Vintage Style Tuner Knob Replacement
Recently, a client brought in an old Gretsch guitar for a bit of an overhaul. The instrument had been sitting unused for many years and was in need of a little TLC to restore it to playable condition. In addition to a new bone nut and setup, the guitar also needed a couple of the tuner buttons replaced.
Why to Replace Tuning Machine Knobs?
It is fairly common for the plastic tuning knobs on vintage guitars to require replacement. The plastic breaks down as it ages and over time it can no longer hold up to the pressure exerted while turning the tuning 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 might have decided to upgrade these 12:1 tuners to something a bit higher quality. But, since this is a vintage instrument, rather than replace the entire tuning machine, we elected to just replace the worn out knobs. A similar procedure would be used to replace a modern vintage-style tuner knob if a different knob is desired for a custom look.
How to Remove Plastic Tuner Knobs
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 simply used a pair of diagonal cutters to snip off the old knob. The knob came apart with relative ease. The key here is to be sure that the shaft of the tuning key is not damaged while removing the old knob. Alternatively, we could’ve gently heated the knob up and slid it off the shaft, but the snippers work fastest.
Cleaning the Tuner Shaft
Once the button is removed, we used a wire brush to clean the remaining debris and corrosion from the shaft and prep it for installation of the new button. We may also use a razorblade to remove any stubborn bits if necessary.
Press Fitting Plastic Tuner Knobs
Next we used a small propane torch to heat up the shaft of the tuners and prep it to slide on the press fit knob. Using such a concentrated heat source, this takes only a moment. Experience is key here, because we need to be sure to apply enough heat to fit the button, but not to leave the heat on too long and risk damaging the tuner or the button.
Once the shaft was hot enough, we pressed the button into position and allow it to cool. After the tuner had returned to room temperature, we did a bit of relicing to match it to the piece. After that, we simply reinstalled it on the guitar and continued with the rest of the repair.
Gluing On Tuner Knobs
Heat pressing the knobs into position worked great for the plastic knobs used in this repair as well as in countless other jobs. However, it is worth noting that certain types of knobs, Ebony knobs for example, cannot be fit using the method prescribed above. 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 using small files and/or a dremel tool, 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. We fix all fretted instruments, including: guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles. Conveniently located in Ronkonkoma NY, 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 or book your appointment today