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Best Tuner for Most People
TC Electronic PolyTune Clip
TC Electronic’s PolyTune Clip is accurate and has an awesome display. It’s relatively inexpensive and small enough to take anywhere. Since not everyone plays electric guitar or has a pedalboard, this is the best bet for most people.
» The PolyTune 3 is the new gold standard due to its accuracy, legible screen, and features.
This pedal’s minimal & clean design wins me over. I LOVE the display. The PolyTune 3 is going on my pedalboard.
TC Electronic has really taken the fight to Boss when it comes to an industry standard tuner pedal. The PolyTune 3 has a sleek minimal design, impressively bright screen, and all the tuning features you could want in a tuner pedal.
The PolyTune 3 is slightly narrower than a Boss stompbox, taking up a bit less real estate on your board. It’s got a solid metal enclosure and is definitely road-worthy (evidenced by the many big names that take this pedal with them on tour). The soft-click footswitch is always appreciated.
This pedal sports True Bypass, meaning when it's off it won't influence your tone at all. You can also set the pedal to Buffered Bypass via 2 DIP-switches underneath the bottom plate (might be necessary if you have a super long cable between your guitar and first pedal, or you have a ton of pedals on your board). When the PolyTune 3 is on, the output is muted so you can tune up quietly.
The input/output jacks are on the left & the right, and on the back you have a 9V DC power input (power supply not battery are included) and a power output, so you can use the PolyTune 3 to daisy-chain and power other pedals (current draw of other pedals not to exceed 2000 mA).
Here's one of our favorite features - on the back is a micro USB port for firmware updates from TC Electronic. This isn't critically important, but it shows TC wants to make updates and improvements available for guitarists who make the investment in this pedal.
We’ve established the pedal looks and feels good, but the big question is how well does it tune? The answer is extremely well. The DISPLAY button on the back of the pedal cycles through guitar needle -> guitar strobe -> bass needle -> bass strobe. The inclusion of a strobe tuner is great for touring pros and if you need hyper accuracy (+/- 0.1 Cent tuning accuracy to be exact). A TUNING switch cycles through various tuning modes from standard, to alternate, to capo (first through seventh fret), and holding down the foot switch for 3 secs puts you in drop D. Your settings are recalled when you turn the pedal off and on again, which is nice.
One of the biggest reasons to buy this pedal is the phenomenal display. It's big, bright, and in Needle mode it's super easy to tell when you're in tune (the needle does not bounce all over the place like in cheaper tuners). The display also adjusts its brightness depending on lighting conditions, which is awesome if you're gigging.
This is one pretty pedal. I love the super bright display and the buffered/true bypass option.
The marquee feature of the PolyTune line of tuners is polyphonic mode. This feature is automatically engaged when you strum all your strings at once. It analyzes all of them and shows you which of your strings are sharp, flat, or right on the mark all at the same time. While that sounds neat, in practice it's hit and miss. It might get you in the ballpark of accurate tuning but let's face it, if you're buying a tuner as good as this, you want to be as accurate as possible.
Bottom Line: The only reasons we can think of not to buy this tuner is if you have an affinity for Boss, or your budget won't allow. The PolyTune 3 looks and feels really nice, is true bypass, can power other pedals via daisy-chaining, has an extremely accurate strobe tuner mode, supports a variety of tunings, and has an amazing display. Sure the polyphonic feature isn’t perfect, but your milage may vary with it. Tuning with the PolyTune 3 is as good as can be - crisp, swift, and accurate.
» The Korg Pitchblack Advance is rock solid, easy to use, and a great choice if you're looking for a no-frills reliable pedal format tuner.
The Korg Pitchblack Advance is a fantastic pedal tuner whose quality far exceeds its affordable price tag. It doesn’t have some fancy features like polyphonic tuning, but it shines where it counts.
The Pitchblack is a minimal and rugged little box. The matte black aluminum case looks and feels indestructible. It powers on via a soft-click footswitch, and mutes the output when you're tuning up. When the pedal is off it's True Bypass (great at this price point) so it won't mess with your signal.
Input & output jacks are found on the right & left, and on the back is a 9V DC jack (power supply not included, but a 9V battery is included), and a 9V DC output jack to daisy-chain a couple pedals and power them using the Pitchblack. We really do mean a couple though, since you only have 200 mA to work with (significantly less than the PolyTune’s 2000 mA).
