Locking tuners vs locking nuts vs regular non locking tuners

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  November 11, 2020
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So I’ve reviewed quite a few different guitars over the years and also quite a few different types of guitars, like these that are great for beginning guitarists.

But there’s one thing about different types of guitars that causes a lot of confusion and that’s about the tuners.

So I decided to make this article for you to explain it in a little bit more detail.

Locking vs non locking tuners vs locking nuts

There are three different types of tuners:

Especially with the locking nuts and locking tuners there’s a bit of confusion about what they do and how to use them.

 

How to change strings with regular non-locking tuners

Let’s look at a normal type of guitar with normal tuners first:

Regular non locking tuners on a Fender style guitar

This is what you’ll find on most guitars. It’s just a tremolo bridge, pretty standard for Fender guitars or other strats.

You’ve got the tuners here on the headstock where you wind the string around the tuning peg a couple of times, then you turn the tuner so the string winding catches the end of the string.

Then you can start tuning it all the way.

These are normal tuners, they’re not locking, and this is what most guitars have.

Now the problem with tuners like this is when you do extreme bends, and especially with Floyd Rose type bridges, but also with Fender type bridges you can do some extreme bends, it will cause the tuners to go out of tune very very quickly.

The other thing is the speed with which you can change the strings. That’s also important for choosing the type of tuners that you’ll want for your guitar.

The next type of tuner that I want to show you is the locking tuner.

How to change strings with locking tuners

I’ve got a Gibson style bridge here and this model has got some locking tuners and you can see there are these knobs at the back with which you can lock the string into place:

Locking tuners on a ESP Gibson style guitar

A lot of people think that these locking tuners that they actually help with maintaining the tune of your guitar, and they do a little as opposed to the strings on a normal type of tuner, but not in the way you think.

They lock the string into place and that’s very useful because you can change the strings faster than with a normal tuner.

So that’s the main reason that you’ll want locking tuners, that you can change strings faster and they help to keep the string in tune a little bit more than a normal tuner.

That’s because there’s no string slippage.

When you tune a normal tuner you wind it around the tuning peg and what this does is when you bend or when you use your tremolo then that can cause a little string slippage.

That’s where the winding that you did manually unwind a little bit every time you bend the string.

With locking tuners, you don’t have that slippage problem. But the main reason you’ll want locking tuners is that you can change the strings incredibly fast.

Also check out this post and video on which strings to choose, where I review quite a few sets of strings in a row and change them really fast using locking tuners

To remove a string, just turn the knobs on the back of your tuners to open them up a bit. This will release the string and you can just take it out of the tuning peg without any unwinding.

Then loosen all the strings and cut them in the middle with a wire cutter so you can easily pull them through the bridge.

Next, pull the new strings through the bridge a pull the ends through the tuning pegs. You don’t have to wrap them around.

Now tighten the screw at the back just a bit, you don’t really have to tighten it really hard because it will keep the string in place just fine with just a little bit of tightening.

Because you pulled the strings through the peg and kept it in place while tightening the locking system, the string already has a bit of tension on it, so tuning it to the right pitch requires a lot less knob turning then with regular tuners.

Cut off the end of the string with the wire cutter and you’re done!

Now you’ve got all of these theories about having it in the right angle I find it doesn’t really matter that much to use the perfect angle, but when you’ve got the tuning peg tilted a bit, you can pull it through with ease, hold it, then lock it into place.

Then I have a third one and that’s one with a locking nut.

How to change strings with a locking nut

Most often you will see these locking nuts on guitars with a Floyd Rose tremolo system, one that can really do deep dives.

Locking nuts with a Floyd Rose Bridge on a Schecter guitar

That’s because these actually hold the strings tightly in place, and it’s what most people refer to when talking about locking tuners or a locking system.

The tuners on the headstock are normal tuners, not locking tuners, and you wrap the string around the tuning peg a few times just like you would with a normal guitar.

Then you have the locking nuts in front of them which keep the string tension in place right there at the nut.

You’ve also got a few tuning pegs on the bridge because if you want to tune a string and you don’t have any pegs over there as well, then every time you want to tune a string you would have to loosen the locking nuts.

Because the string is really held in place at the nut, nothing you do to the tuners on the headstock will matter for the string in place, because the locking nuts are tightened.

That’s something you’ll probably do if you get one of these systems and you’re not used to it. You’ll probably make this mistake a few times as I did:

Start tuning with the tuners and then realize that the locking nuts are still in place and then wondering why it isn’t doing anything!

There are three locking nuts on a guitar like this so every two pairs of strings will have one locking nut.

So, if you want to replace the B string on the guitar, you’d have to loosen the lowest locking nut with a small wrench that you’ll get delivered with the locking nuts if you buy a guitar like this, or you can even buy these locking nuts separately to mount on your guitar:

Holmer locking nuts for electric guitar

(view more images)

But you’ll need to do a little bit of work around the nut, so you can do that yourself or you can have your guitar fitted at a guitar shop.

Most guitar shops can do this for you.

If you want to tune the string, loosening the locking nut is quite all right because now it’s not holding the string in place anymore and you can tune the string.

You don’t have to loosen it all the way and take the screws out for that.

But if you want to replace the string you’ll have to remove the top part of the locking nut so the string is exposed to start replacing it.

The rest is the same as with regular tuners. Loosen the string and then cut it in the middle so you can easily remove it, then pull a new string through the bridge, wrap it around the tuning peg and make sure it’s in place.

Then tune your guitar and when it’s in tune, put the locking nuts back on and tighten them really tight so there will be no change in tension when you do extreme bends and use the tremolo system.

The other part is that most Floyd Rose types of guitars will have a locking nut at the brdige as well to keep the string into place at the bridge too.

What you have to do in that case, is cut off the ball part of the string and put the string without the ball into the bridge, then tighten the locking system on the bridge so the string is securely in place there as well.

Of course, you also have tremolos where the strings are through the body and you can keep the ball parts on.

Conclusion

So that’s the different types of guitar tuners out there.

The locking nut is really the one that protects the guitar from going out of tune when doing extreme bends or using a tremolo system like the Floyd Rose which is pretty much made for extreme bends.

Now you don’t get it confused any more with locking tuners, which are pretty much made for faster tuning and a little more stability.

If you really want to do some dive bombs then the locking nut system is probably the one for you.

I hope this article has helped you with choosing the right tuning system for your guitar and thanks so much for visiting us!

          Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of his passion, and together with his team, He's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.