DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

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Micah Covington
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Joined: Mon May 28, 2012 9:49 am

DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by Micah Covington »

I've been looking at several designs for inexpensive and relatively simple methods of creating tuners for headless guitars. I haven't really liked most I have seen for a variety of reasons. I had an idea:

Is it possible to remove the key off of a traditional bass guitar tuner and replace it with a smaller knurled knob of somekind? I don't really like the look of traditional tuners mounted in the body. They usually require extensive body modification or just look out of place imho. If you could mount them at the end of the body and replace the actual key with a knob of some kind, they would look a lot more like other headless tuning systems. Is this possible?

Thanks.

Extra props for anyone who shares a simple DIY design.

gene downs
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Joined: Thu Sep 20, 2012 1:58 pm

Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by gene downs »

Here's what I came up with for my backpacking guitar I built back in '96.
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Pic - Gene's backpacker_1.jpg
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Jason Rodgers
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Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by Jason Rodgers »

That's cool, Gene. So the string ball is caught in the empty turnbuckle end? Please tell about scale length and string gauge. My guess is that has a lot to do with how easily those eyes turn to tune. (Modified a different way, turnbuckles could be bridges themselves, as that's the basic idea of Wilkinson bridge pieces.)
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

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Hans Bezemer
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Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by Hans Bezemer »

That's indeed cool. Could you also tell about the size of the turnbuckle? Did you use some kind of anker to hold the ball end in (assuming that the hole is bigger than the ball end)?

gene downs
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Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by gene downs »

I have the ball end at the head. I tie the strings on classical style at the other end. Works fine. The scale is 24.75".

The turnbuckles are the smallest I could find. I don't have the guitar with me right now, but I think the body of the turnbuckle would be right at about 1.75 inches long. They're still available at many hardware stores. But at the time I paid 70 cents each. Now it would be cheaper to buy some conventional Chinese tuners. But you can't beat these for light weight.

The strings are a regular 9 set because the guitar has no trussrod (the neck is mahogany - a bit on the thick side, but still it bends a bit). But string gauge is not an issue, I've used the turnbuckle thing on a bass before, without a problem. They are very easy to turn. I planned (but can't remember if I implemented) to have nylon bushings surrounding the body of the vertical screw to avoid metal on metal contact and make for a nice smooth action. But whether I did that or not, it's not a big deal, they work fine. I think I ended up not using them. There is, however, a nylon washer between the turnbuckle body and the vertical hold-down screw.

In the picture, the strings are completely slack. I detune them when I'm not actively playing the guitar, again, because of the no trussrod thing. But it doesn't take much travel at all to bring the strings to pitch. I originally planned to use nylon strings on the guitar but nylons stretch way too much and I didn't have enough travel to bring them to pitch.

That's a fun little guitar. It demands to be played - strangely enough - with fingers only, no pick; sounds much better than way. It weighs about 3 lbs. Three pounds that I've happily carried for 5000 miles up and down the Appalachian trail over the years.

Jason Rodgers
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Location: Portland, OR

Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Nice. Spending a lot of time at the Depot for home projects, I've often wondered if one could make an instrument completely out of hardware store components, all purchased in one trip. My HD has Doug fir, cedar, and hemlock, plus maple, poplar, and oak, some in straight grain and even interesting figure. I always reckoned the hardware would have to be the real thing, but these DIY tuners change my thinking. I suggested it once before: this should be the next MIMF Challenge.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

Bob Francis
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Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:28 pm

Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by Bob Francis »

Jason Rodgers wrote:Nice. Spending a lot of time at the Depot for home projects, I've often wondered if one could make an instrument completely out of hardware store components, all purchased in one trip. My HD has Doug fir, cedar, and hemlock, plus maple, poplar, and oak, some in straight grain and even interesting figure. I always reckoned the hardware would have to be the real thing, but these DIY tuners change my thinking. I suggested it once before: this should be the next MIMF Challenge.

The ONE trip would be my downfall. I can go there for a screwdriver and it takes at least 2 visits. :oops:

David King
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Re: DIY Headless Guitar Tuner?

Post by David King »

Hi Micah,
It would be possible and could be quite easy to do depending on the tuner you selected. If you were to us Hipshot tuners, the keys are threaded onto the shaft with an 8-32 thread and held in place with thread-locking compound. You could purchase some 8/32 thumb nuts and glue them in place of the keys.
Most other brands use a round shaft with two opposing flats held in place with a screw and a spring washer, a delrin washer and a steel washer or two to allow you to tighten up the action. You would need a way to grip the flats on the shaft and a hole from the back to allow you to hold the knurled knob in place. Odd shaped holes are normally drilled with a rotary broach on a lathe but this is a very expensive way to make holes. A simpler way would be to drill and thread a hole through the end of the knob and grab the tuner's flats with a couple of setscrews. You might also be successful in just glueing the knobs onto the shafts with liquid steel or equivalent.

I was never able to find a source for knurled metal knobs other than pot control knobs which are generally drilled out for 6mm or 1/4" pot shafts. There are other oddball pot sizes that might be helpful. Notably 1/8", 3.5mm, 4mm and 3/16" are all used in guitars but the knob selection is going to be very limited and potentially difficult to source.

Ibanez used this type of tuner knob on their Gary Willis model basses. The replacement tuners may be available.

Your most obvious choice would be LSR tuners or the much better Ned Steinberger gearless tuners but now you're talking real money.

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