Vintage Style Tuners Guide
If you like traditional stuff on your Fender, you probably heard of Kluson Vintage tuners. These tuners have their fans (including me) and it is these who will give your Fender that Vintage 50´s look. The split shaft invention remains the best ones to me personally. They have pros and cons for sure.. Very easy to use and holds the string perfectly with no pin-prick sharp string ends. The original US factory shut down over four decades ago, So who makes them today? Well a few companies actually. Following up is a deep dive into the selection and brands of the Kluson style tuners.
HISTORY Let us roll back the time to Chicago 1925.. John Edward Klucikowski (later: John Kluson) was the man who started a machine shop this very year. After short time, Kluson soon found a market for producing guitar tuners. The company primarily made tuners for Gibson to start with, but soon expanded to make them for other as well like C.F.Martin and Fender. Gibson dropped Kluson later for German based Schaller in 1976, Fender followed shortly after when they outsourced production to Ping Wells in Taiwan. Kluson did not last long when the majors left until it folded in 1981 of financial reasons. Since then, Kluson remained in History for 13 years, until Larry Davis of WD Music Products acquired the Kluson brand in 1994 and started reproducing the traditional style tuners like the good old days. But today they are manufactured in Korea. WD Music owns the Kluson brand for the US Market, but in Europe, Göldo Music Germany owns rights of the usage of the brand there. And these two are the only ones allowed to stamp the Kluson brand on their tuners. They both have their own logo as well. Another fact, claimed by Göldo, is that WD Kluson USA are not legally allowed to sell their tuners in Europe, but they distribute their tuners to select few stores in Europe anyway.
There are two versions of the logo:
US Original Logo
Over time, other brands have included the kluson style in their production line. But these are unbranded (Pinstripe only, but often with a stamp on their own) Kluson tuners can also be bought as a plate assembly. That means all six tuners comes mounted on a plate bracket that you drop into all six holes at once and take less screws to fasten them. But i prefer the good old single mount tuners. 7 screws to rule them all.
As mentioned. The official issues are made in Korea and is distributed by WD Music. They are packed in cool retro vintage looking boxes and they come in two variants: Deluxe and Supreme. The Deluxe has 15:1 ratio and the Supreme comes in 18:1 ratio. They also come in staggered if you wish those and are branded with single line & double line text or none. Quality wise they can be a hit or miss. To me, i had a supreme tuner that went bad after just two weeks. Since they go for traditional build and remain historical accurate on design, you get wobbly tuner pegs like the good old ones. Kluson have their own website, I sent my defected tuner to their US Address but it came back to me RTS and no one answer the E-Mails. My guess is that WD runs that site, but it is only there for showcase. Anything you order on that site is probably sent directly to WD for them to pack and ship.
The Rolls Royce 510 series
Hapm means posts are height adjustable. You can convert them to staggered or leave them at natural height.
These are, by far the best tuners you can get. And the best part, they are reasonable and won´t break the bank. Gotoh has made guitar parts since 1960 and is the only manufacturer of guitar hardware in Japan as well. Needless to say, trust the Japanese, they take pride in their work and has taken the Kluson style tuner and re-engineered it. There are some unreal selection on these. Staggered, Adjustable stagger (HAPM), Locking or regular split shaft, how about locking tuners without the tension wheel? And what about a choice of 10 different tuning buttons.? Take your pick.
Like WD Klusons, They are separated into two versions:
SD91. - These are the basic model. You can get them in staggered or none staggered. Even the HAPM (Height Adjustable Posts) can be found on these as well. You can get locking functions on these too without sacrificing the look of them. And since they don't own the name, they are made with no branding. But sometimes if you choose lockers or HAPM, they have a nice looking stamp of their own on them.
SDS510 - These are the luxury tuners. very sturdy posts that are wiggle free. Like its younger brother, it comes in all different combinations. They have twice the price tag usually from the 91´s, and comes with C.A.R.D inserts which are reinforced brackets that is sandwiched between the tuner and headstock to make it even more sturdier.
