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Dates are often hard to track down so take these to be approximates  to give you an idea of the era in which they were made. Buttons ...

Guide to Kluson Open Back Tuners

Dates are often hard to track down so take these to be approximates 
to give you an idea of the era in which they were made.

Buttons

Plastic

The most common material for open-back Kluson buttons is probably plastic

Shrinking and crumbling buttons are very common on old Kluson tuners but not every set of old tuners needs to have that done. I suspect different plastic formulations circulated through the factory and led to some buttons being chemically stronger. 

I've noticed that the inclusion of dyes in the plastic usually leads to stronger buttons. All the black tuner buttons I've encountered have been structurally sound while the cream colored ones are very much hit or miss. I actually came across a set of red, white, and blue buttons on a WWII-era set of Kluson tuners in which the red and white buttons had both crumbled but the blue buttons were intact with no sign of being replaced.

Factory-original red, white, and blue tuner buttons


I can only imagine how many sets have been discarded before the internet and the availability of replacement buttons. I've seen quite a few hodge podge'd sets of tuners where buttons or shafts broke and people cut that section of the plate off and replaced it with another tuner.

StewMac has an incredible video on replacing the buttons
on vintage Kluson tuners with modern replacements


Metal

These metal buttons are superior to the plastic buttons and last much longer. They also tend to bring higher prices
1940s-50s Kluson octagonal tuner

1936 

Image Credit: [2]
WWII-era Harmony 'Webster' branded guitar
with the plate variant

Patent Applied: Dec 30, 1936
Patent Number: 2,132,792
Patent Granted: Oct 11, 1938
Post Mounting: Flat head screw

In 1936, John Kluson patented a guitar tuner that looks remarkably similar to the modern units we see today. Not much has changed on these in 80 years owing to the innovation of his designs.

These tuners use bent "wings" on the mounting bracket for the worm gear (Fig 6, Fig 7) which were designed to facilitate "...preventing outward bending or distortion of the plate metal brackets in response to end thrust of the shaft resulting from a tuning operation..." This solved the problem of the brackets being bent out of square with each other and resulting in tuners that would bind or not work effectively. 

Also note the use of a screw to mount the gear to the tuner post.

1938

1938-1939 Kay K-60 archtop
Patent Applied: ?
Patent Number: ?
Patent Granted: ?
Post Mounting: Circular stamped

These tuners have an etched border around the plate for decoration which puts these as tuners which would only appear on high end models. They have the stamped shaft except the stamp is circular and not shaped like seen in later models.

1943

Image Credit: [1]
1946 Gretsch New Yorker
Patent Applied: April 10, 1943
Patent Number: 2,356,766
Patent Granted: August 29, 1944
Post Mounting: Rounded rectangle stamp, removable

Likely inspired by rationing of materials during WWII, these tuners are notable for their stamped yet removable posts and their thin gears (Fig 5). The gear is affixed to the tuning post via stamped metal but is easily removable by tilting the gear away from the worm gear and pushing the tuner through the plate (Fig 7). 

1948

1948-1949 Silvertone Aristocrat 712

Patent Applied: ?
Patent Number: ?
Patent Granted: ?
Post Mounting: Waffle stamped

These are the individual Kluson tuners with the waffle stamped posts affixed to the gears.

1949

Image Credit: [3]

Patent Applied: Oct 7, 1949
Patent Number: 2,557,877
Patent Granted: June 19, 1951
Post Mounting: Unknown

These were Kluson's design for slot head tuners. Note the departure from the typical decorative plate edges into something a little more rectangular. 

Era of Closed Back Tuners

#1 Image Credit: [4]
#2 Image Credit: [5]

#3 Image Credit: [6]



Patent Applied: June 8, 1949
Patent Number: 160,400 and 160,399 and 160,397
Patent Granted: Oct 10, 1950

These are three Kluson tuner gear housings which were patented in 1949 and all approved on 1950. 
  1. The ubiquitous Kluson case which can be found on most sets of sealed Kluson tuners and on nearly all the modern reproductions. 
  2. Kluson "waffle back" tuners 
  3. A tuner housing with two concentric circles engraved on the back
40s Kluson "Deluxe" closed back tuners
(w/o second tuner hole in the casing)

GuitarHQ mentions 1947 as being the earliest date of Kluson enclosed tuners [7]. At the earliest, 1947 was the year that Kluson switched from open back to closed back tuners.

The best guide for closed back Kluson tuners is GuitarHQ

Sources

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