Let’s start with the basics – what are ukulele tuners?
Tuners, machine heads, tuning gears – all of these names are synonyms for your ukulele’s hardware. Basically, it’s virtually impossible to imagine a stringed instrument without a set of these, as they play a key role – they hold your instrument in tune. Quality tuners do, actually, which is the reason why we’re spreading awareness regarding this issue.
Before we can even begin considering which model is the best ukulele tuner, it’s very important to be clear on the following points – how uke tuners work, what factors determine the quality of uke tuners, and types of uke tuners. Without further ado, let’s get straight to it.
How tuners work?
Tuners are, in essence, rotatable pegs which hold the strings of your uke which, when rotated, shift the tune of your uke up or down (depending on the direction of rotation). Simply put, the strings begin at the very bottom and stretch across the instrument, ending on the pegs (which are later rotated).
The two most important factors of how tuners will perform are their weight and the so-called “ratio”. We’ll talk a bit about both in the sections below.
The “ratio” (or tuning ratio) determines the amount of strength you’ll need to employ to shift the tuner – low ratio means that you’ll need less strength, and vice versa. Now, what does that mean to you?
Ratios are presented as 1:1, 4:1, 6:1, 14:1, and such – the first number indicates the number of the shifts needed to achieve a single turn, which is what the second number stands for. It’s not all black and white, though – low-ratio tuners are usually sturdier and lighter, as well as more reliable by a long shot.
High-ratio tuners, on the other hand are substantially easier to use, but they’re not as reliable, which basically means that you’ll have to tune your ukulele a bit more often.
Essentially, low-ratio tuners allow you to tune in your ukulele with smaller, lighter movements of your fingers. That, however, has a huge downside to it – that also means that fine-tuning is virtually impossible, as you’ll either over-tune or under-tune the strings with each shift of a tuner. Low-ratio tuners are a thing of the past, so you don’t have to worry too much about it.
Traditional ukuleles featured low-ratio tuners, such as violin tuners, mainly due to the fact that they’re incredibly light. What’s more, these tuners were capable of holding the instrument in tune for incredibly long periods of time, which swiped off the need to re-tune so often.
High-ratio tuners, on the other hand, are very common nowadays. They will allow you to easily and quickly tune your ukulele, although you’ll need to shift the tuning pegs for a bit longer. Fine tuning is not just possible, but easy with this type of tuners.
Needless to say, most people nowadays use high-ratio tuners on their ukuleles (for example – guitar tuners) because of the plethora of benefits they provide, and it’s safe to say that most high-ratio modern tuning gears can be labelled as “quality tuners”. If you’re prepared to tune in your uke several times per week, you should definitely consider this type of uke tuners.
The weight of your tuning gears might not appear as too important, but note that ukuleles are, basically, very light in nature. That means that even the smallest items onboard can make a difference in regard to weight.
The main problem is as follows – the tuning gears of a ukulele are located at the very top of the headstock. That means that they’re very important when it comes to uke’s balance. Note that uke’s headstock is quite petite in comparison to its tail, so adding a bit of weight won’t be that much of a problem. However, metal hardware can tip the scales and, ultimately unbalance your uke.
This problem can be solved by using a ukulele strap, but even that won’t guarantee a positive outcome.
If you wish to avoid unbalancing your ukulele to the point that it’s very hard to play it, you’ll search for a lightweight set of tuning heads. Thankfully, most manufacturers and brands make them light these days.
Types of ukulele tuners
There are three most common types of ukulele tuners – the friction tuners, geared pegs, and guitar style pegs. Let’s discuss each type in a bit more detail before proceeding to the next point of interest.
In essence, friction tuners are the oldest tuner type which was made famous by violin players. Much like ukulele, violins come with four strings, so the concept relies on the same thing – these tuners are very rugged and firm, but even the slightest pressure on the tuning pegs will shift the tune of the string in question.
Fine adjustment and tuning are almost out of the question, but if you have the know-how regarding how to operate these tuners, you’ll be a very lucky guy – your ukulele will remain in tune for weeks, maybe months.
A neat adaption of old-school friction tuners are metal-friction tuners which feature adjustable tuning ratio gears, allowing you to set the ratio of your choosing.
Geared pegs are a bit problematic to describe. Basically, they offer unparalleled qualities regarding the tuning efficiency, but they’re very hard to manage and weigh quite a lot when compared to other tuner types.
The main advantages of geared pegs are that they hold the tune perfectly, you’ll be able to tune your uke in a blink of an eye, and they’re as accurate as can be.
The downfall, however, is that they pose a major problem for your ukulele’s balance. If you can even things out with additional hardware on the tailpiece while using a strap, geared pegs are the pegs you’ll want to use.
It’s fairly common that ukulele players use equipment and accessories which are primarily used by guitarists. Both of these instruments belong to the same family, and there are numerous guitar-styled adaptations for uke players – such are the guitar-style pegs.
One of the most notable characteristics of this peg type is that the ratio is incredibly high – most guitar-style pegs are 14:1, give or take. This means that fine tuning is made easy as pie, but with one exception (in comparison to other high-ratio tuners) – they don’t fall out of tune as easy.
Most people underestimate, or even completely ignore the importance of ukulele tuners, let alone think about their quality. Sooner or later, this mistake will show its face, and you’ll be in quite a predicament when that happens – you may think that there are problems with your uke, its setup, or such.
Thankfully, that’s not the case most of the time – simply replacing, or even upgrading the tuners on your ukulele will easily solve this issue. We hope that now you understand the importance of ukulele tuners, and we wish you good luck with finding the best set out there!