If you’re an experienced guitarist, there’s a small chance you haven’t heard of locking tuners. That’s because they’re a fantastic addition to any professional musician’s setup (for instance, they enable you to change your strings pretty darn fast). However, if you’re just starting out your guitar-playing adventure, you might ask yourself: wait, what’s the difference between locking tuners and regular tuners? 

Needless to say, you’re about to find your answer to the previous question. In the text you’ll find below, we’ll show you just whether you’re able to use locking tuners as regular guitar tuners! Also, we’ll expand our talk to cover some of the basic information concerning the locking vs. regular guitar tuners relationship. As always, stay tuned! 

Yup, you’re able to use locking tuners as regular tuners. In other words: you can use them just like you’d use regular tuners, without locking the strings in place. Most locking tuners function in the same way as regular tuners, so just ignore the pin that’s used to clamp the string. 

Here at Music Gear Heads, we’d never recommend you read only the preview. If you’ve got some free time on your hands, read the whole thing!

Regular vs. locking tuners

Before we continue talking about the main issue this article has proposed, it’s best that we first pinpoint some of the most important facts concerning the relationship between the two most important players here. Let’s begin by providing you with the definitions!

What are regular tuners?

Remember those little silver pegs at your guitar’s headstock? Yup, that’s exactly what we’re talking about there. Anyway, we’ll try to give you the simplest explanation available: when you’re changing your guitar strings with regular (traditional) tuners, you’ll need to pass each string through the eye of a tuning post. Afterward, you’ll have to wrap the string around the post until it “gathers” enough tension.

Speaking of strings, here’s why they’re lined up in the order you’re used to.

What are locking tuners?

At first sight, these do not differ that much from conventional/regular/traditional tuners. However, there’s one big difference that sets the two apart:

  • The first type of tuner possesses a lock mechanism inside the eye of the tuning post. That mechanism presses the string to keep it in place. In other words: it “locks” the string to prevent any movement. Therefore, this makes the whole re-stringing ordeal much easier. 

You might wonder: what’s the whole point of the abovementioned mechanism? As we’ve said, it will secure the strings in place, much more than regular tuners would. It will prevent the strings from slipping during string bends or heavy vibrato. Needless to say, the latter can easily knock your pitch by a couple of cents. All in all: this type of tuner enhances your guitar’s tuning performance.

Are locking tuners better than regular tuners?

Instead of saying: well, of course, locking tuners are better, or something similar, we’ll give introduce you to the pros and cons of locking tuners. That way, you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself. There ain’t such a thing as an objective answer here, it all comes down to personal preferences.

Pros

What good will locking tuners bring you?

Faster guitar re-stringing

This might be the most obvious pro of them all. With locking tuners, you’ll be able to re-string your instrument pretty darn fast. Needless to say, this can come quite in handy if you’re changing strings during a live show, or you’re just irritated by the whole process. They say that re-string your guitar with regular tuners will take you about 20 minutes, while the same process will be greatly shortened if you’re playing an instrument with locking tuners.

However, keep in mind that some guitarists like to change their strings the traditional way. It’s much like meditation or something similar for them. Also, since we’re talking about guitar strings here, it might be a good thing for you to read this piece on whether extra light acoustic strings are any good.

Better tuning stability

Also one of the main reasons why folks prefer locking to regular tuners is that they’re designed to keep your guitar in tune for larger periods of time. With traditional tuners, your guitar’s more prone to casual slipping. Now, locking tuners can’t prevent your guitar from going out of tune, they’re just better at preventing string slippage than regular tuners.

Oh, and while we’re talking about guitars going out of tune and all that jazz, we’ve published an article about whether nylon strings go out of tune. Feel free to check it out!

Cons

What about the disadvantages?

They’re more expensive than regular tuners

Now, this is one of the most common reasons why folks aren’t too thrilled about this type of tuner. Yup, they’re more expensive than regular tuners. That’s also the reason why guitars usually don’t come with built-in locking tuners. You’ll want to know that they cost somewhere about $50, while regular tuners usually cost around $25.

They tend to be heavier, too

Okay, so this ain’t something you’d call a great disadvantage or something. That’s because the difference in weight between locking and the standard type of tuners isn’t a big one. Let’s see those numbers:

  • They’re typically about 0.5-1 ounces (15-30 grams) heavier than their regular counterparts. 

However, we’re not finished. This little difference can affect the balance of your favorite instrument as the headstock heaviness will enhance. It’s an issue you might encounter if you’re playing your guitar standing up.

Okay, we might’ve gotten a bit carried away with this introductory section. Let’s consider the main question this article has proposed: can you use locking tuners like regular tuners?

A person playing the guitar with locking tuners.

Can you use locking tuners like regular tuners?

Let’s try to rephrase this question so it makes more sense: is it possible to use locking tuners, but without clamping the strings in place? So, you want to know if you’re able to simply wrap your strings up just like with standard tuners? Let’s take a closer look!

You’ll be quite happy to know that you can actually use locking tuners like regular tuners (without locking your strings in place, that is). It’s fairly simple to do: just don’t lock the strings. Most of them function just like regular tuners with a pin that’s used to keep/lock the string in place thus enabling you to use minimum force on the peg. While you’re on the subject, click here to see how tight guitar tuners should be.

Locking tuners 101 (FAQ)

Okay, now that we’ve addressed the main issue for today, let’s consider other questions related to it!

Do you need to wind strings with locking tuners?

As we’ve already mentioned, they function differently than conventional tuners. In other words: there’s no need to wind the string around the peg a few times. The point is to push it through and ensure it makes good contact with the locking mechanism. Eventually, you can still wrap the string around the tuning peg half a wrap or a little more over that.

How much string do you leave on locking tuners?

Since we already kinda answered this one in the paragraph above, let’s try to keep it short. So, how much string should you leave? As little as possible. 

Can you put locking tuners on an acoustic?

You’ll also be happy to know that it’s possible to put locking tuners on an acoustic guitar. They’ll work as great as they would on any other guitar, regardless of the type. Also, most machine-head brands today come with the so-called universal mounting plates that ensure easy installation. Many folks choose to modify their acoustic guitars in this manner since the update will make it easier for them to re-string their instruments. In other words: the process is, as we’ve already mentioned, quite simple and fast.

Lastly, some guitarists say that putting this type of tuner on your acoustic instrument can greatly improve its overall playability. Let’s see if there’s a special brand of locking tuners we’d like to mention here.

Are Fender locking tuners worth it?

Here we’ll talk about a set of Fender locking tuners designed for Teles and Strats. So, what do you get once you buy this set?

  • You’ll get a set of six staggered locking tuners that fit most Strats and Teles made in the US or Mexico (keep in mind that they don’t fit the American Vintage series). Also, it includes the bushings, (removable) tuner camps, and mounting hardware you’ll find pretty helpful. 

So, are these worth the $59.99 (current price) you’ll spend on them? Our answer is: absolutely! We’re talking about the most reputable guitar manufacturer in the world, so there’s a small chance you can go wrong by opting for these babies. As we’ve already said, most of them cost somewhere about $50. Even if you find cheaper models, you should definitely steer clear of such items. Trust us, we’ve been there and it ain’t so good as it sounds (not that it sounds good at all).

The bottom line

There you have it, guitar-loving folks! These were some of our thoughts on the whole locking vs. regular tuners debate. Hopefully, you’ve had some good clean fun reading this one, besides, of course, learning something new here and there. Anyway, if you’re on the lookout for more guitar-related tips and various other information, simply pay a visit to this page on our blog.