Introduction: Make Fender Kluson Style Vintage Guitar Tuners Fit Into a Contemporary Style Headstock

It's of course a matter of taste, but I like the classic vintage (Kluson) tuners more. They have that look that matches that iconic 50ies design of the Strats an Teles the best. I also prefer Nickel over Chrome. Can you see the color difference? The silver tone of the nickel plating is just a bit warmer, and it also 'ages' better, if you are looking for that relic look.

So I ordered nickel plated vintage tuners, you can even get them with that fancy locking mechanism. This allows to lock the string in the tuner pole, by turning a screw. Its so much easier and faster to change strings with that.

But wait, huh? What? Vintage style and modern tuners have different diameters for the holes in the head stock? And the spacing has to match exactly, because two tuners are held in place with just one screw? Oh no! I didn't know that!

You can go and check on your guitar's head stock: if it was built sometime in the last 3 decades, it probably has 10 mm holes, with a spacing that is too wide ( bigger than 23.8 mm). As you can see, this will never work, the bushings also don't fit.

So what can we do? Let's make something!

Step 1: We Need an Adapter

We need to make an adapter, that helps us to

  1. compensate the gap between the pole and the drilled hole
  2. provide a support for the back side, that works as a guide for the 'butt to butt' mounting

I came up with this design: I uses standard PLA, I was considering using wood PLA instead, that would give the right color and would make the adapter almost invisible. For this project, I did not have anything else but white PLA, so let's go with that.

The adapter has two different diameter in the inside: one is wider, its for the front side, allowing the bushing to sit tightly in the hole. The backside is a bit narrower, giving the pole a bit support. and guidance.

The adapter is designed to work with different hole spacings. You will need 6 items, they will interlock with each other nicely, leaving a space for the screw, and also for the folded metal tabs, from the cover.

The adapter is supposed to be invisible, sitting under the tuner housing.

You can download the STL version of the design from here, for a Fusion 360 file (including the sketch) please send me a message.

Step 2: Push the Adapters in Place

The adapters are pushed through the holes, one by one. The small connectors should interlock, so that al adapters sit in place, forming a straight line. Make sure there is no gap between the base plate and the wood.

If the connectors are to long, just cut them to the right size with a knife or a pair of scissors.

If we put the tuners in for a check, everything should be nice an flush, there should not be any gaps between the tuner and the wood, caused by the adapters.

Step 3: Press in the Bushings

the bushings should sit really tight, so they don't fall out, or wiggle. This is really important, because the bushings hold the pole in place, when the full tension to the string is applied, in order to allow allow smooth tuning action.

If the bushings are not tight, you will have tuning problems! I found out that bushings from different Kluson vintage style tuner manufacturers differ slightly. You may have to change the 3D print design to compensate for that, or widen the hole a bit with a drill or a file.

Step 4: Mark and Drill the Screw Holes

when every thing sits in place, we can mark the holes for the mounting screws. I use something with a sharp tip, or the inner part of a ball pen, just use whatever works for you.

Then remove the tuners, and drill pilot holes. Just a couple of mm deep, so the screw can be inserted easily.. use the smallest drill bit you have. The screw should cut its thread by itself, and sit nice and tight.

Step 5: Tighten the Screws...

use the right screw driver, don't mess up the brand new screws! :-)

Step 6: Done!

This looks so much better than these modern tuners, doesn't it ?
I like to do this with cheap Fender copies, just to make them look more valuable and vintage like. It should work with any guitar with 6 tuners on one side, as long as the the holes are not too far away from each other, so that the 'butt to butt' single screw fit doesn't work anymore. you may get away with a screw with a bigger head maybe, or with a washer, to bridge the gap. Just take good measures before. The specs for most tuners are available online.

Let me know how it worked for you! How can the adapter be improved?

Thanks, Michael