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It doesn’t matter how good you are, having a tuner for your guitar or bass is a necessity. There’s no quicker way to ruin a performance than playing out of tune, even if only slightly.
Getting a tuner pedal ensures that you’ll always have a point of reference for your instrument. That means no more having to rely on natural harmonics!
Snag one of these pedals and everyone within earshot (including your bandmates) will thank you.
Peterson StroboStomp HD – Best Overall
For something to be considered the best tuner available, it must meet a certain set of criteria. Being able to tune to an accurate and precise degree is an obvious necessity.
The Peterson StroboStomp HD (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) takes the cake for the current best tuner. This pedal is insanely accurate to the minutest increment and is compatible with both bass and guitar.
You might find that the StroboStomp HD works a little differently than your average tuner. This is a strobe tuner, which has a continually rotating wheel to display tuning points, with directions indicating the following:
- Counter-clockwise direction indicates that the played pitch is flat compared to the reference pitch
- Clockwise direction indicates that the played pitch is sharp
As such, the speed at which the strobe spins indicates the distance you are from the pitch. Needless to say, this digital version will allow you to tune precisely within 0.1-cent accuracy.
The StroboStomp HD has 25 different tuning modes, supporting multiple instruments including the banjo and mandolin. You can even tune 9 and 12-string guitars, as well as 6-string basses, with no issue at all.
In fact, the StroboStomp HD provides 100 different tunings, all of which are guided by string. All of your common tunings have preset functions to which you can also customize and program the tuner’s screen color.
As far as range goes, the StroboStomp HD spans C0 to A#8. You can set the Concert A reference pitch anywhere between 390Hz and 490Hz.
The StroboStomp HD supports standard use modes, including:
- True-bypass signal silencing (when engaged)
- Always-on monitor mode (buffered)
Why Is The Peterson StroboStomp HD The Best Overall?
If you do any sort of fine-tuning on your guitar (such as setting intonation) the StroboStomp HD is a must-have. Conventional tuners can do the trick, but only something like the StroboStomp HD can be as painstakingly accurate.
In fact, if you were to visit your local guitar tech, chances are likely that they use a strobe tuner. This might take a little getting used to, but you definitely won’t regret giving this a try.
You might actually be surprised at how much you can perceive the tuning difference between this and other tuners. With the difference being this perceptible, you might question how much in tune you were in the past.
Maybe the only drawback is that others might not be as accurately tuned as you are. This could make you (or the others in your band) sound as if they weren’t in tune.
Of course, that’s probably not likely to happen, but it would create an interesting dilemma to have to solve.
The StroboStomp HD is a very comprehensive tuner with a massive range of tuning abilities. It seems that no matter what instrument you play, the StroboStomp HD can accommodate you.
Plus, the ability to customize the screen color means that you’ll never have to worry about visibility issues. You can even use this to organize the typical tunings you find yourself using.
Cheaper tuners with smaller housings can definitely be had. But none compare to the accuracy and versatility that the StroboStomp HD provides.
Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner – Best Premium
Have a little extra to spend? In this case, it doesn’t hurt to spend some cash on something extremely practical.
As a volume pedal, the regular Ernie Ball VPJR is one of the best-rated on the market. Combining it with a tuner makes it that much more of a bargain.
The volume function works by shifting a potentiometer with a long Kevlar string. Rock your foot back and forth on the pedal and the volume will swell in and out.
Aside from that, this version of the VPJR Tuner is powered (where the base model is passive). This gives you a buffered bypass and allows the tuner function to work as intended.
The tuner itself has a screen embedded into the top of the foot pedal. You can change the tuning display to different styles, including:
While this could work for bass, it’s perhaps most recommended for the guitar. Ernie Ball has ensured this tuner has an accuracy of 0.1-cent with a range of reference frequencies available.
The tuner function can be set to work in a continual monitoring fashion, or by cutting the volume.
As you would hope to expect from something that gets heavy use, the VPJR Tuner is incredibly rugged. The aluminum housing can withstand just about anything, allowing for confidence when you’re traveling and playing on tour.
What Makes The Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner Worth Its Price?
Spending this much on a volume pedal and/or tuner is enough to make you question its price. Is it really practical to spend this much money on something that is extraordinarily basic by most measures?
