Home Mandolin Furniture Hospital


   One of the simplest jobs in the restoration process, is the cleaning of the metal tuners and tailpiece. The photo shows tuners from the same instrument, before and after cleaning. The tail pieces are from different instruments, though very similar. I generally begin with a wire brush, and progress to fine Dremel brushes for polishing. I free up jammed tuners with WD40 and often apply a little '3 in 1' bicycle oil. Wisdom has it, that oil or grease collects dust which is not good for tuners, but I have found it less of a problem than rust!


More on tuner repair, see the Hospital Page. If you need help, drop me a line on the Contacts Page.
 Besides dirt jamming up the mechanisms, the other problem with tuners is that they sometimes break, often from being subjected to undue pressure, being turned when dirty or rusted. Some common problems are shown below. The solutions are more difficult, as we are working with metal parts.
   Here a mandolin arrived with mismatched tuners, probably because one side was ruined.    In this aluminium set, the housings that hold the tuner spindles have given way.    This is the result of rust. The tuners were completely seized, and could only be removed by disassembling.
     Perhaps, most common.... here the buttons have broken and been lost.    In this old set, the tubular brass barrel, made by being folded over at the outer end, has split open under turning pressure.    Here a cog is missing, easy to fix in this set as they have screw-held cogs, if one is able to find a replacement piece of the same size!!


Which Way Do Tuners Fit?

Which ever way the tuners are arranged, (and I have found both, with only one set of screw holes, suggesting they are original), it is important that the base string posts turn anti-clockwise and the treble posts clockwise, (viewed from the front on side tuners and the side for back tuners), so that the strings can go up the centre and out to the posts, without interfering with the other string posts.


It seems a simple question, though it is not always obvious, as there are a variety of tuning systems, sizes and methods of installation. Initially it is useful to know there are traditionally two main types of system, side tuners, (left) and back tuners (right).


Generally, the small cog wheel is nearer the instrument body than the tuning key.

The hand normally turns in an anti-clockwise direction when tuning, whether they are side or back tuners.

Side Tuners
Side tuners, unfortunately, can have either left-hand or right-hand threads. Below are examples of both. It may have been that originally the right hand threaded tuners were for left-handed players, but I have found them on numerous right-hand strung instruments, with only one set of holes..
  The thread on the shaft angles left. A clockwise motion of the hand turns the string post anti-clockwise when viewed from the front. The thread on the shaft angles right. An anti-clockwise motion of the hand turns the string post the same way. More awkward!
Here is a set of left thread tuners, that would appear to be on upside down, but they are definitely original...  and taking one side off demonstrates that they would not fit the other way round. What is more they worked fine. This bowl back is un-named, but I had a Corradotti similarly arranged.


Typical Tailpieces
Tail pieces come in relatively few sizes and shapes. Left are some old varieties many with broken sleeve guards (German)

Below left are a few currently available 'old style' tails for German mandolins, and below right Italian tails, the left two old ones, the right currently still available.



Broken Buttons

On many old instruments, it is now impossible to get replacement buttons. They were either bone, ivory or plastic. Modern bluegrass style buttons are too large. It is even difficult to raid other old instruments, as the buttons often crumble as they come off. The only option has been to fashion my own replacements in bone.
I start with a piece of bone, nut material mostly, a little bigger than the button I need to make. It is roughly shaped on the band saw or with a hacksaw.. Afterwards it is shaped more accurately with a file to the required size.
A 3mm hole is drilled with a dremel for mounting on the spindle. To prevent slipping, many old spindles are squared off, so a square needle file is needed to achieve a square hole. Finally the newly sanded and polished buttons is glued in place. The bone can be stained to match the colour of the original buttons.