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Guitar tuners are a dime a dozen, right?
Well, not so fast.
Tech has come a long way, and there are more options available than ever before. Not only that but tuners come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes – some bulky, some small, some accurate, some a little off, some feature rich and some feature poor…
Frankly, you don’t want to end up with a bad tuner, because there’s just no excuse. With tuners, you can pay a little and get a lot.
So, here are some of the best guitar tuners available:
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TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Polyphonic LED Guitar Tuner Pedal
Okay, so what’s so great about the PolyTune 3?
I think what guitar players love most is that it’s a polyphonic tuner as opposed to a monophonic tuner, meaning you can tune all strings simultaneously. I mean, that’s a little inaccurate, because you only have so many hands and fingers. But what this means is that you can see how in-tune or out of tune all of your strings are at the same time.
I also think some guitar players just love having a pedal tuner as opposed to a conventional tuner. By including it in their signal chain, they can use it and quickly tune up at any time (i.e. in between songs).
Additionally, the Bonafide Buffer should help you preserve your tone, as that can be a concern for guitarists using a lot of pedals on stage.
And, if that wasn’t enough, this is a highly accurate and beloved tuner among amateurs and pros alike. Hard to go wrong here.
There’s no question TC Electronic has done something right with this unit.
Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Tuner
If you like the idea of a pedal tuner, here’s another great choice. The Korg Pitchblack is highly durable thanks to its die cast aluminum housing. Its display is easy to read, it comes with 100% True Bypass, it boasts a 60-hour battery life and the price point isn’t too shabby either.
While not bad to look at, arguably the PolyTune is a little easier on the eyes. But that’s not the only difference here.
This tuner doesn’t have polyphonic mode. That may not be a deal breaker in itself. But it also isn’t the most accurate tuner. It does a good job – just not as good as some of the other tuners on this list.
Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal
There is one more pedal tuner worth mentioning – and that’s the Boss TU-3. The popularity of Boss sometimes defies explanation (they don’t have the best effects pedals, though they certainly don’t have the worst pedals either). Consider the fact that Boss pedals are probably among the most modified pedals out there.
Okay, so the TU-3 isn’t bad. I have a good amount of experience with it at open mics and such. When engaged, it will mute your signal. So that’s a good thing when you’re constantly unplugging and plugging in different guitars.
It has a rock-solid construction, which is always a benefit. The display is nice and large and easy to read, and you can use it for drop tuning as well.
When the TU-2 was originally released, I think Boss essentially became the industry standard in the realm of pedal tuners. But the TU-3 is not a quantum leap ahead. It’s definitely a solid improvement on the TU-2, but not much more.
If you’re looking for a more accurate tuner, they’re not hard to find. The buffered bypass can be a take it or leave it depending on your preferences. And, again, while not a deal breaker, it’s not a polyphonic tuner.
I think the PolyTune is the clear winner in the pedal tuner category, but it’s nice to know there are options. The Boss is still worth considering as it does what it was designed to do quite well.
Korg CA-50 Tuner
I’ve often held up Korg tuners as the gold standard of guitar tuners.
Look – they aren’t the most expensive. Certainly not the fanciest. But I find them to be accurate and reliable. They have a long battery life, and if you need to down tune your guitar, they handle that quite well too.
The Korg CA-50 is a basic tuner. If you want more advanced models, Korg has got them. You can get them with built-in metronomes, clip-on microphones and other features if you so desire.
Something you should be aware of is that these tuners are far more accurate if you plug your instrument into them. There’s an “Input” for a reason. And, when tuning, don’t forget to turn the volume on your guitar up, as otherwise the tuner won’t be able to pick up anything you’re playing.
So, for a good all-around tuner, the Korg is worth checking out.
Snark SN-8 Super Tight All Instrument Tuner
The Snark SN-8 is a popular tuner these days, and for good reason. It’s affordable, easy to use and relatively reliable.
It simply clips on to the headstock of your guitar, so all you need to do is turn it on, play a string and start tuning.
Sure, it’s not as fancy as some other clip-on tuners out there. But it definitely gets the job done. And, if you think you need a polyphonic tuner, then you should probably get a handheld or pedal tuner anyway.
Now, some people say the SN-8 is a little inaccurate. I haven’t found that to be the case, but you must have a good idea of how guitar tuners work. I’ve used at least a dozen different guitar tuners, so I’m used to how they function. Some people aren’t.
I think one thing many guitarists don’t know is that there can be a slight delay between when you pick a note and its representation onscreen. So, if you aren’t accounting for that delay, yes, your readings will always be inaccurate, and you’ll constantly be trying to compensate for it. Some tuners are a little more “instantaneous”, but it makes sense that there would be slight delay, doesn’t it?
