Having to tune your guitar after every song you play is not fun.
Although the problem might be elsewhere, a nice set of locking tuners will surely benefit your instrument’s tuning stability.
If you don’t want to go into specifics and just want to know which I think are the best locking tuners for a Les Paul, here they are:
My top 3 picks for the best locking tuners for a Les Paul are:
- Gotoh SD90 MG-T
- Grover Roto-Grip 502C
- Hipshot 6GL0
If you want to stick with us for a bit longer, in this article I will give you more details about these recommended machine heads, I will talk about how to fix tuning stability issues with your guitar, and I will give you my reasons to upgrade to locking tuners.
Are you ready to get started?
What are locking tuners?
Before we get started, it is important to make sure we are talking about the same thing.
Locking tuners are guitar machine heads that have the extra functionality of applying pressure to lock the string in place. Generally, they have a screw or thumb screw to fasten the string in position. This prevents it from moving and modifying its tension, making for better tuning stability
Do Gibson or Epiphone guitars have locking tuners?
Gibson and Epiphone guitars don’t usually come with locking tuners unless we are talking about a very specific new model or custom shop unit. They come equipped with very good tuners, but they don’t have the capability of locking the string in place.
A set of locking tuners would surely be a nice upgrade for any of these guitars.
The 3 best locking tuners for a Les Paul
When choosing locking tuners, the things I value the most are quality, brand recognition, and aesthetics.
Luckily, all the most well-known guitar accessories brands have very good locking machine heads in their product line.
In the specific case of Les Pauls, I decided upon the following 3 models of locking tuners, however, this list is not final and there are many other great options outside of it.
Gotoh SD90 MG-T
Gotoh is a big name in the tuner industry and their SD90s are just what you need.
With rock-solid stability, and the perfect vintage look you need to match your guitar’s look you will be set.
I picked these ones first because I love the look of vintage tuners.
These machine heads don’t come with a universal mounting kit, but their screw layout should fit most SGs.
Do some research before buying, or just pull the trigger if you don’t worry about having to drill new holes to mount them.
Grover Roto-Grip 502C
Second on our list is Grover, a brand that speaks for itself when it comes to tuning machines.
The Roto-Grip 502Cs are stable tuners that will work like a charm on any acoustic and will greatly facilitate restringing.
Just pop the string through the hole, wrap it once and tighten the thumbscrew. You won’t even need a screwdriver.
If aesthetics are as important to you as they are to me, you will be happy with this choice: The 502Cs come in chrome, gold, and black.
The packaging includes all the mounting hardware you need, so you won’t be having to drill any extra holes in your instrument.
Hipshot is another very reputable brand in the tuner game. I came to know them with their drop D tuner. A tuner that had a switch to drop your low E string to a D. It was alien technology to me when I first discovered it.
But getting back on track, the 6GL0s are reliable, stable, and high quality as the previous choices on this list.
Why are they in third place? Well, maybe because they look a little bit more modern, and some players won’t like the aesthetic.
However, Hipshot offers a list of alternative tuner buttons on their website so you could customize them.
Like all the others, they come with universal mounting plates that will make their installation a pretty accessible job for anyone.
How to install locking tuners on a Les Paul?
What does 3 + 3 mean for locking tuners?
3 + 3 in locking tuners or any other kind of tuners, in general, refers to the layout in which they are presented on the guitar. The majority of Gibson guitars have 3 machines on each side of their headstock, so do acoustic guitars.
Other kinds of guitars, and perhaps some acoustics will require inline tuners, which are arranged in a straight line as you could have imagined.
There are other kinds of less common layouts, but knowing that the + sign separates the quantity on each side, you will now be able to interpret them.
What else can I do to improve my Les Paul’s tuning stability?
As I said at the beginning of this article, there are many things on your guitar that could affect its tuning stability.
Many players wrongly blame everything on the tuners, but if the problems persist even after the upgrade, you must check some of these other possibilities.
Also, you should check them before getting the locking tuners because maybe you could solve your issues without spending money on the upgrade.
Here are some things you could do to improve your Les Paul’s tuning stability:
Don’t use old strings
Old guitar strings will start having intonation problems. This might make them sound in tune on a certain part of the fretboard, but way off on another. You might think that it’s a setup problem or that your tuners are failing, but the solution might be just getting a new set of strings.
Try out lower gauge strings
In some rare cases, you might be using a string gauge too thick for your nut’s socket. The string will not be able to be in full contact with the entirety of the receptacle and then be more prone to moving when played. In this case, a lower gauge will sit more deeply into the nut, at the intended position.
