When discussing guitar tone and its upgrades, we tend to mention components such as pickups and similar electronics. Guitar tuners, on the other hand, are commonly disregarded. Can this seemingly unimportant piece of hardware improve your electric or acoustic guitar’s tone?
Stock guitar tuners have little to no impact on the guitar’s tone. Replacing them, however, can affect the guitar’s tone in multiple ways. One of the ways is changing the guitar’s balance and feel, therefore altering the tone. The other is improving or degrading the instrument’s tonal stability.
You can find out all about how guitar tuners modify the guitar’s tone further down the text. While on it, you’ll also find out how important tuners are to the instrument’s overall tone and feel, as well as whether it’s worth it to go for the expensive guitar tuner options.
How Guitar Tuners Affect the Tone
To reiterate, there are two ways in which guitar tuners affect the overall tone of the instrument:
- Altering the balance, which affects the tone.
- Improving or degrading the guitar’s tuning.
It should be noted that these differences in tone can be so minor that most guitar players can’t even perceive them. Still, it’s important to recognize and explain them, as they can also be the difference between a non-functional and a great instrument.
Right out of the box, most guitars come with hardware that has been approved both in terms of quality and balance. However, guitars on the lower end of the price range can come with tuners that cannot keep or even get the guitar in tune.
When your guitar tuners break, or you find yourself in the situation described above, it’s time to replace the tuners. You’ll find the details on two of the ways that this change can impact your guitar’s tone below:
Changing the Tuners Alters the Guitar’s Balance
If you’re used to a specific weight, feel, and balance of your guitar, you should keep in mind that replacing the guitar tuners can affect all of these elements.
Even though they aren’t particularly heavy, the new tuners are highly unlikely to weigh as much as the previously installed ones. Furthermore, the balance change will certainly affect how the entire guitar resonates and responds to your playing, leading to a shift in tone.
Admittedly, this guitar tone alteration is going to be unnoticeable for most guitar players. Having said that, seasoned players are more likely to notice the change, which can become an issue.
What’s tricky is that you can’t know whether the change in balance and tone caused by the new guitar tuners will be positive or negative until the new ones are in place.
Changing the Tuners Improves or Degrades the Guitar’s Tone Stability
The main reason we choose to replace guitar tuners is that they can fail at their job. This job is keeping the guitar in tune.
Regardless of their price point, almost all guitar tuners are destined to fail at some point. This issue can be caused by age or lack of maintenance (more on this later).
Installing a set of quality guitar tuners is a guaranteed way to improve your tone. As they can simply keep the guitar in tune longer, getting a new set of tuners is one of the best things you can do for a cheap guitar and its tone.
In the same vein, you can go the wrong way and choose a set of cheaper guitar tuners. Skimping on guitar tuners can lead to degradation in terms of tone and tone stability.
My advice would be to avoid buying new guitar tuners until you’ve dedicated a decent budget to this cause. Generally speaking, a good set of tuners will run you around $65.
Should You Replace Your Guitar Tuners?
As already mentioned, guitar tuners are a guitar element that is commonly forgotten. This applies to both maintenance of the instrument and any potential upgrades that players might be considering.
You should replace your guitar tuners if they’re slipping and aren’t able to get the guitar in tune. Also replace them if they can’t keep the instrument in tune. Upgrading or replacing this guitar hardware element for a more well-made option is always recommended on entry-level instruments.
Sometimes it can be unclear whether the tuners on your guitar need replacing and whether this procedure is worth it. Could they maybe be saved with basic maintenance and some elbow grease?
For this reason, I’ll dedicate the next few paragraphs of this article to maintaining and upgrading guitar tuners.
How To Maintain Guitar Tuners
Like most things we use regularly, our musical instruments require some form of maintenance. For average guitar players, this means wiping down the guitar after each use and replacing the strings once in a while.
However, as someone who’s been playing the instrument for more than 15 years, I can assure you that guitars take some more effort in order to keep working like the first you got them from the store.
Taking care of the tuners should be an unskippable part of guitar maintenance. There are only a few points where the strings and the guitar are in constant contact, if you think about it. There are even fewer points that are under constant tension from the strings. One of those is the guitar tuners.
Regular maintenance is the key element in ensuring that your guitar tuners last long and cause you no tuning troubles. Here’s what your guitar tuners maintenance routine should look like:
- Keep the guitar tuners tightened.
- Oil the guitar tuners once a year.
You can do both of these maintenance tasks in less than a minute. When it comes to the first one, just check the tuners when restringing the guitar. If they seem loose, use a screwdriver to tighten any screws on the back of the headstock.
Oiling is an even easier process. All you’ll need to do is apply a few drops of light oil of your choosing (sewing machine oil works great) to the tuners’ gears once a year. You can do this by placing a drop or two of the oil on the back of the tuner and allowing it a few minutes to reach the gears located within.
How To Change Guitar Tuners
With age or with the lack of maintenance, guitar tuners can go beyond the point of repair. If this happens, or if you feel that a new set of tuners can improve your playing, it’s time to switch out the old guitar tuners.
Changing the guitar tuners on electric or acoustic guitars isn’t complicated. The tuner replacement is an easy process that can be done in just a few simple steps:
- Loosen any screws that you see on the back of the guitar’s headstock.
- Loosen the nuts that are found on individual guitar tuners on the front side of the headstock.
- Remove the old guitar tuners.
- Place the new guitar tuners into the sockets.
- Tighten the front nuts, as well as the rear screws.
It’s important to remember that some guitars come with individual tuning heads, while others have tuners that are lined up in a set of multiples. Don’t let this confuse you, as the procedure remains the same.
Another thing to remember is that replacing the guitar tuners won’t always be the solution to your tuning problems. Before going for this option, you should consider whether worn frets or a poor guitar set-up might be to blame.
Locking Tuners and Their Effect on Guitar Tone
Unlike regular guitar tuners that rely purely on tension to keep the strings in place, locking tuners go a step further. This type of tuner locks the top end of the string in place instead, adding an anchor point that prevents the string from slipping.
Another noticeable difference between the regular and locking guitar tuners is their total mass. Considering they’re a little heavier, locking tuners are more likely to cause a slightly more noticeable imbalance when installed.
Consequently, this means that the effects that locking tuners have on the overall tone of the guitar are even more pronounced than with regular tuners. Should you still go for these tuners?
Considering that all of the tonal effects caused by a shift in balance are more theoretical than they are noticeable in real life, locking tuners are not something you should steer away from. If you’re someone who struggles with keeping the strings in place, by all means, go for locking tuners.
When all is said and done, guitar tuners that aren’t broken have a minor impact on the instrument’s overall tone.
However, installing a different set of guitar tuners can disrupt the guitar’s balance, leading to a slight change in the tonal qualities of the instrument. On the same note, a new set of guitar tuners can also improve the instrument’s ability to stay in tune.
Even though they aren’t known for making a huge splash when it comes to tone improvement, guitar tuners can be a worthy investment.