Are Locking Tuners Worth It? Advantages, Trade-Offs & Changing Strings

Are Locking Tuners Worth It? Advantages, Trade-Offs & Changing Strings

Locking tuners help strings stay in tune, but by how much? Are there any trade-offs? Are they worth it? How do you change strings with locking tuners? Let’s talk about it…

Are Locking Tuners Worth It? Advantages, Trade-Offs & Changing Strings

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 Transcription

What’s up everybody? I’m Scott from Stringjoy Guitar Strings in Nashville, Tennessee, and today we’re talking a little bit about locking tuners for your guitar. We’re going to talk about what the advantages are of locking tuners versus standard tuners, whether they’re really all they’re cracked up to be. And on top of all that, we’re going to show you the proper way to use locking tuners on this little Ibanez guitar.

So, locking tuners are a pretty basic but kind of brilliant technology. Basically they’re just like a regular tuner, the only difference is that inside of the actual eye of the tuner, there’s a little bit of a clamp or a clasp that comes up when you tighten this little screw on the button, and that helps hold the string in place, which stops it from slipping in any way, and at least in theory keeps your guitar strings a little bit more in tune than they would be otherwise.

So obviously the advantages of locking tuners are, at least in theory, better tuning stability. But are there any drawbacks? Not really. The big one that people mention is that it does add a little bit of weight to your headstock, which just varies on how you are as a player. If you don’t like your neck to be too heavy, that might add a little bit of weight, but in my opinion, it’s not too much. And honestly, some people feel that having more weight on the headstock even gives you a more meaty tone. There are some products that claim this out there. In any case, I don’t think that drawback is too huge.

The other drawback is pretty basic, but just elementally the more things you have going on with anything out there, the more things there potentially are to go wrong. My first car was a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT. It had all the options on it for 1999 at least, which back then was like, you know, a multi-CD changer, powered windows, and all that sort of cool stuff. The problem was I got it with a lot of miles on it, and by the time I was done with it, all those different things had started falling apart, which many of you have probably experienced when you’ve had older cards as well. It’s really just like that with anything that you deal with, the more things you have going on, the more things you have to go wrong.

That said, I don’t find that locking tuners necessarily wear out too quickly or create any problems on that side, but depending on who you are, if you like your guitar to work for 100 years and never have to touch it, that may be something to consider.

Do locking tuners do a better job than standard guitar tuners? This is really a question with quite a bit of debate behind it. In my opinion, a standard guitar tuner with a guitar string properly wound around it, where you have a couple of wraps and everything’s going just right in terms of where the wraps are on the tuning peg, all that sort of good stuff. In that circumstance, string slippage isn’t really a big deal. Obviously a lot of greats that have made a lot of great music used standard guitar tuners and they didn’t cause them any problems for them. So you could definitely make an argument that it might be overkill.

All that said, there is one thing that locking tuners do well which prevents slippage at the tuning peg. One thing that I think players that are considering locking tuners should take into account before they take on that big expense is the fact that if your strings are going out of tune, it isn’t necessarily the tuners that are at fault. There’s a lot of different elements on a guitar that can contribute to poor tuning stability, from the bridge to the nut to the quality of the strings themselves.

So, if you’re experiencing bad tuning stability, I wouldn’t just jump and assume that putting on locking tuners is going to fix it. They do fix one element that can throw strings out of tune, which is slippage, but in my opinion, the quality of the strings can do a lot more for making your tuning stability not what you want, than that will. So it’s worth keeping that in mind. For example, when I got this Ibanez brand new from the factory, everything was set up just right. The locking tuners were done pretty well, but all that said, the tuning stability was still really, really poor. I personally think that’s because of the quality of the strings, but maybe it’s something with the nut or the bridge as well.

In any case, locking tuners are not a guarantee that you’re going to have perfect tuning stability, or that you’re never going to have to tune your guitar, or anything like that. So, how do you use locking tuners? This might seem like a pretty basic question, but I see a lot of people that are doing it, I don’t want to say wrong because it’s a guitar, there’s all sorts of different ways to do things, none of which are necessarily wrong, but not the way that locking tuners were designed to be used.

So today we’re going to change the low E string on this little Ibanez, I’ve just got a Stringjoy .046 we’re going to throw on here. And I’m going to show you really, really basically the proper way to use your locking tuners.

All right, so I’ve already got the string threaded through the back of the body and coming up through the bridge. The first thing we want to look when we’re installing strings on locking tuners, obviously we want to make sure that this bottom screw is all the way loosened so that that clasp isn’t clamping anything that isn’t there.

You’re going to need to be able to have that free so you can get the string through. But that should be pretty obvious. The next thing to always look at is that the eye of the tuning peg is facing the nut slot that you’re going to be running that string through as best as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’ll just make things a little bit easier.

So once we have that setup, we’re going to pop our string right through there. So the big mistake that a lot of players make with locking tuners is that they leave a lot of slack on the string, the same way as you would with standard tuners. But you shouldn’t really use your locking tuners like that, if only because you don’t have to. What you want to do is pull your string pretty well through, so that you have most of the slack taken out, and then go ahead and tighten that bottom screw all the way down.

Great, so now everything’s locked in and ready to go. It’s probably going to be easiest if we go ahead and clip that string right now. One nice thing about locking tuners is that you don’t have to bend everything up or anything like that, if the clasp is working right it should do its job. If you wanted to bend the string up like you typically would, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

So once you have the strings secured and everything’s clipped off, you are just ready to tune up the same as you would with a standard tuning peg. The big difference is you’re not going to have work quite as hard to get everything up to pitch.

