Circular hole tuner design

Looking at the picture for this group and numerous other places I see people designing with circular holes cut into headstocks and the shaft of the tuner running through. I see the advantages to this approach being ease of construction and getting a sharper break angle off the nut. I know that shaping the right angle cut for my tuner design was a bit of a bitch.  My question is this.  If you are using the circular hole design, do you have to drill a new hole through the tuner shaft for the string to run though? I'm looking at my tuners and the hole for the string seems too close to the end to use in this design.

Cheers from Australia.


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  • If you have the option, rather then drilling new holes in the machine head posts, look for a 3x1 machine head made for a through head set up. i've found cheap ones useing both metal and plastic posts(i go metal) in your average music shop. normaly around 13 bucks Cdn. before i joined here, i made a through head set up for my little brother. to adjust for the fact all the holes where inline, i put an off set in the head. check it out. worked good for me. theses also came with a second hole near the end of the post if you where looking to get the upright post.

    305734051?profile=originalhope this'll help!

  • Hi Phillip.

    Depending on the location of the "tuner access holes" (those large holes drilled through the face of the headstock so that the strings can be routed to their respective tuning machine post hole) and the type of tuners you have, you may or may not have to drill new 2mm-ish post holes. A drawing can more easily show what I mean:

    305724749?profile=RESIZE_1024x1024Most 1x3 inline tuners that I have seen come with the string post holes all lined up at the same level. So, if this is the kind you have, then your largish tuner access holes will also have to line up, and so you will need to use more small pan head wood screws to route the strings properly from the nut to their respective tuner. However, if you shop around enough, you might find a tuner with the string post holes cut in a diagonal relationship to each other. If you have one of these, then you should also cut the tuner access holes along the same diagonal. Both of these situations are illustrated in the drawings above. Most likely you want to emulated the McNally Strumstick, but only can find a 1x3 tuner with the string post holes cut at the same level. In this case, then yes, you will have to drill two second holes in the tuner shafts, one above and the other below the hole that's already there. I hope you have the skill to do this precision machining task.


    In my opinion, there are plenty of different headstock designs, and you should try to build a variety of different designs so you can more easily build a headstock around a given set of tuners. My inclination is to use a single long slot in the middle of the head stock with the 1x3 inline tuners that are commonly used on guitars.


    Well, best of luck.




    • Hi All,

      I wrote the above maybe 3 years ago. Since then I have completed a lot of other builds and I find that my "tuner of choice" for my slotted headstock designs are individual tuners with the string hole located halfway up the shaft. Here's a photo of what I'm talking about:

      306269360?profile=originalThere are 3 reasons I favor this type of tuner. The first is that with these individual tuners (as opposed to 1x3 tuners), I can mount tuners on either side of the headstock and there by achieve a shorter headstock, something that is important when you want to build more portable (travel) instruments. But, don't go to the extreme of having your headstock so short that you can't clip a digital tuner to it to assist you in tuning the instrument after it is completed.

      The second reason I like them has to do with how the instrument hangs on the wall when I'm not playing them. With a 1x3 set of tuners, all the tuners are mounted on one side of the headstock, so when you put a loop on the headstock and hang the instrument on a hook on the wall, it will want to twist around such that the body sticks out from the wall at something like 45 degrees (I haven't measured it, but you should get the picture). To get the instrument to lie flat against the wall, you'll need to add at least one tuner on the opposite side from the 1x3 tuner. This means a 4-, 5- or 6-stringer. If you are building a 3-stringer, as most of my stick dulcimers are, then individual tuners make more sense.

      The third reason is price. I live in China, so I can get a real deal on tuning machines, even the 1x3 variety. But, my cost is like 1 US$ for a set of 3 individual tuners. You don't believe me? They cost ¥2 (2 Chinese yuan, aka 'RMB') each (with an exchange rate of about 6 yuan per US$) as you can see in this Taobao ad. The only problem is postage from China is not that cheap. I haven't bought from China while in the States, so I don't have a clue to how much the postage is. There might also be another problem of language. Even I find communicating in Chinese difficult at the best of times, but fortunately my wife is Chinese. Most the builders in the West don't have this advantage. But I'm diverging from my main point...

