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Guitars don’t always come equipped with the best parts.
If you’re willing to spend more on the axe, oftentimes it features better components. Even then, sometimes it’s not exactly what you need.
Swapping out pots, bridges, frets, and even tuners is common procedure, as it can make a difference to an axe’s tone, playability and functionality.
In the case of tuners, it’s nice to have locking tuners, especially if your guitar has a tremolo bridge. Even if not, it can help your guitar stay in better tune, especially if you're used to performing big bends.
Here are some of the best locking tuners on the market.
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Schaller Machine Heads – Original F Series Locking Tuner Chrome (Joint Best Locking Tuner)
No guitar key best-of list would be complete without a Schaller product.
Although they do cost more than most machine heads, Schaller offers quality products, and these tuners are no exception.
These guitar keys are ideal for replacements on Fender guitars. The Schaller tuners are worth a look if you’re looking for an upgrade.
Fender Locking Tuners (Joint Best Locking Tuner)
If you know anything about guitars, then you shouldn’t be a stranger to the Fender brand.
They make great guitars, pickups, amps, strings, locking tuners and more. Fenders may not be for everyone, but they are loved by a huge group of guitarists.
Not surprisingly, the Fender locking tuners are a popular choice. They come in Polished Chrome, Black, Brushed Chrome and Gold depending on your preference.
You can also get them for left-handed or right-handed guitars, and with a Standard or Vintage style.
These tuners come standard on Fender's American Deluxe line of guitars, so if you’ve ever played one of those before, you know what to expect.
One question that’s bound to come up is whether these tuners are suited for any type of guitar, and the answer, in most cases, is “yes”. You don’t need to own a Fender to take advantage of these.
With that in mind, they do not fit all guitars and you may need to re-drill the holes. Not a big deal if you have a tech you trust to install them for you.
These Fender locking tuners are durable and well-built. They should hold up for many years of use.
Grover 502C Locking Tuners
The Grover 502C locking tuners are meant for guitars with a 3×3 tuner configuration (guitars with three tuning pegs on either side of the headstock), meaning these babies won’t work with Fender guitars.
The Grover package comes with everything you need to install the machine heads and they are easy to install besides. So, you may not need to take your guitar to a tech to have these put on.
The Grover machine heads do cost a little more than the Fenders, but considering the price of machine heads in general, that shouldn’t break the bank.
Grover claims to produce some of the best machine heads available. And, to be fair, it’s what they specialize in (machine heads, bridges and other accessories like strap locks, humidifiers and tuners for a variety of stringed instruments).
Sperzel 6 In-Line Locking Tuners Black
Sperzel is another company specializing in locking tuners. And, they were the first to create locking machine heads, so you know they know what they’re doing.
The Sperzel 6 in-line locking tuners reportedly work wonders as it pertains to keeping your guitar in tune. Interestingly, they can even improve your guitar's tone.
Customers are quite happy with these locking tuners, and that’s no surprise, because Sperzel is at the top of their game.
The main complaints have to do with not fitting certain guitars. If you’re in the market for locking tuners, always check to ensure they will fit your guitar before purchase.
The Sperzel machine heads come highly recommended, and their cost is reasonable enough. Have a look for yourself.
Planet Waves Auto-Trim Tuning Machines – A Great Choice
Available in Black, Chrome and Gold, the Planet Waves Auto-Trim tuning machines come with individual string clamps to hold the string (reducing the need for more wraps around the post), 18:1 gear ratio and limited lifetime guarantee.
These tuners are great for guitars equipped with tremolo.
When you think of locking tuners, Planet Waves probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind. But some people swear by their products.
They may not look like anything special out of the box, but once installed, they look quite nice.
For the most part, users have been happy with the Planet Waves tuners though some have had issues with the auto-trim, which cuts the ends off the strings.
Reportedly, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a good idea, and if it was executed better, these tuners would be worth more.
But for some, the Planet Waves machine heads will be perfect.
Gotoh Magnum Lock-Trad 3+3 Guitar Tuners With Keystone Knobs
Gotoh offers a variety of machine heads that may be perfect for your guitar.
Since they specialize in machine heads, bridges and tailpieces, tremolo units, saddle sets and other accessories, you know they have a good idea of what they’re doing.
The Gotoh Magnum Lock-Trad tuners feature a traditional thumbscrew-style design and locking functionality.
The string posts are solid, allowing for more tuning stability and two post heights, so you don’t need to use a string tree on your headstock.
They come with an 18:1 gear ratio, which allows for precise tuning.
There aren’t any negative reviews to speak up for these Gotoh tuners and they are even a favorite among some guitarists.
Hipshot Grip-Lock 6 Inline Enclosed 21mm Post Locking Tuners
The Hipshot Grip-Lock tuners are a great choice for the price. And, they aren’t just economical. They’re also built well.
In addition, these tuners are install, so you may not even need to hire a tech to put them on your guitar.
Most customers are satisfied with the Hipshot tuners. They may not be for everyone, but for most buyers, they have worked out nicely.
