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Thread: Pure Blasphemy!Geared Tuners-Fluke & Flea-installed-photos & explanations

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Midgard, Helheim

    Default Pure Blasphemy!Geared Tuners-Fluke & Flea-installed-photos & explanations

    Hey folks,

    I was not sure if this should go in 'Uke Tech Support' section or 'Luthier's Lounge' section, so to err on the side of caution, I'm putting this in the 'Uke Tech Support' section. If the moderators think this information is better placed elsewhere, please feel free to move the thread. It's all good with me.

    So, what is this all about? Well, please, fellow ukulele lover, allow me to share the results of some of my efforts with you...

    Over the past few years I've mentioned a few times that as part of my instrument hacking modifications, I've installed different tuners to my Flea ukuleles since I just can't make it work with ANY friction tuners.

    I know many folks love them, and I am not knocking friction tuners, if they work for YOU and you are happy with them, then more power to you.

    But they are not for me. After trying a dozen different sets from all different brands, priced from $15 all the way up to $99, and I just cant do it. For my use of the instrument, there's just too much frustration in trying to find the sweet spot with the screw tension vs. the constant over-tuning and then under-tuning of the 1:1 ratio when compared to my use of geared tuners, either like 'guitar tuners' or the planetary tuners such as the PedHeds or Gotoh UPTs. Maybe I've been spoiled by geared tuners with a 12:1 or 18:1 ration on guitars for 35+ years, but I am tired of trying to use friction tuners. Please understand, if they work for YOU, then go for it. YMMV.

    Either they've failed me, or I've failed to persist through the pain until i can appreciate them. It's my problem, that I'd like to share with you how I solved it.

    Since I have many ukes I cannot affort to put the Gotoh or PegHeds on all of them, so I've ended up with, and am QUITE HAPPY with less expensive geared tuners. If money were no object, I'd probably use the Gotoh UPT-L tuners on all my ukes, partly due to how smooth they work, and partly due to the simple and easy installation.

    Fear not, if you've read this far you will be rewarded by seeing everything I'm saying here in the photos below...

    I've said many times on the forum how much I enjoy my Fluke and Flea ukuleles, with their near-perfect intonation and easy playability, comfort and very sweet sound, so I won't bore you with further details. All I will say here is please do not discount them until you have had hands-on experience with one. They are not for everybody, as we all have subjective preferences.

    The first instrument made by Magic Fluke Company that I got was a concert Lava Flea. I bought this instrument on sale from Mike at Uke Republic back in October of 2013.

    My concert Lava Flea has the Gotoh UPT-L planetary geared tuners. The only thing required for their installation was to enlarge the tuner holes. Since I don't have peg reamer, and I dont mind making my own tools as needed, I used a UniBit (aka step-bit) which I have rigged to a T-handle with a hex shaft. once the hole was enlarged to about 8mm, the UPT-L tuners went in easy and all that was required was to use a 10mm hex spanner to tighten down the nut on the bushing. Easy-peasy.

    My concert Lava Flea has Martin M600 strings installed and is tuned to re-entrant GCEA. Photos are below:

    Lava Flea

    The second Magic Fluke Company instrument that I got was a Koa tenor Fluke with the rosewood fretboard and PegHed tuners upgrades already installed. I purchased this instrument used here in the Marketplace from a fellow UU member back in February of 2014, and it was a painless and easy transaction. I found the PegHed tuners to work fine, but if I were to be splitting hairs, the Gotoh UPT-L tuners are touch smoother to me. Having said all that, there was nothing for me to do with this instrument, but I am including it here for visual reference and comparison.

    My tenor Koa Fluke has Martin M620 strings and is tuned re-entrant E-A-C#-F#. Photos are below:

    Koa Fluke

    The third Magic Fluke Company instrument that I got was the Walnut with Birch rosette tenor Flea, that came with the rosewood fretboard upgrade but had the stock Grover 2B friction tuners. I bought this instrument used from Elderly Instruments in January of 2015, and it came flawless, and almost looked mint when I got it.