Well, anyone that has ever owned a volume pedal can tell you that they are quite large. Choosing to have one on a pedalboard sacrifices quite a bit of space, especially when used with a tuner.
The VPJR Tuner allows you to keep the volume pedal while gaining space for an additional pedal on your board. In a sense, there’s only a reward to be had for going this route if this is your preferred setup.
Of course, it might still be a little difficult to justify spending this much on a pedal like this. But, if you really think about it, you would spend about this much if you bought each separately.
So, essentially, the price of each pedal is baked into the single cost of the VPJR Tuner. For something so convenient and practical, the VPJR Tuner is a no-brainer if you use a volume pedal.
Maybe the only concern to really have is how well the screen will hold up after constantly being underfoot. I’m sure that with consistent cleaning, the screen will remain intact without visual issues.
Even if the tuner did decide to bork out for whatever reason, the volume capability would still be functioning. It’s not the equivalent of a perfectly good Smart TV being rendered useless by the inability to connect to Wi-Fi.
The screen itself is quite easy to read on the VPJR Tuner, with each pitch and reference point being large. There are even different housing colors available, including:
On-Stage Mini Pedal Tuner – Best Budget
If you want your tuner to take up the smallest amount of space possible, this will suffice. This pedal is housed in a miniature 3.6” x 1.5” size, with a fairly rugged metallic housing material.
The tuner display itself utilizes 4 different colors in a gradient to express accuracy in relation to your tuning. Like most conventional tuners, the Mini Pedal Tuner utilizes the gradient to tell you whether you are sharp or flat.
However, if you wanted to, you can change the tuning display to either strobe or half-strobe modes. This kind of versatility is a little unexpected when it comes to something so inexpensive.
While the overall cost is definitely a plus, it does mean the tuner isn’t exactly as accurate as other models. This tuner’s accuracy rates to 0.5-cent, which is usable in pretty much any realistic situation aside from fine-tuning.
The Mini Pedal Tuner is appropriate for both bass and guitar, with a reference range of 430Hz to 450Hz.
Simply click the pedal on when you want to tune, and the true bypass switching will cut your signal. Playing without the pedal engaged will leave the signal untarnished by any sonic artifact.
Does The On-Stage Mini Pedal Tuner Compare To Higher-Priced Tuner Pedals?
The Mini Pedal Tuner from On-Stage might be inexpensive, but it is a serious contender to consider. In some ways, this pedal presents a true David vs Goliath situation regarding practical pedal tuners.
On-Stage is typically known for producing some of the best instrument stands on the market. So, it isn’t a surprise to see them making pedals, but it isn’t the first thing you would expect, either.
With that being said, the Mini Pedal Tuner gives an incredible amount of convenience and utility for its price. You don’t need to think very hard to understand the benefits of its smaller housing size.
There are a few drawbacks you might want to consider if you do go this route. The first would be that there are no programmable preset functions when it comes to alternate tunings.
Secondly, it doesn’t function in an always-on monitoring mode. So, you’ll be stuck with the bypass function (which is the most common method anyways).
Thirdly, the Mini Pedal Tuner definitely does not have the range of options that other tuners provide. But it does provide multiple display modes as well as accommodation for guitar and bass, which is a definite plus.
And really, most guitarists don’t need anything too over-the-top when it comes to the tuner in their rig. Heck, even despite having slightly less accuracy than other pedals, the Mini Pedal Tuner is more than suitable for use.
The Mini Pedal Tuner is perhaps the most ideal pedal tuner for somebody that wants a no-frills tuner. Plug it in and click it on to use, and that’s pretty much all that’s being offered here.
And, while that sounds bad, at the end of the day, that’s all you really need in a tuner anyway.
Boss’s iconic tuner has essentially been the industry standard by which all other tuner pedals are created and judged. And even though some tuners might have some advantages over this, the TU-3 is still an extremely popular choice.
The TU-3 is very simple to use, with a display of 21 LED lights provided for tuning status during use. When the correct pitch is attained, the tuner’s green light will illuminate in the center of the tuning bar.
