Converting from pegs to machine tuners and vise versa!

Some people love friction pegs. Others…hate them. Especially, if those pegs were not well fitted to begin with. Those struggling with pegs either sell their peghead guitars, or end-up converting to planetary-geared mechanical pegs, or the familiar machine tuners.

Here is an example of a familiar friction pegs-to-machine tuners conversion I did on one of my own guitars a few years ago:

Friction pegs are not dead, however. They are very lightweight, can be made in woods that match your fingerboard and bridge material, allow for lightning-fast string changes (1:1 ratio…who needs that fancy string winder anyway), and by some accounts, are even easier to use than various mechanical substitutes. Not to mention that peg head just looks really cool! Yes, they can be a bit temperamental at times, trying your patience during sudden whether changes. They can take some time to get used to, especially if this is your first peg head guitar. Once you know the ropes, however, you may be one of “those” people, who love traditional pegs! Here is a story of an unusual conversion from machine tuners to pegs:

 This guitar was built in Spain in the late 60’s, and had a generic music store label inside. Even though the label was not signed, nor had I found any hidden builder marks or initials inside, the quality of construction was reasonably high. I would not be surprised if a small luthier shop, or even a single (competent) person constructed this guitar in its entirety.

Despite being over 40-years old, and of very light construction, the guitar held up very well. It had no structural issues, enjoyed good playability, and had a very flamenco sound.

The tuners were original, and somewhat sticky and difficult to operate. The spacing of tuner barrels was non-standard. The owner requested that I convert the guitar to ebony friction pegs.

What a surprise! As luthiers, we are more accustomed to converting friction pegs to other tuner arrangements. But here I was, considering the opposite direction! It seemed like a good challenge, and I agreed to take on the project.

Before undertaking the amputation, I drew a reasonably accurate template of the original headstock:

The original finish on the guitar crackled and crazed quite a bit, and it was decided that the entire neck was to be sanded down and re-polished. This would make the neck more comfortable to play, and also simplify finish and color matching between the new headstock and the old neck wood.

Time to begin the surgery! I had to take a few deep breaths, and give the old Lucena a shot of whiskey ;)

It didn’t take long, and I did not ask Lucena how she felt. I cut just above the scarf joint glue line, and proceeded to clean down to the original glue line with chisels and a plane.

Finding a piece of Spanish cedar of reasonably similar grain/texture, I tapered it with a matching scarf joint, and glued it to the neck.

Even though I now had a smooth foundation for the back, and the face was to receive a new veneer, I was not out of the woods yet with the sides of the headstock. Gaping holes from the high and low E tuner barrels were still fully visible, and I needed to graft additional thin slices of Spanish cedar to cover those openings.

Now I am ready to glue on the headstock veneer.

The neck has been sanded, and the headstock detailed. Now is the difficult part. How do I make old and new wood flow together without a jarring color/reflection shift?

Since the original headstock veneer was made of Brazilian rosewood, I went with the same wood.

Under a wash coat of shellac, there was quite a bit of contrast between old and new wood. Playing around with a little bit of oil color (burnt umber and raw sienna), I was able to dial in the color very closely.

In case you noticed…those pegs are just temporarily in place. Not to worry, they will all be evenly seated.

Here we go….Lucena with a whole new personality! No pain, no gain.

7 Responses to Converting from pegs to machine tuners and vise versa!

  1. Thank you for your comment, Mustafa. Yes, there are some considerations to the headstock angle, especially when converting from machines to pegs. Pegged headstock, in general, would need a steeper angle, for this reason: the string is wound around a peg, and is therefore positioned well above the face of the head. In the tuning machined headstock, the string dives down toward the rollers, therefore, not requiring as much angle on the head. It is quite possible that the reduction of the “break angle” at the nut was dramatic enough in your conversion, that it affected the response. Thanks again for your comment, and happy playing!

  2. beautiful job!
    Are there any considerations re headstock angle between heads built with pegs vs gears?
    i had a machine- to- peg conversion done once years ago, and the luthier took a less robust approach — he simply filled in the slots with wood blocks, re-veneered, and installed the pegs. While it worked, thee ws a tiny tiny difference in response, and I’ve often wondered whether that may have been due to the headstock angle.
    i love pegs!

  3. Jon maher says:

    Great Post – I had to do a repair recently very similar and it was very useful to see. Thanks

  4. Joel,

    In theory, yes, that is possible. However, the holes for the pegs need to be fitted correctly to the taper and the diameter of the pegs. As long as the headstock holes and pegs are within range, you can go that route. Another consideration is the peg type. I would advise against using wooden friction pegs for a steel string guitar. While doable, such guitar would be rather temperamental and difficult to tune. Nylon strings are more forgiving that steel for a direct, 1:1 ratio of the wooden peg. You can, however, purchase planetary-geared pegs with a ratio of about 1:28 or so, which work well for steel string guitars. You can contact http://www.pegheds.com for details.

  5. Joel Dare says:

    Thanks for sharing. If you have a steel string guitar with holes going the same way they go for pegs, can you just remove the machine heads and use friction pegs? I’d like to do that on a throw away guitar I rescued.

  6. Thank you Bill. One of these days, I hope to build something for the Rosewood Guitar in Seattle.

  7. Bill Barrett says:

    Peter;

    I live in Seattle and have only heard great things about you and your work. Thank you for sharing this very interesting project with us. Clearly you are very gifted.

    All the best,

    Bill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *