Best Clip-On Tuner: TC Electronic PolyTune Clip Review
Clip-on tuners have quickly gained popularity, but finding the best one can be tough. It doesn’t help that looking for a clip-on tuner at your favorite online store like Amazon, Sweetwater, or Guitar Center yields about 50 results, and on first glance they all seem fairly similar! We recently went to our local music stores on the hunt for the best clip-on tuner, and came home with what we feel is the best one all-around - the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip. In this review we’ll cover the unboxing, features, functionality, pros, cons, and why we feel this is the top choice when shopping for a clip-on guitar tuner.
- Unboxing & First Impressions
- Functionality & Accuracy
- Conclusion & Value for Money
- Pros & Cons
In our rundown of the best guitar tuner, we named the TC Electronic PolyTune 2 tuner pedal the Best of the Best for its accurate tuning, beautiful display, support for various tunings, and excellent build quality. As it turns out, the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip is everything the PolyTune 2 pedal is, repackaged in a compact clip format. The PolyTune series of tuners’ claim to fame is their polyphonic tuning feature, which basically means you can strum a chord and the tuner will show you the tuning of all the strings at once, which in theory is faster and more efficient than plucking and tuning each individual string separately. This feature is fully intact in the PolyTune Clip, which adds to its versatility. The marketing materials put this PolyTune technology front and center, and they repeat the mantra STRUM - TUNE - ROCK.
On paper, the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip promises many features; definitely a few more than its competitors:
- Ultra bright 105 LED Matrix display that automatically flips to the correct orientation.
- PolyTune technology to get a fast readout of all your strings at once.
- Chromatic tuner with +/- 0.5 cent accuracy.
- Strobe tuner with +/- 0.02 cent accuracy.
- Support for flat tunings and Capo Mode.
- A padded stainless steel clip.
- A very elegant and durable casing.
- 18 hours of usage via a standard Lithium Coin Battery (CR2032).
In our review, we’ll see how well the PolyTune Clip delivers on these promises.
Unboxing & First Impressions
We’ll start out by saying that between the packaging, unboxing process, and design of the PolyTune Clip, everything is extremely well thought-out by TC Electronic. The experience feels like opening up a new Apple product, which many people agree is the pinnacle of design packaging.
Both the PolyTune Clip and the box it comes in are surprisingly small. The box is significantly smaller than a wallet or smartphone and feels really nice, with a very luxurious coated texture. An image of the PolyTune Clip is all that’s printed on top, and the back of the package features three diagrams touting the Polyphonic Tuning, Ultra Bright Display, and Strobe Tuner features. The fine print reads Designed in Denmark · Manufactured in Thailand which is reminiscent of Apple’s Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China. fine print which you find on most of their products. Opening the box for the first time is a great experience. The front of the box features a large blue & black TC Electronic logo with the instructions PRESS TO OPEN, and doing so slides out the inner box like a drawer sliding out, which reveals the PolyTune Clip in all its glory. We cannot stress enough how much this feels like unboxing a new iPhone - minimal packaging, spartan graphics, and very little standing between opening the box and the product itself being revealed, front and center.
The problem with lots of clip-on tuners is that they look and feel cheap. While it’s nice to be able to pick one up for as little as $15, at that price-point you’re sacrificing a certain level of build quality and polish. It’s little wonder TC Electronic wants you to see their product as quickly as possible as you’re unboxing this tuner; The PolyTune Clip is a beautiful little piece of gear. First of all in terms of size, seeing it for the first time we’re surprised at just how compact it is. It measures just 1.1” W x 2.36” D (slightly larger than a USB stick). The package contains three things, all of which are immediately visible: the PolyTune Clip, a CR2032 battery, and a paper manual (actually there’s a 4th thing, a small voucher with a special code which allows you to download a Free PolyTune Plug-In, to use with your DAW). The manual itself is reminiscent of an old cumbersome road map, where you have to unfold it over and over and read things in very tiny print. We much prefer the PDF viewable/downloadable/printable version, which you can find here.
