Weekend Mod Project: D-28 Open-Gear Tuner Upgrade

I’ve made an effort to play more acoustic guitar in 2014, which has partly entailed overhauling my Martin D-28. Now a decade old, the spruce and rosewood dreadnought has matured both acoustically and aesthetically; it has also endured some normal wear and tear. Several months ago, I performed overdue maintenance on a worn mammoth ivory saddle. More recently, I set out to replace the stock Gotoh tuners (right) — at least one of which was showing symptoms of a stripped gear. The Martin-labeled enclosed machines are unfortunately not available through retailers (either singly or as a set), which means owners must navigate the myriad aftermarket options.

A generic, Gotoh labeled drop-in replacement is available, but for several years I had been eyeing vintage-inspired, open-gear tuners. Open-gear tuners are stock on most high-end Martin vintage reproductions, and boutique manufacturers like Collings and Bourgeois also opt for the classic look. The problem is that open-gear tuners have a very different overall design footprint (including set screws and and peghead bushings) than most enclosed tuners — which is to say this is no trivial mod.

After extensive research, I opted for a well-reviewed and reasonably priced set of Gotoh open-gear tuners available from Luthiers Mercantile International. Acoustic Guitar and Martin Guitar Forum users routinely compare these favorably to pricier, American-made models by Waverly. Installation can be daunting for the uninitiated, especially if it entails drilling and reaming holes in an expensive instrument. Needless to say, it’s a job worth taking to your luthier if you feel the least bit uncomfortable with the mod. For those who take the DIY route, I hope this post can serve as a helpful guide (this page and this page are also extremely helpful).

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