The only controls are 2 small buttons on the back DISPLAY and CALIB. DISPLAY cycles through 4 modes: Regular -> Strobe -> Half Strobe -> Mirror. Regular is what you would expect, strobe is higher precision, Half Strobe we didn't really care for, and Mirror is pretty cool as it's kind of a hybrid where 2 indicators satisfyingly come together when you're on pitch. Detection accuracy according to the manual is +/-0.1 cent. CALIB cycles through 10 different calibration settings, from 440 Hz to 439 Hz. Your settings are recalled when you power the pedal off and on again.
When it comes to the actual tuning experience, the Pitchblack really delivers. The display is awesome - big and bright, with 2 orange LED arrows guiding you. It's nice and crisp and not jumpy. The display doesn't adjust based on lighting conditions like the PolyTune, but you should have no trouble seeing it in most conditions. Also, it is a chromatic tuner so you can tune to all 12 semi-tones.
Bottom Line: Maybe we were expecting less since it costs less than a PolyTune or TU-3, but we were wrong to do so. We're pretty blown away at the quality of this thing (solid metal build, beautiful display, etc). The contenders have slightly more features like support for capo and drop tunings, polyphonic mode, adjustable brightness LED... but if you can live without those things the PitchBlack Advance is the highest quality bang for the buck pedal tuner we've encountered. The price is unbelievably low for a pedal of this caliber.
» The Boss TU-3 has built a well-earned reputation for being a rock solid reliable pedal.
In 1998 Boss released the TU-2, which ended up being the top selling tuner of all time. With legendary Boss reliability and several different tuning modes for guitar and bass, the Boss TU-3 does everything the TU-2 did, only slightly better! Though that's not to say it's perfect...
It's hard to debate that this is one of the most durable, dependable, tour-worthy pedals money can buy. Like any Boss stompbox you press down on the black rubber portion to turn it on/off. Instrument input is on the right, and on the left are two outputs: OUTPUT and BYPASS. When you turn on the TU-3, the OUTPUT is muted, so you can tune without everyone hearing you. The BYPASS output does not get muted, and in fact you can use this pedal as a splitter to send your signal to two different places (two amps for instance).
To power it you plug in a 9V DC power supply to the jack on the back, and the TU-3 can also supply power to other pedals via daisy-chain (maximum current draw being 200 mA or 500 mA, depending on which adaptor you use).
The design is definitely busier than the likes of a PolyTune or Korg Pitchblack. The main functions can be cycled through using a STREAM/CENT button and a MODE button on the top. STREAM/CENT lets you switch between CENT mode - the standard “get close to the center” display - or STREAM with LED lights that “flow” more slowly as you get closer to pitch (kind of strobe-ish).
MODE button cycles through 6 different tuning modes: Chromatic -> Chromatic flat -> Guitar -> Guitar flat -> Bass -> Bass flat. The TU-3 has you covered no matter if you’re playing guitar or bass, use various tunings, or have a 7 string guitar or 6 string bass.
Boss hasn't changed their 21-segment LED tuner display in ages and we can't help but feel it seems a bit dated compared to the bright big screens of the competitors. Not that it's hard to use - as you get closer to pitch you get indications with yellow arrows and red and green markers. There is also a High Brightness mode you can switch too (we kind of wish that was the default).
Boss cites a tuning accuracy of +/-1 cent which is inferior to the competition. It's still a reliable tuner, but just something to think about. The Boss TU-3 is not true bypass. On one hand that's disappointing, but on the other hand you can use this tuner pedal as a buffer at the beginning of your chain, which essentially can strengthen your somewhat weak high-impedance guitar signal if you’re sending your signal over long cable lengths.
Bottom Line: The TU-3 is a stalwart tuner pedal for your guitar or bass. Honestly, we prefer the big bright LED screens the competitors offer, as the Boss interface can feel a bit cluttered to navigate and see from a distance. We also value a higher tuning accuracy and True Bypass, both of which the TU-3 lacks. That said, Boss tuners are found on more pro pedalboards than any other pedal in history. If you are partial to the Boss form factor or place indestructibility above all else, pick up a TU-3.
» Boutique strobe pedal tuner. Very customizable, +/- .02 cents accuracy and extremely quick... but it'll cost you a premium.
The Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-300 is the boutique option of guitar tuners. It’s a “true stroboscope” tuner, made in the USA, not very widely available, and extremely accurate.
Just to get the terminology straight, a mechanical strobe tuner works when the input guitar signal drives a strobe light, which illuminates a rotating disk. When the frequency of the signal matches the speed of the rotating disk, the rotating pattern will appear to stand still which means the tuning of that note is spot-on. A strobe tuner shows even the slightest discrepancy between the note you’re playing and the reference frequency, so it’s more accurate than a needle-type tuner. The ST-300 does not have any moving parts, so there’s no actual rotating disk.