      The question I have is why C.B.Gitty does not offer these kind of tuners? He could order in big quantities and make them available in the States at a reasonable price and still make a good profit. I suppose that maybe he does not want to confuse novice builders with too many alternative products (I can imagine some buyers buying the wrong type and having to exchange them... more work for Ben). But from my point of view this type of tuner is ideal for slotted head-stocks. And slotted head-stocks are easier to build than flat head-stocks with their scarf joints and "wing" add-ons. I have a hard time cutting straight enough lines with hand tools to get good scarf joints and wing joints without some grief (resorting to rasps, files, and loss of scale length). I feel its easier to use an electric hand drill to drill a series of in-line holes and then come back with chisel, rasps, files and sandpaper to cut and clean-up a 4" slot in a 5.5" headstock. Fortunately for me I live in China and can get the tuners I need. But I think Ben is missing a business opportunity here.


  • Thanks so much for your advice guys.  It's really helpful.  But what I was wanting to know, is if you go down the slotted/round holes headstock route, do you need to drill a hole through the shaft of the tuner for the string to go through? If you look at the Strumstick pic above it seems that the stock hole is not being used on the lowest string. Cheers.
  • Thanks Dan.

    Sometimes things look better in photos than in reality - must be the reduced resolution of photos. I haven't seen a hand cranked drill for ages. So, when I say "I use just hand tools", the one exception is my hand drill which is electric. I wish I had an electric drill press, but I don't really know where I'll put it. If I buy a big drill press and just set it up in my guest bedroom-office-wood shop, my wife will likely kick me out of our house (flat). Well, happy building.


  • Yeah, same here Rand. If they are individual tuners I bring them up from the bottem too. I thought about useing slots for the inline tuners, but I'm a lazy guy (Haha), and found that 3 individual 3/4" holes work just as well. I don't have a drill press, but I do have an old style hand operated auger drill (I think thats what they are called).  This allows me to slowly drill fairly precise holes. By the way those are some nice looking headstocks in the photos. Clean.
  • Hi Dan.

    Yes, when I use 1x3 inline tuners, I generally slot the headstock after cutting down the headstock as described above. However, when I use individual tuners, I'm more likely to drill individual holes as shown in this photo.

    240079855?profile=RESIZE_1024x1024The following photo shows a slotted headstock with a 1x3 set of inline tuners.


    I have some more photos at home on how I make my slots... drill a series of holes in a straight line and then with ever increasingly wide drill bits, keep drilling until the holes start to join, then take out a chisel and some files and make the sides of the slot flat. Maybe I should do a blog entry on my personal page on how I make headstocks. Haven't done one recently and my techniques are much different than they were a year ago.



  • Rand pretty much covered it. I'd just like to add that I usually use this method when useing inline tuners similar to those shown in Rand's photo. It does make construction easier when useing these types of tuners IMO.



  • Hi again, Philip.

    In re-reading your question: Yes, the 1/2"-ish hole drilled down through the face of the headstock is sometimes very close to the edge. For this reason, a drill press is probably the preferred tool. You also might try drilling the hole by progressing through a series of increasingly wide drill bits. For instance, start with a 1/16", then a 1/8", then a "1/4" inch then a 3/8", etc. until you get to your target hole width. Again, any jittery hand can mess up your hole cut. And the bigger the bit, the more it will want to grab and yank your hand held electric drill in the wrong direction. So, if you don't have a drill press, you might try finding a friend who does.


  • Hi Philip.

    You are asking about making a simple headstock design by simply cutting an approximately 1/2" wide hole down through the face of the headstock, and then drilling a 10 mm hole from the side of the headstock to intersect this 1/2" hole at right angles. This second hole would be for the machine tuner's shaft that receives the string from the face side of the headstock through the 1/2" hole. On multi-string instruments, additional such holes would be drilled for the additional strings and tuners. Yes, this method is fairly well established, and is widely used with a class of instruments I call stick dulcimers (which includes strummers, strum sticks, and similar instruments that go by dozens of other names). In fact, the McNally Strumstick™ uses this method of headstock design. Here's a photo that shows how they do it. Hopefully, this has answered your question.

    305725371?profile=originalThere are several other "easy" headstock designs that you might also want to consider. I'd suggest searching CBN using the terms "head" or "headstock", and also checking the photos of instruments built by CBN members. You might also check my personal account on CBN for the articles I've written and my photos for how I like to make headstocks. Ease of building is a primary concern for me as well since all I use are hand tools except for the electric hand drill I use to drill holes.

    Best of luck with your builds.



    P.S. Couple more photos to get you thinking...


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