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Grover vs Kluson

Klusons on my 62 with the good adaptor bushings. This had Grovers-you can still still the imprint from the big washers on the front of the headstock. No visible holes on the back, however.

Klusons on my 62 with the good adaptor bushings that look almost exactly like the original ones. This had Grovers-you can still still the imprint from the big washers on the front of the headstock. There are adaptors that will cover these but they look wrong. No visible holes on the back, however.

Fight of the century? Not exactly. Well, maybe last century. ┬áThe most common mod done on vintage ES’s is changing out the tuners. This wasn’t some short lived fad like coil taps or phase switches, this was usually a matter of everyday function. ┬áConsider this: It’s the early 1970’s and you play, say, a ten year old ES-335 dot neck. You probably paid a couple hundred bucks for it used and you played in a band (everybody played in a band in the early 70’s). You probably had some real tuning issues at the time-more than likely caused by a binding nut or faulty intonation-but you blamed it on the tuners. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. So, what did you do? You changed the Klusons for Grovers (or, later, Schallers). We all know how that decreases the value of your $30,000 dot neck today but back then it made a certain amount of sense. Even then, it was clear that Grover was a superior tuner and it still is if you compare vintage Grovers to vintage Klusons. Klusons generally work just fine but they can be a little quirky-like when you have to tune past the proper pitch because it slips back on its own. Part of the problem with Klusons is that nobody ever took care of them. I’ve had 50 year old Klusons that have never experienced a single drop of oil. Grovers were sealed and rarely failed. They almost always worked smoother and more accurately than Klusons, so the change made perfect sense. OK, they were a little heavier but nobody was too worried about weight back then-we were young and indestructible. Besides 335’s aren’t all that heavy to begin with. Truthfully, I’m surprised more guitars weren’t switched. The big names were doing it too-Clapton’s 335 had a set of gold Grovers, Harrisons 64 SG had Grovers, Elvin Bishop’s “Red Dog” 345 had (and probably still has) Grovers. The list goes on and on. Most folks won’t argue the point of Grovers being a better tuner but vintage folks still want the original Klusons and no extra holes. If I were still a gigging musician, my player would have a set of Grovers on it but I wouldn’t take a set of Klusons off and make the mod on a vintage piece. The reason for that is obvious-a set of Grovers on a vintage guitar knocks off $1000 or more from the vintage value. Even if no new holes are drilled (Grovers can use the same screw hole as Klusons), you still have to enlarge the shaft hole and even though you can’t easily tell a good adaptor bushing from a correct vintage bushing without removing the tuners, the damage is done. There are, by the way, a lot of adaptor bushings that are obviously adaptors-don’t use those if you want your guitar to look original. I have also heard the argument that the guitar sounds better with Grovers-something about increased mass but I don’t really hear it. If you are considering a player grade vintage ES, the Grover mod shouldn’t scare you off. It simply makes the guitar a very slightly better guitar. A worse investment, I suppose, but usually a better player. Schallers were also a better tuner but they usually required another hole to be drilled and they had a very distinctly non-vintage look to them. Personally, I think they are ugly so I take them off whenever I get a guitar that has been modded with them. You get stuck with 6 extra holes but ugly is ugly. You can have ugly holes or ugly tuners. At least you can’t see the holes from the front.

Grovers on the same 62. You can see the single screw holding the tuner goes right into the Kluson hole, so no new holes are  necessary. However the tuner shaft is larger on a Grover and requires drilling out the shaft hole. That's what the adaptors are adapting.

Grovers on the same 62. You can see the single screw holding the tuner goes right into the Kluson hole, so no new holes are necessary. However the tuner shaft is larger on a Grover and requires drilling out the shaft hole. That’s what the adaptors are adapting in the top photo.

 

7 Responses to “Grover vs Kluson”

  1. Rod says:

    one of the things that first attracted me to American made guitars all those years ago was the small neat Kluson machine heads. I have a 53 Les Paul with it’s original tuners which never goes out of tune and a 62 335 I bought 39 years ago. It was then fitted with Schallers which came off PBQ to be replaced by a set of double row double ring Klusons, presumably late manufacture, which have also never given trouble. Just acquired a 64 345 which had Grocers which have been replaced by gold Gotoh Kluson-alikes. Again no problems. The guys who complain about machine heads ‘slipping’ always have far too much string wound on and uncut ends sticking out ‘because it looks funky’. On top of that, I can’t help but feel that some string energy is absorbed just getting those big lumps of scrap iron vibrating. Remember how all those heavy 70s guitars always sound strangled? Same thing I think.

  2. RAB says:

    I also used to install Shallers on my guitars back in “the day” as I was convinced my tuning problems were due to the “inferior” Kluson tuners. I was wrong. I believe my tuning problems were self-induced and caused by constant “noodling” or adjusting the tuning while playing. I no longer have tuning issues with my 3 vintage Gibsons and all have their stock Kluson Deluxe tuners! I tune the guitar once before the gig and check the tuning during breaks between sets which rarely needs correction!

  3. Collin says:

    Grovers were also a factory option during the golden years. I’ve owned a couple original factory-ordered Grover models, including a ’63 335. Personally I wouldn’t pay more or less for factory Grovers, I think it’s a neat touch.

  4. Ollie says:

    I’ve never played a guitar with Grovers on but my 355 has klusons and even when I use the Bigsby, which I use a lot, the guitar holds it’s tune better than any guitar I’ve ever had. They are solid. I think it must be down to, like Charlie says, looking after em and also stringing properly. Like RAB says some people string their guitars appallingly.

  5. Steve Newman says:

    Agree with all the above comments/opinions. It has been my experience that modern Gotoh replicas of original Kluson tuners are actually superior in quality to the factory Klusons. Plus they have a higher ratio gear setup which makes them more precise (the tuner button must be moved farther to achieve the same amount of turn on the tuner shaft). Interestingly, on ultra high end boutique acoustic flat top guitars, the move away from heavy, sealed tuners is almost universal now with the theory that more of the string energy is transfered through the headstock and neck down into the body and not absorbed by the tuners themselves.

  6. Rod says:

    I think the mass problem is probably even more evident on decent acoustics, where the light body weight is more noticeable. Heavy tuners radically affect the balance of the instrument regardless of any effect they may have on tone. The balance problem is not so obvious on a 3×5 but still exists, regardless of any tonal effect. PRS, who do seem to know a thing or two about guitars, whether you like them or not, have gone to low mass tuners after their initial exclusive devotion to heavy Schallers. They must have a reason.

  7. Piano Blog says:

    Gibson Modern Gold Machine Heads

    […] my experience that modern Gotoh replicas of original Kluson tuners are actually […]

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