Which style ukulele tuners do you prefer?

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No, I’m not asking about your favorite chromatic tuner that helps you get your ukulele to sing a perfect my dog has fleas. I’m asking about the actual tuning machines inserted into the headstock of your instrument. Maybe you prefer open or enclosed ‘ear’ style geared tuners. Or perhaps you are a traditionalist and don’t feel authentic unless your uke has friction style pegs. Then there are Peghed tuners that look like friction tuners but have gears hidden inside them.

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Above is a picture of the tuners on my KoAloha KCM-00. These are friction tuners. As you can see, there is a screw head at the end of each tuner. Tightening these screws keeps the tuners from slipping. This style of tuner is considered more traditional than geared tuners like the ones below. I would say that these are my least favorite type of tuners to use. They seem to have a little ‘slop’ or spring to them when you are trying to tune the strings.

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Some people call these ear style tuners because they stick out the sides of the headstock like ears sticking out the sides of your noggin ;) This style of tuner is available in enclosed and open types. The picture above is my Pono PKC-1E. I like this style of tuner better than the friction style used on my KoAloha because they allow for more precise tuning due to the gears.

With friction tuners, the slightest twist of the tuner makes a significant change in the pitch of the string connected to it. You definitely need a light touch and a bit of practice to tune an instrument that uses friction pegs. I have found geared tuners to be significantly easier to use because of their gear ratio. With friction tuners, you have a 1 to 1 ratio. For every complete revolution of the tuning knob, the tuning post (where the string is connected) also turns a complete revolution. For geared tuners, a complete revolution of the knob may only cause the post to turn very slightly. It all depends on the gear ratio.

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The Peghed tuners that you see above are the modern fusion of the traditional friction peg, with geared tuners. They look like friction pegs but have 4:1 ratio gears inside them. I’ll admit that the first time I ever saw pegheds used on a ukulele, I thought they were just cheap friction pegs. Simple rookie mistake given that they are made of light weight Black plastic. Boy, was I wrong. Now, I would have to say that I really love Pegheds. They are so smooth and easy to use. They are also very light weight, allowing the instrument to be balanced instead of top heavy.

Now it’s your turn, what style tuners do you prefer on your ukulele and why?

16 Responses to “Which style ukulele tuners do you prefer?”

  1. hello everyone… I like this site and I have been checking it often. I am very interested in this post. I am in the beginning stages of building my first ukulele with a guitar builder friend of mine. Here is what we have so far for those who are keeping score :-)

    Master Grade Camphor for the back and sides, master grade cedar top, figured walnut for the neck, figured walnut binding, and we will be following a Martin Tenor Blue print. I found this kit on ebay which had all of the pieces pre-bent and pre-sanded (very cool!) I should be receiving these woods tomorrow and I cant wait to see them live! I got the other pieces from Hanalima store on line (fret board, fret wire, mother of pearl, etc.)

    Now to this post, we are looking into the tuners. I like the gotoh ones on the Hanalima site, most likely the geared ones. But now I am finding myself very attracted to the all black grover ones that Chuck Moore uses on his ukuleles. Those look pretty awesome, but I have very little experience with either. I would like feedback on the best tuners possible withing a reasonable price range because I will be slapping those bad-boys on my ukulele within the month. I have complete faith in my builder friend, but I welcome any words of advise or wisdom to make my ukulele the best it can possibly be.

    Thank you very much and I am really digging this site. Thank you Julie for the quick updates and useful information.

    Mahalo-
    Adam

  2. ukeman80: I’ve never heard of Camphor. Do you have any links of what it looks like finished?
    As for the tuners, please do check out the Pegheds. I was really impressed with them.

  3. Adam,
    As long as you are buying from Hana Lima you should look into their Gotoh tuners. They are very similar to the mini-Grover 205s that I use. Nice finish, smooth 17 to 1 gearing. Keep in mind that they are probably the heaviest (by a very small amount) of the aforementioned tuners but that’s really only a consideration on six and eight string ukes.
    Between the camphor and the cedar (great combination BTW) that’s going to be one sweet smelling uke! Keep it in your closet. Your clothes will smell great and it’ll probably keep the moths away.
    Chuck Moore
    Moore Bettah Ukuleles
    http://www.moorebettahukes.com

  4. Hi Chuck….
    wow! thank you so much for posting. I have been drooling over your ukuleles for months! I am a super big fan of your clean work and beautiful inlays. Thank you for the advice on tuners.

    The wood is gorgeous and you are definitely correct about the smell. It is almost like peppermint after to get a few good sniffs…. I am very excited!

    I was wondering what you think of these grovers:
    http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tuners/Guitar,_solid_peghead_tuners/1/Gotoh_Mini_510_Tuners_with_Metal_Knobs_3L3R/Pictures.html#details

    these are the gotoh minis, I really like the sleek design and I sure they will work dandy. Can you recommend some electronics to me…. do you have any experience with b-band? My friend really likes those… I am undecided whether or not I want a passive under-saddle pick up or one with all of the dials, a preamp, and a battery. I guess the key it what will sound the best along with being easy to install.

