What are locking tuners? Are locking tuners worth it? How do they benefit my guitar? Today we will go over all of this and talk about the best brands!
Locking Tuners: What Are They?
Locking tuners are one of the easiest upgrades you can do to your guitar, and it can provide a huge benefit. This isn’t some kind of big project that needs to be taken to a tech, either. Most people can do this modification from home with regular tools that you probably have around the house. No power tools or handy skills needed!
Locking tuners that come stock on a brand new guitar is seen as a type of luxury, and to be honest they really are. This means it’s one less thing you need to get for your guitar to take it up to pro specs. We will get into why professionals use them a little later on, but there is a good reason they are considered “pro spec”. Companies like Schecter are known to include upgraded tuners on the more expensive models.
There are a ton of different types of locking tuners, and we are going to try and tackle which ones might be the best for you today, depending on your instrument. Most guitars have a standardized measurement when it comes to tuning pegs. This means that more than one tuner brand will probably fit your guitar, so the choice is going to be more about budget and quality.
But before we do anything else, let’s talk about what locking tuners DO NOT do. Because there are some big myths out there, and they usually confuse the hell out of beginners.
Locking Tuners: Common Myths
I see posts all the times on reddit talking about guitars that just won’t stay in tune. These beginner guitarists have tried absolutely everything to get their guitars to stay in tune. They have changed the brand of strings they use. They make sure the strings are stretched properly. But still, there are tuning issues across the board, and it seems like a hopeless endeavor.
Someone in the comment section almost always says that the person with the tuning issue ” Should buy locking tuners for the guitar”. This isn’t awful advice, as they may help the situation… a little bit. But the biggest myth about locking tuners is the idea that your tuning is more stable. It is, but only by a tiny, inconsequential, minute amount. Your intonation (click the link for our guide) is going to be a much bigger factor than your tuning machines.
The reality is the guitar tuners, even locking ones, are not that big of a deal when it comes to staying in tune. The nut, and the intonation of your guitar are going to be the biggest factors when it comes to keeping your tuning as stable as possible. In fact, one of the biggest culprits for messed up tuning is usually the nut!
Strings will “bind” on a cheap, plastic nut. They get stuck in the grooves of the nut when you go to bend a note. So your fingers bend the note, and instead of the string slipping smoothly through the string slots to accommodate the tension, it gets stuck. Now your tuning is all out of whack! This is called “binding at the nut” and it is the #1 culprit for a guitar that doesn’t stay in tune.
You can easily fix this by changing the nut. Companies like Graph Tech make bone and graphite nuts that allows the strings to move freely. The problem with your tuning can be as easy as replacing the nut for $10. But your intonation could just as easily be at fault. You will know if it’s an intonation issue if you tune your guitar to pitch, and each string is perfectly in tune, but when you play a chord it sounds wrong. Again, our guide can walk you through this.
The bridge can be throwing your guitar out of tune as well. If you have a trem system that is vintage style (such as a Stratocaster) these can be very fickle. A floating bridge can really be a pain sometimes if you don’t know how to set it up. If it is not set up properly, you will have all kinds of tuning issues. This is usually a job for a tech, if you do not know how to set up a floating bridge.
But if the nut and the bridge are usually the culprit for bad tuning, then what are locking tuners even for? Why do I need to upgrade my guitar if it doesn’t help my tuning issues? I’m glad you asked!
Locking Tuners: How To Use Them!
Since we have cleared up the myths surrounding a locking set of tuners, we should address exactly why you would want them. The issue is twofold, actually. Everything really comes down to how often you change strings, and if you play professionally. Having tuners that lock are more of a want rather than a need in most cases.
Locking tuners do exactly what they sound like they do. You take the string and thread it through the hole in the tuner, and then you lock it down. Then, you simply cut the ends of the strings off, and tune your guitar to pitch! There is no need to wind the string around the post, because the string is already secure.
This saves so much time when you are changing strings. Where usually, you would have to do at least two winds around the tuning post, you just pull the string through and lock it down. I can easily restring a guitar with locking tuners in about 5 minutes flat. It also makes removing the strings much easier, as all you have to do is loosen the string a little bit, and unlock it.
This comes in handy in the studio, or if you gig regularly. When I play shows on a tour, no matter how long it is, I will change my strings after every single show. This not only ensures that your strings will sound their best, but it also lowers the chances of a string breaking in the middle of a set. In the studio, we sometimes change strings multiple times a day.
New strings have a certain brightness and tonality to them, and in the studio this is very important. You want to get the best tone possible while you are recording, so you have less work to do later with the guitar’s EQ. Most producers will tell you when the strings start to sound dead, and it’s up to you to change your strings out quickly. Locking tuners come in handy in the studio, where time is money!
They just make everything easier. This is especially true for people like me, who have multiple guitars that need string changes often. I like to do 3 or 4 guitars at a time when I am changing strings. It takes a lot less time if I am not sitting there winding and unwinding strings with one of those fiddly plastic guitar winders. I abhor these things almost as much as the act of changing strings.
