View Full Version : "Vintage Gibson" with tuning issues or New Martin?

11-21-2012, 12:22 PM

I'm a beginner and for my birthday received a vintage "Gibson" ukulele that has an issue with its tuning machines. I only have a few days left to exchange it, and the store has a Martin S1 that's about $80 more. I'm trying to quickly decide on whether to just get the Martin, or try to fix the Gibson. What is the likelihood that replacing the tuning machines with new ones (Grovers, probably geared ones like my guitars) will fix the problem?

Although there is no name on the headstock, it was sold as a Gibson (c. 1960s). Compared to images online, it appears that it could be a Uke-1 (Photos: http://photoset.com/q42e13gs).
We were told that it was likely obtained by an employee, which is why it is unmarked. Further corroborating this is a black "alligator" case with a blue interior where someone wrote her name and address, Kalamazoo, MI. The inside of the uke is stamped "W1272 21". The finish is chipped and spidery, but the wood appears OK. It sounds great! The only problem is that the tuning machines, particularly the A, can't hold a tune (yes, I've adjusted the screws). I can't get through one song without it going to G# or G.

While the Martin is a nice ukulele (compared to the cheapo ones I was first looking at) and has a very even sound, the Gibson sounds better. It's a fuller, more resonating tone. So, which one to choose?

11-21-2012, 12:27 PM
Welcome to the UU forum, chimbley!

Stick with the better-sounding uke. You'll be glad you did.

11-21-2012, 12:29 PM
I'd keep the Gibson, especially since you think it sounds better. Maybe it just has new strings and they need to settle in!

You can always get a new Martin later.

11-21-2012, 12:39 PM
The friction tuners on the Gibson look like replacements to me. If they are recent replacements, you can probably get better ones. I would do that before I would put geared tuners on it. I would even ask the seller to replace the tuners if one doesn't work. The saddle is also a replacement. The original ones were mahogany. The saddle looks high as well. How is the action? I usually like it to be between 3/32" - 1/8" at the 12th fret.

It's rare to find a new soprano that sounds as full as a vintage one, IMO. If the tuners are the only problem and they can be replaced if not repaired, and you like the Gibson better...

11-21-2012, 01:12 PM
If they are original tuners, I would try and keep them, unless they are just worn out. You can gain some grip by taking them apart and adding talc powder to the friction areas. You can also make a friction washer out of course rawhyde leather. If it is a genuine Gibson, you want to keep it as original as possible to use.
If you have to replace them, replace them with proper type to the uke..

Also, if they aren't slipping, but still having a hard time keeping tune, it could be caused by friction in the nut grooves. Put a touch of graphite in the nut slots to lube the strings as they run through the slots. If you don't have graphite, you can also take a standard #2 pencil, and with an Xacto blade, shave off some of the pencil lead making a powder of the lead (It isn't really lead, it is graphite). pinch of the powdered pencil lead in the nut slots will lube them..

BTW: Welcome to the site..

11-21-2012, 01:47 PM
If they are the original tuners keep them in case you sell the uke, but replacing them with new friction tuners will go a long way toward making the uke a very satisfactory player. Personally, I like the Gotoh UKB tuners (slightly better quality than the UKA but also require a very slightly larger hole - a piece of sandpaper around a pencil will quickly widen the holes just enough if needed - trying to force the tuners into too-small holes can split the headstock).


11-21-2012, 01:50 PM
Go with the Gibson. A set of Grover 4B tuners cost a lot less than $80.


11-21-2012, 02:04 PM
I have a Martin s-1 and I love it had a misi pickup put in it and it sounds really good. Recommend the s1 but comes down to which one you think sounds better and plays better.

mm stan
11-21-2012, 06:01 PM
Keep the Gibson....while it is not in the best condition, it sounds good to you....change the tuners but keep the old ones....I'd try and take them apart and clean them and see what the
issue is...if it is a Gibson, it worth more than that new martin anyday and will not depricate.....the new martin will.... while you're changing the tuners...clean it up and polish and put
a set of new Martin M600 strings on....you will be surprised on the improved sound....happy strummings....oh oh Welcome to the UU forums....

Bill Mc
11-21-2012, 07:03 PM
chimbleysweep, a vintage instrument is subject to the problems inherent in anything old. If you are willing to give it the special care it needs now and more in the future or even in a month or two then go for it as you do have the advantage over everybody here in that you have played both instruments and prefer the Gibson sound over the Martin s-1. However, the Martin s-1 is no slacker and I doubt you would rue that choice should you make it. I happen to own two Martin s-1's and like them for their sound and comfortable fretboard. In my opinion you have to live with a musical instrument for some time before you can fully judge its worth and sound. Good luck with your decision.

11-21-2012, 07:51 PM
I have a vintage Gibson and it sounds really great. Mine is different from yours but Gibson made a lot of different things. The tuners are no problem to replace and we can easily walk you through it. You might be able to fix them by simply adding a flat metal washer on the underside of the headstock, or by taking out the screw and lubricating it, then replacing it.

If you love that vintage ukulele, I say stick with it and put in some new tuners, fixing the old ones or putting new ones in is pretty darn easy.

11-21-2012, 09:11 PM
If you want to keep an original look and go with the lightest geared tuners, I would suggest you read Tim Szerlong's www.ukeeku.com comments about PEGHEDS. Another site would be www.pegheds.net If you have other questions about them, please do not hesitate to ask. thecraftedcow@comcast.net

11-22-2012, 05:43 AM
If you want to keep an original look and go with the lightest geared tuners, I would suggest you read Tim Szerlong's www.ukeeku.com comments about PEGHEDS. Another site would be www.pegheds.net If you have other questions about them, please do not hesitate to ask. thecraftedcow@comcast.net

Actually, Gibson NEVER used wood peg tuners, which Pegheads copy, so they would not "keep an original look".

11-22-2012, 06:49 AM
I bought a 1920's 30's Gibson Uke 1 and as you say the sound is awesome !! stick with it, love it and you won't go wrong !! 45651