Steinberger Gearless Tuners – Review

Steinberger Tuners:


In a previous post, I had mentioned how the high E string was slipping a bit on my electric guitar.  After lubricating the nut, I decided to bite the bullet and give a set of Steinberger gearless tuners a try.

Tuners and Gear Ratios:

Typically guitar tuners operate with a gear mechanism.  If you see a gear ratio that says it’s 12:1 – that means it takes 12 turns of the tuner knob to rotate the post 1 complete turn.  The higher the gear ratio is, the more accurate the tuning.  What happens with really low  tuning ratios is that you can sometimes get close to the pitch you are looking for but are unable to really dial it in.

Higher end guitars typically have tuners with gear ratios of 16:1 or 18:1, but when I read that Steinberger had a tuner that had a 40:1 ratio, I knew I had to give it a try.  Stu Mac was selling them in the $100 range (expensive – but the gold color will run you $50 more!)

Installation:

The installation requirements for these tuners are a minimum headstock thickness of 1/2 inch and a maximum string gauge of .060.

The tuners themselves are heavier than standard tuners but seem much lighter than the Schaller locker tuners.  As an interesting aside, for those of you who are thinking of luthery, because there are no side tuners – this means that the tuners could be installed anywhere on the headstock and not necessarily only somewhere near the edge.

Installation was a little time-consuming but not that difficult.  Stu-mac provided instructions which made the process much easier.  As opposed to having a screw on the back of the guitar holding it in place, the Steinberger has a small post that mounts on the face of the headstock.  The hole size is very small so if you decide to go back to regular tuners, it will easily be covered by the grommet .

you can see a nice breakdown of the process here.

Installed it looks like this.

Front:

Back:

In Use:

The 40:1 Gear ratio is the smoothest I have ever encountered.  Even the subtlest changes in string pitch are easy to dial in.  This is a device you want to use when you’re using one tuning.  There’s really no way to do quick alternate tunings – so If you change tunings a lot – these will probably not be a good match for you.

When changing strings, the top screw is loosened to let the string in.  You then need to pull the string tight, and clamp down the top screw.  By tight – I mean that you may need a pair of pliers to get the string in the ballpark of tension.

The knob on the back, then is used to tighten the string to pitch.  As an interesting aside, rather than winding a string around a post, the tuner actually pulls the string into the headstock.  Very interesting.  As a down side – you need to clip the string really close to the post to prevent what you see in the photos – namely strings popping out of the headstock.

The instructions that were sent with the tuner include this:

“Plain strings must either have silk or steel wrapping at the ball ends or be soldered. Otherwise, your guitar will be easy to pull out of tune.”  I haven’t soldered the ball end – but it will be interesting to see in the weeks ahead how it works.

This coupled with the tensioning issue – means that changing a string mid-gig could be tricky.  Supposedly the process puts less tension on the overall string – so you’re less likely to break one.  But I’d recommend bringing a backup guitar to the gig just in case.

As I’m using a guitar with a tremolo bridge, I do notice a distinct difference in the tension in string bending.  I’m definitely working a little more to get strings bent to pitch – and now that the tuners lock the trem is moving more when I bend.  Not a big deal – just a noticeable difference…..

The Plus Side:

Light weight (for a locking tuner).

Truly stable tuning

Incredibly smooth mechanism

Ability to tune in increments not possible with conventional tuners.

The Minus Side:

Pricey

Getting string to pitch before clamping can be tricky

Will not handle multiple tunings.

Won’t handle string gauges above .60

Verdict:

Over all, this is a case of you get what you pay for.  If you’re going to be sticking with one tuning on a guitar – these are pretty impressive tuners!

14 thoughts on “Steinberger Gearless Tuners – Review

  1. I have these tuners and the high E string broke at the bridge. I tried to change the string but it will not come out of the tuner. I went on line to find players all over are having the same problem. It is a new Firebird guitar and I love the sound & action but can not trust it at a gig because of this issue. Any tricks on getting the E string out? .

    • Hi Tim,

      I haven’t had that problem!!

      If you’ve full relieved tension on the string (unscrewed the back part of the tuner) the top screw is the only thing that should be holding tension. If you unscrew it all the way – it should come right out of the tuner.

      Since you’ve said that this is a common question on the firebirds – I’m wondering if this is something specific to the machines on that model (perhaps a bad production run?)

