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Sometimes they need your help
Tune Up Your Gears!
© Frank Ford, 3/9/98; Photos by FF, 3/9/98
If it moves, OIL it. Not a bad recommendation for all open geared tuners. I see more damage done to open tuners by lack of lubrication than all other causes combined. It takes only a drop at each of the bearing surfaces and on the gears where they meet. Any kind of oil will do, but I like TRI-FLOW, a good household lubricant that's available in bike shops and lots of other places. The best feature of this stuff is the bottle. It comes with a long tube applicator that will reach into almost anywhere, like your car door lock, and will let you see the flow of oil so you can dispense single drops easily. I cut the applicator short for this photo:
Here I'm dosing these gears with a drop on both ends of the "worm" shaft (the spiral shaft that engages the brass gear) a drop on the worm teeth themselves and a drop between the brass gear and the plate. Most inexpensive tuners like these will last a really long time and work smoothly if they get oiled once in a while. How long is a while? Yearly, at most, even if they get used a lot.
By the way, they're called machine heads, machines, tuners, tuning pegs or gears. I like to call them "gears" because that describes how they work. I've always thought "machine heads" sounded stuffy.
Some enclosed tuners come with little oil holes, and a drop every decade or so couldn't hurt.
Most enclosed tuners, such as the ones later in this article, don't need oil. They come sealed with grease and will generally last a lifetime without a lube job.
Ukuleles, dulcimers, older banjos and other instruments sometimes come with "friction" pegs. These have no moving parts except the entire peg, and turn directly.
They all count on the friction developed by compressing the parts of the mechanism against the wooden peghead. By tightening the central screw in the button, we can increase the friction and holding power of the peg.
We can improve the performance of these pegs by simply taking out the screw and placing a nice big drop of oil on the threads. When the screw is lubricated we can tighten it more easily without the extra friction caused by corrosion down inside the shaft. It's amazing how easy this procedure is to do and how much it helps these little guys!
Banjos usually have geared tuners, but they are universally called "pegs" because they are styled to look like friction pegs:
Inside the little housing is a planetary 4:1 gear system. They're lubricated for life, and screw down from the top with a threaded collar like the guitar gears on the next page.
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