Vintage Style Tuner Button Replacement

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Vintage Tuner Button Replacement

Tuneup for a Vintage Gretsch

This old Gretsch archtop guitar came into the shop in need of an overhaul. The instrument had been sitting unused for many years and the client was hoping to restore it to playable condition. 

In addition to a new bone nut and setup, the guitar also needed the tuner buttons replaced.

Disintegrating Plastic Buttons

Shrunken and brittle plastic tuning machine knobs are a common occurrence on vintage instruments. The plastic breaks down as it ages until it can no longer hold up to the pressure exerted while turning the key. 

As you can see in the photo, the knob has dried out and begun to crack. Eventually, the knobs disintegrate to the point where they simply crumble when touched. This tuner will not be reliable without repair.

If this were a new guitar, we may have simply replaced these 12:1 tuners with something a bit higher quality. With vintage instruments, we try to retain as much originality as is practical. Rather than replace the entire tuning machine, we elected to just swap out the worn buttons. This same procedure could be used to replace a modern reproduction “vintage-style” tuner button if  broken or a different type of button is desired for a custom look.

Removing The Old Plastic Buttons

Before replacing the button, we first remove the tuner from the instrument and place it securely in a vice. This allows us to work on the tuner without the risk of damaging the guitar. 

Once in place, we used diagonal cutters to snip off the old knob. The key here is to be sure that the shaft of the tuning key is not damaged while removing the old knob.

Cleaning The Tuner Shaft

Once the old button is removed, it is important to clean the shaft before installing the new button. 

A wire brush and steel wool do a good job of cleaning the remaining debris and corrosion from the shaft.

Heating For A Press Fit

Typically these vintage style buttons are press fit onto the shaft. We use a small propane torch to heat the shaft before pressing on the knob.  

When properly heated, the plastic button molds around the metal as it is pressed into place. The trick is to apply enough heat to fit the button, but not so much as to risk damaging the tuner.

Once cool, the new button may be reliced as desired to match the aesthetics of the instrument. 

Heat pressing the knobs into position worked great for the plastic knobs used in this repair. However, it is worth noting that certain types of buttons, Ebony for example, cannot be fit using the method describe. In those situations, in lieu of heating and pressing the knob, we carefully file and shape the hole in the bottom of the knob to conform to the shaft. Once we have obtained a secure fit, we glue or epoxy the knob into position.

About Guitar Repair Long Island

Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. Led by owner/head technician Erik Salomon, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us with any questions or book your appointment today.

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