Locking tuners are a fantastic way to upgrade any guitar. They provide improved tuning stability, faster string changes, and in many cases improved looks over stock tuning machines. As there are so many different styles for different guitars, this guide will cover the best locking tuners available for some of the most popular guitars.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide you’ll learn:
- What are locking tuners?
- What are the features to look for?
Before we jump into the guide, let’s take a look at some fast facts:
- Not all locking tuners are a drop in fit
- Locking tuners are sold in packs to match your headstock configuration
- Tuning gear ratio impacts tuning stability
- Our Choices For Best Locking Tuners
- How to choose the best locking tuners
- Best Locking Tuners: Individual Reviews
- Final Thoughts on the Best Locking Tuners
Our Choices For Best Locking Tuners
- Best Locking Tuners For Strat: Fender Locking Tuning Machines
- Best Locking Tuners For Les Paul: Kluson Revolution 3×3 Locking Tuners
- Best Locking Tuners For Telecaster: Gotoh Vintage Oval Locking Tuners
- Best Locking Tuners For PRS: PRS SE Locking Tuning Machines
- Best Locking Tuners For Ibanez: D’Addario Autotrim Tuning Machines
- Best Locking Tuners For 7 String Guitar: Hipshot Grip Lock
- Best Locking Tuners For Acoustic Guitar: Grover 502C Roto-Grip
How to choose the best locking tuners
What are locking tuners?
All standard guitars have machine heads that are used to secure the strings and keep the instrument in tune. The design of these tuners remained relatively unchanged for decades, until the early 80s when a number of manufacturers came out with a new type of locking a tuner that did not require that players wrap strings around the tuning post. Instead, these machines were designed with a special mechanism that effectively clams on to the string.
These new tuning machines were revolutionary – not only were string changes significantly faster, but tuning stability when using heavy amounts of tremolo (which was especially popular during the hair metal scene at the time) was vastly improved. When strings were still wrapped around tuning posts, they had a tendency to slip when the whammy bar was used for divebombs and the like, which very quickly put guitars out of tune. By having the string clamped in place, this problem instantly disappeared, and locking tuners became a runaway success.
What Are the Features To Look For?
When shopping for your locking tuners, make sure to consider these factors to ensure you buy the correct type for your guitar.
It’s important to understand that you need to buy tuning machines that correlate to the existing configuration of your headstock. If you have a 6-in-line setup like a Strat or a Tele, you will need to buy locking tuners that come designed for that setup. Similarly, if you have a 3×3 setup like a Les Paul, or an offset arrangement like 4×3 as found on many 7 string guitars, you should be looking to ensure that you’re buying a compatible set.
The next feature to look for is the size of the shaft hole. This varies between guitars, and while there are options for installing bushings, or even routing out larger holes, if you buy a set with compatible dimensions you’ll save yourself the trouble of having to make permanent modifications to your guitar.
Lastly, look at the gear ratio. This figure represents how many turns of the knob it takes to turn the post through a full 360 degree rotation. For example, tuners with an 18:1 ratio require 18 full turns of the knob to turn the post through one rotation. The lower the first number in the ratio, the fewer turns are required. Lower numbers can make tuning faster, but they require much more precise movement of the tuning machine.
Best Locking Tuners: Individual Reviews
Genuine Fender accessories specifically designed for the Stratocaster.
These Fender locking tuners offer excetional performance, including rapid string changes, and rock solidtuning stability, all while retaining the OEM look of your guitar.
These locking tuners from Fender are the gold standard when it comes to Stratocaster machine heads. They are a simple drop in solution for most American and Mexican Stratocasters, which will ensure the easiest possible installation and the best possible fit. The design is classic Fender, with a polished chrome finish, and standard Strat style knobs. On the back, the tuning caps have a satin finish with the iconic Fender ‘F’ logo – so not only are you getting a simple installation with these tuners, but you’re also keeping the look as close to the original design as is possible, which is something a lot of Strat players appreciate.
The locking mechanism is strong and simple to operate, and proves a huge tuning stability upgrade, even over American standard non-locking machines. They come with a staggered design, which helps to overcome the lack of break angle in the headstock, which is arguably only the biggest design flaws with Fender guitars. Having that improved break angle will benefit tone, playability, and also reduce the likelihood of strings breaking prematurely.
This set comes with all required mounting hardware, including bushings, tuner caps and screws. The gearing is set with a fairly standard 18:1 ratio which strikes a nice balance between tuning speed and precision.
Verdict: These Fender locking tuners are very well made, and the chrome finish is amongst the best on the market. The 18:1 ratio makes tuning a breeze and the tuning stability is rock solid. Strat players won’t be disappointed with the looks, and they’ll definitely be impressed with the speed of string changes.
Classic stock looks with exceptional locking performance.