The ST-300 looks and feels rugged and utilitarian and sports a die-cast aluminum housing. It's certainly not as pretty as a PolyTune. It's True Bypass and has instrument input and output jacks on the sides (output is muted when the tuner is active). On the back there's a jack for a 9V DC power supply (not included), and a power output to daisy-chain other pedals and power them (current passed through the daisy chain should be limited to 2000 mA). There is also a micro USB port so you can customize tunings on your computer.
Accuracy is the name of the game with the ST-300, and you get +/- .02 cents accuracy which is phenomenal and about as good as it gets for a pedal tuner. The display is bright, with the LED pattern rotating to the right if you are sharp and left if you are flat. The strobe-style display might take a little getting used to. It's a bit disconcerting at first, since it's very difficult to get the rotating pattern to be stationary, which initially makes you think you're not in tune. However, we were told by both the folks at Sonic Research and the manual that so long as the pattern is moving slowly, you are within a fraction of a cent.
You can use the CAL button to change the 440 Hz reference frequency. This tuner is extremely customizable, and has support for multiple temperaments (equal, just, Pythagorean) and alternate tunings (chromatic, drop D, DADGAD, open A, open D, bass, bass drop D, 5 string bass, violin, cello & more). Making adjustments to the settings might take you a little time, as you have to press the mode buttons as the pedal is powering up and remember the correct sequence of button presses. Thankfully once you set it up how you want, it remembers your settings after you power it off.
One final note is that this tuner is super responsive, meaning you can play a fast lick, and the notes will immediately appear on the screen with zero lag. It’s pretty fascinating to see this in action.
Bottom Line: The Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-300 is probably the most accurate tuner you can buy in pedal form, due to it being a true stroboscope. Because of that and a more limited production it’s pricier than most tuner pedals. If that's what you want and you can live with its utilitarian aesthetic and you don’t mind forgoing a needle-type tuner, this is the one to get.
» The PolyTune clip is small, versatile, and delivers several different tuning modes in a convenient clip-on format.
If a clip-on guitar tuner is more of what you're looking for and you don't mind paying a little bit of a premium, the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip is an amazing tool. TC managed to pack every feature from their impressive pedal tuners into this little thing, and it works beautifully.
Design-wise, the PolyTune Clip is pretty. It's about as big as your thumb and the whole thing is a display. It unfortunately does have a plastic casing, but the clip is metal and feels very solid. The display pivots back and forth so you can see it.
The larger top button powers it on and off (it auto shuts off after 3 mins to conserve battery, which is good for ~18 hrs of use). The Tuning Mode button cycles through all he tuning modes (same ones as the PolyTune 3 pedal). The Display Mode button switches between Needle and Strobe, which again is like its pedal counterpart. Pressing and holding this button toggles between Guitar and Bass modes.
Polyphonic tuning is there as well, and just like we said with the pedal it's a cool feature albeit a little hit and miss. The accuracy on this thing is outstanding. +/-0.5 Cent in Chromatic mode which is quite as good as the pedal... and +/-0.02 Cent in Strobe mode!
Like it's big pedal sibling, it's all about the gorgeous screen. Tuning with the PolyTune Clip is a pleasure; crisp clean and fast. The display is very bright and easy to see, and even auto-rotates to the right orientation for you.
Bottom Line: The PolyTune Clip's only downside is the premium price tag; you could pick up a Korg Pitchblack for roughly the same. Impressively, almost every feature of the PolyTune 3 pedal is present in the Clip. If a clip-on is best for you, look no further. We think the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip is the best clip-on guitar tuner out there.
» The Snark ST-8 Super Tight can't be beat for the price. If you are on a budget and need an simple bright tuner this is a great option.
We wanted to test a tuner that can be had for dirt cheap, yet still does a solid job tuning up, and the Snark ST-8 Super Tight clip-on tuner fits the bill.
It's hard not to immediately compare it to the PolyTune Clip, but let's quickly run through the Snark's features. The whole thing is made out of a matte rubber material that feels like it can take some abuse. The clip feels secure (but there are warnings in the manual about instrument finishes which is kind of worrying).
The "banana" arm is a little awkward and we had to mess with it for a while before getting a good angle. Fortunately the display is pretty easy to see.
The power button is on the front, and a PITCH CAL button on the back lets you change pitch reference from 415 to 466 Hz. It's also capo-friendly up to the 4th fret (use the up and down arrow buttons).
