Are locking tuners good? Do you need locking tuners? Are locking tuners better than non-locking tuners? Like everything else, this all depends on what you need and what’s important to you.
Yes, locking tuners are good. Let’s establish that right away. However, locking tuners aren’t more stable than standard guitar tuners of the same quality. Assuming both tuner styles you are comparing are of the same build quality, the tuning stability is going to rely on your ability to wrap your guitar strings properly. This part is of course easier to do with locking tuners and for that reason people simply assume they are more stable.
Let’s go ahead and answer the questions below in more detail.
Are locking tuners good?
We’ve established that locking guitar tuners are great. They allow for quicker string changes without having to do a lot of wraps of your strings around the tuning posts. This means you can simply allow just a bit of slack, lock the string down in the post, snip off the excess and tune. You don’t have to do much measuring and having to twist the tuning pegs less means you can change strings quickly.
Do you need locking tuners?
The question as to whether or not you need locking tuners really boils down to whether or not you like the tuners you currently have. If you have good standard tuners, then there might be no point in changing them. You’re not going to get better tuning stability from that investment. Now, if you thoroughly dislike your current tuners and are determined to change them, then a good set of locking guitar tuners might be the solution. That said, keep reading for my favorite style of tuners. Hint: They are not locking tuners.
Are locking guitar tuners better than traditional tuning machines?
We went over this. The myth that locking tuners offer better tuning stability is exactly that, a myth. Tuning stability is determined by how well the strings are installed and by other factors such as nut lubrication. If you have a good set of standard tuners on your guitar and know how to install strings properly, your tuning stability is going to be exactly the same as with locking tuners. The only thing you’ll get from the locking tuner is faster string changes.
What are my favorite type of guitar tuning pegs?
I love vintage style split-shaft tuners. Those are by far my favorite guitar tuning machines. I like them because string changes with them are about as quick as they are with locking tuners, barring having to wind the strings more. Additionally, there are less chances that you will screw up the setup than with standard solid shaft tuners. Split shaft guitar tuners have a slot at the top of the post with a vertical hole down the middle, making it mostly hollow. You simply lay the string across and go past the post you are working the distance of two tuning posts. Then cut the string there. You then shove the end of the string all the way down the hole in the shaft and begin winding. The amount of string wound on the post will be just right with this method and the slot in the post will grip the string so it doesn’t slip. You don’t have to do any tricks like winding the string over itself to keep it from slipping.
I think locking tuners are great. The most important thing is to have good tuners that won’t slip on themselves and knowing how to properly wrap the strings on the posts when changing strings. Don’t just assume that locking tuning machines are better or that they offer better tuning stability. That’s simply not necessarily true. And as I stated recently, check out split-shaft vintage style tuning machines. To me, those offer the best balance of usability and reliability between locking tuner and standard tuners.
One last thing to mention…
Are there any downsides to locking tuners?
Aesthetics aside, yes, there is a potential downside. Locking tuners are generally heavier than standard tuners or split-shaft guitar tuners. This may not be a problem if your guitar is well balanced or a bit body-heavy. But if your guitar is already neck heavy and likes to neck-dive, adding locking tuners is only going to make this problem worse.
In case you are researching guitar tuning machines because you are building a guitar, check out my article on partscasters: Should I Build a Partscaster?