Styles and Colours and Ratios Aha!!

Written by: James Krueger On: Mar 2nd, 2020

So here’s an interesting question that came across my desk the other day…..what does the ratio spec mean on  a set of tuning keys for bass or guitar?

Now, the funny thing about interesting questions, is that the first question usually leads to a few more questions, and very soon you have a full discussion.

Whether you buy a guitar kit like the one’s we sell here at Solo Guitars, or you buy a Private Stock PRS….your guitar comes with a set of tuning keys.  It’s safe to assume that those tuning keys will compliment the guitar in style and finish, and that the quality of those tuning keys will be reflected in the cost of the instrument.  No different than anything else in the real world….you get what you pay for.

In the beginning, stringed instruments were tuned with friction fit tuning keys.  To this day, violins, cellos and upright basses are still manufactured this way.  Frankly, a concert grade violin with mechanical tuners would probably make several heads explode in the classical world!  These friction tuners are typically ebony, cut with a button at one end to hold onto, and a tapered shaft that fits into a corresponding tapered hole on the headstock.  Push it in tight and the combination of the friction and pull of the string holds it in place.  Crude yes, but functional and proven over centuries to help produce the volume and tone of the instrument.

Today’s guitar player (that means you) needs something a bit different.  There are new requirements both cosmetically and functionally.  For the most part, tuning keys are an aesthetic…black, gold, chrome, large button, small button, vintage, traditional or modern….all these things appeal to the style and colour of the guitar and sometimes the specific genre of music it’s designed for.  If your guitar has a Floyd Rose bridge or in fact any tremolo bridge, you may want to use locking tuners.  Locking tuners use either a rod inside the post, or a collar around the outside to lock the string in place and eliminate wrapping the string around the post.  Eliminating multiple winds around the post eliminates the need for the string to re-seat itself every time you dive bomb the trem arm.  It also reduces the amount of stretching the string goes through due to regular trem use.

Depending on the style of guitar, a staggered height set of tuners may eliminate the need for string trees on your guitar as well.  For headstocks that do not tilt back, the further the distance from the nut to the tuner, the more downward pressure is required, so either a string tree as mentioned, or if the posts of the tuners get shorter toward the end of the headstock, they create their own downward angle, therefore making the string tree(s) redundant.

The last specification of modern tuning keys is the ratio….remember?  This is where we started the discussion….  So, what is the tuning ratio on an instruments tuning key?  It’s simple….the ratio describes how many times you have to turn the button in order for the post to make one rotation.  In other words, a tuning key with an 18:1 ration requires that you rotate the button 18 times in order for the post to rotate 360 degrees once.  So what does this do for the player…..well, it makes tuning extremely accurate.  Fifty years ago tuning keys on electric guitars commonly had ratios of 12 or 14:1.  Today, we have companies manufacturing tuning keys with ratios as high as 39:1.  If you have the ability to compare, you will see clearly that intonating a guitar or just tuning it is way easier and more accurate with the modern tuning keys, even though it takes way longer to wind the string onto the post…..

So the next time you decide to change the tuning keys on your favourite guitar or bass, do a little research right here on our website to see what your options are both aesthetically and functionally…whether you are buying our own Solo tuners or the top of the line tuners from one of the many companies we represent!  Like most things guitar, there is a lot more information and detail on tuning keys and tuning we can discuss….send your questions into the Solo Guitars page!

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