All SDS510 have a Stamp on their casing that varies dependable what model you get. If there is one thing i have to arrest Gotoh on, it´s the mounting screws. They are not the best quality and i heard of people who have snapped them off. But, the Gotoh´s are my pick of choice every time i want a pair. All my necks have them.
Standard Taiwan Tuners #0047912049
The roadworn versions. This image could be more after-reliced sets. Road Worn are usually moderately aged.
The drop-fit 2-pin tuners to replace the standard closed factory tuners.
Standard Taiwan Tuners #0047912049
Fender ceased business with Kluson during the CBS-era to get their own tuners made. At first to machine their own, but later in the 80's i believe, They outsourced the tuners to made by Ping Wells and they are based in Taiwan. You usually find these in production line vintage reissue guitars and can be found for reasonable price. Often under $30.00. (#0047912049) Quality wise they are fine. For the price they do exactly what they should do. Not the best on the market, but they operate without problems and keeps your guitar in tune. Fender Custom Shop mostly use Gotoh tuners for their guitars, That tells you what Fender themselves think of the quality of Gotoh
You can find also find the Gotoh Japan SD91 (Model #: 0992074000) version packed in Fender packaging, These are marketed under the name PURE VINTAGE label today. These are the Custom Shop selected tuners. They are also stamped with one-line "FENDER" on the casing.
Here is a handy tip if your have 2-pin tuners (found in most modern Fender guitars today), and do not want to drill new holes. Fender also has PING Vintage style tuners with 2-studs with screw-on-bushings. They are an exact drop in fit to replace you regular tuners. You can find them under 0990802100 cat.#. These are PING Taiwan made.
Fender also sells reliced sets named ROAD WORN.. (Also PING Taiwan made)
This company owns the licence to the Kluson name in Europe. However, there is no German engineering behind these because they are in fact made by Gotoh Japan. Essentially the same tuner as SD91 more or less. So, if you lust for Gotoh quality and require Single Line or Double Line Kluson Branding, these are the only ones that have them, So, Best of both worlds. Goes for the same price as Gotoh's. Only downside is they don't exists with the many optional choices the regular Gotoh has. These exists only in 6 even-height splitshafts and no staggered versions is to get. But they do have the top-lock locking versions (Without the tension wheel)
This is the older packaging.
Double Line SD91 Gotoh
However, they can be quite elusive and very hard to find. Even in Europe. Göldo is not the best on distributing their hardware compared to the wildly available Gotoh`s. But after much looking, you can easily find these at Thomann that keeps them pretty much in stock.
Good old Trevor Wilkinson even has his own Klusons. We can say that Wilkinson is most known for his Tremolo units, but he makes pickups, tuners and other stuff as well. There was a debate that Gotoh also make these, but i highly doubt it because they come cheaper than Gotoh's. Wilkinson usually licence factories around Asia for his hardware. Sometimes made in Taiwan, sometimes made in Korea. You never know. No stamps on these, but they do sport double line that says WILKINSON / DELUXE, but they are pretty OK tuners really given their price. I would compare them to PING tuners if any. Comes in either chrome or nickel.
You can find these on Amazon. But these are the cheapest you can get and i would not recommend them really. The tuner button is, believe it or not, made of plastic. Sounds disastrous and prone to twist easy off the tuning peg. There is no marking or stamps on them either. Comes in other colours aand even left handed orientation as well..
Spend another $10 or two on some proper Gotoh's instead.
I would Avoid.
Fairly new on the market of all of these. These are made by Harley Benton which is owned by Thomann Music in Germany and can be bought from there. Harley Benton made some commotion about price vs the good quality of their instruments. I acquired a package solely for test, and they are surprisingly good. All 6 did have a small skip or indentation in the gear when you turn them, but hardly noticeable. The post was LESS wobbly than SD91 Believe it or not. I was quite taken back on the quality of these. Not bad at all Thomann, Not bad at all. I was gonna sell them off once i was done testing them, but i vouched to keep them actually.