Before using the tuner, you have to place the battery in it. If you flip over the PolyTune Clip you’ll clearly see the battery door on the back, which was a bit difficult to open manually so we recommend using the tip or edge of something thin and sturdy. The battery fits in snugly, and TC Electronic promises 18 hours of operation before you’ll need to do this procedure again (when it’s time to replace, a pack of four CR2032 batteries is extremely affordable on Amazon). To preserve battery life, it turns off automatically after 3 minutes.
We intuitively reached to the button located on the top of the tuner to turn it on, which ended up being the correct choice (there are only three buttons in all). After a two-second “startup” sequence, the PolyTune clip is ready to use, and you’re treated to some red and green lights on its beautiful LED matrix display. The screen is protected by a thin screen-protector film, and it’s up to you if you want to remove it or not. The film might help keep some scratches and fingerprints off and is not detrimental to the display’s viewability, but obviously it looks better without it. The screen is divided into two sections; Roughly 1/5 is reserved to show the name of the note (E, A, D, G, etc.), and the remainder is used to display how close you are to your target pitch. The screen is bright and extremely easy to read in various light conditions, and we wouldn’t hesitate taking this to a bright outdoor gig or a dark and smoky stage. All in all, this is easily the best looking display of any other clip-on tuner out there.
The clip itself folds out and pivots outwards from the tuner itself. Unlike some clip-on tuners that can pivot on multiple axes, the PolyTune Clip’s clip only folds out in a single direction. This might seem like a disadvantage in that you can’t fine tune the angle and placement, but in practice we had zero problems whatsoever with clipping on this tuner at a perfect angle. The clip is made of stainless steel, and the spring action on it is solid and tough. It will definitely grip strongly on any headstock, and the black rubber padding looks like it will definitely protect your precious instruments from any marks or damage.
Overall, the unboxing and first impression is fantastic. This tuner feels like it received some serious love and attention to detail from the TC Electronic design and engineering teams, and for the first time it feels like you’re truly getting a boutique pedal level of quality in a clip-on tuner.
Functionality & Accuracy
Before talking about how accurate it is, let’s go over its features. There are 2 small buttons on the side of the PolyTune Clip which serve to alter the tuner’s functionality. The first is a Tuning Mode Button, and pressing it will cycle through all the available alternate tuning modes. As you switch tuning mode, the display will show the one you’re on. If you’re tuning down or using a capo, the PolyTune Clip as you covered with the following 13 modes:
|--- E ---||Standard tuning|
|Eb||All strings tuned down 1 semitone|
|D||All strings tuned down 2 semitones|
|Db||All strings tuned down 3 semitones|
|C||All strings tuned down 4 semitones|
|B||All strings tuned down 5 semitones|
|F 1||Capo at first fret|
|Gb 2||Capo at second fret|
|G 3||Capo at third fret|
|Ab 4||Capo at fourth fret|
|A 5||Capo at fifth fret|
|Bb 6||Capo at sixth fret|
|B 7||Capo at seventh fret|
The second button is the Display Mode Button, and pressing it cycles between the two available tuning displays: Needle and Strobe Tuning Modes. Needle Mode is what most guitarists are used to seeing on a tuner pedal, where you tune a single string until the middle column and the middle row of green LEDs lights up, meaning you’ve hit the target note.
Strobe Mode is an ultra-accurate tuning mode where the closer to the target note you get, the slower segments in the display will rotate around. When the rotating pattern comes to a stop, you’re on target. TC Electronic claims a +/- 0.02 cent accuracy for Strobe Mode, which the majority of clip-on tuners do not even come close to.
If you hold down the Display Mode button for more than 5 seconds, the PolyTune Clip switches from Guitar to Bass mode, which as you might have guessed allows you to tune up your bass (note that polyphonic tuning is not available in bass mode).
If you press both Tuning Mode and Display Mode button at the same time, you can set the reference pitch. Standard pitch is 440 Hz, but you can increase or decrease that in 1 Hz steps (you can go from 27.5 Hz all the way to 4186 Hz).
