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Replacing Friction Tuners with Geared Tuners on Slingerland Tenor Banjo

Posted by Mike Floorstand on Sunday, July 27, 2014

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Here's a bunch a photos taken during my latest project: replacing the friction tuners with geared tuners on an old tenor banjo. In my (limited!) experience friction tuners are just about OK on nylon-strung instruments but steel strings add so much tension so either the tuner spins back or you have to tighten the tuner screw so much that the tuner can't be turned at all. These are the tuners to be removed:

Friction banjo tuners


First step is remove the screw which holds the button in place. Careful not to lose the washer!

friction tuner screw


Next remove the button itself. Mine were a bit stiff.

friction banjo tuner with button removed


Once the button is removed, the spacer/friction washer just slides off.

friction banjo tuner with washer removed


Once the washer is removed the shaft can be removed from the string side of the head.

friction banjo tuner removed


The remaining tuners are removed in the same way. The main problem as mentioned above was the buttons were often quite stiff.

all friction banjo tuners removed


Here are the disassembled tuners. Each tuner just has four parts (five if you count the washer on the screw). The button shaft is rectangular with two flat and two curved sides.

disassembled friction banjo tuners


The width of the shaft according to my (not very accurate, but with a deceptively reassuring digital display!) calipers is 5.3mm.

banjo friction tuner shaft width


The new tuner to be fitted has a shaft diameter of 7.5mm (7.3 according to my calipers, I told you they were rubbish!). The tuner is from ABM (model 4201) with 4:1 gearing; purchased from Thomann for 85 Euro (for four tuners) plus 10 Euro shipping to UK. There are eight parts to this tuner (excluding the parts inside the gear housing); my initial thoughts were I will need to be careful to put the washers back on in the right order, but actually the button and all the washers that it holds in place do not need to be removed - only the nut washer needs removing before installation. The button shafts are square so I can't fit the old button on these new shafts (not a big deal, though the old yellow buttons perhaps complement the aged maple neck better than ivoroid).

ABM geared banjo tuner 4201


The shaft holes on the headstock will therefore need to be enlarged to fit the new tuner shafts. This requires a special tool called a reamer, and I found this one on ebay. It is described as a violin peghole reamer with a 30:1 taper (from 3/16 inch at the tip to 21/64 inch at the top, i.e just less than 5mm to just over 8 mm, so perfect for this project - not so good if you are fitting a tuner with the more common 10mm shaft). The ebay seller was Peter Kessler from Canada and I paid USD $27 plus $10 shipping to the UK. This is what a reamer looks like:

violin peghole reamer for banjo project


I put some tape around the reamer at what I measured to be the 7.5mm diameter to make sure I didn't ream the hole too big. The tape needed moving a couple of times once I got close the final hole size. This is the reamer at the beginning of the job, inserted into the hole left by the 5.3mm friction tuner shaft:

beginning to ream


Here we are a little over halfway, now reaming from the back:

halfway through reaming banjo tuner hole


I alternated reaming from the front and back. Nearly there now!

nearly finished reaming


Almost done!



Finally, one of the tuners can be pushed, snugly, into the newly reamed hole:

geared banjo tuner being fitted


Different angle. You can't see it very well but there is a small spike on the gear housing which will pierce the headstock and prevent the tuner body twisting once the tuner nut is tightened. I thought I'd be able to manually push this spike into the headstock but that was too hard - I did wonder if I should create a hole for the spike with some other tool but in the end just gradually tightened the shaft nut until the gear housing was flush with the back of the headstock.

geared banjo tuner


Reaming is quite slow (took me maybe 10 minutes for each hole, though I was going slowly and checking whether the new tuner shaft would fit yet quite frequently) and makes your arm ache! But finally all four holes are now reamed to the right size.

front of reamed banjo headstock


From the back. Note the first string hole (bottom right) is quite close to the edge of the headstock. This could be problem if the diameter of the tuner gear housing had been any larger.

back of reamed banjo headstock


The side edge of the gear housing is just about flush with the side of the headstock on the treble side:

Geared tuners fitted onto banjo headstock


Here's a shot from the other side, you can see there is a bit more clearance between the edge of the gear housing and the side of the headstock on the bass side:

geared ABM banjo tuners


One final shot from the front of the headstock:

ABM banjo tuners fitted to Slingerland tenor banjo


Hope this helps someone - thanks for reading!










2 comments on “Replacing Friction Tuners with Geared Tuners on Slingerland Tenor Banjo”

Tom Hemeon Says:
Saturday, August 5, 2017 @1:46:26 PM

A good idea to check the outside dimension of new tuners so they don't wind up too close to the edge of the head stock. I file out the holes close to where they need to be and then finish up with the reamer. This allows me to move the holes further from the sides of the head stock.

naushadj Says:
Thursday, December 19, 2019 @8:35:28 PM

Hi Mike - I took the trouble of creating an account (not as much trouble you took to post the beautiful article) - just to thank you. I can't sleep well when I don't communicate my thanks to somebody who deserves it.

I got a super old Tenor banjo for 80$ (concerttone). Built between 1910-1920. I really want to play it but the tuners are making me crazy. I wanted to do it myself but no youtube videos for exactly this banjo. The tuners I can get from Amazon all seem to have a large shaft size. Mine is approximately 5mm. My banjo looks very very similar to yours. The tuners also look almost identical.

There are cheap friction peg tuners that are 7.5mm shaft size and look kind of the same as my current ones. But you are saying I should stay away from these and go for planetary ones? I couldn't find one that is less than 10mm yet. Wondering what tool I will need to make the holes 10mm?

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