Tuning with the Snark's display is nice and easy. There's no strobe mode, only needle mode. You're in tune when the green needle in the middle lights up.
For the price of the ST-8 there has to be a catch, and it's tuning accuracy. It doesn't say in the manual what the accuracy actually is, but side-by-side with the PolyTune Clip it's clear that the PolyTune will show much more fine-grained pitch inaccuracies, whereas the Snark seems to say "good enough." The display features 12 bars that are either fully on or off, which decreases your ability to fine tune to a perfect pitch.
Bottom Line: Look, you can get 3 or 4 Snarks for the price of a PolyTune Clip, so it's silly to expect it to be the same quality. All in, the Snark gets the job done and even gives you some alternate tuning modes (and weirdly a silent tap tempo metronome). We would say the ST-8 is the best Snark clip-on tuner out there, and the one to go with if all you do is play your guitar or bass occasionally at home.
» In an ocean of guitar tuner smartphone apps, GuitarTuna stands out with a great reputation, great design, and the basic version is free.
Finding a good tuner app for your smartphone is not easy; if you type "guitar tuner" in the App Store or Google Play you get a million results.
In the end, we tested 3 reputable apps: GuitarTuna (free), Fender Tune (free), and iStroboSoft (paid). With the limitations of a guitar tuner app - i.e. being limited to your acoustic instrument in a quiet space - it doesn't make sense to buy any overcomplicated or expensive app.
To that end, our choice is GuitarTuna, made by the folks behind Yousician. Fender Tune looks clean but we had some trouble picking up sound from plucking electric guitar strings. iStroboSoft is great, but honestly not worth the $10 price of admission if all you need is standard guitar tuning. GuitarTuna loads quickly and works flawlessly, even with the more quiet sound of an electric guitar unplugged.
Tuna uses your device's mic and even has noise cancellation technology to eliminate some background noise while you tune. This chromatic tuner supports loads of instruments from guitar to bass, ukulele and orchestra instruments.
The main screen has a photo of the headstock of whatever instrument you selected which is cool, with the tuning pegs labeled with the note names. As you strum, what looks like an oscilloscope at the top moves around and tells you a friendly "TOO LOW!" or "TOO HIGH!" and a satisfying checkmark and green strip when you are dead on.
Guitar standard tuning (EADGBE) is included in the free version of the app. If you're interested in alternate tunings, you got tons of em, but you have to pay for them as in-app purchases. If you upgrade to GuitarTuna Pro you get everything.
Bottom Line: At the risk of oversimplifying, in the sea of guitar tuner apps go with a proven one that offers a free version, and paid upgrades if you want to get crazy with tunings. GuitarTuna has a beautiful design and simply works.
A guitar tuner simply compares the pitch of a single note you play on your guitar or bass to the reference pitch stored in the tuner, generally A440. The display then shows you if the string you are tuning is too low (flat) or too high (sharp).
Pedal, Clip-On, or App?
When looking for the best guitar tuner you can go one of 4 ways - pedal, clip-on, rackmount, or a smartphone app.
» PEDAL TUNERS go on the floor or your pedalboard. They work with electric instruments, and read the pitch based on the signal that comes from your guitar. They're great for playing live because of their durability. They are discreet and will mute the signal of your instrument when active. Pedal tuners are also generally more sophisticated and more accurate.
On the downside they only work with electric instruments, take up space on the floor/pedalboard, are pricier, and you have to deal with more cables.
» CLIP-ON TUNERS are clipped onto the headstock of your guitar, and they read the pitch of your instrument based on the vibrations that transfer there when you play. They are great if you play acoustic instruments, but we use ours with electric guitars all the time. Snark popularized these and you can pick up a Snark pretty dirt cheap.
On the downside they can be a bit cumbersome to use live. They’re best for “quick and easy” tuning, like if you play casually around your house. They tend to not be quite as accurate as their pedal counterparts, and they’re more easily lost/misplaced and tend to break more easily. They are also reliant on batteries.
» RACKMOUNT TUNERS are, as the name implies, guitar tuners that fit in a rack. Rack-mounted gear is more popular in pro touring rigs and pro studios. A rackmount tuner’s display is larger than most other tuner formats, and it may offer more bells and whistles.
On the downside, on average they are pricier than their pedal counterparts.
» SMARTPHONE TUNER APPS allow you to use your smartphone's built-in microphone to pick up the pitch of your instrument. They're very convenient since we have our phones with us at all times. Accuracy is surprisingly good (this of course depends on the quality of the app you choose). If you own a phone already tuning apps are the cheapest way to get tuned up.
