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Locking tuners provide increased tuning stability and take the hassle out of restringing.
Upgrading the tuning heads is a popular guitar modification with immediate benefits.
We’ll take a look at the best locking tuners on the market in 2021.
One of the most popular upgrades for an electric guitar is using locking tuners in place of the stock tuners. Poorly made tuners may be the main culprit for one of the worst problems a guitar can have – it just won’t stay in tune (yeah…that’s kind of important…).
On top of that, the traditional tuner design typically requires several wraps of the string around the post. Not only does this increase the possibility of string slippage, but anyone that has ever changed a set of strings will tell you that it can be a time-consuming process…
To help combat these common problems, several manufacturers produce locking tuners – many of which are direct replacements for the stock units. But with so many options available, which ones are the best locking tuner options to consider putting on your favorite guitar?
We’ve got you covered! Let’s take a little time today to talk about the best locking guitar tuners currently available in 2021. We’ll take a look at which ones made our grade, along with giving you all the background info you need to make an informed purchase.
What Are The Best Guitar Locking Tuners?
‘Which set of guitar locking tuners is the best’ can be a tough question to answer because it depends on what aspect or feature is the most important to you. One important factor to consider is the price, as this can make or break a selection.
When it comes to the higher end of the locking tuner market, you should expect features and performance that can’t be found in cheaper products. The Graph Tech PRL-8341-C0, in our eyes, is the model that has risen to the top of the heap to be crowned the best premium locking tuner around.
Think about how it goes whenever you change a set of strings: it seems that a very small turn of the tuning knob makes a huge difference in the pitch on the low E, while it may take many more turns to get that same effect on the high E. That’s just the way it is, right?
They are a little unique from other locking tuners in that they are not sealed. Some may say that sealed units help to keep dirt and grime out of the internal mechanism, but in our experience, there isn’t really any difference in performance as long as you keep your guitar clean (you do keep it clean, right?).
For the most part, the price range for a good set of locking tuners is fairly narrow. But when it comes to that ‘bang for your buck’ factor, our best value badge goes to the Sperzel Inline 6 Tuners.
Guitars that have all six tuners on one side of the headstock (think a Fender Stratocaster) have a basic problem: the stock tuners are all typically the same height. That means string trees have to be used to get the right break angle for the string when it goes over the nut. They can be notorious for adding another friction point, making tuning stability even more difficult to achieve.
Grover's patented locking tuners have eliminated the obstacles of other locking devices. Since there are no external mechanisms to initiate the locking action, the machine head's appearance is like any other.
Grover has long been one of the ‘go-to’ brands for guitar tuners, and with good reason – they have an excellent reputation for manufacturing some of the smoothest and most accurate tuners around. With the 406C6, they have produced a cost-effective option for adding locking machine heads to your guitar – with a twist…
…and when we say ‘with a twist’, we mean it! The 406C6 is a mini version of Grover’s Original Locking Rotomatic Tuners. While most locking tuners have a separate knob on the bottom of the tuner body that is used to lock the string to the post, the Locking Rotomatic has a unique interlocking cam post mechanism instead. The string gets locked with the first few ‘twists’ of the main knob, then the post starts to turn to add tension.
The 3 + 3 format Auto Trim Tuning Machines are precision tuners that automatically cut the excess string while changing strings, eliminating the need for string cutting tools and making string changes easy and fast.
You can’t discuss guitar accessories without mentioning Planet Waves or D’Addario, and you’ll find these tuning heads under both brand names (though it seems D’Addario have taken over and Planet Waves are now harder to find).
The Auto Trims have a locking mechanism similar to most other brands of locking tuners, but with a twist – they also feature a hardened steel cutter that automatically cuts the excess off when you tighten the locking clamp knob. No more wire cutters!
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The lower ratio means that it takes fewer turns of the tuner knob for the post to make a complete revolution. This translates to less knob movement to add or decrease string tension, which can really help to tune up quicker. The flip side is that with less resolution, it may be a touch harder to make those precise adjustments.
Schaller tuning machines have a long and fabled history, and they have taken their legendary reputation for high quality to the guitar locking tuner market with their Locking Tuning Machines.
Featuring a rugged locking mechanism and a standard 18:1 gear ratio, Sperzel Locking Tuners are a premium set of tuners that look and feel like the ‘top of the line’ models that they are. It’s no small wonder that so many manufacturers have gone to Schaller’s (Fender locking tuners are actually Schaller’s, for example) as their high-end option for their best instruments.
Locking Tuners FAQ: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know
When it comes to any item that you can upgrade on an electric guitar, it’s always best to gain a little knowledge before you take the plunge. Putting on a set of locking tuners is a prime example – they are a different beast from what you may be used to…so are they the right option in your case?
We’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions about locking tuners below, with the intention of saving you some research time and also to give you the info you need to make the best choice.
How is a locking tuner different from a traditional tuner?
Traditional tuners are much more simple by design, and aren’t necessarily made with stability in mind. They are simple devices that translate the rotary motion of the tuner knob (sometimes called a ‘button’) to the small post that sticks up through the headstock.
The guitar string is then threaded through the post hole and then – depending on which direction you turn the knob – you can increase (or decrease) the tension needed to bring the string to proper pitch.
With a locking tuner, there typically is another small knob that is located on the body of the tuner itself. Once the string is inserted through the post hole, you simply tighten this knob. A small pin that is located inside the post then moves upward and clamps the string to the post.
How does a set of locking tuners keep my guitar in tune?
With traditional tuners, it’s a common practice to have the string wrap several times around the post. This helps to keep the string from slipping (and therefore losing tension and going out of tune). But here’s where the problem can lie: these extra wraps can still slip a bit, particularly after some heavy playing. Stability can also be affected by other techniques like string bending or using a tremolo bar.
Locking tuners aim to get rid of that problem and help your guitar stay in tune. The clamp inside the post is a lot stronger than you may think – it can hold the string in place without having any wraps at all. Tuning stability on a guitar is determined by many factors, but with a set of locking tuners, you can help to eliminate one of the biggest culprits.
Is it hard to change strings with locking tuners?
Not at all – changing a string on a guitar with locking tuners is actually a much faster process. Simply attach the string to the bridge as you normally would, then thread the other end through the hole in the locking tuner post. Pull the string tight, then lock it in place using the knob on the bottom of the tuner.
From there, just tune your guitar as you normally would. Since you pulled the string tight before you clamped it, you’ll be able to tune to pitch without having any full wraps on the post. Once you’re in tune, then clip off the end of the string – and you’re done.
Some models of locking tuners even do the string cutting for you!
Are locking tuners easy to install on my guitar?
Self-installation for a set of tuners can be a piece of cake as long as you do your homework first and know what you’re getting into. The first step is taking the time to understand what is already installed on your guitar. In some cases, locking tuners can be a direct retrofit; in fact, some models come with small adapter plates that offer universal mounting with almost any guitar.
One big factor to consider is the size of the holes in your guitar’s headstock. Unfortunately not all guitar manufacturers follow the same standards, so you need to make sure that the locking tuners you plan to buy will fit in the guitar you have. Sure, you can plug and drill holes if needed, but work that is that extensive should be left to a trained guitar tech or luthier.
Are locking tuners expensive?
Considering the extra benefits that locking tuners can provide, you’ll be surprised to know that they really aren’t all that much more expensive than a good set of traditional tuners.