additional weight locking tuners can add to the headstock compared to standard tuners.
Resulting in a guitar that may be more noticeably ‘top heavy.’ Considering the body of an acoustic weighs far less than a solid body electric, meaning an electric guitar has the ability to counterbalance the weight better than an acoustic.
If you like to play standing you may notice the slight difference in balance when playing for long periods. This is not a massive issue I must admit, but it still needs to be discussed for you to ponder.
There are some whispers that the extra weight from the tuners improves the ‘sustain’ and ‘resonance’. I’m not sure this is 100% true but some players are convinced that it improves the sound of their acoustic tonally which is a bonus.
Adding locking tuners can improve the tuning accuracy and playability of an affordable acoustic all the way to the classy Martin and Taylor acoustic guitars.
The Cons Of Locking Tuners
1. Do Not Solve Tuning Issues
Although the name implies ‘locking’ they do not ‘lock’ the tuning into place similar to a Floyd Rose locking nut and bridge.
As previously stated, their purpose is to ‘clamp’ or ‘lock’ the string into place preventing ‘string slippage’ when a spurt of aggressive playing comes along.
How to View Locking Tuners
For this reason, you should view locking tuners as ‘one piece of the puzzle’ when it comes to your guitars ability to stay in tune.
The rest of the puzzle is comprised of a combination of nut, bridge, intonation, headstock angle etc. Hence why locking tuners can be somewhat ‘over-hyped’ and ‘misinterpreted.’
For example, If string slippage is the main culprit why your strings go out of pitch so regularly. Then locking tuners will definitely be beneficial for that purpose, providing your guitars, nut, saddle, bridge and other components are set up correctly.
Whereas, a guitar with locking tuners installed, but includes a badly cut or worn nut, or has a faulty bridge and other components hindering the tuning accuracy. Then your guitar is still going to go out of tune just as often.
The Main Point
Therefore, locking tuners are not always the ‘complete answer’ for solving your guitars tuning issues.
Remember, they are only ‘one piece of the puzzle’ as there’s a lot more going on that comprises your guitars overall tuning stability discussed above.
Even with locking tuners installed, your strings will go out of tune at times, it happens, it’s normal and that is just how it goes.
However, players sometimes forget to read the small print, being surprised why their guitar has slipped out of pitch, even with a brand new set of locking tuners at the helm.
2. Unnecessary and Overkill
Some players argue the case that locking tuners are somewhat ”lazy’ and not ‘necessary’ when you know how to restring a guitar correctly.
Knowing how the professional guitar techs restring is the way to prevent string slips meaning you can forget locking tuners and save some dollar.
The way to do this is perfecting a wrapping method that includes a few wraps that cause the string to clamp on to itself making it lock, preventing it from slipping. Simply just the same function just without the more expensive tuners.
Their case is, if you can clamp the string down by wrapping the string correctly, then why do you need locking tuners?
There are plenty of restringing wrapping methods depending on your headstock and peg design. The method I use is the same as the video below.
How to Restring Correctly (Watch)
Sure this will add time and be more fiddly (especially with the high e string), but you can view this as more bonding time with the guitar.
Also, you will be a minimalist and not be relying on technology to get the job done.
You can forget locking tuners and stick with your standard tuners by simply knowing how to restring the guitar correctly saving yourself some hard earned money in the process.
When you think about it, locking tuners are a new technology, hitting the market back in the 1980s. Before locking tuners came along, recording guitarists got by just fine without them.
Although we do live in the modern world
Technology makes our everyday lives easier, even when it comes to the guitar. Although you can get a lot of mileage from a set of locking tuners, providing you go with a notable and reputable brand that will last.
Purists will say, however, that the more things going on the more likely things are likely to go wrong. Less is more!
3. Adds Weight to the Headstock
Locking tuners are slightly heavier than standard tuning pegs adding a bit more timber to the headstock.
Although it’s not a huge deal breaker, if you are already fighting a neck heavy and unbalanced guitar then adding locking tuners is something to be wary of.
Guitars that are heavy at the neck and have a deviated center of balance, usual guitars that are ”offset’ to the side are the candidates for the infamous ‘neck dive’.
What is Neck Dive?
Simply, ‘neck dive’ is when standing using a strap you release the neck with your fretting hand the headstock end plummets to the floor. Most commonly with the Gibson and Epiphone SG.
Although locking tuners will not add a noticeable amount of weight they will make the headstock slightly heavier than standard tuners.
A small tip is to purchase locking tuners with the ‘open head’ design saving a smidgen more weight opposed to the ‘closed head’ tuners.
Some players insist the extra weight from locking tuners adds more chunk to the tone. I’m not totally convinced about this but you can be the judge if you get a set installed and come to your own conclusion.
4. Some Guitars Require Modifications
If tempted to purchase locking tuners, then always remember to do your research! Make sure that the tuners you buy are made for that specific guitar brand and headstock design.
The main point is to check the locking tuners hole ‘dimensions’ against your current guitars drill hole measurements.
If you buy a set and they do not fit, you either send them back and order the correct ones or the riskier option, drill custom holes so they fit snug. Depending on your woodwork and craftsmanship skills, I would rather choose option A.
You will have no problem with the traditional Gibson, Epiphone, Fender, Ibanez, Gretch guitars etc being the most widely manufactured guitars in the world.
However, If you have a custom guitar which includes a crazy headstock and tuning peg configuration then you may have to drill holes to install a set.
Something to keep in mind is that always read the small print and the tuners specifications as you could be caught out unexpectedly.
For example, official Fender locking tuners will only fit an American and Mexican made Stratocaster and Telecaster. Meaning Locking tuners will not fit the drill holes of most imported Strats and Teles.
There’s also the problem that locking tuners do not come as standard with most manufactured guitars. I guess this is to keep manufacturing costs down and allow the player to add if they need them as an aftermarket upgrade.
First, I want to thank you for making it all the way to the end of this post.
Second, so what do you think? Now you understand the full story. Do you think locking tuners are worth it? (Leave a comment down below!)
Personally, I install locking tuners on my guitar just to get the last drop of performance out of it. But at the end of the day, it is down to every players personal choice.
It just depends if you personally believe they are a worthy investment or you are more of a minimalist. I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did writing it!