One more thing. The batteries in the Snark tuners do have a decent life. The only issue is that you may inadvertently leave the tuner on without knowing (sometimes it’s not clear looking at the display), which can obviously drain your battery. Replacing the battery in these can also be a pain. It’s almost more economical to buy a new Snark than to have to go through the process of replacing the battery.
Korg PB05 Pitchblack Pro 1U Rackmount Guitar And Bass Tuner
For guitarists who prefer to keep all their effects in their rack. The PB05 Pitchblack Pro 1U is stylish and affordable.
It’s also a no-nonsense, lightweight chromatic tuner with LEDs and three meter display modes: regular, strobe and half-strobe. The Cable Checker is also handy as it will warn you if your instrument cable is broken or shorted.
The tuner is always on and can be seen clearly across a dark stage.
For pros and avid performers, the PB05 is a must-see.
Roadie 2 – Best Standalone Automatic Smart Guitar Tuner For All String Instruments
Now for something a little different. The Roadie 2 isn’t just a guitar tuner. It’s also a string winder. So, once you’ve selected what instrument you’re tuning, and how you want to tune it (standard, Drop D, etc.), you can simply place the Roadie 2 on each tuning peg and play the string. The tuner does the rest.
It may sound too good to be true, but I’ve had the opportunity to test this thing out, and I can honestly say when it works, it works.
But I still have some criticisms. For starters, I don't think the technology is perfect. I had repeated issues with lower strings, specifically the low E. The display would often tell me that I was tuning the wrong string, even though I clearly wasn’t.
I wasn’t even sure how to hold the unit at first either, as the entire tuner rotates while its manipulating tuning pegs. Best I can gather, you need to hold the rectangular part while its tuning and it seems like you’re supposed to hold it in place while it’s rotating (though your inclination might be to let it spin on its own).
While accurate, I’m also not convinced that the tuner is more efficient. A skilled guitar player could use an average tuner and quickly get their guitar in tune. With the Roadie 2, the machine does the work, and like I said, sometimes it works perfectly. But it’s not 100% of the time.
The controls are good, the display is great, and the concept is awesome. So, I want to love it, but don’t think it’s perfect yet. Regardless, if you’re going to go with the Roadie, be patient with learning how to use it and ensure that you clearly understand how it works.
Best Guitar Tuner App For iPhone On iTunes: Fender Tune
Now for a couple of apps. I’ve used a few myself, and they all work to some degree. It can be a bit of a nuisance having to carry so many devices, so it can be kind of nice to have a streamlined solution like a smartphone app.
The Fender Tune app is easy, free to use and is available for both iOS and Android. The app also offers a few beginner tips, and if you’re willing to shill out a bit more, you can access other cool features like metronome, drum beats, chord finder, scale diagrams and so on.
Now, as you can probably guess, there are better tuners out there. An app will only take you so far even if it was developed by Fender. But it’s hard to argue with free.
Best Guitar Tuner App For Android Phones On Google Play: Boss Tuner
Here’s a great Android-only solution. Boss already has all manner of tuners, but they also have the Boss Tuner app – and, it’s not too shabby.
It’s free to use, and quite versatile. It can tune most stringed and fretted instruments – the interface is straightforward, and you can check out the latest happenings at Boss if you’re so inclined.
Best of all, you won’t be sold to either. There are no in-app purchases to be had. But of course, you will still be marketed to.
What Should I Look For In A Guitar Tuner?
Okay, so there are a lot of options to choose from. There are clip-on, handheld, pedal, rack mount and mobile app tuners. Which one is right for you?
Well, you certainly don’t need to overthink it but here are a few things I would consider if I was buying a tuner.
If you have a good ear, maybe total accuracy isn’t necessary. But if your ear isn’t your strong suit, and you’re dependent on the tuner, you’re going to want to get a tuner that’s accurate.
Your tuner should be easy to take with you wherever you go.
A guitar teacher, for instance, probably doesn’t need to bring a rack mount tuner to the studio (unless they're planning to keep it in the studio).
So, it’s nice to have a bit of flexibility here.
A tuner should be reasonably durable. A handheld tuner is easy to drop. A pedal gets stomped on. A rack mount unit should stay in a rack, but since you might be taking it in and out, it should still hold up to some abuse. Clip-on tuners are perhaps the least likely to get damaged, as they can just sit on your headstock. But they can still fall.
So, a sturdy tuner is good to have.
One last criterion for consideration is budget, though unless you’re looking at the top tier rack mount tuners, you’re probably not going to be spending an arm and a leg on it. Generally, tuners are quite affordable.
The Best Guitar Tuners And Tuner Apps; Final Thoughts
A guitar tuner is a must-have. It just makes your life easier as a guitarist. Sure, you can always tune by ear or use other reference points (like other instruments), but you probably won’t sound as in-tune doing that. Using a tuner is just more professional, and if you’re planning to play a lot of gigs, you should have a tuner on hand at all times, and be diligent about using it.