A Look Inside Ukulele Friction Tuners - Not All Bad!

20 Mar 2014

A Look Inside Ukulele Friction Tuners - Not All Bad!

A common thing I read on ukulele social media is how beginners seem to hate friction tuning pegs on ukes. I decided to look into them a little more closely. Guess what... you get what you pay for.

Personally, on smaller traditional looking instruments, particularly sopranos, I don't think you can beat the look of friction pegs. Geared tuners on small instruments can make the neck top heavy and just, kind of, stick out! But it is a worry that friction tuning pegs have gained a reputation to being difficult to use, sticky or just plain useless. This is not true across the board.

Sadly, like many things with the uke today, cheap parts flood the market and it is therefore no wonder that pegs form part of that. The friction pegs on the recent uke that I took to pieces, are some of the worst I have seen and are a nightmare to use for a beginner (I just about got them working). The vast majority of other cheaper ukes that use friction pegs (including some higher cost ones) will use pretty basic friction tuners too. I am used to them, and I can tune with them, but have been working with them for years. A beginner though will find they stick, shoot to over tuning and that they are generally hard to be precise with. A shame, but very common.

However, if you spend only a little extra money, you can find some really nice pegs with a number of parts that honestly will change your perception of friction pegs. The pegs on my Koaloha Soprano are sublime. They look pretty much the same as other friction pegs, but only when using them will you see what I mean. They hold, but turn as smooth as geared pegs, without slipping. Not all friction pegs are alike!

So whilst it may not be cost effective to add £25's worth of better pegs to a £20 ukulele, if you are playing a £100 uke and dissatisfied with the friction pegs, or fancy removing geared tuners to move to a more traditional look, retro fitting them is easy and you can get good quality.

Anyway, I put together this video to show you how they compare, and what goes in to making a higher end peg.




  1. Top stuff. There are good and bad friction pegs, as there are good and bad geared pegs. Not too long ago, you would have struggled to find a uke with geared pegs on it, but now loads of them have them and I think it's more of a 'guitarists will be used to this' attitude. I've used gears in the past, but my current stage ukes all have friction pegs on them and I've never had an issue. Of course, if you pick up a uke in a shop, you may find that they haven't checked that the tuners have been tightened (making it impossible to try out the uke), which puts people off them immediately.
    I still wish someone would start making the beautifully engineered small friction pegs you find on old Martins and Gibsons though :-)

  2. If someone has a metal shop, there's a market for spring-loaded friction tuners like the old grovers - nobody makes them anymore, and they're smooth and stable as anything.

  3. The other upside of pegs is weight. Geared tuners on a little soprano looks weird but is also way off balance (too heavy).

  4. Spring-loaded friction tuners are available on eBay UK from several suppliers in China. I have a set on an old Style 0 and they work very well. The seller is Taisamlu, and they cost about £8 per set including postage.

  5. Reproduction Waverly tuners are available form Stewmac in the USA. Beautifully made, small and spring-loaded with wooden buttons. Lovely!

  6. Another fine post Barry. The biggest problem I have with friction tuners is that they are inherently 1:1 gear ratio. Planetary geared tuners are 4:1, Geared tuners are 17:1. The issue for me is not stickiness; that is friction actually. From the beginner's point of view: When I started playing stringed instruments many years ago And I started playing with other musicians I could never seem to get my instrument in tune. I used tuning devices but it didn't sound right. Because of this I was reluctant to play with others, a sad state of affairs because playing with others is the fastest/best way to get musical proficiency. It was only years later that I learned that I had Just Pitch, not Equalized Pitch like most people. This link gives the nitty gritty of the thing and contains a link to test if you have Just Pitch: http://www.bluestemstrings.com/pageBanjoConstructionTips3.html
    If you have Just Pitch a 1:1 gear ratio is a real problem for tuning. Most people don't; but years of frustration can turn-off anyone let alone a beginner.


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