9 Best Locking Tuners to Keep Your Guitar Always in Tune

Updated on by Gavin Whitner | Please note that there may be affiliate links on this page.

Traditional tuners can keep your instrument in tune but their abilities are somewhat limited. Everyday wear and tear can cause your guitar to keep getting out of tune. Not to mention the influence of different temperature conditions.

So, you've decided to upgrade your guitar with locking tuners, but you're somewhat suspicious and it's not an easy decision to make.

Yes, it's true, your headstock needs to be drilled, and I know that it can be a scary proposition to drill holes in your precious baby. If you've decided to give it go, let me show you some of the best locking tuners, so that your axe can stay in tune no matter what the situation is.

Read on to check out some of my favorite locking tuners for guitar.

Best Locking Tuners for the Money

One of the most iconic brands in the world of guitars, Fender has been around since 1946. Almost every guitar player has a favorite, be it a Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster, or perhaps a Jaguar. It's no wonder these locking tuners come standard on their line of American Deluxe guitars.

In case you don't own one of these, or even if your guitar doesn't bear a Fender logo, rest assured that the Fender locking tuners could be an excellent upgrade over your standard set of tuners.

Keep in mind that these are meant for guitars with an inline 6 headstock configuration, so installing them on a Fender guitar is straightforward. They’re not difficult to install on other guitars either.

The tuners look and feel well-built so they should provide you with countless years of in-tune performance. Some of you may dislike the fact that they only come in chrome-plated finish, but it actually works well on most guitars.

  • The weight of Fender's heritage and tradition
  • Direct replacement on Fender guitars
  • Beautifully designed and built to last
  • Will not fit guitars with a 3x3 headstock configuration
  • Comes only in chrome-plated finish

With the PRL-8341-C0, Graph Tech has created a set of revolutionary locking tuners which provides incredibly accurate tuning when compared to conventional tuners.

Each of the individual tuners included are fitted with a custom gear ratio which ensures that the machine heads all produce an identical reaction – one full turn per whole tone.

This accuracy makes alternative tunings a breeze. Simple in design, the ratio technology employed by Graph Tech produces the exact same response from, for example, your low E string as it does an unwound high E string. The turning mechanism gives this locking tuner a manual, old-school feel that is very satisfying.

One of the other great things about this Graph Tech locking tuner is how simple the installation process is. There’s no need for drilling or potentially causing harm to your instrument, because the tuners system installs directly onto the headstock and can be take out at any time without leaving a mark.

One of the issues guitarists often have with locking tuners is that they can spoil the overall look of an instrument. Not these though, the mounting plated are completely hidden by the tuning heads, producing a polished, understated appearance that doesn’t look out of place on even the most beautiful of acoustic guitars.

  • Ensure rock-solid tuning
  • No drilling required for installation
  • Removable without leaving a mark
  • Expensive

In case you've lived under a rock in recent decades, Grover is one of the most reputable names in the music instruments industry. Ever since the late 1800's they have specialized in making some of the most respectable machine heads for all sorts of guitars, banjos, bass guitars, and other string instruments.

Of course, with this reputation you'd expect nothing short of excellent when Grover locking tuners are concerned. The Grover 502C locking tuners require a drop-in installation and they are meant for guitars that use a 3x3 tuner configuration. Sorry, Tele and Strat guys, these aren't meant for your beauties.

You don't need any tools or hardware for the installation, as the package includes everything you need. This will save you from paying a visit to your local guitar shop.

The installation is an easy process, and it calls for just a one-time string wrap before you can lock it in place by using a thumb screw.

When it comes to finish options, you can choose between gold, chrome, and black chrome, which should suit most guitars.

Going for these, you might break the bank a little bit, but I'm sure you won't be disappointed with the results.

  • Excellent tuning ratio
  • Finish options include gold, chrome, and black chrome
  • Fairly easy installation process
  • Not very competitively priced
  • Troubles with extra-large strings
  • Only meant for 3x3 headstock configuration

D'Addario is known for affordable yet high quality products for guitar enthusiasts. For years they've operated the sub-brand Planet Waves, while being one of the largest musical instrument companies in the world, specializing in strings.

If you've grown familiar with their line of products, you're definitely gonna love these locking tuners, as they are some of the best I've stumbled upon. They come loaded with some quite innovative features that I haven't seen on competing products.

Even though their visual appearance isn't something to write home about, they do feature a clamping method which automatically cuts the excess string once it is properly tuned.

It's also worth pointing out that their gears come with an 18:1 ratio, which means you get the utmost precision during the tuning process.

The tuners feel well-built and that's completely confirmed by the fact that they come with a lifetime warranty. Those of you who have a thing for tremolos are going to love these.

  • Built to last
  • Very precise
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Available in both 3+3 and in-line 6 configurations
  • Not visually appealing
  • Can't really cut through larger strings

Ever since its inception in 1977, Sperzel has been associated with some high quality products. They are known worldwide for delivering different sorts of machine heads, with an emphasis on custom designed products.

