Vintage Friction Tuner Question

Larry U

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I just got a beautiful little Supertone Soprano Ukulele (from the 1920s) and of course, it's fitted with friction tuners. After a lot of fiddling and fussing, I've finally got them where they stay mostly in-tune, but it's a struggle. My question concerns the construction of these tuners.

tuners.jpg

The back half of the tuner is nothing more than a one-piece, molded piece of plastic/bakelite/whatever. The only friction is applied by the flat surface of the tuner directly against the wood on the back of the headstock. Should there be a bushing or washer or something other than just plastic pressed against the wood? It's definitely not a smooth process no matter how the screw is tightened. I'd like to keep this as close to the original as possible, so I'm wondering if adding a fiber washer or similar would make it operate more smoothly. Or, should I just look for replacement tuning machines? Suggestions are welcomed!
 
IIRC early Bruko tuners were similar but used a paper washer between the knob and the wood. I’ve improved simple friction tuners by using fibre washers. In this instance I’d try making paper washers from unglazed and thick paper (some types of scrap brown envelopes might give you suitable material to trial).

I hope that that’s a help and that you get better answers.
 
Thanks, folks. I'm going to measure the post diameter and head over to my local hardware store and see if I can find some fiber or nylon washers. If that doesn't do the trick, I'll try Graham's thick paper washer suggestion.
 
Thanks, folks. I'm going to measure the post diameter and head over to my local hardware store and see if I can find some fiber or nylon washers. If that doesn't do the trick, I'll try Graham's thick paper washer suggestion.
It’s worth digging into history here and also seeing what similar new supply (tuners) comes with. IIRC similar from China used/uses thin cork washers that cover the full diameter of the friction knob. I’d suggest that whatever you use, in that particular part of the tuner, needs to be a material that does give friction and doesn’t abrade. Here’s something mechanically similar on eBay: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/404463103154?hash=item5e2be12cb2:g:l9IAAOSwqhJk7SNR&amdata=enc:AQAIAAAAwA53FxcP6EzJdDqsuaDro88rhrwgcmLDXi3JCMvfVU+34Bb1c6xqH9uMX0D2xYotDUTWNb5YPtVUyHu0hvKux+tXYqbJ1QtR6LUZqb+wSno7BeNsDaBeMmNdq7g72Bkw3WNyCR9jg9ilBEXGBFria/yrg0oU+UPSftLauP5v/tffVLzKCzxFwv3XUZ8fX6aOSMjPST08mM4FH88LOI+y6F1FgPguWbJhxsGdXiZnDgqCMbDZzdVU3xDP8XkzccllKw==|tkp:Bk9SR5Sx2uyFYw

The intended friction face is (obviously) directly under the knob; there may be unhelpful friction/sticking between the shaft and collar on the front face of the tuner and I’ve heard of small brass washers, etc., being used there.
 
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For my 1960 Harmony, I tried a variety of washers and my best performing was a simple zinc coated fender washer.
 
I tried making washers out of leather. Don't do what I do.
I worked out how to make leather washers!

Take 4 scraps of leather, clamp them between two scraps of wood, and drill the right size hole through.

Then thread the leather scraps on a bolt the size of the drill, with metal washers the size you want, and tighten all up with a nut.

Now you just shave the leather back to the washers all round with a craft knife. Job done.

However, it's quicker and more effective to buy some thin metal washers, brass or stainless steel, and some crinkle/wavy washers. One of each for each tuner usually fixes things.
 
I have found that friction tuners do not serve me well. Because I want to play it and don't care if I can sell it as an original condition instrument I put 18:1 Grovers on my 60 year old Harmony Baritone. Easy to accurately tune. They look pretty good too.
 

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I have found that friction tuners do not serve me well. Because I want to play it and don't care if I can sell it as an original condition instrument I put 18:1 Grovers on my 60 year old Harmony Baritone. Easy to accurately tune. They look pretty good too.
It’s a bit off topic but the longer scale instruments may well have higher string tension making tuning with friction tuners rather difficult. In the OP’s case he has a Soprano, that’s arguably rather different to your situation.

Some folk do struggle with friction tuners; my recommendation to them is to consider using a peg turner, and to leave a long whisker of excess string (don’t trim it back flush) on the peg to act as a movement indicator.

I wonder how the OP got on … ?
 
Update: I got some appropriately sized brass washers and fiber washers at my local Hardware big-box store. I installed them on the back of the tuning pegs and VOILA! Problem solved. I still don't care for friction tuners but at least these turn and hold where necessary.
 
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