As far as accuracy, range, and reference pitches, the Boss TU-3 measures:
- 436Hz to 445Hz for Concert A pitch
- C0 to C8 tuning range
- 1-cent accuracy
For those of you who tune in lower tunings, the TU-3 is more than capable of meeting the task. This can essentially tune 3 whole steps below regular E standard tuning.
As such, the TU-3 makes a viable choice for the bassist looking for a tuning pedal solution in their rig.
The TU-3’s standard mode of operation mutes the guitar’s signal output when the pedal is engaged. However, you can also put it in the effects loop for continuous monitoring if you prefer.
You also have the option to tune freely in chromatic mode or follow a guided tuning through each string. Guitars and basses with extra strings are supported.
Like every other pedal mentioned in this list, the TU-3 uses a standard 9V DC power supply. It also has the option to be powered by a 9V battery.
An interesting thing to note here is that the TU-3 has a power output, allowing you to power other pedals.
What Is So Special About The Boss TU-3?
Let me first start out by giving you a scenario. In the end, think to yourself whether or not something like this has value.
You purchase a pedal, which consistently gets used throughout hundreds of gigs and thousands of rehearsals over 12 years. The pedal finds itself being used time and again, without any sign of failure.
That is the true story of my own personal Boss TU-3, which I purchased sometime around 2010-2012. Despite my fuzzy memory, I do know that this pedal has been through the wringer.
Yet, no matter what craziness has happened in the past, my TU-3 remains one of my most dependable pedals. And even though better tuners do exist, I don’t see a need to replace the TU-3.
In my opinion, this kind of dependability is something far more valuable that the price tag the pedal carries. Sure, it’s a little expensive considering how basic it is, and maybe you are paying for the Boss name.
However, this is one instance where I feel that paying the premium reaps the benefits of an established brand’s reputation. I highly doubt you’ll have any issues using this tuner, as, for over a decade, my own has remained flawless.
Any issues that you do have can likely be summed up to user error or a fluke in manufacturing. Aside from that, I would trust this to tune my guitar when playing in Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden.
It definitely isn’t the most attractive pedal in the world, but Boss has at least upgraded it slightly. The tuning lights are now much easier to read than what’s featured on my personal model from a decade ago.
Primarily, this pedal’s selling point is in its function and practicality, with the added sense of durability. It’s hard to find that with any other pedal, plain and simple.
TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini
In fact, if you want the cut-and-dry explanation, the PolyTune revolutionized tuner pedal designs. This miniature version only expands and improves upon the classic features that make this tuner so popular.
The tuner itself has a display screen consisting of many different LED lights. Despite being blocky in nature, these LED grids are actually quite descriptive when using the pedal.
The PolyTune 3 Mini does have an automatic sensor that adjusts the screen’s brightness to the environment. A feature like this is wonderful, especially because gigs can take place at any time of day (or night).
This pedal actually supports both chromatic and strobe tuning modes, each with its own accuracy margin:
- 0.5 cents (chromatic)
- 0.02 cents (strobe)
Unfortunately, the PolyTune 3 Mini only supports the Concert A reference pitch frequency of 440Hz. However, this probably isn’t all that big of a deal for most guitarists.
One of the things that make the PolyTune 3 Mini so special is that it has 2 different tuning modes. You can choose to tune by each string, or you can choose to strum chords.
If using the latter, the tuner will display which strings are out of tune in relation to the other pitches. This obviously makes tuning a quick experience and can be handy in the middle of a song.
The PolyTune 3 Mini even supports alternate tunings so you can tune in open tunings with ease.
A standard 9V DC power supply is required to power this pedal. True Bypass is supported, with the option to switch to Buffered Bypass if desired.
Of course, the biggest factor that makes the PolyTune 3 Mini so special is that it is relatively affordable. Compared to every tuner on this list, the PolyTune 3 Mini is the 2nd most inexpensive offering.
Is The TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini Worth Anybody’s Time?
If I’m being honest, the PolyTune 3 Mini has one of the highest recommendations I could give a tuner. In fact, it has consistently been one of my top recommendations over the last few years.
It doesn’t take a genius to see why the PolyTune 3 Mini would be such a noteworthy pick. For a small sum of money, you acquire an extremely accurate tuner that doesn’t take up much space.
