Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

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Liam McGillivray
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Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Liam McGillivray »

Hello. I am trying to select tuning machine heads for an electric bass. They really vary in price. I wonder how much they affect the tone, but I can't find information on this. I find info about "upgrading" tuners, but is tone the reason for this?

If I want to go cheap, I would get these ones. For a higher price, I can get these ones or these ones.

In my theory it would have an effect on tone as the heads that are better "clamped" would wobble less. If they can wobble then this would absorb some of the strings vibration.
The latter tuners that I linked to appear to be better clamped than the cheaper set. They all have a nut to clamp it onto the wood. But the cheaper one only has one screw close to the shaft, while the others have 2-3 screws further from the shaft.

I would think this would have some impact, but I can't find any info.

John Clifford
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by John Clifford »

I wouldn't go with really cheap tuners, because they are likely to be mechanically inferior (loose, uneven, unstable). Among tuners that function well mechanically, I seriously doubt that anyone could hear a difference in "tone." Of course, I expect someone will now claim they can, and I won't argue with them.

Weight is a consideration, for balance reasons - basses tend to be neck heavy, and lighter tuners can help with that. On the other hand, there is something be said for high mass at the string ends, as it increases mechanical impedance, thereby marginally increasing sustain.

David King
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by David King »

Liam,

It probably does have some impact but I'd say that the mass of the tuner is what's going to affect things sonically and only to a slight extent.
Quality is a good thing in terms of durability, ease of tuning and looks but all tuners will get the job done. I'd avoid the Schaller branded tuners that are a copy of the the Gotoh GB-7 as the shaft has a habit of shearing off at the gear.

Liam McGillivray
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Liam McGillivray »

John Clifford wrote:Weight is a consideration, for balance reasons - basses tend to be neck heavy, and lighter tuners can help with that. On the other hand, there is something be said for high mass at the string ends, as it increases mechanical impedance, thereby marginally increasing sustain.
"Mechanical Impedence"? So that's what it's called. I'm guessing that that is one reason a piano sounds the way it does, and also 6-string contrabass guitars (often incorrectly known as "6-string bass guitar"). I think I would actually like the sound of that. At the least I wouldn't pay more just for lighter.
David King wrote: Quality is a good thing in terms of durability, ease of tuning and looks but all tuners will get the job done. I'd avoid the Schaller branded tuners that are a copy of the the Gotoh GB-7 as the shaft has a habit of shearing off at the gear.
Well, I did have a a Cort EVL-Z4B (now stolen) which had one of the washers on the tuning peg break due to the force of the knob being pulled inward. I suppose that the very fact that it can be pulled in that way is a sign of a mechanically weak design. They were probably the cheap kind like the one I linked to, as they looked the same, and it was a cheap bass (although otherwise good for it's price).

Brian Evans
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Brian Evans »

I personally don't believe that tuners have an effect on tone. Even if they did, what would make the difference better or worse? For all you know the tone is better with lighter tuners, or vise versa. Anyway, I would pass on the no-name chinese (even though they may well be fine and for all we know made in the same factory line as higher priced identical brand name tuners) and chose the Gotoh's. I like the way they look, and I have used many sets of Gotoh's on guitars, I consider them a premium brand.

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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Peter Wilcox »

The nuts clamp any of the linked tuners tightly and securely to the peg head - the screws just keep them from turning in the hole, and one screw is plenty. I suppose in theory the more expensive the tuner, the smoother it operates and the longer it lasts. As mentioned above, weight is a factor in avoiding neck dive. I doubt there's any discernible difference in "tone" among any tuners as long as they're fastened to the instrument securely. My $0.02.
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John Clifford
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by John Clifford »

What the heck - we're all agreeing on this??? Somebody must have a dissenting opinion.

Christ Kacoyannakis
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Christ Kacoyannakis »

Paul Reed Smith thinks the tuning machines do have an affect on the tone. He thinks that a lot of the new tuning machines have a lot of plastic in them, which sucks tone. The PRS tuning machines supposedly don't have that much plastic in them, and he thinks that improves tone.

