“Anything that touches the string is God”: PRS has re-engineered the shape of its tuners – and the new design could have a game-changing impact on tone

PRS Wing button tuners
(Image credit: PRS)

PRS is well-known for the sheer scope of its electric guitar engineering efforts, but its latest innovation – a new approach to tuning machines – might just be its most intriguing yet.

The latest development ushers in the Maryland brand’s new ‘Wing button’ tuner shape, which has sought to completely re-define and re-engineer the performance of the humble tuner, both aesthetically and tonally.

Notably, the Wing buttons have been in the works for a long time: before PRS was even a thing, in fact. According to the brand itself, the arrival of the new-look tuners finally sees the realization of “Paul Reed Smith’s original vision from around 1980, years before the company itself existed”.

Specifically, they featured on Smith’s sketch for the “Sorcerer's Apprentice” guitar blueprint – one of the guitar mastermind’s first original designs prior to PRS’ formation in ‘85.

PRS Wing button tuners

(Image credit: PRS)

So, what’s so innovative about these tuners? Well, cosmetically they're designed to echo the 12th fret bird wingspan design, but the change isn’t just ergonomic. Instead, they were “first and foremost” designed to increase the tonality of the guitars that feature them.

That’s because, as Paul Reed Smith himself has put it in the past, “anything that touches the string is God”, and as such plays a key part in the overall six-string sound equation. That includes the tuners themselves, which see their posts wrapped in surplus string to hold them in place. 

In practice, the Wing buttons reduce the overall weight on the headstock in an attempt to make the guitar sound more musical – in other words, the neck and headstock are under less pressure, which supposedly “rounds out” the upper level of the instrument’s tone.

This is in comparison to conventional metal tuners that are much heavier, and that can lead to a duller tone with more dead spots.

“These new buttons help to open up the vowel sound of the guitar. By having less weight on the headstock, the whole guitar sounds more musical,” Smith said. “As one of the few parts of a guitar to physically touch the guitar string, the tuners can either enhance or dampen the frequency of string vibration. 

“Strings are the only part of the guitar itself that produces sound, you don’t want anything to dampen or flatten that sound before it can even register with the pickups.”

The Wing button tuners will be rolled out across PRS’ Core Series, and will be attached to both locking and non-locking tuner formats.

In the age of modern guitar design, it really is the marginal gains that set great guitars apart from exceptional ones. Will we be looking back at this release in years to come as a turning point in the development of the modern guitar, and can we expect to see other brands follow the PRS precedent? Only time will tell.

To find out more, head over to PRS.

As well as taking the time to debut a new tuner design, PRS has also unveiled two new finishes for John Mayer's Silver Sky signature guitar – and one of them is a long-awaited fan favorite.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.