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
Table of Contents
- Best Locking Tuners for the Money
- Locking Tuners vs. Traditional Tuners
- Points to Consider
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.