They make two version of these. One has metal heads, the other has plastic heads (Like the Dopro) They come fairly cheap at £17 from Thomann, which is good bang for the buck.
I am not sure about the tuners that Callaham sells. They only say : "The best tuner we have found for vintage builds and retrofits"
They state themselves that they make all hardware themselves except tuners & jackplate. They Retail for $40.00 and i have no clue who makes them. On my local used market, a guy sold a full kit of Callaham hardware with Tuners. but there were no stamp or markings.. According to this thread. They are Gotoh´s..
Only maker that offers aged gold tuners
Faber also offers aged tuners.
Only maker that offers aged gold tuners
Recent discovery. Faber has existed since 1948 and i never crossed paths with them earlier. They primarely make bridges and hardware for Gibson guitars. They have a US online shop as well. However, never tested these yet, but sometime in the future ill order a set from them.
For the price , i will not expect the best.
The tuners comes with FABER stamped in line on them and comes pretty much as standard outfit. No staggered or special versions exists but they do have gold and even aged gold. Possibly the only who offers aged gold out of the box.
Don´t get your hopes up too much over these. Grover is highly associated with making excellent closed tuners for Gibson and Les Paul type guitars as well as other brands. What you do get are nice looking tuners with GROVER DELUXE in double line on the casing. But these are just PING tuners rebranded. BUMMER!!! You will not upgrade your MIM if your are looking for that. You will only pay $20 more for branding, but its the same Taiwan produced tuners that Fender puts on their Mexican line. All stamped "P.W" on the back. So that´s it and that´s that.
Gold VIntage tuners
Tone Pro's had a licensing deal from WD for a short while some years back to make the Klusons. This is why they carry the "Kluson" branding on the casing. No longer available, these pop up from time to time on Ebay and Reverb. I never have encountered these or tried them, but word on the streets says they were very good quality. Tone Pro is not known for making bad quality products neither. They are very distinct in look since the casings are all squared compared to the more known Square/rounded ones. The housing are also Die-Cast which distinguish them even more.
WHAT KLUSON DO I HAVE?
The larger manufacturers have stamps behind on their casing. Some do not. If you have a set of unknown origin, you can often ID them by taking them off and look on their back.
Kluson WD: symbol of Spade fused with a "J" / or they have a circled "K"
Gotoh: stamped "JAPAN"
Göldo: also stamped "JAPAN" (manufactured by Gotoh)
Fender PING: stamped "P.W."
Faber: TBA (but all are Faber branded on front)
Harley Benton: A Offset "H" with a reversed "C" inside.
Grover: "P.W". Has "Grover Deluxe" In double line.
Tonepros: Stamped "TPKL". But easy to ID since they are Die-Cast
If you have questions or know of other makers, let me know and i will look into it.
Timeframe: No-Line vs. Double line vs Single Line
If your are building a era specific reissue. I will explain the year these occured:
No-Line: 1951-1957 (Started on Telecaster in early 51, then Stratocaster in 1954)
Single Line: 1956-1965 (Overlap, possibly due to depleting their stock of No-lines)
Double Line: 1964-1967 (replaced for F-Tuners during CBS-era)
INSTALL TIPS: For installing these, i suggest you head over to Gerry Haze who has a good tutorial on them. Read HERE Remember to measure what bushings you need. I know Fender necks are drilled in all sorts of sizes. Get a digital calliper for the job. A calliper is so handy for so many things on guitar service and other stuff. Gotoh factory packaged tuners comes usually with both 8.8 and 10 mm bushings. Most usually comes with 8.8 standard. If you are changing out a set of locking tuners for Vintage, You most likely need 10 mm+ bushings. So do find out and order at the same time as you order the tuners, or there will be more waiting for you. One thing you CAN do if your bushings lacks just a tiny amount to fit snuggly is to cut small strips of copper shielding tape or aluminum tape and wrap it around them to increase the diameter of the bushings. No more than maximum 2 wound turns.