The 3 Best Locking Tuners for Acoustic Guitars [Pro Picks]

Chances are you hate tuning your guitar every 10 minutes.

I feel you. 

Tuning is not fun, but what’s even less fun is when your guitar gets out of tune in the middle of a song.

An acoustic guitar can go out of tune due to a series of issues, that we are going to talk about in this article. However, a set of locking tuners might resolve your problems if they were originated from your old tuners or the way you put the strings on.

If you want to know which are the best 3 locking tuners for acoustic guitars and just get going, here they are:

My top 3 picks for the best locking tuners for acoustic guitar are:

  1. Graph Tech Ratio
  2. Grover Roto-Grip 502C
  3. Hipshot 6GL0

If you want to stay with us for a bit longer, in this article I will tell you all about locking tuners in acoustic guitars. Then I will talk about my top choices in detail.

I will give you all the information you need so you get your acoustic in excellent tuning condition.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

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

Can you put locking tuners on an acoustic guitar?

You can put locking tuners on an acoustic guitar and they will work as with any other guitar. Most brands of machine heads come with universal mounting plates that will facilitate their installation. Locking tuners, however, don’t guarantee to solve your issues, which can originate from different sources.

Many players choose to upgrade their acoustic guitar tuners just because the restringing process on these kinds of tuners gets way easier and takes less time to do.

How do you install locking tuners on an acoustic guitar?

The 3 best locking tuners for acoustic guitars

There are a few options when looking for locking tuners that fit an acoustic guitar. To be honest, most of the well-known brands make pretty good products. You shouldn’t worry too much about it, and just check which one fits your budget better. 

Oh, and don’t forget about aesthetics, I think they are very important when modding a guitar.

However, if I were to pick my 3 favorite locking tuners for acoustic guitars, these would be them:

Graph Tech Ratio

Graph tech ratio

The Graph Tech Ratio machine heads are the most expensive on this list, but also the higher quality ones.

Does that really matter? Well, I’m not sure, but you won’t go wrong with these ones.

Their name is inspired by the mechanism inside them that allows every single machine to have the perfect ratio to let every string respond the same to any tuning adjustment. This results in one turn being around a whole tone modification on all strings.

Another big selling point of this set is that they come with a universal mounting plate set that will surely fit any acoustic guitar.

Take into consideration that many locking tuners are mainly marketed for electric guitars, so compatibility might be a concern in some cases.

Grover Roto-Grip 502C

Grover roto grip C

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 6GL0

Hipshot GL

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.

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 acoustic guitars have 3 machines on each side of their headstock, and so do Gibson 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.

3 things to consider before deciding on locking tuners for your acoustic

Upgrading your acoustic 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 acoustic:

Are the locking tuners compatible with your acoustic?

The first thing you have to check for is if the layout is correct. Most acoustics 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 an acoustic really, but it will depend on your instrument’s price to really tell if they are worth it.

In most cases they are.

What else can I do to improve my acoustic’s tuning stability?

reasons to get an acoustic

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 acoustic guitar’s tuning stability:

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.

Make sure your bridge pins are correctly placed

If a bridge pin moves from its place it will cause a heavy detuning of the string. Make sure when you change the strings of your acoustic that the pins stay perfectly locked, are not deformed, and stay in place when tension is applied.

Don’t use old guitar 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.

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.

3 reasons to upgrade your acoustic 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 acoustic 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!