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!)
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.
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:
Getting string to pitch before clamping can be tricky
Will not handle multiple tunings.
Won’t handle string gauges above .60
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!