It is of course common sense that before buying any of the fancy effect pedals, you should probably invest some of your money in a best guitar tuner that you can fit into your budget. A good guitar tuner enables you to avoid being frustrated as a beginner with your guitar not sounding like it should, and as someone who’s well practiced it allows you to save some time and make your everyday life easier as a guitar player.
We’ve learned a great deal about various guitar equipment while working on our Gear Page, so we decided to try and come out with best of the best in terms of what’s being used by the well known guitarists, as well as what’s currently popular among people who play a guitar as a hobby.
So without further ado, here’s GroundGuitar’s straight-to-the-point list of best guitar tuners. For your convenience we’ve added quick links to each of the tuner, and separated them in three groups – reasoning behind each is explained in their separated section.
Clip-On tuners are usually made for acoustic guitar use, but they can be used on electrics without any problems. They measure a note using a high-sensitivity piezo sensor which measures the frequency in which the whole guitar vibrates when you pick a string. This makes them ideal for loud environments as they do not require complete silence. To tune your guitar you should place the tuner on the guitar’s headstock using the clip-on mechanism, and monitor the note on the display.
Snark SN-5 Clip-On Chromatic Tuner
For $8 it’s really hard to find something worth complaining about the Snark SN-5. Yeah, it’s all cheap plastic, but it’s not like we expected aluminium casing at this price point anyways. What’s important is that the tuner does it’s job pretty well, and most of the people are probably gonna be amazed by it anyways given that they don’t have experience with some of the premium models (this happens more often than you think when it comes to guitar gear).
The tuner uses both the high sensitivity piezo sensor and the microphone for tuning. The display is sufficiently bright and clear (although not so much in daylight), and it’s highly adjustable (can rotate 360 degrees). It even has a battery saving featuring which dims the light after ten seconds, and completely shuts down the tuner after two minutes of idleness. Some of the SN models even have a built-in metronome.
So why is it good? Snark is certainty one of the most inexpensive options out there, especially for someone who doesn’t want to be constantly worried about loosing or damaging it. If you happen to swing your guitar around a lot, or you’re one of the people who often take their guitars outside and therefore have a higher chance of loosing a piece of gear; if it does happen, with Snark it’s no big deal – because for couple of bucks you can get another one!
Snark SN Tuner
Affordable little tuner with accuracy up to +/- 1 cent. It feels somewhat cheap due to all-plastic build, and it’s powered by a single CR2032 battery.
Korg is a well-known company for most of the people who are connected to the world of music equipment in one way or another. Their main focus is on the manufacturing of electronic musical instruments like keyboards, but they also specialize in making guitar effects and tuners, – although they are still somewhat under-appreciated in that regard.
This clip-on tuner ranks a little bit higher than the Snark. It has noticeably better build quality, highly adjustable double ball-joint backlit LCD display with a very useful auto-sleep mode for battery saving. It also has a relatively smaller margin of error when measuring notes, which is to be expected for the higher price you’re paying. You can use either piezo sensor or the mic to tune the guitar, and you’ll need a standard CR2032 battery (included) to run it.
So why is it good? If you’re looking for a good, relatively cheap long-term tuner – look no further. It’s perfect for someone who doesn’t necessary wanna invest too much in their first tuner, and for someone who mainly plays an acoustic or nylon guitar. It also looks very nice and has a very slim profile, which is certainly a plus in our book.
Korg Pitchhawk 2
Noticeable step up from the Snark. Accuracy is still +/- 1 cent, and the body is still plastic, but the overall design and the responsivness of the tuner is better. You’re gonna need a CR2032 battery to power the tuner.
This is as far as we know the only strobe clip-on tuner available on the market. Strobe tuners are the oldest form of electronic tuners, and Peterson has been making them from the very beginning. They use somehow different approach from chromatic tuners, – they compare the note played with a reference frequency, like the one of the flashing LED light, which makes them upwards of ten times more accurate.
The tuning process itself is very different from what you’d encounter on a standard chromatic tuner. Instead of the half-circle with the green LED light on the half way point, the display on a this tuner shows a strobe that spins at speed that depends on how far of you are from being perfectly in tune.
You’ll rarely get the strobe to stay completely still because a guitar string stays in tune for a fraction of a second before going slightly over and under, – a difference which is undetectable by human ear but well visualized on the display of the StroboClip.
