How to replace modern tuners with vintage-style Part 1

Replacing older, (perhaps) less-reliable tuners with new, sealed modern units is a pretty common upgrade. However, sometimes players want to go the other way. Sometimes, they want the look and vibe of a vintage-looking set of tuners. And, I should mention – because the implication is there – these tuners are absolutely fine. There’s no real drawback of installing a quality ‘vintage-style’ set over a set of more ‘modern-looking’ tuners.

However, a major difference in design between these two broad tuner camps can make the change from modern to vintage more tricky.

How to swap modern sealed tuners for vintage-style units with the aid of conversion bushings

I’m going to take a look at what’s involved in swapping out a set of newer Fender tuners for ones with a more vintage vibe and I’m going to split this over two parts.

First up…

The ‘Big’ Problem

They’re too big. That’s the problem. Modern tuners typically need a bigger hole in the headstock.

Vintage tuners usually have ¼” (6.35mm) posts and come with bushings that need 11/32” (about 8.75mm) holes in the headstock. Great.

Modern tuners most often have a post diameter that‘s a little less than ¼” – it’s actually about 6mm. However, the construction of their bodies means they require a much bigger hole in the headstock. Modern tuners need a 10mm hole (0.394”).

Modern tuners mean a 10 or 10.5mm hole in the headstock and that’s too big for vintage tuners

So, swapping out those 10mm-hole tuners for hardware that expects an 8.75mm hole isn't going to work. The bushings will rattle around and the tuner shafts will not have anything to bear off under string tension and may deform. Not good.

And, to make matters worse, Fender’s newer tuners use a slightly bigger hole again. These tuners will leave you with a series of 10.5mm (0.413”) holes in the headstock.

Fitting smaller tuners into larger holes

So what’s to be done?

Well, a while back, I talked about how it’s sometimes necessary to completely plug a hole in order to drill a new – smaller – hole in its place. And that’s certainly an option (the only option in some circumstances).

But there's an easier way.

comparison of regular tuner bushing with conversion bushing

Conversion bushings.

Stew Mac sells some bushings that have a larger-than-standard outside diameter. This means they can press-fit into a larger peghead hole.

The inside diameter on the bushings is a standard quarter-inch so they are perfect for vintage-style tuners but they’ll fit nicely in a modern tuner hole. There’s a set of conversion bushings for 10mm holes and for 10.5mm holes.

These conversion bushings allow you to install vintage tuners on a guitar that’s had modern units. It saves you have to plug holes and re-drill (which is always nice).

Conversion bushings allow you to easily use your vintage tuners in a modern tuner-hole.

If you’re planning on changing out a set of modern tuners, it’ll be much cheaper/easier to budget for a set of these than it will be to plug holes or pay someone to plug holes. It'll also, probably, be neater and it’s easy to switch tuners back at any point in the future if you want.

That’s all in the ‘win’ column if you ask me.

Next time, I’ll step through some of the steps for the actual tuner replacement and for using these bushings. Stay tuned.

Get it…? ‘Tuned’…? No…? Jeez. Tough room. 😉

This article written by Gerry Hayes and first published at