Actually, they were the ones to introduce the first locking tuners to the world, way back in 1983. They often supply tuners to big-name guitar companies, so they really make some of the best models of locking tuners available out there.

Sperzel makes different sets of locking tuners that are compatible with guitars having both inline 6 and 3x3 headstock configurations. So, it's not an issue if you're a Fender/Ibanez guy or a Gibson/Paul Reed Smith guy. 

Probably the best thing about these Sperzel locking tuners is that they are staggered in height, and as such you don't really need to use any string retainers. The response across the strings is rather sensitive and open, and the tune really stays intact, even under heavy abuse.

They have a reputation for being able to open up your guitar tone and they are among the most popular guitar upgrades among enthusiasts and guitar techs everywhere around the world.

  • They hold the tune perfectly
  • Very easy to install
  • Significant improvement of guitar tone openness
  • Removable pins can sometimes be a source of frustration
  • Not the cheapest option

Featuring a shiny chrome finish, an automatic locking system, and a lifetime warranty, the Grover 406C locking tuners are hard to beat. Particularly, if you own a guitar which allows room for only three keys on each side, such as a Gibson.

The 406C machine heads facilitate quick string changing for use in live performances, as well as good tuning sustain. The installation shouldn’t take any longer than other machine heads of 18:1 gear ratio.

These tuners combine the design of standard Rotomatic tuners with Grover’s internal cam post design. This helps to speed up the tuning process. Usually, a single string post revolution should be enough to get you in standard tuning when you’re replacing your strings.

Are these the world’s finest machine heads as advertised? – It’s hard to say. They’re definitely up there with the best of them. Ultimately though, choosing your locking tuners also comes down to personal preference.

  • Excellent build quality
  • Strong locking mechanism
  • Quick tuning
  • Simple installation
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Some users face a bit of initial difficulty in fitting strings through these

Schaller is a German company founded in 1945, and it was always one of the most reputable players on the market of high quality guitar components.

Their machine heads are a common sight on high-end guitars and are highly regarded by numerous guitarists as the best in business. Schaller owns the original patent to locking tuners.

Each of these Schaller locking tuners locks the string in the peg by utilizing a knurled nut. This means that the mechanism actually operates as if it wasn’t really a locking nut, but the string itself doesn't actually get wound around the peg.

Its end just needs to be inserted through the hole before getting locked with a screw, and that's all there is to it.

As you'd expect, the build quality is top-notch, but once again I'm somewhat disappointed with the fact that it only comes in chrome finish. When compared to Fender's locking tuners, it isn't that much of an eye candy, but it does hold the tune tight, no matter what you're doing to your guitar.

As an added bonus, it can be used on different headstock configurations.

  • Holds tune perfectly under all conditions
  • Feel and look well-made
  • Easy to operate and set up
  • Won't fit all guitars equally well
  • Comes only in chrome-plated finish

The Hipshot Grip-Lock tuners accommodate string fixing through the rear screw. They feature a chrome finish that will work well with most traditional electric guitars. The heads should fit most electric guitars and they would also add a fine finishing touch to a custom-built guitar.

Operating the tuners is very simple. You just need to release some string tension and then unscrew at the back. Working the screw is pretty much effortless as you wouldn’t want to tighten them. This is so that your strings can stay in tune for longer periods of time.

I recommend these Hipshot locking tuners both for practice guitars and live guitars. Swapping out strings is very convenient, should one or more break during a performance.

  • Build quality
  • Ease of installation
  • Quick string change
  • Superior tuning retention
  • May not work on all Tele/Strat guitars

These technically don't qualify as standard locking tuners. But what makes these tuners stand out, in my opinion, is the longer shafts on the E and A strings. The longer shafts help reduce string angle. This helps to keep the strings tuned and maintain the pitch for longer, no matter how hard and fast you like to strum.

Another standout is the affordability. This two-hole design (high/low) is quite cheap. On top of that, it serves as a considerable improvement over many stock guitar tuners. Especially the ones on mid-priced Squire, Jackson, and Fender guitars.

The compatibility is quite good. The tuners are fitted for 10mm tuner holes, which covers a wide range of manufacturers and guitar sizes.

And, for anyone who’s worried about color compatibility, know that the EZ LOK tuners come in black, chrome, or gold. While these may not be traditional locking tuners, they’re definitely an upgrade worth considering. Or they can serve for practice purposes until you get something even better.

  • Posts of same height
  • Long shafts on E and A strings
  • Easy installation
  • Affordable
  • Only for right-handed guitars

Locking Tuners vs. Traditional Tuners

Simply put, locking tuners minimize the tuning out of your strings.

I totally understand that you don't want to spoil your beautiful vintage guitar with modern products. Also, you don't want to damage the body or the headstock by drilling any holes.

