Swapping out a set of tuning pegs for a set of machine heads, on a uke.

So you picked up a bargainaceous uke on eBay, only to discover when you get it home that it has tuning pegs rather than cogged machine heads. You try to tune it. After half an hour of the friction of the peg causing you to shoot past the note you were aiming for in a wild jerk, or the LACK of friction in the head jumping the peg straight out of the note when you do find it (and yes, both these things can and will happen on the same string), you throw your uke across the room. Then, after a brief pause, you follow it and stamp on it until there are a billion little splinters in the air and no sign – none at all, that there was ever a musical instrument in your life.

OR

You get on the internet and buy some machine heads and replace those godawful pegs with something that works. I got a set of Stagg uke machine heads on Amazon (sorry) for about a fiver. There are cheaper, no-name ones, but Stagg is a pretty reliable name.

You will need a small crosshead screwdriver. A drill with a very small bit (I used a 1.5, a 1 would have worked perfectly as well, you’re only putting in a guide hole), or a very narrow brad awl, but I wouldn’t advise the latter. The potential for you to wiggle it about and make too wide a hole is too big. Get a drill with a very tiny drill bit.

This is what you’re starting with. The dreaded Peggy Head:

Peggy head

You want to undo the screw on each of the pegs.

Peg, showing screw

When you’ve undone it sufficiently, the peg will drop out of the uke’s head, leaving an unsightly hole at the back…

Thar she blows

And probably a little metal cuff on the front.

Little metal cuff

Leave the little cuff in place. Your new machine heads will slip right into it.

Now set up your drill. Make SURE that the bit is seated deeply into the drill, so that only 3/4 of a cm or so are sticking out of the end of the drill. If you seat the bit with more sticking out, what will happen is you’ll drill straight through your uke’s head and when you’ve finished the job you’ll have holes all over its face and it will look OMG TOTALLY AMATEUR. So get this right. Here you can see me measuring to see if the drill bit is seated at the right depth.

Ensure your bit cannot pass straight through your uke's head

Now unpack your new machine heads. Here I am, modeling the tiny drill bit I used – use the tiniest one you can find – 1mm or so.

New machine heads

OK, now take one of the machine heads and push it through the four cuffed holes in your uke head the WRONG WAY AROUND – front to back. This will push any little burrs in the wood or the metal through and will make sure your new heads won’t push the little cuffs off.

Push those machine heads through gently

Now seat your first machine head.

Head in place

There are left hand heads and right hand heads. The cog should be at the bottom. So you can quickly work out which head goes where, but make sure you have worked this out before you start drilling holes in your uke.

Put a head in place. Make sure it’s straight in relation to the side of the uke’s head. This is REALLY important, again, if you get this wrong you’ll end up with wonky tuners so take your time. Make a mark through each of the two screw holes (I used the tip of a sharp kitchen knife), remove the head, drill your two holes, put the head back and screw on. It really couldn’t be simpler.

Here you can see the job half done, with the guide holes drilled for the next head. Note the position of the cogs (towards the uke’s bottom end).

Half way there...

Finished product:

Machine heads

Now all it needs is a fresh set of strings (instructions for stringing your uke are on YouTube), and a few days to bed the new strings in.

Ta-daaa!

TA DAA

You may be looking at that and wondering “hey how come the G is red, what’s up with that?” – I’m trying out an Aquila low-G from the red series, which is basically their trademark Nylgut, but with added copper (hence the colour) to make the string far more dense, and capable of lower tuning. They’re notoriously brittle, but I wanted to try a low-G tuning and my verdict is that you’d have to go at the tuning like rhinoceros to snap it, which quite a few reviewers said they did. The ham fisted lummoxes.

I say that now. Give me a day …

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6 Responses to Swapping out a set of tuning pegs for a set of machine heads, on a uke.

  1. Sam says:

    Gah well done you. This is exactly the sort of job my “I could totally do that” personality comes out for, but also exactly the type of job my “Ugh, scared. Can’t/won’t/strategically too busy to do it” personality also comes out for. Guess which one wins.

    • chiller says:

      Ha! I’m quite good at just diving in and giving things a go, and hang the consequences. Strangely, this almost always turns out for the best….

  2. Luke G. says:

    Neat job. I never thought of switching to a low G string; which being a guitar player first, would make a lot of sense with chord fingerings.

    • chiller says:

      I play both but I must admit the low G on the uke didn’t last long (no, I didn’t snap it). It just wasn’t a very pleasing sound. You can pretty much transfer anything you’ve learned on a uke to the guitar anyway (if you’re prepared to play it a couple of tones adrift, which works fine) and the guitar’s low g sounds much sweeter than a low g on a uke. I suspect because on the guitar it is balanced out by the other two low strings, whereas on the uke it kind of sticks out as being significantly lower than the other strings, and feels slightly the wrong character for the tuning, to my mind/ear.

  3. Fles says:

    This is quite detailed – I’m guessing that, in a previous life, you used to re-activate ukes for the black market. Presumably the intelligence services have notes on you…

    • chiller says:

      I would imagine the intelligence services probably DO have notes on me (shouty lefty that I am), but the detailed instructions come from a career that involved explaining very technical things to very non technical lawyers. 😉

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