Monday, January 14, 2013

Upgrading Electric Guitar Tuners

I’ve done a post about upgrading tuners on an acoustic guitar before (found here: http://diystrat.blogspot.com/2009/07/how-to-upgrade-guitar-tuners.html), and really there’s no difference between tuners on an acoustic (steel-string) guitar and an electric guitar, except for the fact that you’re less likely to encounter six-a-side tuners on an acoustic guitar. (Six-a-side refers to when all six tuners are on the same side of the peghead, like on a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster. A Gibson Les Paul has three-a-side tuners, but you can still use this blog post to help you upgrade them.)

The main reason I’m writing today’s post is because I went about the upgrade in a very different way, using one of these (called a "rear peghole reamer"):
Which can be found on Stew Mac’s website here: http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tuners/Tuner_installation_tools/Rear_Peghole_Reamer.html?tab=Details

I was pretty unhappy with the alternative method of reaming the holes manually and then trying to tidy them up with rasps/files, etc., and this seemed like an interesting (and pretty cheap) solution.

Anyway, here’s today’s patient:
As you can above, the tuners are pretty cheap looking. That’s not necessarily a problem, but these ones do not work very well at all.

Firstly the stings are removed and then the tuners can be easily removed by unscrewing all the small screws on the backplate(s) [note, do not remove the larger screws holding the gears on].
The ferrules also need to be removed from the front of the peghead. Ordinarily I’d do this by “rolling” a screwdriver in them (as described above the 4th photo here: http://diystrat.blogspot.com/2009/07/how-to-upgrade-guitar-tuners.html), but these ones weren’t coming out very easily, so I tapped them out from the back. Note that to do this you have to have a tool that is narrower than the tuner hole, but wider than the hole in the ferrule itself. Luckily the bit in this screwdriver is perfect.
OK, that’s the tuners removed.
I also removed the two string retainers so that they don’t get in the way of the next steps.
Right. Time to try out the new tool.

Firstly I clamp the peghead down (face down), making sure to hold a piece of wood against the front face of the peghead so that the drill bit cannot pass all the way through. I can’t emphasize how important this step is.
Next, I drill into the already existing tuner holes, one at a time.
If you look closely at the above image (as with all images on this blog, you can click to enlarge), you can see a little step just before the ends of the holes. What’s nice about this is that not only will the nut on the front of the tuner be better centred, but also that when I drill these holes, I don’t need to worry about any tear out at the other side.

I then place all of the tuners in place and screw the nuts/washers onto the front until they are finger tight.
Next, I use something true to straighten up the tuners:
And then mark the holes for the little tuner screws:
I then remove the tuners and use a ruler to check how in-line the holes are. They can easily be adjusted at this stage.
I use some masking tape around the drill bit as a depth gauge so that I don’t accidentally go right through the peghead.
Now this next bit isn’t entirely necessary, but if you want to fill in the holes left by the previous tuners, this is how I go about it.

Ordinarily I would use Super Glue to glue cocktail sticks (preferably real wood ones rather then bamboo ones) into the holes. However, these holes are just a little too wide, so I’m using disposable wooden skewers instead. Unfortunately I could only find bamboo ones, which will leave a very obvious end grain, but they’re better than nothing.

Before I glue in, I test fit them and if they aren’t wedging firmly in place, I snip part of the tip off until they do (you’d be wise to do this if you use cocktail sticks too).
Once all six are glued in and the glue has dried, I very carefully cut them almost flush with the surface of the guitar, making sure I don’t scratch the peghead.

Next, I (again, very carefully), file what’s left down until I’m almost touching the peghead.
Then sand the last little bit, even touching the peghead at this point.
I’ve been really careful to not go through the lacquer here, so I then use some finishing polish to buff up the surface a bit. It’s not going to be prefect, but remember that most of this will be hidden under the new tuners anyway.
Time to re-install the tuners, securing them at the back with the little retaining screws.
Be careful when tightening the nuts at the front. They should be a nice snug fit, but not so tight that you start denting the wood or cracking the lacquer.
As you can see above, the string retainers now look a bit out of place. I could buy new black ones, but instead I’m just going to colour these in with a black sharpie.

And here it is all strung up. Looking a bit more photogenic now, I reckon.
The new tool worked great, by the way, and I thoroughly recommend it. As an aside, and if you really care about how the back of the peghead looks, you can end up with nicer results when upgrading tuners by buying ones with a more similar footprint to what you're replacing. In my case, I could have covered up most of the old screw holes if I'd bought a set of tuners with a centred screw hole rather than an offset one, like this:

1 comment:

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