If maintaining the iconic look of your Les Paul is important to you, these keystone style Kluson tuners will allow you to just that. They offer drop in installation for most Les Paul and even SG models, and an instantaneous boost in tuning performance.
If you didn’t look at the back of the headstock you’d swear you were seeing the stock vintage pearloid keystone tuners, that’s how faithful these Kluson Revolution series locking tuners are to the Gibson deluxe machines. They offer direct drop in replacement for the stock die cast tuners, using the standard 2 screw mounting patter. Installation is about as easy as it gets with these machines. They will fit Gibson guitars and Epiphones fitted with the deluxe style tuners – this also applies to SGs and ES models, too. The polished chrome finish looks great, and the knurled knob for the locking mechanism grips very well, even with sweaty hands.
The Keystone knobs are solid, and finished in a beautiful translucent pearloid, true to the originals. They come with a 19:1 ratio, so while tuning isn’t as fast as some other machine heads, getting it dialed in perfectly is actually very easy to do.
As you’d expect, this set does come with all required mounting hardware, so there’s no need to buy anything separately or try to reuse anything from your existing tuners. This set isn’t staggered, but thanks to the headstock break angle on Les Paul, SG, and ES guitars, it’s not necessary to stagger the tuners.
Verdict: These Kluson Revolution Series tuners are as good as it gets when it comes to aftermarket Les Paul tuning machines. Their performance is fantastic, as evidenced by the precision tuning, and ease of string changes. Of course, all Les Pauls are at an advantage over guitars with tremolo arms when it comes to holding tune, but with these machines, you’re sure to notice even greater stability.
Preserving your vintage looks while adding locking abilities.
These button style vintage locking tuners will drop into an American or Mexican Fender Telecaster without any issues. They're made from duable stamped nickel that will age to a nice patina over time, together with your guitar for a timeless look.
Gotoh are a widely respected name when it comes to aftermarket guitar hardware, and they show us why once again with these excellent vintage style locking tuners for your Telecaster. If you have an American or Mexican Tele and you already have the Kluson style 2 screw tuners, then these will drop right in with no modification required. They offer all the style that comes with these fantastic looking vintage tuners, but with the benefits of modern locking machines. Tuning ratio is a lightning fast 15:1, making for the quickest string changes you’ve ever had.
This is not a staggered set, so you will need to keep your string tree(s) on the headstock, but the GBE machines are specially labeled as they have a smaller opening to assist with string security for the smaller unwound strings.
Their backs are made from hard wearing, stamped nickel, and the tuning knobs are solid and premium feeling, finished in a beautiful mirror chrome. No matter whether you play a genuine vintage instrument, a modern reproduction, or a newer series, these tuners absolutely complement the appearance of any Tele, and the tuning stability is night and day from standard machines.
Verdict: If looks are as important for you as performance, you can have both with these Gotoh vintage oval locking tuners. Players upgrading Mexican made Telecasters will notice a world of difference compared to stock tuning stability and string change time. Hardware like the tuners is where savings are made with these mid range guitars, and a simple upgrade to these locking tuning machines can transform your Tele’s playability to the next level.
Quality locking tuners from one of the pioneers of the locking machine head.
Even standard PRS tuners are a joy to use, but these locking machines are even more so. They are beautifully made, as you'd expect from this brand, they're easy to install, and will provide reliable performance for years to come.
Paul Reed Smith designed and developed his very own locking machine head back in 1985, and these PRS SE locking tuning machines are direct descendants of that original design. THE PRS SE series are some of the finest mid range guitars around, and by upgrading yours with these direct drop in locking tuners, you can make it even finer! To look at, you might not even know that these are locking tuners. The sealed gearing makes them look just like the stock machines, turning your PRS into a stealth hot rod. Being PRS, they are tailor made to fit, and installation is super straight forward, plus all required hardware comes in the set, so no need to purchase anything new.
You will be playing again in no time should you break a string on stage with these tuners. The locking mechanism is secure and string changes are lightning fast, plus with a 15:1 ratio, tuning is rapid. If your PRSE SE is fitted with a tremolo system, you’ll be glad you have these locking tuners as tuning stability is fantastic, so you can go ahead and let loose with the whammy bar without fear of dropping out of pitch.
Verdict: Many players flock to PRS for their beautiful designs and awesome performance, so by upgrading your PRS SE with these PRS SE locking tuners, you’ll keep the look, but you’ll enhance the performance even further. They’re simple to fit, they make string changes simple, and you’ll keep pitch longer than ever before.
High tech locking tuners to complement any shredding machine.
If like many, you use your Ibanez for fast paced, drop tuned metal, you'll be glad you upgraded to these D'Addario locking tuners. They have a handy trimming feature, and lock down tight for exceptional performance, even under the mos demanding conditions.