      There are reports that the build qualities are sometimes uneven – 1 tuner in a batch will be poor.

      If it’s new – the guitar should be under warrantee – so get it fixed for free if possible.

      If it’s not possible – What I’d recommend doing is going in with some of these other people who are having problems and buying a new set of tuners or just buying a set on your own and then selling the individual tuners for $20 or $25 per to people who are having that problem.

      Good luck.

  2. If the string breaks at the bridge it’s got nothing to do with the tuners! There could be a rough patch in the saddle slot; try sanding it with 1000 grit sandpaper. The string getting stuck inside the tuner has never happened to me. Did you 1-turn the tuner up all the way and 2- loosen the top screw all the way to take the string out?

  3. My new Gibson Les Paul Future tribute came with these stock…HATE them! I am going to have regular tuners installed ASAP!

    • Howard, I bought the Gibson SG Future tribute and I can’t stand them either. In theory I think they can be great tuners but they just aren’t holding tune for me at all. I’m afraid to buy new tuners because it looks like I may have to drill some holes. If you can, let me know how your guitar turns out because this is an awesome guitar otherwise and I would hate to sell it because of this problem.

      • DLH2028 – same thing happened to me until I figured out you just have to reef down on the locking nut really hard to prevent string slippage. Steinberger recommends tightening as tight as you can by hand, but a 12mm wrench gives a scosh more leverage for those plain strings that are more prone to slipping (tip courtesy of builder Doug Kauer). Just be careful you don’t over-torque or you’ll damage the tuner.

  4. I play a Steinberger Synapse and it has the 40-1 ratio and I also have the cheaper Gt Pro and the tuner principle is similar to the tuners you fitted. With the double ball ends I would end up having to buy a whole set to replace a top E that sometimes breaks, as they do. On the Synapse you can use single ball end strings so I found myself doing this and I was getting the problem it mentioned about strings not being soldered or silk wrapped. The top E goes out of tune and you tighten it and then it becomes undone. My theory was that Steinberger string lengths are so short, there are no wrappings around posts and the bridge is the tuner so there is no excess length to take some of the tension when I bend strings. With a trem it shouldn’t happen. They look great by the way.

  5. I am planning to make a 8 string guitar and want to use steinberger tuners .
    I have used them before and they look and work great .

    Problem is stringgauges of the 7th and 8th which are to thick for the 0.060 max (8th =0;075)

    I studied the mechanism…….Maybe I could widen the slot of the tuner >> drill 2mm en carefully file the slot with a micro-file… until the string will pass
    Weakening the structure for sure……but I have to buy 2 sets of 6 ….so I’ll have 4 spares.

    Worth a try or not ?
    Anybody experience with it ?

    • Don’t do it, it won’t work. The doubled up string doesn’t fit into the hole in which the string is pulled down. Buy two banjo tuners instead for the lower strings. Save yourself money and an incomplete set of gearless tuners.

  6. Don’t do it. Won’t work. The doubled up .075″ string won’t fit into the tube in which the string is pulled downwards. You’d be left with an incomplete set of gearless tuners. Buy two decent banjo tuners for the lowest strings instead. Also: be sure to elongate the scale, because with a 25.5″ scale the bass will sound really muddy!

    • two banjo tuners …I didn’t thought of that yet , I looked into bass tuners , but that would be no sight .>>> Waverly-banjo looks OK … better than two gigantic knobs sticking out of the headstock .

      longer than Fender,scale ? I didn’t thought of that either >>>….classical scale 650mm…660mm ? What would you suggest ? Must look further into this !

      • 28.5″ bariton guitar scale would be perfect for the lower strings, but you also have the higher strings, so a good compromise would be 27″ (68.5″cm). Or you could make a fanned fretboard: 25.5″ at the treble side, 28″ at the bass side. You can google the pictures to see what it looks like. You would need separate single string bridge parts, like the ones from ABM guitar parts. This will give you the tightest sound on all strings.

  7. Perfect scale for 8th string would be around 28″, but that would not be good for an E 1st string. So either a compromise of approximately 27″ or a fanned fretboard: 25.5″ on the treble side to 28.5″ on the bass side. If you need single string bridge saddles: ABM makes them. They are in Germany, Vox Humana distributes them in the Netherlands.

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