So why is it good? Peterson StroboClip tuner measures to much greater accuracy than a standard tuner, it doesn’t require silent environment which makes it perfect for gigging players, and the build quality is just amazing! One thing to consider – strobe tuning usually takes a couple of seconds longer, but the whole process for some reason appears to be much more enjoyable and involved.
A huge difference in both the build quality and the accuracy when compared to the two previously mentioned tuners. This beast measures up to +/- 0.1 cent, which is basically ten times better than most of the stuff on the market. The body is all metal, and feels premium.
We’re not hundred percent sure that there’s actually a name for these types of tuners, but we felt like they needed their own separate category. These tuners are usually battery powered and have both microphone and input-jack. They are targeted at both the electric and acoustic guitar users and they are usually very cheap and small in size, which makes them great for carrying around in your pocket.
Important thing to note is that these tuners work best in a silent environment since most of the people will use the built-in microphone on the tuner, which also picks up all the background noise.
Korg GA-40 Guitar and Bass Tuner
We’ll start of with the Korg GA-40, which is a great entry-level tuner from this category. It’s very small and compact in size and using it is really a no-brainer. You turn it on, play the string, and spin the tuning peg it until the needle hits the center.
Microphone is fairly good but requires low-level of background noise, and the input jack on the side works pleasingly well. It also has an output jack, which means that you can have your guitar connected at all times, without the need of unplugging it in order to plug it into an amp.
One thing that’s really cool about this tuner (also true to other tuners in this category) is the fact that this probably the most simple type of tuners in regard to usability. There’s no need to plug it anywhere, and you don’t have to attach it to your guitar, – it just works. Grab it out of your pocket and just place it on your lap while you tune, and when you’re done just put it away. Absolutely no fuss at all.
So why is it good? This is probably the tuner we would personally recommend to a complete beginner. It’s a little bit “jumpy” but it does a decent job overall and it’s really affordable. Just be prepared to invest a little more time in the process of tuning – as it’s not as reliable as some of the top models.
Pretty much the simplest and and perhaps the most straight-to-the-point tuner on the list. Has both the microphone, and an input jack so you can tune your guitar whichever way you prefer. It uses two AAA batteries, and it’s accurate up to +/- 1 cent.
Korg pretty much figured out the game of guitar tuners, since in every possible category they seem to have a contender. This little tuner is basically a pocket tuner on steroids, especially when compared to the previously mentioned GA-40. It’s a little bit more expensive, but that has it’s reasons as we’ll see.
We personally compared the two together at a local guitar store and the TM-50 seemed to have a much better response when using the microphone, especially while tuning in a environment where there are people talking and other instruments playing in the background. Tuning directly through a cable seemed to be pretty much the same, with the GA-40 being perhaps a little bit more jumpy, while the TM-50 locked onto a note somewhat quicker.
The tuner has both the input and output jacks, which saves you the hassle of dealing with connections every time. The display is back-lit, meaning that it’s very easy to read both in daylight and in dark, with the option to turn to light of manually to preserve battery. The built-in metronome is somewhat quiet, but does it’s purpose well. The great plus is the ability to tune to different pitch standards with range from 410-480Hz, apart from the standard 440Hz.
So why is it good? In our experience this tuner outperforms the GA-40, and as said for these type of tuners, it is just perfect for carrying it around in your pocket and pop it out whenever and wherever you need it. If you don’t care for the couple dollar price difference between the two – go for it! The TM-50 feels a lot less cheap, and a lot more like a serious piece of equipment.
Decent pocket tuner with a lot of additional features. It has a built-in metronome, a backlit LCD display, and allows tuning to different pitch standards ranging from 410-480Hz. It’s powered by two AAA batteries, and you can tune either through a mic or with a cable plugged directly into the tuner.
For the high-range users we initially had three options to consider: BOSS TU-12, Seiko Sat1100, and Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner. These are all of course great tuners made for very precise tuning – not only of your guitar, but also for pianos, violins and other string instruments. We’ve had the Seiko on this list for quite some time, but almost no store has the tuner in stock anymore, so the decision was made to push to Boss in the front-line (for no particular reason really – Korg is just as good).
Boss TU-12EX Chromatic Tuner is the successor of the widely popular TU-12 model, mainly praised for it’s analog display – which was luckily carried over to the TU-12EX. The display has a physical needle, which is really a cool feature and adds to the overall premium feel of this tuner. Controls are pretty much straight forward, and you’ll have no difficulties using this tuner.