We tested the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip on a Taylor acoustic guitar, a Gibson ES-325 hollowbody electric guitar, and a Telecaster. On all 3 headstocks, we were able to mount the tuner very securely. The display automatically flips to the correct orientation, so you’ll be able to read it correctly no matter if you clip it to the front or back of the headstock or if you’re left-handed. The way a clip-on tuner works is that it senses the vibrations caused by the strings of your instrument, so as soon as you clip it and turn it on, after the 2-second startup time you’ll immediately be able to tune up. Tuning with the PolyTune clip is an absolute pleasure, as it responds very quickly and accurately. We tried playing some scales at moderate and fast speeds, and it tracked incredibly well by keeping up with every individual note played.
Unfortunately the PolyTune technology is a bit hit-and-miss. At any time, you can strum a chord - any chord - and the display will show you the tuning of all your strings at once (provided you’re not in Bass mode). Horizontal green dashes represent your strings, and if any are sharp or flat a red dash will display above or below the respective green dash. The problem is that while in PolyTune mode all strings might show as on-target, in chromatic tuning mode one or more might show as slightly off (or vice versa). The technology is not quite perfect here, and we observed the same idiosyncrasy when testing out the PolyTune 2 pedal tuner. Personally we won’t be using the PolyTune mode, not just because of spotty accuracy, but the Needle and Strobe modes are so good, accurate, and fast, that’s all we’ll really ever need.
Strobe Mode is great for ultra-accuracy, but it’s not quite as easy to read as Needle Mode. Still, the +/- 0.02 cent accuracy is definitely evident, and the ability to have this in a clip-on tuner that costs under $50 is remarkable.
Conclusion & Value for Money
For a clip-on tuner, the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip is admittedly a tad pricey. The very popular Snark line of clip-on tuners for instance includes some models priced as low as $12. Is the PolyTune Clip 4-5 times better? We would argue on the side of yes. The PolyTune Clip is simply superior in build quality, polish, accuracy, and display than 98% of clip-on tuners out there. We’ve owned cheaper clip-on tuners, and while they worked to roughly get us in tune, we were always left wondering if we’re making a mistake by relying on them as opposed to a solid pedal tuner like a PolyTune 2 or Boss TU-3. From the first 20 seconds of using the PolyTune Clip all doubts of quality and accuracy were erased.
From the moment you see and feel the box to when you fire up the tuner for the first time, the PolyTune Clip is just right. There’s a tremendous amount of attention to detail for what is essentially a pretty simple product. Little things go a long way, like all your settings being preserved even when you switch the tuner off and change the battery. Aside from being accurate between +/- 0.5 and +/- 0.02 cents, tracking is just so fast and crisp.
We didn’t test this ourselves, but you can use this tuner for a variety of stringed instruments aside from guitar and bass; ukulele and banjo players will love the PolyTune Clip (TC Electronic even shared an Instagram photo of the PolyTune Clip working with brass instruments).
Everything there is to love about TC Electronic’s highly acclaimed PolyTune 2 pedal tuner has been packaged up into the beautiful little PolyTune Clip. You’ll pay a slight premium for this compared to other clip-on tuners, but it’s absolutely worth it since you’re getting the “best in class.” And if you’re still not convinced, some pretty big names have been spotted in the wild using the PolyTune Clip, the likes of Steve Vai, Steve Stevens, Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Morse, and several more.
- Better accuracy than most clip-on tuners available today.
- Best display we’ve ever seen on a clip-on tuner.
- Superior look, feel, and build quality. Looks and feels like an Apple product.
- Strong stainless steel clip with protective padding ensures you won’t easily dislodge it.
- Multiple tuning modes support tuning down or using a capo.
- Polyphonic tuning is not the most reliable feature.
- The clip is only pivots on one axis.
- When you turn it on it takes a couple seconds to start up.
- The included paper instruction manual is cumbersome to use (use the downloadable PDF instead).