Just that alone should be enough to have you standing in line at the register to purchase your own. Factor in the different modes and capabilities and the PolyTune 3 Mini becomes the only tuner you’ll ever need.
It isn’t every day that the industry witnesses a revolution to something as simple as a tuner pedal. When the PolyTune hit the market, it was a hype machine where the results matched the hype.
Seriously, how many other pedals offer the capability to tune a guitar simply by playing a chord? If you were wondering where the pedal gets its name, it no doubt is related to this polyphonic feature.
Even though the PolyTune 3 Mini didn’t rank at the top, I still give this tuner the highest recommendation possible. The only reason it isn't at the top is that there are other things worth trying and checking out.
This pedal, along with the TU-3, will likely remain the industry standard tuner pedals for decades to come. Seriously, this pedal is that good.
Like my beloved TU-3, I’ve known musicians to have the same PolyTune 3 Mini on their board for years. This pedal is definitely built to last and packed with a consistency to be trusted day in and day out.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a similarly-priced tuner providing the same level of accuracy as the PolyTune 3 Mini.
What To Look For When Buying A Tuner Pedal For Guitar Or Bass
Tuners are simple in concept, is there all that much to be aware of when looking for a tuner pedal? Well, if you’ve never had a tuner, it might be a little overwhelming trying to decide on a tuner pedal.
There are more options for tuner pedals now than perhaps at any period in time before. This range of options is great but doesn’t help those who don’t know what they are looking at.
Fortunately, there really is no need to complicate things when it comes to buying a pedal tuner. Let the following information guide you to your own conclusions regarding your own individual tuner pedal needs.
Display & Tuner Type
For the most part, tuner pedals are very similar across the entire industry. A display is provided on the pedal to give you real-time monitoring of your tuning.
However, you will want to be a little discerning as to what kind of display you want. A basic LCD might be all that you need, but you might also opt for something a little more detailed.
Make sure to get a tuner that you can easily see in the dark as well as in bright-light situations. This will give you a hint at how it might work in real-life scenarios when playing on the stage.
You’ll also want to give consideration to the color of the lights being used on the tuner. Some colors become unbelievably hard to see in certain scenarios (looking at you red in the daylight).
Speaking of which, this leads us to the need to mention that there are different tuners on the market. The standard tuner design features a moving line to indicate where the guitar is in its tuning.
Strobing tuners have a little bit of a different display, with the reference point generally being static in nature. Rather, the reference point stays true while the instrument’s current tuning is reflected in the background.
Some people feel that strobing tuners are a little more accurate and sensitive toward their duty. It’s for this reason that you’ll commonly find this variety being used among guitar techs.
Regardless of the tuner, it should have an accuracy of no larger than a 1-cent margin of error.
Compatibility & Range
The most obvious factor you’ll need to be on the lookout for is the pedal’s compatibility. Is it built specifically for guitar or bass, or can it conveniently work with both types of instruments?
Anymore, it’s probably a bit more common to find pedals that work with both basses and guitars. However, it is still something you’ll not feel very good about ignorantly overlooking when shopping.
If you’re an instrumentalist that plays outside of E Standard tuning, you’ll want to inspect for alternative modes. A tuner that won’t allow you to tune to an alternate tuning defeats the purpose of having a tuner.
Most pedals will be able to accommodate the tuning you have in mind. However, not every tuner will go about offering this capability in the same way.
Some pedals will have programmed preset functions that guide you through the tuning in question. Each successive string’s programmed pitch (for that specific tuning) will be reflected upon playing each string.
If you aren’t exactly sure what the pitches are in, say, Open-D tuning, then something like this can help. Otherwise, tuners will just respond to the pitch being played, allowing you to tune accordingly.
Similarly, you will also want to inspect whether or not the tuner offers different tuning frequencies. 440Hz tends to be the norm, but some musicians do prefer to play at 432Hz.
Another thing to consider is whether or not the tuner has anything extra that can make tuning a faster process. Some tuners will allow a chord to be strummed, displaying the strings that are not in tune.
For such a basic pedal, you might actually be surprised at how much there is to consider beyond simple tuning. Because the tuner is such a basic thing, it’s seen some reinvention over the years.