John Clifford
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by John Clifford »

Christ Kacoyannakis wrote:Paul Reed Smith thinks the tuning machines do have an affect on the tone. He thinks that a lot of the new tuning machines have a lot of plastic in them, which sucks tone. The PRS tuning machines supposedly don't have that much plastic in them, and he thinks that improves tone.
Well, I'd like to challenge PRS to a double-blind sound test. If he could reliably tell the difference, I'd gladly buy him a drink. Or two.

David King
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by David King »

I do see plastic buttons on some tuners and the Schaller light weight tuners have a boron reinforced plastic shell. That's not a lot of plastic overall. I think PRS happens to stand out in it's willingness to propagates unsubstantiated claims for purely marketing reasons. Some o their stuff is so bogus even a true believer would have to wonder.

Christ Kacoyannakis
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Christ Kacoyannakis »

I don't know how much of PRS' claims are true or not. I have seen a lot of his videos, and some make sense (gluing on the nut, making sure the neck joint is nice ant tight) but other things make me wonder. When people claim to have secrets that they don't reveal, I get suspicious. For example, the material that PRS nuts are made of. They are not bone, and they claim they are not Tusq. They say it's a secret and that other companies use plastic. If the material is not bone, and it is man made and not metal, than it is some kind of plastic or composit. Plastic is a very generic term. You can put bits of stuff in there and make a bonded amalgamation, but in my mind it is still plastic. Now, I am not saying it is bad or even that it is not a better material, just that when people keep secrets it is suspicious. I do understand the need to keep a competitive edge and that companies put money into R&D, but guitar nuts don't seem to be a huge secret.

I read something a while back about the fact that you don't have to improve something a lot in one area to make a difference, but if you just improve a lot of little areas 1 percent each, it adds up (the author was talking about sports performance and improving strength 1 percent, sleep 1 percent, nutrition, etc. ). So maybe the plastic in tuning machines doesn't make a difference you can hear. However, maybe you use a machine with no or little plastic, and you glue on your nut and you use a better nut material and better finish material and you fit your neck really tight, and then you might have something you can hear the difference in. Or maybe not.

Gordon Bellerose
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Gordon Bellerose »

I myself cannot hear any difference, but in the opinion of Dan Erliwine of stewmac fame, they do make a difference.
He says that a heavier set will add "darkness" to the tone, while improving sustain.

I have used Hipshot aluminum tuners on a recent bass build, and was really satisfied.
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Mark Wybierala
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Mark Wybierala »

Tone just kinda happens.

Joshua Levin-Epstein
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Joshua Levin-Epstein »

I myself cannot hear any difference, but in the opinion of Dan Erliwine of stewmac fame, they do make a difference.
He says that a heavier set will add "darkness" to the tone, while improving sustain.

That being said, many people return the old (crappy) Kluson tuners to older Gibson acoustics not just because they are original (or look better) but because they say the tone is better.

I just like the way better tuners feel. I can certainly overcome any benefit to tone when I start playing.

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Beate Ritzert
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Re: Does choice of tuning heads affect the sound of an instrument?

Post by Beate Ritzert »

In contrast to some of the previous posters, i sometimes notice a significant effect of the mass of the headstock (and hence the tuners!) on the sound: on my basses, a heavier headstock leads to better attack, but also to a darker tone. If the headstock becomes too light, even the feedback sensitivity of the bass may change. And, of course, the mass of the headstock will also affect any dead spots.

Our possibilities to modify the headstock mass of a given instrument: vary the weight of the tuners. Add additional mass to the headstock.

On some of my basses i went for the latter and added a few large washers on the back of the headstock. If they weren't so ugly, that could be regarded as an important step in the setup procedure of an (electric?) guitar.

Example (Epiphone 1960s EB-3, shortscale) - the number of washers is obtained by trial and error:
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