Guestblogger Marc shares his step-by-step instructions for replacing the machine heads (also known as tuners) of your guitar. He’ll not only explain how to do a clean job and freshen up your guitar, but explain why you might need to swap out the tuners at all as well as providing a helpful list of all the tools you’ll need. According to Marc, the process is much more simple and much less scary that you might think. All you need is a little patience and the right tools, and you can restore the tuning stability of your guitar, and maybe even give it a nice little upgrade.
- Why and When Should You Change the Tuners?
- What Tools Will You Need?
- Optional Extras: Fretboard Polish & Fresh Strings
- Changing Your Tuners
Why & When Should You Change the Tuners?
- I only replace a set of tuners for one of two reasons. The first is because the old ones are simply done for, don’t rotate properly anymore, or because they sit to loose on the headstock, can’t hold a string in tune any more, or even get a string in tune in the first place. Sometimes, they’re just broken, so it’s time for a completely new set!
- The second reason is that, while the guitar has a killer-look, the tuners don’t really match up. So, a little upgrade will complete the finish. Of course, this all comes down to personal taste, but you can get so many different kinds of machine heads and some are genuinely beautiful. You might even just want to get the same set of tuners that your idol uses. Whatever you choose, nine times out of ten, you’re likely to raise the quality of your guitar in terms of the feel and tuning stability, as well as the look.
What Tools Will You Need?
It’s essential that you have the right tools for the job before you start to replace the tuners of your guitar, and there’s no reason why your tools have to be expensive, so don’t worry too much about that. Here’s a list of the tools you’ll need:
- Small Phillips head screwdriver
- Wire clippers for trimming and removing strings
- A nr.10 sized wrench (only if you’re upgrading an electric or acoustic guitar)
- Safety glasses (if stuff gets flicked out of the hole when removing the tuners, it tends to aim directly for your eyes)
- String winder (give yourself a break and save yourself some time)
Optional Extras: Fretboard Polish & Fresh Strings
Before I even start, I make sure that I have a fresh pack of strings. The old strings are going to come off anyway so you might as well treat your guitar to a new set. Removing the strings is also a great opportunity to give your fretboard a good clean. To do this, I always use a fretboard conditioner to clean away any accumulated grub and grease, leaving the fretboard feeling smoother. If you have an electric guitar with a maple fretboard, just use a completely dry cloth and don’t use any conditioner since this will cause damage. If you come across any stubborn dirt on a maple fretboad, then nothing more than the moisture from your own warm breath will help get rid of it.
Changing Your Tuners
There are roughly three kinds of machine heads:
- Classical guitar machine heads
- Electric and acoustic guitar machine heads
– on one side of the headstock (like Fender guitars)
– on both sides of the headstock (like Gibson guitars)
Changing Classical Guitar Tuners
- Remove all of the strings
- Use your screwdriver to remove all the small screws from the sides of the headstock.
- Once all of the screws are out, you’ll be able to remove the plate from both sides of the headstock and the mechanics along with it.
- Once removed, you can now set the new machine heads into the headstock.
- Screw in and tighten up the new screws, string up your guitar and you’re done!
Changing Electric and Acoustic Guitar Tuners
It doesn’t make any difference if your guitar has tuners fitted to one side or both sides of the headstock, the process is the same.
- Remove all of the strings.
- Loosen the nut of each tuner using your wrench (please note: while the guitar seen in the photo still has strings, the strings should always be removed before doing this!)
- Once the nut is loosened, the tuner will literally fall out of the underside of the headstock.
- Now you can simply install your new tuners in the same way that the old ones had been installed and secure them by tightening up each nut. Now, you can install your new strings!
Tip: With the tuners seen in the bottom image below, there’s an extra screw on top of the tuning button. This can be adjusted if the button feels too tight or loose as you tune up. Tightening them also improves the tuning stability, but don’t tighten them too much otherwise you’ll struggle to tune at all. Just find a happy medium so that the button comfortably rotates.
That really was it! Swapping out the tuners of your guitar was not so hard or scary after all, right? If you’ve tried it out yourself, let us know how it went in the comments and why you decided to take the leap!
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