    The Walnut Flea has a set of modified acoustic guitar tuners. By modified, I used the 20mm shafts from a set of tuners from, since the original shafts were each 25mm long, and TOO LONG for use in the headstock of the Flea, where the tuner shafts are oriented 180 degrees apart (see photos) . Not all geared tuners have interchangeable parts as some have a different polygon shape milled inside the actual brass gear than the typical hexagon. Also, I wanted white or cream tuner buttons for this uke and Grover does not make them and the 4 other different tuner sets that I tried did not work out well. One caution is that most bushings that come with guitar tuners as well as those that come with the Grover 9NB tuners have an outer diameter of 11mm, and unless you want to enlarge the tuner hole, they will NOT fit. If you try to force them into the existing 6.5mm hole you will likely split the headstock (Don't ask me how I know /sadface/)

    Also, if you go this route, MANY geared tuners have their mounting holes in the corners of the metal plate (such as all the geared ukulele tuners sold by CB Gitty), and as such will likely split the headstock wood (once you install the 4/40 screws, and yes EVEN if you pre-drill pilot holes) since they are so close to the edge.

    So you need to use geared tuners such as the Grover 9NB set that has the plate mounting screws in the MIDDLE of the plate, and then you will have no problems.

    My tenor Walnut Flea currently has Aquila LAVA strings and is tuned re-entrant GCEA. Photos are below:

    Walnut Flea

    Finally, the fourth Magic Fluke Company instrument that I got was a 'Hibiscus' (pinkish colored) tenor Flea with the plastic fretboard and also came with the stock Grover 2B friction tuners. I bought this instrument new from Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto, CA in April of 2015. Also a flawless transaction.

    For the Hibiscus Flea, I went with a modified set of the $15 Grover 9NB geared tuners. I trimmed down the shape and size of the plate on the tuners with a dremel since the way these tuners ship, the metal plate is a bit larger than the thickness of the Flea headstock.

    My tenor Hibiscus Flea has Worth Browns (BT) tenor strings and is tuned re-entrant F-Bb-D-G. Photos are below:

    Hibiscus Flea

    I will include in a separate post below, a photo of the UniBit/T-handle tool I made for enlarging the holes for the UPT-L tuners since there is a four picture limit per post.

    So, for the many folks that have requested I provide some more information when I've mentioned these tuner installs in previous posts, hopefully this will begin to clarify things.

    In anticipation of some potential frequently asked questions...

    Q: Am I happy with the tuners that I installed?
    A: Absolutely. Now I don’t even think about the tuners any more.

    Q: Was it worth the time and effort?
    A: Yes. I also learned a few things along the way.

    Q: Why not just have a Luthier do this and not bother?
    A: If I can do it myself, then I will not ever pay someone else to do things for me, unless, and if an exception, I simply do not have the time.

    Q: Why not just buy these instruments with the 'proper' or PegHed tuners already installed?
    1) You can ONLY get PegHeds factory installed if you select them at time of purchase, OR are willing to pay shipping BOTH WAYS to Magic Fluke Company for them to install them after the fact, or if you purchased from another vendor.

    2) Two of these instruments were USED and did not offer the option.

    3) I am a DIY (do IT yourself) person, and I wanted the experience and the learning that came along with working towards the end result, with nobody to blame but myself if something when wrong, and if it did go wrong, I enjoy the troubleshooting and thought process of trying to figure things out for myself.

    If you have any questions or comments, please let me know here in this thread (as opposed to PM) so that the information remains public and can benefit everyone who might be interested in this information.


    Last edited by Booli; 09-25-2015 at 01:44 PM. Reason: typos
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Midgard, Helheim


    This is the T-handle with the UniBit attached that I mentioned for enlarging the tuner holes for the Gotoh UPT-L tuners in the above post, the UniBit goes from 1/8" to 1/2" and that part alone cost me ~$15 @ Home Depot, but I use this tool, 'as assembled below' ALL THE TIME now):

    Also, these are the kind of geared ukulele tuners with the diagonal screw holes to AVOID for use with a Fluke/Flea style headstock (photo is taken from

    and these are the kind that you SHOULD use, because the plate screw holes are in the MIDDLE of the plate (photo is of the Grover 9NB tuners, and taken from Amazon, which at the time of this posting sells them for ~$14):

