DIY Workshop: How to Repair Your Les Paul Tuning Machines | Guitare.com
A common and historic complaint from guitarists lucky enough to own a Gibson Les Paul is that of Kluson tuners. This divisive topic continues to flood the forums, with many asking which tuners to choose: Gibson’s Klusons or a competitor. Many consider the Kluson to be the best tuner and have had no issues with them. I, on the other hand, have.
Players have long looked to other brands such as Schaller and Grover to solve tuning problems. The great debate over whether or not swapping tuners devalues your instrument is something I have no problem with – I like guitars to stay tuned and a set of faulty tuners is a total fail for me. It would seem that Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Paul Kossoff and many others were also right to replace their tuners.
In this article I will show you how to change these standard tuners yourself. The job requires a small amount of tools and, as always, a little patience.
You will need:
- Flat surface with a towel or foam mat
- Conical portable reamer
- 7mm Allen key or similar
- hand cutter
- Small plastic jar
- Small set of screwdrivers
- Soft cloth and masking tape
- Small adjustable wrench or MusicNomad wrench
As Kluson machine heads are a slightly different shape than other brands, each tuner’s holes will need to be widened at the back of the headstock, which means you will need a taper reamer to carefully remove the wood .
I’m using my own Gibson R9 for this job, and bought a legit set from Grover Rotomatics to make it a bit more Mike Bloomfield-esque (hence the truss-rod cover) and, of course, allow for a better tuning and a string post the winds.
Many Gibson guitars today feature Grovers, but Klusons are the most iconic tuners for Fender and Gibson guitars. I’ve had trouble with Klusons on Gibson guitars, with a number of them failing.
Another thing about Klusons is that the posts don’t allow for more than a comfortable low E string breath for my favorite gauge, which inherently causes tuning issues.
Before we go any further, don’t grab the drill on this one – leave it in its holster. First, make sure you have a good flat surface with a towel or mat to work on, and keep your neck supported.
Remove all strings and safely store any loose hardware such as the bridge. Unscrew all the small screws holding the back of the tuner to the headstock and store them safely away from the guitar. Use a clean takeout jar to keep these pieces together.
Once all hardware is removed from the headstock, remove the ferrules from the front of the guitar headstock. The safest method to remove them is by hand, with a little pressure, being careful not to damage the finish of the guitar.
For this guide I used a 7mm Allen key with a small amount of tape on the end to press the ferrule through the back of the headstock. Don’t be tempted to hammer the headstock from the back, as you can cause cracks and seriously damage your guitar.
Lay a rag or tape over the front of the headstock ferrules to ensure they come out securely once force is applied to the back with the Allen wrench. Be sure to push the ferrule with a little force and check each one as you go.
Once all the ferrules have been pressed and the hardware is put away, turn the guitar over and inspect the holes in the back.
Using a handheld countersink tool, carefully trim the thin finish coat around the hole. Be gentle to avoid splitting the wood or finish, and exert very little pressure on the back of the headstock.
Once the hole widening process has begun, take the tapered reamer and slowly turn it clockwise. Be aware of the amount of wood removed and take your time with each one. Patience will pay off.
After removing a fair amount of wood from the back, periodically check it with a machine head to see if the hole has become large enough for it to fit.
If so, the tuner should sit flat on the back of the headstock. If not, bore out some more wood and it will soon fit comfortably. Again, be patient.
Once all the holes are large enough to accommodate the new machine heads, use the hand cutter to tidy up the holes. This is not essential but will ensure a neater finish.
Mount the machine heads in their new locations. If you used Grovers, attach the washer and lock nut to the front of the headstock hand tight, which should allow you to locate them correctly in the back.
On the back of the headstock, in most cases you can use the existing hole as shown here. You may need to get a small set of hand drills with small bits to match your screws. This is not the end of the world. Don’t worry, they’re pretty cheap.
If you must re-drill the holes, do not use a power drill. Do this by hand and measure the thread of the screw against your drill bit, and add tape as a marker to make sure you don’t puncture your headstock. Believe me, it’s the worst.
Position the new tuner so that it is parallel to the edge of the headstock. This can be problematic if your doll is bent. In these cases, position all the tuners so they are looking straight into your eyes, then mark where the screw will go, then drill gently with your newly acquired drill bit set.
Once all the screws are in place, carefully tighten the nuts on the front of the headstock. Do not use pliers. I recommend using the MusicNomad Key for this piece as it has a soft back that should ensure your lovely headstock stays intact in the event of a slip.
Grab and reattach the hardware you removed earlier, and put on your guitar. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor by being in tune and letting your guitar sing again.
Remember, patience is the key.
Also, for those who think the guitar is devalued by the addition of Grovers, I’ve saved the bag of chips to sell with the guitar if we ever part ways…
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