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When you’re first learning to play guitar, it’s easy to get confused by all of the conventional wisdom out there, especially when it comes to re-stringing and tuning the guitar.
Take locking tuners: You’re supposed to wrap you string around some tuner posts, but do you wrap your strings with a locking tuner?
You should not wrap your strings around the tuner post when restringing a guitar with locking tuners. Doing so essentially defeats the purpose of a locking tuner and is likely to contribute to tuning stability problems. Instead, you should pull the string tight and use the locking mechanism to attach it.
Let’s look at what wrapping your strings around the tuner post is supposed to do, what advantages locking tuners might offer, and the differences between using the two.
Why Do Players Wrap Their Strings?
If you ask five guitar players how they re-string the guitar, don’t be surprised if you get six different methods. Especially before the days of the Internet, many players were shown how to install strings at the music store and did it the same way ever since.
To give you an idea of the number of different ways there are, this video gives examples of four different ways to re-string your guitar.
Some players insist that they need to wrap the string around the post a precise number of times and in a particular direction, which makes some sense. Especially when you’re re-stringing a guitar with a slotted head stock, the direction the string is wrapped around the tuner post helps keep it in the right position above the nut.
That matters somewhat less with other kinds of head stocks, but the angle of the tuners and their height can also affect the position of the string over the nut, so the number and direction of wrapping can have some influence on that, but if you’re having issues with strings popping out of their slot in the nut, you might want to consider different tuner heights or string trees before worrying about string wrapping.
No matter which method you choose, though, the end goal of string wrapping is the same: you want to make sure the string is securely held in place so it doesn’t slip and change the tuning.
Once your strings are properly stretched, the main cause of tuning problems is strings slipping out of place at the nut, tuner, or saddle. The length of the string is what determines its pitch, and when the string slips, it gets longer.
As I noted above, the string can slip in a lot of places. The most common place, though, is at the tuners, which is where there is excess string.
Some players use a knot to “lock” the strings in place, as demonstrated in the video above. While this does help limit movement, as long as there is extra string wrapped around the post, there is the possibility that they could slip.
In guitars with a double locking tremolo system, which uses a locking nut, the strings are clamped at the bridge saddle and the nut. That is a very effective way of locking strings in place, but requires special effort for simple things like re-tuning.
What Do Locking Tuners Do?
Locking tuners are another way to try and keep strings at the correct length. Instead of a locking nut, which uses three clamps to secure pairs of strings in place, a locking tuner handles individual strings.
And while a locking nut makes string above the lock essentially irrelevant as long as things are tight, locking tuners limit the amount of string that could slip in the first place. They do this by clamping the string in place.
That has a similar effect to a locking nut. The strings are held firmly in place and therefore can’t slip out of place and change the tuning.
It’s worth noting that neither a locking nut style tremolo system or locking tuners can promise perfect tuning stability. What you’ll notice is that no matter how hard you play or how much you abuse the tremolo system, your guitar stays in tune.
No tuners or locking system can promise perfect stability at all time, though. Things like changes in temperature and humidity will change the length of the strings and impact the pitch.
Should You Wrap Strings With A Locking Tuner?
To help understand why wrapping strings around the post of a locking tuner is a bad idea, it’s worth looking at the different way strings are installed on locking tuners .
To install a string on a regular tuner, you normally leave a small amount of slack after pulling the string through the tuner post. That is used to wrap the string around itself and tie it in place.
On a locking tuner, though, you pull the string through the hole in the tuner post and turn a knob or screw, which in turn actuates a clamp or post that holds the string in place. If you don’t hold the string tight when clamping it down, you leave extra wraps of string that aren’t being held firmly in place.
That allows them to slip out of place and would send the guitar out of tune.
If you pull the string tight before clamping it down, there is no slack that could slip, however, which improves tuning stability.
That’s because steel guitar strings will always have a bit of flexibility in them — that is what keeps them from becoming brittle and breaking easily. When you install strings, you should stretch them to remove most of the extra elasticity, but you’ll never be able to take all of it out.
If your string is wrapped around the tuner post, there is always the possibility there is some slack waiting to be pulled out. If you have a particularly heavy style, you might find it hard to keep a string like that in tune.
By pulling the string tight before tuning and using the locking mechanism to clamp it down means the string’s length is securely set.
One thing worth knowing before we wrap up on this topic — see what I did there? — is that we’re talking about wrapping the strings around the tuner post before they’re locked down. That is what can hide slack.
If you bring a string tight through a tuner and lock it in place, there will still be some string wrapped around the post, but it is still being held down at the end. If, as I mentioned above, you leave some slack to wrap the strings before locking them down, then the string length isn’t as firmly fixed in place.
Locking tuners are not just good for tuning stability — they also make re-stringing a much faster and more convenient process. Just remember to pull the strings tight and lock them down so you get the most benefit from the locking tuners.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.