So do you need locking tuners? This answer depends on your situation, but it certainly makes life a whole lot easier. I put them on all of my fixed bridge guitars, since the ones with a Floyd Rose system are already locked at the nut. There are a lot of different brands out there, so let’s take a look at the big ones that are most common for mainstream/popular styled guitars.
Locking Tuner: Brands and Types
Most guitar tuners are just “drop in” modifications. The holes that are drilled in your headstock are probably universal. That being said, sometimes on older instruments, or guitars that are made overseas, you might need to modify your guitar to get the tuners to fit. This can be a big project, so if you are unsure of yourself, get a tech to do it. This Stew Mac video shows you the differences, and what you may need to modify:
But the good news is that brands like Hipshot make locking tuners for just about every type of guitar imaginable! You can simply order some Hipshot tuners for your guitar, and they are a direct fit for most brands. Hipshot has some of the most accurate tuners on the market as well. These usually have a great gear aspect ratio. What is a gear aspect ratio?
The aspect ratio is just how many times you have to turn the tuning peg before you get a full wind on the post. The higher the ratio, the easier it is to “fine tune” your guitar. These have a much tighter response, and make tuning a breeze. Hipshot are also known for having gears that do not slip, so you never have to worry about your guitar going out of tune.
No matter what the brand, you need to first identify what kind of headstock you have. If you have a Fender style headstock, then you will need “6 inline” sets of tuners. This is because all 6 tuners are in a straight line on your headstock. Something like a Gibson headstock would be a 3X3, because there are 3 tuning pegs on each side of the headstock. Schecter is an outlier here, and sometimes Schecter guitars have an odd number of tuners on each side, but the same rule applies. In my picture above of my white 7 string, the setup is 3X4. So when buying a set of locking tuners, make sure you are buying the right ones for your model of guitar.
Hipshot's Grip-Lock guitar tuning pegs grip your strings for positive, accurate tuning. The component is designed for a headstock configuration of three tuning machines per side. 18:1 gear ratio will ensure that you dial in the right note, every time! Hipsot's tuners make sure that string changing is a breeze!
Grover is also a trusted brand when it comes to tuning machines, and they come stock on most Epiphone guitars, especially Les Paul models. While Grover’s standard tuners are absolutely great, the locking versions are even better. These are a direct fit for most guitars that are made overseas. This is why you see them on Epiphone, ESP, and Schecter guitars so often. They come in metric sizes, but they also come in standard sizes for American made instruments.
In some cases, getting the right locking tuner is easier than you think! Fender has some of the best locking machine heads in the business, and if you are a Fender player there is no need to look any further. The Fender locking tuners have a great 18:1 ratio, and they are smooth to turn. Likewise, the locking mechanism is very well made and secure. These fit the Mexican Fenders, and American models, so it doesn’t matter which guitar you have. The only Fender models these do not fit, are the Vintage Replica series.
For the years that I played Fender guitars, I always upgraded the tuners to the Fender locking brand. These were super easy to install, and it there was no guesswork involved when it came to getting the right set. These comes in a ton of different color options as well, to match your Fender guitar’s hardware exactly. Sometimes, the easiest solution turns out to be the best one! Not to mention the price for these locking tuners! These are super affordable tuners, and they have always been around $50-$60… which is a steal because they are worth every penny.
Set of six locking tuners provide maximum tuning stability and fit most U.S.- and Mexico-made Stratocaster and Telecaster models (will not fit American Vintage Series instruments). Bushings, removable tuner caps and mounting hardware included. These tuners are direct replacements for your factory ones! Make life a lot easier with locking tuners!
Locking Tuners: The Verdict…
Locking tuners are a popular upgrade for a reason. You absolutely do not need them to have a high performance guitar, but it does make things a lot easier. If your goal is to be a professional, then it’s a no-brainer to go ahead and just upgrade your stock tuners. Pros will be changing string a lot, and this shaves off precious time during string changes.
At the core, locking tuners are a sort of luxury item. But once you experience how easy it is to use them, it’s hard to go back to winding the string around the peg with one of those plastic string winders. I know for a fact that I will never go back to standard tuners! I guess I am a little spoiled, but anything that makes playing guitar less of a hassle…and more enjoyable…is worth it in my opinion.
Will Locking Tuners Keep My Guitar In Tune?
They will do the same job as standard tuners, and may be slightly more accurate. But if you are having tuning problems, it is usually because of the nut, or the bridge. You may also have an intonation problem.
Are Locking Tuners Worth It?
Yes! Locking tuners can make changing strings much faster. You do not need to wind the string around the post on locking tuners, so it takes significantly less time to restring your guitar.
Are Locking Tuners Expensive?
Most locking tuners that are name brand are under $100 for the set. This is a pretty inexpensive upgrade for a project guitar, or a guitar that you want to fix up. Locking tuners are easier to restring, and it’s worth the $50-$80 for a good set.