Our first and only headless ViK Domineer H model was presented at NAMM’20. The story of development will be posted on the upcoming new web-site. Here we would like to focus on one of the most important part of the headless design – the tuners, which in this case are also the bridges. 2-in-1 for the price of 3)). Which I wish were a joke but at those days the price of a single headless unit was pretty ridiculous, mostly because there were only few options available on the market.
I’ve had a chance to personally experience most of those units and to be honest all of them had issues. Some had bad design, some were poorly made, some poorly sounded bad and some were just too much trouble to obtain due to their manufacturing location and shipping/payment procedure. Despite all the difficulties mentioned below my original choice landed on Huntung as they seemed as the best overall choice to equip the upcoming headless model. However we hit the supply issue and those tuner/bridges would not be available or guaranteed delivered in time for the NAMM show. Just around that autumn 2019 I met an Aussie guy named Remco, the owner of Apollo Music parts company, who was working with my colleague on their own headless bridge design and who gladly offered their options to me. While there were couple of features that could be improved overall I was satisfied with the product they offered and thus the tuners made it to the original 5 Domineers. First time installation and setup took a ton of time with all the dozens of hex screws to be screwed and adjusted. We even had to move our NAMM show arrival to have enough time to set them all up properly. However during the show and after I was rather pleased with the performance and tonal qualities of the system. One of the greatest was surely incredible stability of tuning with them. An instrument could literally stay in tune for weeks with only minor adjustments. Replacing the strings would certainly be a lot more work than you’d have to put in compared to normal electric guitars but thanks to their design, some things were actually easier than they could have been.
Let’s dive in and go thru some of the features this system provides.
1. All solid brass design. Brass is one of the most (if not the most) musical metals. It has excellent tonal and physical qualities which produce great “warm” sound, durability and fairly easy manufacturing process. The base, body, tuning head, tuning thread and the nut are all made out of solid brass.
2. The quality of the threads and the tuning ratio are absolutely amazing which gives you smooth fine tuning and precise setup performance like no other bridge.
3. The ability to leave the string “ball” on is one of the best features. You don’t have to clip the end and mess with the string’s wounding. You just feed the string thru the core and lock it with nice “mushroom” head screw that is made of rust free metal to prevent corrosion and it also feels soft on your palm, unlike a typical hex screw would.
3. Apollo went thru the trouble of creating custom sets of ball bearings to fit the diameter of the tuner. The purpose of this design is to reduce/eliminate friction when turning the tuning head, hence smooth and easy operation. You only need to put effort into stretching the string to get the pitch, not fight friction of materials like on many other tuners.
4. String height adjustment was a bit of an issue on the earlier design as the threads were too wide on the brass nut and even half a turn would be too much. They have fixed that on the current model and also made the nut cavity going all the way thru the body so you have all the height range you can possible need. They even provide a tool for easy adjustment of the brass nut. You can also lock the nut with a hex screw on the edge of the tuner body for greater tuning stability and sustain.
5. The seemingly round pipe style body has flat bottom that sit solid on the matched platform with U style lips/edges. This design totally eliminates any movement sideways or up/downwards and sends lots of vibrations into the guitar body if installed right.
6. Apollo Music Parts now laser etches letter “A” on the side of their tuner body.
On the down side adjusting the scale on these tuners is a bit of a hassle as you have to tune down/loosen the string every time to unlock and move the tuner body. Good thing you only have to do it once or when you change strings gauge dramatically. The tuner heads could have a better grip surface but that mostly depends on the type of plating they come with.
Now to the real reason this story had to be posted and the questions addressed. This tuner design due to its visual appearance comes with a bit of a history and as it turned out is associated with bad reputation created by some cheap guitars they allegedly were equipped with. I don’t know all the details and certainly not the one to spread rumors or dig into other people’s dirt so I will try to keep it as simple as it can be put.
The original design of this tuner model was not perfect with numerous issues to solve while the people behind it were working on improvements. To make things worse (with China being China) the design was “hijacked” by a Chinese manufacture that went on mass producing it on their own and selling on eBay and other places as well as equipping some cheap guitars with it. Those tuners were way worse quality and those cheap guitars gave the owners lots of issues which were often blamed on the tuners.
Apollo Music parts tried their best to resolve the situation but you can’t really do much (legally) when dealing with China and so they just moved on, investing their money and energy into perfecting the design and the quality of the product. They now produce truly worthy product based on a solid and well thought through design and a very high quality manufacturing process.
Those cheap knock-offs are still sold on eBay and equipped on some cheap guitars but they are a very different product and should not be associated with these Apollo Music tuners we use, even though they look much alike.
For me it wouldn’t be a problem to just switch to another bridge/tuner and avoid any confusion. That’s probably what most builders would do. However I have made quite a few wonderful instruments with them and have first hand personal experience with the product and the people behind it. I had a chance to provide certain feedback to them and (a rare thing) they have actually listened and improved and still improving the design and that’s why we are going to keep using those tuners on ViK and Envoy headless models, unless a customer requests something else.
Bottom line, this is a good product, professionally made with quality materials. Yes it’s made in China but so is your iPhone and most of the things you wear, drive and consume in your day to day life. It’s about the standards manufacturers set for their products, nothing else. The real problem is that there are way too many people with “opinions” on the internet. Most of them have very little knowledge or understanding of what they are talking about but it doesn’t stop them from spreading those opinions anyway. Not that we ever cared of what they have to say on the internet but maybe this piece of information will help you start questioning what you read or hear and build your own opinion based on actual experience, not hearsay.