It’s obvious, isn’t it? My guitar has problems staying in tune so I’ll replace the tuners. Done! I mean, it’s right there in the name: “Tuners,” right?
Yes, absolutely, sometimes tuners are the cause of a guitar slipping out of tune.
But not always. Not even most of the time.
Most of the time, the tuners will make no difference if your guitar’s tuning slips over a period.
“But these are cheap tuners on here,” you exclaim. “They cost less than a pack of gum.”
Yep, might be right. They’re cheap. And they’re not particularly good. There’s a heap of slack in the tuning head before it even starts turning the string post. They’re clunky and not particularly accurate. Maybe all that’s true.
But, in my experience, they’re probably not slipping.
Terrible tuners can make it a pain to actually get your guitar into tune in the first place but, once it’s there, most of the time they don’t slip much. If your guitar can be made to play in tune but that tuning ‘moves’ over time, I’d bet it’s not the tuners that are responsible.
Never upgrade tuners, then?
Don’t get me wrong. All of this is not to say that tuner upgrades are worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Upgrading to a set of better-made tuners can be a fantastic investment. Upgrading to a really good set can be a wondrous pleasure, the likes of which mortals rarely experience. Oh, the accuracy… The smoothness… Oh, my…
New tuners can be amazing but there’s a very real chance they won’t stop your guitar going out of tune.
But, but, what about locking tuners?
Ah, yes. This might the time that changing tuners will help. But not necessarily because of the tuner. Locking tuners are no more or less likely to slip than another, equivalently-made tuner.
The difference is in how the string attaches. It’s the string that locks, not the tuner gear/post. And, as one of the factors that can cause tuning problems is how the string is wrapped/wound/fixed to the post, locking tuners (if used correctly) can eliminate some of these issues. This could, therefore, help prevent your guitar falling out of tune.
Of course, the reason your particular guitar loses tune may not be wrapped around a string post and, so, we’re back to ‘tuners might not help’.
As an aside, I have a selfish personal view that every guitar should come with (good) locking tuners because (good) locking tuners make restringing so much faster and easier. When you string as many guitars as I do, your black and withered, repair-person heart emits a tiny whimper of joy when it encounters locking tuners.
I say ‘good’ locking tuners because some require a week-long training course to figure out their operation. Those can still work well but they bring less joy to my shrivelled heart.
The Bottom Line
Upgrade your tuners if you want. It’s a worthy way to spend money on a guitar. Just don’t expect it will solve all your tuning woes. It might, but there’s a reasonable chance your particular woes lie elsewhere.
Tune in next time for the next thrilling instalment. We’ll start to work through things.