    Please feel free to email me if you have the time- adamukulele@yahoo.com
    Mahalo-
    Adam

  5. There are two other options – plain wood violin-style tuners (the original friction tuner), and planetary banjo tuners. Planetaries look like bulky friction tuners but have internal gears , like Pegheds, and the same 4:1 tuning ration

    They’re a little cheaper and heavier than Pegheds, more expensive but nicer looking than right-angle guitar-style tuners, and more stable than friction tuners. The 4:1 tuning ration for me is a nice compromise between friction and right-angle geared tuners. (you turn the peg once around, and the post makes a quarter-turn. By comparison, friction pegs are 1:1 and right-angle geared pegs are usually 12:1 to 16:1.)

    The big downsides are weight, size, and cost. On a soprano uke the size and weight are an issue, but on baritone they’re fine and on tenors the smaller ones – like the Five-Star dulcimer tuners – are fine.

    I have Waverly planetary banjo tuners on my baritenor, and I like them very much. They have small ivoroid buttons which I like better than the large pearl ones on most other styles. They tune securely and accurately. My next uke will likely be a tenor size, with Pegheds because of the weight.

    Planetary tuners run $80-120, Pegheds a bit more. Top-quality friction tuners are no more than $40, and the $10 ones are pretty good. Right-angle tuners are good value for money – with the low tension of a uke, all but the really cheap ones work very well.

  6. hi,

    does anyone know where the planetary style black plastic tuners shown above can be purchased?

    i really like the idea of their lightweight vs the other geared or planetary tuners.

    thanks.

    bruce

  7. Try here: http://www.pegheds.com/

  8. For tuning stability,obviously geared tuners are best, but the ones available now have their drawbacks. I have on one of my vintage ukes a set of elton geared tuners made for a tenor banjo. They stick out the back of the peghead and look like friction pegs instead of sticking out the side. I wish I could find a few more sets like them. I don’t like the looks of the current geared pegs on vinage instruments. I don’t play my Martin Concert Uke much because the pegs slip. The planitary banjo pegs available are too big for a uke. Does anyone know of a small planitary peg currently available?

  9. There’s an awful lot of great information on this page, so I’m shamelessly asking for more. Any ideas on whether it’s possible to put some sort of geared pegs on a tenor Fluke without taking a drill to it? Obviously “ear-style” tuners require all the little holes for the screws that hold them on, so that’s no good. All the regular planetary tuners I’ve seen, including the 5-star dulcimer ones, seem to require 3/8″ holes, but the holes on the Fluke appear to be only 5/16″. Pegheds seemed like the miracle solution, but I think I saw something somewhere about tapered holes being required, and Elderly Instruments, which sells them specifically for ukes (though I imagine they’re just the violin or guitar pegs) says “professional installation is recommended.” I’d like to get some planetary tuners, stealth (Peghed) or otherwise, and just stick ‘em on there. Impossible dream?

  10. My first uke has geared tuners which work well. I play guitar also, so this is what I’m used to. My new uke has friction tuners. I’m still getting used to them but they seem to be doing the job. I may replace them with fancier friction tuners to dress the uke up a bit…

  11. Is it possible to change the tuners? For example, a friction tuner to a peghed.

  12. Yes, it is most proberly possible if you take it to a well known luthier, but I do try to advise people to stick with what was originaly used on the ukulele, as you are devaluing the instrumert
    by changing what the creator of the instrument thought best.
    There some amazing new ear type tuners that are made by Gotoh, they are called stelth type,the gear housing is minute, and very lightweight, they are avalable for guitars too. You can get them from Australian luthiers Supplies australianluthierssupplies.com
    google it and it will come up. I am using them on two very highend tenor ukuleles what were ordered after the guy saw my last uke.

  13. You can get the best value friction tuners in black or ivory plastic along with other ukulele parts including strings, bridges, plastic and bone ukulele nuts from my website at
    http://www.janika.co.uk

  14. billy bobbaloo on July 23rd, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I’m restring and replacing som ebony pegs on a uke for a church lady friend.Tought it would be just a cheap novelty item.Turned out to be a 1918 Martin style III in primo condition w.supposedly original case.but the case is a stupidly designed piece ‘o junk(I think…) Opening through a trap door at the bottom/butt end if it were mine i’d pitch it for a safer one. As she was missing a couple of tuners,
    before i knew what it was i recomended letting me replace all4 with decent geared tuners. but obviously with it’santique status i opted to aquire 2 replacement ebony’friction’ pegs. I’m seriously hoping that i can get away with not tieing any knots at the peghead end, because i amdisable one-handed by virtue of severe stroke at 49 in ’03 ending my 37 years as a guitarist.knot tieing one handed is pretty ugly.
    God bless all!!

  15. Having issues keeping my baritone uke in tune. It’s averagely priced at around $300 dollars and I really like the integrated pickup and design but the sealed geared machine heads seem pretty low ratio wise – probably 1:1

    Tuning stability does increase after a very long time but I play in a band, even when wiping down the strings become easily degraded so I need to change them on a more than regular basis. I can only assume that the strings are slowly pulling the gears back. Though there is no major slip issues when tuning up.

    So I know this question is very subjective! But I’m going to ask it anyway – literally what are the best sealed geared machine heads money can buy for a baritone uke?

  16. Jonathan- I think Waverly are probably the best money can buy- http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tuners/Ukulele_tuners/Waverly_Ukulele_Tuners.html?tab=Pictures#details

    I’m shopping for some new tuners myself and I think that’s what I’ll end up with…

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