However, if you don't mind slightly modifying your guitar, you'll do a good thing and thank me later.

Points to Consider

Convenience

Don't forget to consider the fact that the process of changing the strings is much more convenient with locking tuners. It will save you a lot of time, especially if you own more than just one guitar and if you're playing a lot of gigs. This might be one of the main reasons why this is a good long-term investment.

Design

Depending on the model of your guitar, always take into consideration the locking tuners' design as some of them don't fit inline 6 headstock configuration. If you're a Gibson player, also make sure you choose the tuners meant for 3x3 headstock configuration.

Budget & Ease of Installation

Locking tuners aren't that expensive generally, but if you plan on installing them you'll surely be guided by your budget.

You can't really go wrong with any of the products listed here, so you'll probably be guided by their visual appearance, ease of installation process, and overall performance.

That being said, note that not all machine heads are as easy and gratifying to install. You’ll often see gear ratios among the specs (19:1 or 18:1). 18:1 tuners are easier to install and they feel less flimsy afterward.

When it comes to budget, know that even the most affordable locking tuners may be an improvement over your stock tuners. But, the quality may go up with the price.

Final Word

Hopefully, this list will help you choose the best locking tuner for your guitar. All of the listed products come with their own benefits, though none of them are perfect.

Perhaps it's best to take your baby to your local guitar shop, so that you can determine which one of these will fit your guitar the best.

Make sure you choose the locking tuners that will help your strings resonate better and open up your guitar tone.

Gavin Whitner

About Gavin Whitner

A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

20 thoughts on “9 Best Locking Tuners to Keep Your Guitar Always in Tune”

  1. The information on the Sperzel tuners only being available for Fender guitars is totally incorrect. Not only does Sperzel have models for 3×3 as well as 6 inline they offer sets for 7 and 8 string guitars also.

    Even if that wasn’t the case, Sperzel tuners are entirely modular and can easily be reconfigured for 3×3, 2×4, left or right hand, etc, and each piece of each tuner can be custom configured from a rainbow of different anodized colors parts, all of which are machined from solid billets of lightweight aluminum, not diecast from some questionable pot metal.

    Sperzel offers more customization in its products than I have ever seen from any other manufacturer, period. Plus, they’re made in the good old USA.

    Reply
  2. Sorry but another question on my j mascis and 60 Vive Jag I want replace pick guards do they come with me shields or does a Luther have to install them? thanks Brian

    Reply
    • Thanks for your suggestion, John. I’ll definitely check them out and include them during the next revision of this article if I find them to be good!

      Reply
  3. Aloha Gavin, would you of of any locking tuners that would drop right into my Ibanez GB10 se without having to drill any new holes? thanks!

    Reply
  4. I have a prs Custom se 24. I like the stock tuners. The locking ones by prs im unsure of how good they are since they didnt make the list. What would be recommended. I kinda do like the idea of keeping it all prs
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hey Thomas,

      They’re definitely good ones too! You can go for those without thinking too much. I’ll include them in the next revision of this article. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Probably a silly question, but what is your opinion of locking tuners on an acoustic guitar? The Fender locking tuners that a friend installed in his MIM Telecaster convinced me that I’ll put them on my Telecaster when I get it. But I’d really like to put some on my Taylor GS Mini Koa. They seem to be more popular on electrics, but do you see any problem with putting them on an acoustic?

    Reply
    • Hi George, it’s not a silly question at all. 🙂

      Well, typically locking tuners are meant for tremolo usage, hence there’s no real benefit to using them on an acoustic guitar. They’ll fit and work just fine, but you probably don’t need them.

      Reply
  6. Hi Gavin, have a 1985 Japanese strat with gotoh tuners, any issues to bear in mind when buying locking tuners?
    Would be nice not to have to drill new holes when I replace them.

    Reply
    • Hi Andy,

      I’m not sure, honestly. I’d advise you to give Sweetwater a call. They’d be able to provide the best solution, I’m sure, as they sell both strats and locking tuners, and often help guitar players choose compatible models.

      Reply
  7. Can someone help me find the small 2 pin pattern STAGGERED? For my refretted schecter strat neck? I called schecter and they told me to find ping brand. I’ve ordered 3 different times fender locking staggered and they got me each time with the big pattern 2 pin. I just don’t want to drill in this neck and I need staggered mostly but locking would be a plus. I’m not using a floyd just a stock cast trem. Can someone help me find the right tuners to fit right in? I was always being misled on the 3 tuner purchases I’ve already made and trying to budget my money but now all the trouble and still no success. I’ve heard the squier was the same small pattern 2 pin but not really sure. I just need staggered 2 pin small pattern chrome.

    Reply
    • Hi Hadley, I can’t help you myself as I’m not really sure. I can, however, recommend you to just give Sweetwater a call. They have gear experts who deal with such compatibility issues everyday and help customers get something that’ll actually fit and work as intended. Just worth giving it a shot, I think.

      Reply

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