Klusons. Krap?

Ya gotta love the retro colors and design of Klusons logo. I'm sure it's been the same since 1925.

By the early 70’s, quality and  quality control plummeted almost everywhere. From cars to guitars to fishing reels to sewing machines, plastic started showing up where metal once was and craftsmanship became a faint and fading memory of a bygone era. All of the “big” guitar companies were guilty. Fender was now CBS and interested mainly in profits. Gibson was Norlin (beer, concrete) and was the same. Gretsch was Baldwin and they all went down the tubes together. Many players responded by doing one of two things. They either made their old guitar more “modern” or they tried to make their crummy new 70’s guitar “better”. The main victim of these “upgrades” was Kluson. It was an obvious choice. Kluson seemed prone to a world of problems with slipping, bending and stiffening up. Countless guitars were “Groverized”. Don’t get me wrong, Grovers are an excellent product. There are clearly technologically superior to Kluson with their sealed gears and robust case. Klusons seemed archaic and flimsy next to Grovers. But were they really so terrible? The fact that Gibson used Grovers on their top of the line ES-355 and not on the 335 and 345 meant that they probably thought they were better. They were also more expensive which is why Gibson used Klusons almost everywhere else. I’ve owned a lot of guitars with Kluson tuners and they can be awful. It’s frustrating when you have to tune your guitar after every song or even during a song. Up until recently, I always blamed the Klusons. I too, thought they were crap. But I’ve done some rethinking. Whyizzit that some 335s stay in tune just fine with Klusons and some that have been “Groverized” slip out of tune just as much as the Klusons? I’ve come up with two reasons for the problems that plague Klusons in particular but other tuners as well. First off, I’ve never (and I mean never) seen anybody oil their tuners. Most Klusons have a little hole in the back especially for that purpose but nobody seems to bother. That’s why they bind up-a lot of crud gets in there. Grovers are sealed, so they don’t need to be maintained much. Good idea. But that isn’t the big reason. The second reason your Kluson equipped ES-335 or 345 goes out of tune so much probably has nothing to do with the tuners and everything to do with the nut. The guitar nut on the neck-not the guitar nut playing it, although I guess both come into play. String benders take note: When you bend a string, it moves and causes friction in two places-the nut and the bridge saddle. Both are immovable objects and both are under the laws of inertia. When you bend the note sharp, it wants to stick in the nut slot or, to a lesser extent, in the saddle. If you hear a ping when you tune, your nut slot is too tight. I’ll stay away from the jokes here. If, after bending strings, they seem sharp, your nut slot is too tight. If they go flat, you may have a tuner problem but you also may need to stretch your strings a bit more when you change them.  Grovers don’t really help if your nut slot is too tight. Try this: Lubricate your nut. Again, insert joke here. I use graphite in the form of pencil lead. I just run a soft pencil over the slots. There are various products for this as well with cute names like “Big Bends Nut Sauce” and all of them probably work (with graphite as their main component, I’ll bet). So, before you condemn your original Klusons to a life in the case pocket, try taking care of them with a little oil (3 in 1 works for me). Then take care of your nut. If the graphite or nut sauce doesn’t work, try cleaning them with some string or unwaxed dental floss and lube them again. If that doesn’t work, you made need to widen the slots with a nut file. Be careful not to make them too wide or take the guitar to your favorite tech who won’t charge much to do this. Yep, Klusons are pretty low tech and they do bend when you whack them into the drum kit or the side of the mike stand but they work when they are properly cared for. And don’t change ’em on your vintage piece unless you can do it without drilling any holes or enlarging any because it will  lower the value of your vintage guitar by 10-15%. Even more if it’s close to mint and pre 65.

Here's a set of single line single ring Klusons on my 59 ES-345. Note the shrunken tuner buttons. Yeah, they do that, especially the 59's. See that little hole? Drop some oil in there more than once every ten years. These work just fine.

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