How to clean and lube dirty old guitar tuners

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Issue 213 March 27, 2014

Dirty tuners filled with dried gunk: Dan Erlewine's working on a guitar that's been sitting untouched for over fifty years. The tuners are too stiff to use, but he gets them going again by using heat, naphtha and an injection of lubricant. He makes a nifty little tuner-holder jig, too.

About the guitar in this video: This is a 1954 Gibson ES-175. It's only had one owner; he bought it new in '54, put it in a closet for fifty years and has just gotten it out to play again!

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • One-owner Gibson ES-175: fifty-four years in the closet takes its toll!
  • Reviving Kluson Deluxe tuners
  • Gentle heat followed by a naphtha bath washes them out
  • Why you shouldn't oil the tuners on the peghead

Video Transcription

Dan Erlewine: [on-screen text reads: Trade Secrets! - Cleaning dirty old tuners] Here's a guitar with old tuners that won't even turn. It's a 1954 Gibson ES-175 that was put in the closet in 1960, and hasn't been played since. The Kluson Deluxe Tuners are all dried out and they need to be lubricated. This one doesn't even turn. This one's pretty stiff. That's a stiff one. These will turn. That's nice. This is a little stiff. I'm going to take them off and clean them out and give them a little bit of lubrication.

Gentle heat and a Naphtha bath

I like to warm the housing up a little bit. I can use this oil filled space heater. It's winter outside. When I squirt some naptha in there it'll flow through better. It's warm, not hot, and what I'm going to do is squirt some naptha in there. You could use lighter fluid, and rinse out the dried, whatever it was, some kind of grease that they pack them with, and probably I'm going to rinse out little chips of metal. That's still really stiff. At that point, I'll just pour the naptha on it and let it have a little bath and let it sit for a minute.
It's starting to budge. Stiff. Hear it? I'm going to give it a little shot of Tri-Flow Lubricant, and see if that'll loosen it up.

Oiling the tuners properly

There we go. It's really hard to hold onto a tuning key and wind the post, so I made a holder to hold it while I break it in, and it's working now. It's still stiff. And I wouldn't do this on the guitar because I'm going to squirt some more juice in there. And I wouldn't run that into the finishings of the wood. That's great. I've seen a lot of pegheds where somebody oils the tuners right in place, squirts oil down the hole, and that's not a good idea because it gets in the wood and you can strip out the mounting screw holes and split the finish, and other bad things. This is the way to do it.



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

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