So, overall, Hipshot is another worthy addition to this list.
Wilkinson 6 Inline E-Z Post Guitar Tuners
We typically like to highlight at least one budget option in our product guides.
The Wilkinson E-Z guitar tuners are technically not standard locking tuners but instead are E-Z post tuners. Still, they might be worth a look for some.
They come in Black, Chrome and Gold. And, of course, they are affordable too.
The tuners do not fit all Starts or Teles. They are built specifically for guitars with modern 25/64” tuner holes with a 45-degree fixing tag.
They have a 19:1 gear ratio and a contemporary flat sided mini button. They are also easy to install.
Many customers have had a great experience with the Wilkinson tuners although some have noted they go loose and don’t keep tune over time.
If you want to get tuners that last, consider investing a little more. For some, the Wilkinson tuners might prove a nice upgrade though.
What Should I Look For When Buying Locking Tuners?
Unlike other accessories and gear, locking tuners aren’t overly complicated.
Some work well. Others work okay.
Some will help you keep your guitar in tune and allow you to tune with ease. Others will only offer a minor stability benefit.
Some look nice. Others don’t look quite as nice.
Some are suited to your guitar’s headstock configuration. Others are not.
And, when it comes to price, there isn’t a huge spread. You should be able to get tuners in the $50 to $150 range. Budget is not a major factor here.
You might need to experiment to discover which machine heads work best for you. Of course, you can do a bit of your own homework by reading reviews and watching videos too.
Here is what I would consider if I was in the market for tuners.
The Right Configuration
By this I mean locking tuners that fit your guitar.
Some guitars have all the tuners on one side of the headstock. Some have three on each side.
Then, there are other oddball guitars, like Music Man guitars, that have four on one side and two on the other.
Tuners are generally sold for guitars with specific headstock configurations. So, when buying, keep this in mind.
Also, not all tuners are built to fit all guitars. In some cases, some drilling may be required. For more technical work, be sure to employ the help of an experienced tech.
Stable & Functional Tuners
Many guitarists replace their tuners to achieve more stability with their tuning and accommodate more bending and tremolo use.
This isn’t to suggest your guitar will keep perfect tune all the time, just because you’re using locking tuners. But it does help.
Reportedly, some tuners work better than others. We’ve looked at a lot of great tuners in this guide, but I’m going to leave it to you to fill in the blanks. Do some of your own research.
Durable Machine Heads
It would suck to replace your machine heads only to have them break on you or have unexpected issues with them in ensuing days, weeks or months.
Tuners should last you several years if not multiple decades.
I’m not suggesting that you won’t want to switch them out more frequently (you might), but I am saying they should last you a while.
If you invest in good machine heads, they shouldn’t break on you out of nowhere.
Easy To Install Tuners
Ease of installation is going to vary depending on the product and it isn’t necessarily the most important criteria.
After all, you can always take your guitar to a tech to replace your tuners.
With that in mind, there are some machine heads that come with installation instructions as well as a tool kit to make the process easy.
For those who want to install and start using their brand-new tuners right away, it’s better to have units that are easy to install.
Visually Appealing Machine Heads
All things being equal, it’s nice to have machine heads that look good.
I wouldn’t say there’s a huge variety, but they do tend to come in different designs and finishes depending on what you’re looking for.
To me, functionality comes first, but if they also look cool, that’s a bonus.
What Are Locking Tuners Used For?
There are basically two types of machine heads – locking tuners and non-locking tuners.
So, what’s the difference and why would you want one over the other?
Locking tuners effectively lock your strings into place.
When putting on fresh strings, you typically want a few windings around the tuning peg post (I was told around three windings).
When using locking tuners, however, you don’t need that many wraps to achieve tuning stability. This can also make re-stringing your guitar faster and easier.
Locking tuners are also great for guitars with tremolo bridges (whammy bars) because they reduce string slippage.
The main issue with whammy bars is they tend to pull your strings out of tune. This is less of a problem if you use the whammy bar subtly or if you have a double-locking bridge.
Still, it’s nice to have a mechanism that keeps your guitar in tune when you’re doing big bends or giving your tremolo bar some serious push.
This is exactly why I ended up getting locking tuners installed on my Mexi-Strat. It keeps a lot better tune, though I still can’t be that extreme with the whammy bar.
No matter – I have an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis guitar now, and because it has a double-locking bridge, I can be about as extreme as I want with the whammy bar.
But if your guitar does not have a double locking bridge but still features a tremolo bridge, equipping it with locking tuners is recommended.
8 BEST Locking Tuners 2019 Compared And Reviewed, Final Thoughts
While practicing or jamming, you can spend as much time tuning your guitar as you like, even if that’s after every song.
But if you’re doing sessions, playing live or recording in the studio all the time, you want to use high quality gear you can depend on.
Guitars with tremolo bridges (that don’t have double-locking bridges) should be equipped with proper locking tuners to prevent your axes from easily falling out of tune.
This should give you peace of mind as you go about your professional endeavors.