I had the opportunity recently to replace the tuners in my Gibson, and I tried just about every Kluson style tuner available, so I thought I’d share what I found with whoever is interested.
The Gibson Deluxe tuners I started with were made by Ping Wells, which has factories in China. They didn’t work very well, so that’s why I sought out to replace them. I put a magnet on them to see what they were made of. The studs are steel but the casings are not. I also checked the stud for wobble. It was pretty firmly in place. I noticed there is a collar coming out of the base that supports it. As for the shaft with the button on it, that was a little firm, but not that much; and it's not supported in any way (maybe that's what causes the problems with this design). I looked to see what Ping used for a retainer to hold the shaft in place, and it was a little piece of metal that supports the bottom of the shaft. I can’t find the tuning ratio anywhere, so that’s a mystery. The collar is the screw on type, not the press in bushing type, which I don't like anyway. Like all Kluson clones, the Gibson is an open gear tuner. The plastic button is antique green and cannot be replaced.
The first tuners I tried were made by Schaller in Germany, and they were a disappointment. The Schallers are Kluson clones, just like the Gibsons, but neither the stud nor the case are made of steel. As for the firmness of the stud and the tuning shaft, both are a little firmer than the Gibsons. The retainer nib is a little more substantial than what is used on the Ping tuners. The tuning ration is 16 to 1, which I suspect is probably better than the Gibson. The collars are also screw on. The gears are open, the button is not replaceable, and it is the same color as the Gibson. Overall, the Schallers are not as much of an improvement as I had hoped. They are too much like the Gibson Deluxes.
The only open gear Kluson style tuners I did not check out were the Grovers, which are made in Taiwain and the Tonepros Kluson, which I suspect are made in China, like the Gibson Deluxes. I can tell you both appear identical to the Gibson Deluxes in construction. I don’t know for sure, but the casings look like the non-steel type I don’t like. Also, the Grovers have a 14 to 1 gear ratio, which is the lowest of the bunch (and the Tonepros are 15:1, which is also low). So I skipped these tuners figuring they would likely not be better than the tuners I’ve already tested.
The second tuners I tried were made by Kluson in Korea. They also have two models; I tried the Kluson Supremes (not the Kluson Deluxes); the Kluson Supremes are the better of the two. Unlike the Gibsons, the Schallers and the Grovers, the Klusons have steel casings and steel studs, which I think is better. The shafts are about the same firmness as the Schallers, but the studs on the Klusons are a little wobbly, probably because they don't have the supportive collar the others have. Interestingly, the Klusons also don't have a metal retainer. But they have a high tuning ratio of 18 to 1, and that's much better than the Gibsons. Unfortunately, the bushings are the press in type, which I don’t like. As usual, the gears are the open, covered type, and the buttons are not replaceable. But another plus is the buttons are a little lighter green, which I also like.
I think Gibson actually uses the Kluson Deluxes on its pricey historic guitars. So if you must have a historically correct, stamped steel tuner that says "kluson deluxe" on it, just like the originals, then Kluson is the way to go (even though they are made in Korea now, not the US, like they used to be). After looking closely at the Klusons, I came to the conclusion that the newer Gibson Deluxes I didn't like were probably intended as an improvement to the original design. They fixed the wobbly stud issue and put in a retainer nib to hold the shaft better, but they also opted for zinc instead of steel for the case. That sort of reminds me of the history of the Nashville bridge, which was also an "improvement" over the ABR1 (didn't buzz), but was made cheaply (brass saddles were replaced by zinc) and considered by many to be inferior to the model it replaced.
The third tuners I tried were made by Gotoh in Japan. Gotoh has two models; I tried the Gotoh SD510’s (not the SD90's); the SD510's are the better of the two, and they turned out to be the best of the open gear tuners I tried. The cases and the stud are made of steel, like the Klusons. However, the studs are rock solid (no wobble at all). Plus there is an attachment to the base called the “card” that further reinforces the stud and mates the back of the tuner to the headstock. The shaft is very firm and turns very smoothly, apparently because of “torque balancer” that Gotoh uses with the gears. The tuning ratio is 15 to 1, which is a little less than the Klusons, but I couldn’t tell the difference. The only thing I don’t like about the Gotohs is they use press in bushings, like the Klusons. To use them on my Gibson, I will need a conversion bushing for the larger peghole. I wish the buttons were replaceable and were a lighter green, but I can live with that. The Gotohs are similar to the original Klusons, but they have a vastly better design. I'd be shocked if anyone comparing the two would prefer the Klusons. After trying the Gotohs, I can't believe Gibson doesn't use them on their top of the line guitars.
I was all ready to settle on the Gotohs when I found one other tuner that seemed like it might be even better, and that was the Kluson Revolution, which is a drop in replacement for the Gibson Deluxes, but is designed very differently than all these other tuners. The Revolution tuners are modern sealed gear tuners, unlike all the other Kluson clones. The cases are not steel but I’m not as concerned about that with this type of tuner because the design is different. Modern sealed gear tuners have reinforcement collars for both the stud and the shaft with the button on it. The shafts are steel, so that’s good. Also, both the shafts and the studs are firmer than the Klusons, but not as firm as the Gotohs. As for the tuning ratio, the Revolution tuners have the highest ratio of all the tuners I tested: 19 to 1, so that's a definite improvement. The collars are the screw in type, which I like. The buttons are replaceable, which is nice. And the plastic is the lighter, I think, better looking, green. The Gotohs are great, but the Klusons have some really nice features, that, I think, give them an edge.
I’d say if you want to stick to the style and design of the originals, or if you have a guitar with press in bushings and you don’t want to enlarge the holes, the Gotoh 510’s are hands down the best tuners out there. But if you are willing to try something that is more modern, but still fits the style and construction of the guitar (i.e., you don't have to drill any new holes or leave any existing holes empty), or if you have a guitar with screw on collars and you don’t want to use conversion bushings, then you will probably like the Kluson Revolution tuners best. Either one would be a really nice upgrade for a Gibson or Epiphone guitar.