Set up your guitar properly
As with old strings, a bad setup on your guitar will make intonation a nightmare. When the tuning is not consistent across the fretboard, the most 2 most likely issues will be old strings and a lack of a proper setup.
Luckily this is an easy fix for any experimented guitar technician, and there surely is one in your local guitar shop.
Lubricate your guitar’s nut
The nut is one of the main points of tuning problems in a guitar. The thing is that when the string moves, it might get stuck on its socket and not return to its original position, generating tension in one side of the other.
One way to attenuate this issue is by lubricating each socket when you restring your guitar. There are specific lubricants for this, but you can also use some graphite from a pencil tip. Just rub it generously on the socket and then blow to take away any excessively big chunks of it.
Get your nut replaced for a higher quality one
In some cases, the nut itself is the problem and there’s no amount of lubrication that could solve it.
Higher quality nuts are designed to prevent the strings from getting trapped and are made of more slippery materials than the stock ones of affordable guitars.
Do locking tuners affect tone?
Locking tuners do not affect the tone of a guitar. However, they add mass to the headstock since they tend to be heavier than normal tuners. This additional weight could influence feel. Changes in tone will be due to the difference in feel or because of the confidence that the guitar will stay in tune.
Many players argue that headstock mass makes an impact on tone, and they discuss things such as Suhr headstocks making a guitar sound different than the original Fender strat one.
It might be true, but only to the ears that could perceive it. For all mortals, it’s just a matter of taste and feel.
Can you use drop tunings with locking tuners?
You can use drop tunings with locking tuners since they just hold the string in place at the machine level. You can tune or detune your string normally as you would with a stock set of tuners.
Locking tuners do not limit you in any way, that’s what makes them a very harmless upgrade.
Do I need a locking nut with locking tuners?
You don’t need a locking nut to install locking tuners. Actually, both things accomplish the same purpose of making tuning more stable. The thing is that if you install a locking nut and fasten it, your locking machine heads would stop working since the string tension would be locked at the nut level.
Locking nuts usually come with floating bridges such as the Floyd Rose. They are usually complemented with micro tuners, or precision tuners installed on the bridge of the guitar.
3 things to consider before deciding on locking tuners for your Les Paul
Upgrading your guitar tuners is not really a big deal, but as with everything as personal as modifying a guitar, you should consider some things before pulling the trigger.
Here are the 3 things to consider before putting locking tuners on your Les Paul:
Are the locking tuners compatible with your Les Paul?
The first thing you have to check for is if the layout is correct. Most Les Pauls will have a 3 + 3 layout, as I mentioned earlier.
The next thing to take into account is if the locking tuner set comes with a universal mounting plate. This will prevent you from having to drill new holes into your headstock if the screw layout of the new tuners doesn’t exactly match with your previous ones.
Besides these things, there’s nothing else to worry about.
Are the locking tuners of a higher quality than your actual tuners?
This will depend, most probably, on the quality of your instrument if you have stock tuners. In most cases, any set of aftermarket tuners will be on par or better than the ones that came factory installed on your instrument.
In some rare situations, if you have a very expensive instrument, the machine heads might be of super high quality and it could be a shame to replace them.
But this is just a personal choice and I will leave it up to you.
Are the locking tuners within your budget?
A decent set of locking tuners will start from around $50, or maybe a bit less than that. You can go higher in price too.
Locking tuners are not a really expensive mod for a guitar really, but it will depend on your instrument’s price to really tell if they are worth it.
In most cases they are.
3 reasons to upgrade your Les Paul with locking tuners
As I suggested throughout this article, there are not many drawbacks when installing locking tuners on a guitar, other than the monetary cost of purchasing them.
Here are my 3 reasons why you should upgrade your Les Paul guitar with locking tuners:
It’s an easy DIY upgrade
As you could have seen in the video above, the upgrade is pretty straight forward and you wouldn’t need a guitar technician to do it for you. Just by following the instructions or even your common sense, and with a few very common tools, you could install the locking machine heads in just fifteen minutes.
Locking tuners will improve tuning stability
That’s what they are designed to do. Your tuning problems might come from other parts of your guitar, as I suggested above, but any addition to your tuning quest will be productive. In the cases where the problem is not anywhere else, locking tuners will be an amazing upgrade.
Locking tuners make restringing quicker and easier
Many players choose locking tuners for just this small feature. Restringing with them is a way easier task. You just pass the string through the machine’s hole, fasten the screw or tighten the mechanism and then cut the excess string on the other side. And you are done!
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.