RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
If you’re looking for a new guitar, you’ve probably seen options with locking nuts and others with locking tuners and wondered which is better.
Whether you should choose a locking nut or locking tuner depends on the kind of music you play, how much and how vigorously you use a guitar’s tremolo system, and how important tuning stability is to you compared with how easy or how quickly you can change strings and re-tune.
There are good cases to be made for both locking tuners and locking nuts, so let’s examine why you’d want them in the first place and which might be a better choice for you.
What Do Locking Tuners Do?
As we’ve covered before, especially in posts about using a locking nut, one of the major reasons that strings go out of tune is they slip out of place at either the nut or the saddle.
A locking nut solves this by clamping the strings in three pairs at the nut, which prevents the string from slipping and going out of tune. A locking tuner solves it in a slightly different way: It clamps each string firmly in place at the tuner.
To use a locking tuner you install the string through the bridge like normal, then thread it through the tuner and bring the string tight. Engage the locking clamp on the back of the tuner to hold onto the string and then tune up — you don’t need to worry about winding a certain number of times to ensure tuning stability.
That performs a similar function to a locking nut, though farther up the neck and in a slightly different way.
One advantage that locking tuners have over a locking nut is simplicity of installation. While installing a locking nut on a guitar that wasn’t built with one requires major woodworking, including cutting away material and drilling holes through the neck, locking tuners replace the existing tuners.
You might need to make small new screw holes or slightly enlarge the hole for the tuner post, but it is much closer to dropping in, and is far easier to reverse than a locking nut.
Locking tuners can be used with just about any kind of bridge arrangement, from an acoustic guitar to a fixed electric bridge to any kind of vibrato or tremolo system, while a locking nut is specifically for use with a double locking tremolo system like a Floyd Rose.
Why Do You Need A Locking Nut?
Sperzel claims the honor of the first locking tuners, in 1983, but the locking nut is even older, launching with the Floyd Rose Tremolo System in the late 1970s.
Guitarist Floyd Rose developed the locking nut in response to frustration with his guitar going out of tune when he used the tremolo arm to imitate his heroes, such as Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore. It exists in much the same form today and consists of a metal replacement nut that is spanned by a locking collar with three Allen head screws.
Each screw locks down a pair of strings. That’s used in conjunction with a lock that holds the string in place at the saddle, as well.
When used together, those locks allow the strings to stay exactly the same length, because they can’t slip over the bridge or the nut. That means great tuning stability when doing truly epic whammy bar divebombs, as so many guitarists have found from the 1970s and 1980s through to today.
While a locking tuner keeps the string in place there, it can still move over the nut, while most other tremolo systems use the existing ball end of the guitar string to anchor the string in the bridge, which is also less stable than a locking bridge.
The trade-off, of course, is ease of use, especially when it comes to something like changing strings. After all, the locking system on a Floyd Rose style tremolo requires you to snip the ball end off the string so it can be put into place and locked down, then pulled up and threaded through the tuner.
There is an alternative to that, though. The next time you need to change a string in a Floyd Rose trem or another locking tremolo system, try this.
- Rather than starting by snipping off the ball end, thread the string down through the tuner post, using the ball end to hold it in place
- Stretch the string taut and trim the end so you can install it in the bridge saddle and lock it down.
- You can go back to the tuner and snip off the ball end or leave it in place
Try this and you might find string changes a bit quicker the next time you use a Floyd Rose equipped guitar.
Do You Need A Locking Nut If You Have Locking Tuners?
So maybe a set of locking tuners won’t hold things exactly as tight as a locking nut, but they’ll probably do, right?
Not exactly. While locking tuners are a tremendous aid to tuning stability, whether on a hardtail guitar or one with a tremolo system, they don’t serve the same purpose as a locking nut.
In addition to clamping the strings firmly at the nut, a locking nut also keeps the tension from the strings equal with the tension from the tremolo springs. A Floyd Rose is a floating tremolo, using the two opposing forces to keep the bridge from contacting the top when at rest.
Locking tuners might not be able to make sure the tension is balanced as well from string to string as a locking nut, which makes sure all strings are clamped at the same point, instead of individually.
Another consideration is one we mentioned above: the locking nut and the fine tuners on a locking tremolo system like a Floyd Rose are designed to keep the strings from moving over the nut, because the friction keeps the strings from moving cleaning and thus the strings are pulled out of tune.
A graphite nut or a roller nut might be able to counteract some of that tension, but nothing will offer anything like the tuning stability of a well set up Floyd Rose system with a locking nut.
Being well set up is definitely part of the equation. This video shows how much goes into getting a Floyd Rose style tremolo system dialed in and set up perfectly.
Should You Choose A Locking Nut Or Locking Tuners?
So which is better, a locking nut or a set of locking tuners? As I said at the start, a lot of that depends on what and how you play. There’s a reason why there are a lot of different options out there, after all.
Why Should You Pick A Guitar With Locking Tuners?
First, let’s look at why you might want to go with locking tuners instead of a locking nut.
- Ease of installation: One big reason to pick locking tuners is they are easy to install on just about any instrument. They also won’t affect the value of a potentially expensive vintage guitar, but they will probably make it a lot more satisfying to play. It can also be difficult to remove the locking nut if you decide you no longer to use it.
- Ease of use: With most locking tuners using a knob on the back of the tuner body, it’s obvious and simple to use them, and no tools are needed.
- Versatility: In addition to being able to be installed on just about any guitar, they can also be used whether you have a vibrato or tremolo system or not.
This video looks at seven different kinds of tremolo/vibrato systems. You can see why locking tuners might help with most of the designs.
Why Should You Pick A Guitar With A Locking Nut?
Now let’s see why you might want a locking nut instead of locking tuners.
- Tuning stability: Having to stop and re-tune a guitar over and over is something that drives a lot of new players away from the instrument forever. While definitely more complicated to set up and to use, at least at first, guitars that use a locking nut in conjunction with a locking bridge saddle offer the best chance of staying in tune.
- Tremolo performance: That tuning stability is particularly important when paired with the use of the whammy bar. Guitars with a locking nut are almost all designed to offer a larger range of pitch bending and other effects than those with other kinds of tremolo systems, and many can raise or lower the pitch, something a standard Stratocaster style tremolo struggles with.
- Genre choices: Some genres of music, especially the kind of metal that prizes virtuoso playing, lend themselves really well to using a tremolo with a locking nut. Guitarists like Dimebag Darrell of Pantera actually used the tremolo system to create a signature sound all their own.
If there was a single right answer to the question “Should I pick a locking nut or locking tuners?” then only one of them would still be on the market today, of course.
There are major advantages and drawbacks to each, and while they both help with tuning stability by locking down the string, they don’t do exactly the same thing or do it in exactly the same way. Which you should go with depends on a lot of factors.
The best way to find out is to get out there and play different kinds of guitars to see what suits you and what you most enjoy.
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.