Most tuners will cut the guitar signal so that you can conveniently tune in silence. Depending on the setup, the tuner can also operate in an always-on fashion, working like a monitor.
Tuners have also been incorporated into other pedals as an extra feature. This might be more practical in terms of both budget and size concerns.
If you’ve looked into the display case of a store’s collection of pedals, you know they come in different sizes. Now, generally, the vast majority of pedals come in a very similar sizing of about 5 inches by 3 inches.
This varies quite a bit, especially with pedals that have multiple channels and/or effects and features. Alternatively, pedals also come in a miniature size, often offering the same controls and function.
Because of its simplicity, you might not want to dedicate a large space for the tuner on a pedalboard. Despite being frequently used, it’s one of those things that tend to be best not to take up much space.
Any tuner beyond the standard sizing of 5”x3” isn't recommended as there is no practical need for this. Tuners have been digitized to fit on a headstock, why should it be so large in a guitar pedal format?
Alternatively, finding a pedal that combines a tuner with something else might actually make a lot of sense. You’d need to make sure that the tuner was accessible at all times without engaging/disengaging the other effect(s).
Pedalboards only have so much space to be able to put things. Challenge yourself to be as scrupulous as possible when it comes to organizing and maintaining the board’s free space.
Your budget will always play a factor in any piece of guitar or bass-related gear you ever purchase beyond strings. How much should you really spend on a tuner pedal?
That’s actually a good question, and it really depends on what your needs, tastes, and preferences are. Tuners definitely can be acquired for a very low price, especially if being purchased used.
Is paying $100 too much for a tuner pedal? Not necessarily, and I’ll explain why, despite tuners existing for less than $50.
Durability, consistency, and accuracy are all things that you need to look for in a tuner pedal. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, these 3 things will be affected in some way.
Even though you don’t use them during songs, tuners actually take quite a beating after a while. You’ll want to find a tuner that can withstand these rigors while always remaining consistent and accurate.
In general, it’s best to first consider what you need in a tuner before worrying about its overall cost. Tuners rarely exceed $200 and those instances are usually accommodated with a good reason for the cost.
Do you need something small with multiple tuning modes and a large display? You can easily find something under $100 (or less if buying used).
Is It Better To Use A Tuner Pedal Rather Than A Headstock Tuner?
You might wonder whether it’s worth getting a pedal tuner when headstock tuners work just as well and are cheaper. It’s my opinion that, if you play in a band, you should have a pedal tuner.
Headstock tuners are magnificent in their convenience and it doesn’t hurt to have one or two on hand. However, these are more practical in acoustic situations where you might not necessarily have a rig to worry about.
That isn’t to say headstock tuners don’t work with electric instruments (they do, quite well actually). But, once you’re in a room surrounded by noise, the headstock tuner can have difficulty deciphering the instrument’s pitch.
Pedals work every time, often cutting out the instrument signal at the same time. Plus, if it’s on a pedalboard, the tuner never gets lost or has its batteries run dry, leaving you screwed.
So, in general, get both, but definitely get a pedal tuner if you’re playing with a guitar rig. This could include electric instruments with amplifiers/computers, as well as acoustic instruments plugged into a mixer.
Best Brands For Tuner Pedals
The following brands make some of the best tuner pedals to be found on the market. You can’t go wrong if you choose one of their pedals as the solution to tuning your instrument.
Boss is perhaps one of the biggest effect pedal manufacturers of the last 50 years or so. Their TU tuner series has essentially been the industry standard tuner pedal ever since it was first introduced.
TC Electronic changed the game and showed the industry that the tuner could be revolutionized for modern capabilities. The company’s PolyTune series introduced a number of features that have opened the door for additional conveniences while tuning.
Top Tuner Pedals For Bass Or Guitar, Final Thoughts
Don’t be that person who shows up to the gig without a way to tune their bass or guitar. There’s nothing more annoying (as somebody else in the band) to have someone constantly needing to borrow your tuner.
With how inexpensive tuners can actually be, there is absolutely no excuse for not having a tuner in your rig. It’s not glamorous and doesn’t make cool sounds, but it ensures you at least have a chance at sounding good.