On the downside any external noise can mess with the tuning process. An unamplified electric guitar might be too quiet to be picked up by the phone's mic. Tuning apps are best if it's just you in a quiet room with an acoustic guitar.
What Are the Types of Guitar Tuners?
Keep in mind that a tuner - whether a pedal, clip-on, or app - doesn't have to be just one of these types. In fact many manufacturers try to cram in as many tuning modes as possible.
And just to clear up any confusion, yes, guitar tuners DO also work for bass guitar.
A conventional tuner lets you tune your guitar based on the standard EADGBE tuning. If your tuner doesn't at least do this, you should be worried.
The difference between a chromatic tuner and a regular guitar tuner is that the chromatic scale has 12 pitches, and a chromatic tuner lets you tune your strings relative to the nearest one (as opposed to just the standard six pitches EADGBE). This is important if you:
use alternate tunings or
need to tune up instruments other than guitar.
TC Electronic pioneered the polyphonic tuner, which allows you to strum your open guitar strings at the same time and quickly and easily see on the display if any of them are out of tune.
Strobe tuners are the most accurate guitar tuners due to the way they work. It's a little complicated but basically there's a rotating disc with a pattern on it, and when the frequency of the input matches the speed of rotation, it looks like the pattern stands still. That's how you know you're perfectly tuned up.
Modern strobe tuners don't have moving parts that tend to wear out over time, but they simulate this rotation electronically.
How to Best Tune Your Guitar
If you’re going to get a good tuner, it’s worth learning the most proper way to tune your guitar. It’s hard to believe but even some veteran guitarists don’t know these guidelines, since tuning a guitar is not something that’s normally taught!
Mute the strings that are not being tuned by resting your fingers on them. Multiple notes ringing at the the same time will generate sympathetic vibrations, which can throw off even the best tuners.
If you’re tuning an electric guitar, do so using the pickup closest to the neck, and turn up the volume on that pickup to maximum. You should also back off the tone control to give the clearest signal to the tuner.
Pluck your string with the side of your thumb instead of a pick.
Don't hold on to the tuning peg the entire time.
What Should You Look for in a Guitar Tuner?
There are hundreds of tuners out there to choose from. Today even cheap manufacturers of no-name Asian imports have models that will do an acceptable job.
However, for a piece of gear that you use this much, you really should invest in a tuner that’s going to be consistently reliable and accurate. Think of it like a good pillow or mattress; It's not exactly the most thrilling purchase to make, but you use it so often that you will be doing yourself a disservice in the long run if you skimp on quality. Here are some things to look out for:
Most amps don’t have built in tuners, and even those that do are not the most accurate. If you’re even thinking of starting to put together a pedalboard, there’s no question that you should start with a solid tuner pedal.
You can use a tuner to mute your guitar signal. Most tuner pedals will mute the output when engaged, so your audience and bandmates don’t have to listen to you tuning up. Muting the output is also handy if you need to switch instruments.
Some tuner pedals are much more accurate than others. Accuracy is measured in cents, so you’ll see things like “+/- 1 cent,” or “+/- 0.1 cents.” The smaller that number is, the greater the accuracy.
Display brightness matters! While most tuner pedal manufacturers tend to not reinvent the wheel when it comes to showing you how close your notes are to the correct pitch, displays do tend to vary in size and brightness. The best guitar tuners will let you adjust brightness (or automatically adjust) to remain visible even in harsh lighting conditions.
Keep in mind the power and battery life. Most tuners that are not “mini” or “compact” format can be powered using a battery. If you care about this option, make sure to read about the battery life. If you opt for a pedal tuner as opposed to a headstock clip-on, you can add it to your pedal power supply/daisy-chain and never have to worry about battery life.
Many tuner pedals can power other pedals. In addition to a power input jack they include a power output so that you can daisy-chain other pedals. You’ll need to mind that the combined current draw of your other pedals doesn’t exceed what’s available.
How We Picked and Tested
We tested several tuners at Equipboard HQ and did many hours of research. Testing tuners is pretty straightforward. We plugged into each one and tuned up various tunings, and cycled through all the features. We also tuned with the lights on and off to test out the displays. Gear we used in this test:
Michael bought his first guitar, a Fender California Series Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, in 1998. He likes rock of all types, from classic to punk to metal. Michael co-founded Equipboard to satisfy his curiosity around what gear his guitar heroes use. Read more