Addendum: Locking Tuner Advice Debunked?

OK, so I know I mentioned that we were going to move on to tremolo stuff in this tuning series but something happened after I published the last article that made me think it was worth talking a little about locking tuners.

Essentially, after I mentioned the tip of always tuning UP to a note, I got a bundle of emails from people saying they’d heard exactly the opposite advice when it came to locking tuners.

So, what's the story?

Should you tune PAST the note and back down when using locking tuners?

Well, it turns out there is some Fender support documentation that does advise players with locking tuners to tune past the note and then come back down to the correct pitch.

Hmmm.

I did a little digging on this but before I get to that, let’s just recap on locking tuners.

How do locking tuners work?

A locking tuner is exactly the same as a regular tuner except it has some ‘clamping’ method to hold the string in the post-hole.

The easiest way this is accomplished is to have a thumbwheel on the rear of the tuner body. Tightening the thumbwheel raises a pin through a hollow ‘tube’ down the centre of the string post. The pin clamps the string in the hole.

Basic locking tuner operation

Different tuners use slightly different methods of clamping the string but once the string is clamped, the tuner behaves exactly like a regular tuner. You turn the key which turns a ‘worm-gear’. That worm-gear turns a larger, round pinion-gear, which rotates the string post. All that’s a complicated way of saying what we pretty much all know — turning the key turns the post.

Locking tuners do all of this in the same way as normal tuners. The only thing that locks is the string inside the hole.

That ‘Tune Down’ with Locking Tuners Advice

So, back to that advice. If you take a look way down the bottom of this Fender Support Document, you can see it listed under Additional Hints. No rationale is given.

After some poking about I was able to find some more (slightly shaky) information in the bowels of a number of forums. There’s some information in this tread and it’s repeated across a couple of different forums too.

The first piece of information (another piece in a minute) — and the one that’s repeated in different forums — is attributed to Fender Customers Relations and states, “That is just ensure that the string is stable on the tuning post, when you overwind the string slightly the grooves of the string can settle onto the post eliminating any ‘slippage’ during first time use.”

[I actually misread this first time and replied to a couple of readers mentioning grooves in the string post itself. Sorry about that. My bad.]

So, I think what they’re saying is that the string winds can settle onto/around the post.

Ok. I can see where they’re coming from. Over-tightening the string could compress the wraps a little and speed that process. That could certainly lead to a little extra stability. I’d argue that stretching will do the same thing.

And, here’s the thing: Even if you over-tighten and then back off, I really recommend still de-tuning lower than the note and tuning back up.

Doing anything else assumes a system with no slack. Granted, a locking tuner — without multiple wraps around a tuner post — has less potential for string slack to hide but that’s just part of the string-tuning system.

And, remember a locking tuner is just a regular tuner with a string-clamp. Unless they’ve been machined to Mars-probe tolerances, there’s slop\1 in that mechanism.

Tuning up to the note, even with locking tuners, keeps that slop to a minimum. Tuning down is ‘de-tensioning’ things and giving slack and slop a home.

Personally, I don’t see any advantage in that.

By the way, I mentioned two pieces of information reportedly2 from Fender representatives. The second just reads, “The manufacturer of the tuners said to do it that way.”

My thoughts on tuning with locking tuners

I don’t know what Fender — or the tuner manufacturer — intended by this advice. My own feeling is that you should ignore it and tune your locking tuners UP to the desired note.

Up!

Can I call Fender's advice positively debunked? No, not really. However, it makes no sense to me and my experience says otherwise. If someone from Fender wants to explain the reasoning on this one, I’m happy to be corrected. Otherwise, up, only up.

As we're on the subject, I’m going to finish with a recap of how to properly string locking tuners. Lots of players will string them just like they would a regular tuner but that utterly kills their value.

How to string locking tuners

Locking tuners big advantage is that you don’t need multiple string wraps so the string won’t slip. There’s less potential for slack to hide in wraps.

So, don’t string your locking tuners like you would a normal tuner. If you’ve more than one wrap, you’re doing it wrong.

Line up the string holes in each post so they’re pointing up/down the neck. Feed a string through and pull it relatively tight from the free end. When you’ve removed any slack, tighten up the locking mechanism in whatever way your tuners accomplish this.

Then, tune up to pitch. Like I say, you should have less than one wrap on all strings (the top string will be closest to one wrap but should still be less).

Oh, and do tune UP.

So. Sorry for this locking tuner digression but, I had enough questions on this one that I thought it worthwhile enough to warrant its own post

  1. *I’m using ‘slop' to mean looseness or ‘play’ in a mechanism. You’ll know this yourself, because you've probably noticed that there’s a certain amount of rotation on your machine head where nothing happens. It won't be much but for the first small part of a turn, the mechanism is just winding out the looseness. ↩︎
  2. I say 'reportedly' because, while I don’t have a major reason to doubt these, they are second-hand reports on an internet forum and that’s not always the right place for accuracy and unbiased opinion ↩︎