Don't be afraid of friction tuners

17 Mar 2012

Don't be afraid of friction tuners

One comment that I hear a lot from ukulele players, and not just beginners, is that they have a dislike for friction tuning pegs.

I think that is quite a sweeping statement, and personally I actually prefer tuning pegs - I think they are more traditional and just look better. I say "sweeping statement" because like a lot of things in the world of musical instruments, there is good and there is bad.

This blog post is prompted by the fact I changed the friction tuners on my new Canarian Timple from the 'bad' to the 'good', and you can see the result below.

timple headstock tuners

The way a ukulele friction tuner works is that the screw running through the peg tightens the peg itself against the metal collars on either side of the headstock until they grip. With a poor quality friction tuning peg you will find that the action is 'sticky' or jerky and you find yourself moving above and below the correct pitch quite easily. Slacken the screw and the tuners don't hold, tighten too much and you get the jerkiness. Extremely frustrating. The original tuners on my Timple were not absolute howlers (I have seen much much worse) but they were sticky enough to irritate me and I am quite particular about friction pegs.

So, what makes for a better peg? Well, simply, better construction, meaning more parts including washers that assist in making the action smooth whilst still holding tune as a result of the bite the friction brings.  Check out the pictures below to understand that better.

In this first picture I show all of the parts of the original friction peg on my Timple. As you will see there are five parts, and the friction is achieved by nothing more than the plastic of the peg biting into the metal collar on the back of the headstock.

cheap ukulele friction tuner parts

The  next picture shows all the parts of the replacement ukulele friction peg, which as you can see is made up of 9 parts including various washers and sleeves. The result is a really smooth action that still holds tune.

quality ukulele friction tuner parts

Now these replacements are not top of the line either (and amount to about £3 each) though one can spend an awful lot more on adjustable friction tuners. For me those, this model just work fine and have made a huge improvement to the instrument.

So, therefore, don't write off a ukulele if you see it has friction tuners.  If you are struggling with friction pegs on an instrument you have, consider replacing them, it really isn't all that hard.  A good quality friction peg is a dream to use!


  1. Great post! I have no preference between geared or friction tuners. I just prefer good tuners over crappy ones.

    For example, I prefer the friction tuners on my KoAloha to any of the geared tuners I have--because they are awesome!

  2. Andy, I'm not anti geared tuners, and have them on my Kanile'a but just like the vintage look of frictions. Btw, as far as I can tell these ones I've fitted are identical to the Koaloha ones (minus the logo of course!) - they work beautifully.

  3. I think the best friction tuners I've seen so far have been the ones that came on my Mainland Soprano uke. I've had no problems with them at all and the uke stays pretty much in tune all of the time.

  4. Very nice! I may try replacing the tuners on my Old Slingerland banjo uke after reading this. Thanks!

  5. Johnny - if you are in UK, I got these from Eagle Music. £15 for four. Nothing worse than bad frictions! Bear in mind that you may need to employ a (gulp) drill. This Timple needed that, both to widen the hole for the posts themselves but also the recess to allow the collar on the string post side to seat deeply enough to sit flush. Wasn't a big job though, just a few turns of the drill.

  6. That's a very useful, thanks so much. I just bought a new uke, turned up with friction tuners when I've been used to geared, and I thought "what's going on here?!" They are a little stiff and sensitive but I can get them to work so I won't mess with drills (double-gulp) for the mo. :)

  7. I've been looking longingly at the new KoAlana Concert at the HMS site, I fell in love with it's sound in the demo video. But I've been concerned with whether I will like friction tuners. Thank you so much for this review, it's given me the courage to move forward and order this uke.

  8. I'm so glad you wrote this. I have a Concertone banjo uke with friction tuners that won't hold an A,D,F# and B tuning. I sent away for machined tuners but the base was too wide for my uke so I sent them back. I'm going to try a high quality friction tuner because your article has given me the confidence to use them.

  9. I am interested that you have got a timple. Can you play it yet? I spend a lot of time on the North of Tenerife and lots of the locals play the timple. There are some superb-looking instruments. I play the ukulele and it has crossed my mind whether to investigate getting one of the timple craftsmen there to make me a ukulele. It might work out a cheaper deal than using a ukulele craftsman back here in the U.K. to make me a quality instrument. What do you think?

  10. I have a very old George Formby banjolele which I love, it will tune nicely but easily goes out of tune - does it just need to be tightened up frequently or should I lose its originality and replace with new tuners or is there anything I can do to prevent it slipping away


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