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Using Locking Tuners: A Revelation

by Madonna

For years, guitarists have lauded the invention of locking tuners as one of the most remarkable advancements in the world of music. These ingenious devices have made restringing guitars a breeze, eliminating the need for elaborate winding and ensuring a hassle-free process. However, it turns out that many of us, myself included, have been using locking tuners incorrectly.

As someone who has always loathed the chore of restringing guitars, locking tuners have been a game-changer. You simply thread the string through the machinehead hole, tighten the thumbwheel, tune up, and you’re good to go. It’s a quick and efficient process, or so I thought.

Over the past two decades, I’ve equipped nearly all my guitars with locking tuners, from Sperzels on a Cort G Series to Fenders on a baritone Telecaster, and even budget Amazon offerings on my trusty Fernandes offset. All of these instruments feature six-a-side headstocks, and I’ve always adhered to the same straightforward approach: align the tuners roughly straight, insert the string, and tighten. However, my recent experience with a Japanese-built Fender Elemental Jazzmaster shed light on a crucial detail I’d been overlooking.

This particular Jazzmaster marked the first time I paired locking tuners with a top-loading tailpiece, a departure from the string-through Strat-style design on my other locking tuner-equipped guitars. After restringing the Jazzmaster with a set of D’Addario strings using my customary hasty method of aligning the tuners, I went about my business of playing.

However, during the guitar’s soundcheck for its maiden performance, I encountered an unexpected issue. The high E string, which should have been in tune, felt loose and registered as a G on my tuner. I attempted to tune it back to pitch but found that the string had slipped out of the tuner, remaining fully intact.

Thankfully, I had a backup instrument to salvage the gig, but I couldn’t shake the nagging question: How had the high E string slipped so drastically out of tune?

To address this problem, I did what any guitarist would do – I tuned up and hoped for a return to pitch. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on my side, and the string popped out of the tuner once more.

Frustrated and bewildered, I turned to the internet for a solution. My search led me to a video by Jay Leonard J, a reliable YouTuber, aptly titled ‘How To Properly Re-String Your Locking Tuners.’ Jay described the same issue I had encountered – string slippage on the high E string, and the remedy he offered was simple: the 123345 method.

This method, likened to a clock face, specifies the angle at which the tuners’ openings should be positioned when you insert the string. For instance, the high E string’s hole should align with 1:00, the B string with 2:00, the G and D strings with 3:00, the A string with 4:00, and the low E string with 5:00. Jay Leonard J also provided an alternative setup for Les Paul players.

By following this method, the top three strings receive additional winds, preventing string slippage when bending notes, especially in the case of a 0.010 gauge string on a top-loading guitar. While this issue is less likely to occur with thicker strings, I can attest to its potential on such setups.

I was genuinely surprised that I hadn’t come across this method earlier, given the numerous locking tuners I’ve used over the years. It’s even official Fender setup advice now.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Jay Leonard J for his guidance, which has saved me from an embarrassing call to Fender’s customer service. With this newfound knowledge, I can confidently prepare for upcoming gigs with my new offset guitar. The lesson here is clear – one never stops learning in the world of music and guitar playing.

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