    [edited because Stewmac photo location changed, and therefore not showing here in the forum, now using Amazon photo]
    Last edited by Booli; 12-15-2016 at 10:26 AM. Reason: added info with photo sources
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Oak Park, Illinois


    Wow! Like you've sunk a lot of money into these instruments. I personally like the Fluke instruments very much, but hate friction tuners. I say Bully for you, Booli. (See what I did there?)
    Last edited by stevepetergal; 09-27-2015 at 06:08 AM.
    If everybody wanted peace instead of another TV, then there would be peace.
    -John Lennon-

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Florida Space Coast


    A veritable treasure trove of good information on Flukes, Fleas, and Tuners (sounds like a song title)!!!

    I especially like the T-handle step-bit tool. Thanks for sharing and for the large pictures.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Portland, OR


    Super good info Booli. Just got my first fluke today and i'm sure this post will come in handy when I eventually mod the tuners. I am interested in that uni tool too.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    JoCo, NC (near Raleigh)


    You had me at UPT. Awesome!
    Iriguchi Tenor "Weeble" - A, WoU Clarity
    Blue Star 19" baritone Konablaster - DGBE
    Cocobolo 16" SC#1-gCEA, SC SLMU
    Ono #42 19" baritone, Ab, LW
    Imua iET-Bb, M600
    Covered Bridge CLN pineapple - Eb cuatro, SC XLL
    Rogue bari
    Bonanza super tenor, cFAD SC LHU
    Kala KSLNG, Eb SC XLU
    Hanson 5-string tenor, dGCEA
    Bonanza SLN GCEA
    Southern Cross concert GCEA
    Jupiter #47, G, TI CF127
    Pelem, B reentrant
    Jupiter #71, A, UG1


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Petaluma, CA


    Booli, What are you doing with the unwanted friction tuners?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Midgard, Helheim


    Quote Originally Posted by spongeuke View Post
    Booli, What are you doing with the unwanted friction tuners?
    The 2 sets of Waverly tuners, and 1 set of Grover Champion Deluxe tuners were already re-homed with family and friends.

    I had not yet given thought as to the rest, which are all just sitting in a cigar box, which is in a drawer. When I think about them I get angry, so I try not to. LOL.

    (according to memory, cant check right now) Remaining are:

    3 sets of Grover 2B (the original Flea tuners)

    2 or 3 sets of Grover 4B Sta-Tite (one step up in their line tuners)

    1 or 2 sets of Grover 6B (one step up further)

    1 set of Schaller Spring-Loaded Deluxe Friction tuners
    (I hink they are the Nickel version)

    I had not considered that they might be of value to anyone else.

    Save for the Schaller, these all can be had pretty cheap and I figured it might not be worth the hassle to try and sell them, but I am open to any ideas or offers.
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2013


    Interesting read, thanks for sharing!

    I had my first encounter with friction tuners this week (the KoAloha pineapple). I prefer them visually on the smaller instruments, but I'll say I find them a little crude from the perspective of user-friendliness. The first time tuning the new uke, I almost instantly tuned the string two semitones too high, and I barely touched the tuner! It's very fiddly, and I assume the KoAloha tuners (the orange ones) are decent quality.

    No intentions to replace them (I have two left hands, as the German proverb goes), and I like variety, but yes, I can see why you replaced yours!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Chicago, IL


    I have to say when I picked up a used flea I couldn't really get used to it. I'm grew up playing violin so I have experience with those tuners but you have the fine tuners on a violin which are geared that gets you closer.

    I wish magic fluke would offer a geared stock option that's not $99 for pegheds, maybe your standard Grover set.

    Plus 1 for the gotoh upt. Have them on my Hoffmann, much smoother feel.
    Koaloha Tenor 2016
    Hoffman ML ebony/red spruce tenor
    Mya-Moe redwood/walnut tenor
    Stansell Myrtle and POC flamenco baritone
    Hoffmann A style cedar maple tenor

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