So there we go, this is now tuned E, and as you can see down here, we didn’t have to go nearly as far in terms of twists or wraps or anything like that, as we would with a standard tuning peg.

One thing I could’ve done in this case, I could’ve pulled the slack even tighter and gotten everything over the bridge a little bit more cleanly so that there wouldn’t even need to be this much of a turn on the tuning peg. That’s just kind of up to taste, to me having that much a turn isn’t really any sort of problem. But some people really don’t like it, so in that case, you could just take out even more slack before you tune everything up.

Now, just because our string is secured by this locking tuner there at the tuning peg doesn’t mean we’re not going to also want to stretch our guitar strings. This is because strings do actually physically stretch, and because you’re always going to want to make sure that a string is seated between the nut, the bridge, all that sort of good stuff, and make sure all that slack is balanced out on the length of the strength.

So we’re just going to want to stretch this like normal, and then tune it back up. And this is actually a pretty good example of what we were talking about earlier. Just because you have your string secured on the tuning peg does not mean it’s not going to go out of tune. You’re still going to have to tune your strings, just like you would otherwise. Strings do go out of tune over time, it’s a perfectly natural thing, it’s just the way that they work.

So, just because you’re going with locking tuners doesn’t mean you’re going to be out of the woods in terms of tuning up your guitar every time you play, or multiple times while you’re playing, just depending on what your circumstance is.

So what do you think? Have you tried locking tuners before? Do you swear by them? Does it seem like a total waste of time to you? Let us know down in the comments.

12 Comments

  1. Funny, most posts talk more about ease of string changing than they do about string tuning/intonation. For me (and I am mostly an acoustic player who occasionally plays electric, mostly teles/strats; I have a very good ear for tuning and usually don't rely upon a tuner to ) ... I have always had trouble keeping stock Stratocasters in tune. A real frustrating drag, (PS I am not ignoring the possibility that, after 55 yrs of playing, I still have something to learn about changing strings. Maybe my technique does not translate as well onto electric guitars.) )... but these newer tuners lock my strat in, simply, quickly, and for good, for super-long time, and all tuning problems go away. Totally Lov-em.
  2. I use locking tuners on all my electrics with vibrato tailpieces. Also a graphite nut, bridge saddles, and string tree (Fenders). With quality strings properly installed on a quality guitar, they sound just as good as steel saddles and a bone nut...you hardly ever break strings, no matter HOW hard you play....AND they stay in tune! As for acoustics and electrics without vibrato tailpieces, locking tuners are unnecessary, in my humble opinion. On those guitars, you leave enough string length for two or four wraps after slipping the string thru, doubling the excess back and "locking" it on the first wrap. Tune the string to pitch, pull the length a few times, re-tuning as needed, clip the excess...and voila!...time to boogie!
  3. All my units have locking tuners. Basically because I like the ease and quickness of changing. Yes lazy is my reason. My preference is Sperzel...
  4. Thanks for the tutorial. I’d never look Jed at or thought about locking tuners before this. If I hugged a lot more I’d consider them. Or just maybe because they’re Uber Cool ?. I started using your strings a few months ago and have been selling all my music associates on Stringjoy......! Thanks for your videos Scott... You’ve an entertaining as well as informative delivery....
  5. I have locking tuners on two of my guitars. One I bought with them on it. The other I put on after market. I didn't think that were any better at keeping the guitar in tune, but they do make string changes much easier, and for me that's reason enough to have them.
  6. I learned how to secure a string to the peg of a tuner a long time ago, the toughest is the mono filament nylon string on a classical guitar. So I transferred that knowledge to steel strings, acoustic guitar style. I put a set of Sperzel tuners on my acoustic 6 string. I make sure I have enough slack to get at least one complete wind on the peg before setting the cylinder set screw. They look nice and work well, especially if you change strings often, but I don't so that wasn't the selling point. I could change my strings in about half the time of tying them on with the reverse loop knot making sure the string wound back across itself. I also put a set of 5 on my MB5 Fender, which made it easier hold the strings hole winding them instead of having an inverted loop at the peg that had to be twisted back due to the stiffness of bass strings. I'm thinking of putting a set on my 12 string acoustic, mainly to aid when changing strings, there's so much more that can go wrong with twice as many strings. I like the locking tuners, obviously won't work as well with classical guitar but for the ease of changing strings and not worrying about it, it works quite well as long as you don't mind paying more than an average set of heads and don't expect perfection.
  7. I recently bought a guitar with locking tuners and I'd say my favorite aspect of them is how quickly you can change your string. I don't have to hold my pre-winds in place while tuning up and it achieves the right pitch in a few turns of the peg. I do notice better tuning stability but it's also a brand new guitar with Stringjoy strings on it so there's that to consider. The speed of my string changes is enough for me to want to upgrade all of my guitars with locking tuners.
  8. I just put a set on a kit guitar that I built from Stewmac.com. These are the first I've tried and I have to say I was hoping for more. About the only thing I've noticed as an advantage is easier/faster string changes due to less winding needed.
  9. I love locking tuners. All my guitars have them. The main reason I like them is that I can change strings really quickly.
  10. They make string changes go a lot quicker and that’s why I like them. I’ve had locking tuners on my Tele as an example for 30 years w/no issues.
  11. You basically got it right. The real trick is to pull as much tension outta the string as you can. Locking 3 winds around the peg ain't gonna stabilize anything. Ideally the best scenario is to get em as close to a straight pull as you can. (Think Steinberger tuners.) No wrapping means no slipping. Nut sauce and a "properly" set up tremolo are the other half of the equation. That being said however...Hendrix and Blackmore did just fine with stock tuners.

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