These D’Addario AutoTrim tuning machines are the ultimate locking tuner for Ibanez guitars. They take string changing speed to the next level thanks to their patented Ned Steinberger designed string trimmer – once you’re at pitch, the tuner will cut off the excess string for you, saving you the extra step of trimming it yourself. They are purpose made for one thing – rock solid tuning stability under serious tremolo abuse. The black finish is pure rock and roll, these tuners definitely stand out from the chrome crowd.
They are equipped with an 18:1 worm gear, which strikes a great balance between stability and tuning precision. This is a 6 in line setup with 25/64” posts (10mm), so they should be compatible with most Ibanez guitars, as well as many other brands making Super Strat style guitars.
For increased visibility for string changes on stage, the posts are marked with a silver dot to aim your new strings at. As these aren’t custom made for specific brands or guitars, there is a chance that you may have to drill holes for your alignment screws, but this is a pretty straight forward task that most should be able to take on themselves.
Verdict: D’Addario know what guitarists want when it comes to gear and aftermarket accessories, and these top quality Autotrim locking tuners certainly deliver. The fit and finish is premium quality, the knob action is smooth, and tuning stability is incredible. A must have for Ibanez players.
The ultimate locking tuners for extended range guitars.
It's rare to find a full set of 7 locking tuners without having to buy individual machines, or multiple boxes, and it's even rarer to find a set of 7 that work as well as these fantastic open gear hipshot tuners.
Hipshot is one of the hottest companies around making locking tuners for guitars, so anybody playing a 7 string will be pleased to know that their incredible Grip-Lock tuners are available for a 3×4 configuration in a pack of 7 (no need to worry about buying a 6 pack and an individual!)
They are finished in a gorgeous gloss black, and quite unusually for a locking tuner, they feature open gears at the back. The ratio is 18:1, making them great all round tuners. This is a non-staggered set.
Because they are purpose made as a 7 string set, they are designed to accommodate large strings up to 0.080” – something to bear in mind if you were considering buying 7 individual tuners instead. Installing these Hipshot Grip Locks means you’ll avoid having through the pain of retrofitting a Floyd Rose, or if you already have one, you’ll be able to ditch the locking nut, a component notorious for its tone killing properties.
This is a (mostly) universal fit set, so regardless of make or model you should be able to install these tuners. There may, however, be some drilling or routing involved, depending on the recipient guitar. The posts are standard 10mm, and they do come with required hardware for installation, including a universal mounting plate.
Verdict: The Hipshot Grip-Lock 7 string set are superb locking tuners designed to fit pretty much any 7 string guitar with a 3×4 setup, including models from Jackson, Schecter, and Ibanez. Their tuning stability is phenomenal thanks to the quality Hipshot Grip Lock mechanical clamping system.
Timeless design and next generation tuning stability.
Grover tuners look great on any guitar, so these high quality, easy to install locking tuners will suit any 3x3 acoustic perfectly. They offer high end performance, and are made to last with top quality materials.
While using locking tuners on an acoustic guitar isn’t exactly common, there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t make the upgrade. These Grover 502C Roto-Grip locking tuners are a fantastic way to preserve the classic look of your acoustic guitar whilst significantly improving its tuning stability and overall playability. They come in a 3×3 configuration, which is typical for most acoustic guitars. In some cases, they may even be a direct drop in replacement! If you play a Gibson or an Epiphone, there’s a good chance, especially on newer Epiphone models, that it came from the factory with Grover (or Grover pattern) tuners. If you want to switch them out for locking machines you won’t have too much work to do for installation.
In classic Grover style, these tuners are made from steel and finished in mirror chrome. They are solid, and offer smooth, precise turning and an 18:1 ratio. Installation of new strings is straight forward – simply pull the new string through the post hole, give it one wrap, and then turn the read thumb screw to lock it down. Grover tuners are the go to for many high end manufacturers, so you know you are getting the best of the best.
Tuning stability with these machines, especially when installed on an acoustic guitar is peerless. Because there’s very little external influence like tremolo, once your strings are installed and locked down, they are going nowhere, which means you tune once, and stay there until it’s time to switch out the strings.
Verdict: Don’t discount locking tuners for acoustic guitars. Having that tuning stability upgrade is a huge difference maker, and of course, anybody who performs live will definitely enjoy the improvement in string change times should you happen to snap one while playing. These Grover Roto Grips are unquestionably the best locking tuners for any acoustic guitar!
Final Thoughts on the Best Locking Tuners
Locking tuners are one of the first serious upgrade a lot of guitarists plan to make, and that goes for players who are using anything from budget imported guitars, right through to premium “Made in USA” examples. There is no better way to improve tuning stability or reduce the time it takes to change a string than by installing a set of locking machine heads. Not only will the overall playability and performance of your guitar improve, in many cases these tuners can provide an aesthetic upgrade, too.