The casing is build to last and leaves the impression of a well build product. Tuner of course has both the microphone and the input/output jacks, and is powered by two AAA batteries or a power adapter – which is obviously a feature that many will appreciate.
So why is it good? This tuner is clearly made for perfectionists. The analog needle really shows you even the slightest movement of the note, and for that reason alone this tuner is much better than any of the tuners from the bottom range. If you don’t mind the price, and you want something that will serve you for years to come, this is probably the best choice you have in terms of small pocket tuners.
Premium pocket tuner with an analog display, built-in mic, and standard +/- 1 cent accuracy. Powered through two AAA batteries, with the option to use a power adapter instead (not included).
This category of tuners is particularly popular among professional guitar players who often play on stage. They fit quite well on a pedalboard, and they are made for hands-free use. If you’re often playing while standing, or you just want something that offers you the quickest and most comfortable way to tune your guitar, this category of guitar tuners is probably best for you. Be aware though – these tuners usually don’t have a microphone so they can’t tune an acoustic or classical guitar that doesn’t have a jack.
Korg Pitchblack Tuner Pedal
Again something from Korg. This time a compact stage tuner which offers everything an average user would need. It comes in a very sturdy die-cast casing which holds a bright and very easy-readable LED screen with a couple of different display modes. It is powered by either a power adapted or a 9V battery. It’s smaller in size when compared to most of pedal tuners, which is good if you want something that will not take a lot of space on your pedalboard.
The tuner also features a true bypass, which means that when the tuner is off it won’t mess with your sound in any way, but pass it straight to whatever is next in the chain. When the tuner is on it will automatically mute the guitar signal, so you won’t feel like an annoyance to the people around you.
So why is it good? This thing is simply amazing when you consider what you’re paying for it. The quality of the case itself, and the precision that this tuner offers makes it a great purchase. Consider it an entry-level model and ticket to the world of professional guitar gear.
Affordable pedal/stage tuner with the most basic functions. It features true bypass, well-built die cast aluminum body, and a great display easy to read from a relative distance. At this price, it’s a steal.
The TC Electronic Polytune is as straight-forward as a guitar pedal can be. You press the switch with your foot, pedal mutes the guitar sound, and you turn the tuning pegs until the green line hits ninety degrees. But there’s something that separates the Polytune from the bunch, and that feature becomes evident when you strum all strings at once.
Yes, the Polytune not only allows for the individual string tuning, but also enables you to tune all six strings at once. When you strum your guitar the tuner automatically switches from chromatic to polytune mode, and you’re presented with six green dashes, each representing a string on your guitar. It also has a virtual strobe tuning mode, which allows for finer tuning and setting up the intonation of your guitar.
If you happen to prefer a clip-on tuner, TC Electronics recently released a PolyTune Clip tuner which offers the same feature as this tuner, but targeted at acoustic guitar users. The price is usually around $50.
So why is it good? For someone not suffering from the need to buy everything Boss, Polytune objectively offers a better product for a considerably smaller price. It allows you the quickest and the simplest way to tune your electric guitar, it features true bypass, and the overall design and build quality of this pedal tuner leaves very little to be desired.
TC Electronic Polytune 2
Allows you to tune all strings at once, and offers up to ten times more accuracy (+/- 0.1 cent) than a standard tuner while using the strobe mode. The body is die-cast aluminium, and the tuner features true bypass.
Of course – this review can’t go without the famous Boss TU pedal tuner. This particular model is the successor of the widely used TU-2, which probably is/was on most of the famous guitar players’ pedalboards. Thing that makes this tuner so popular is probably the classical design of the pedal itself, which is a great plus if you want it to fit well with the rest of the pedals on you pedalboard.
Another things that’s done very well on the Boss TU-3 is the ability to read the display even in the bright sunlight (to some extent of course). The previously mentioned Korg Pitchblack surely lacks in this aspect, and the TC Polytune could use a brighter display too.
When compared to those two tuners, the TU-3 lack true bypass but features a buffer that eliminates the possibility of the tone getting sucked by long cables (most of concern to professional guitarists – more about it here Buffered vs. True Bypass Pedals).
So why is it good? Even without professionals endorsing it, the Boss TU-3 can stand on it’s own legs. It’s build to last, it’s very simple to use, it doesn’t try too hard to leave an impression in terms of the design, and it’s probably one of the best tuners to be used in a live setting.
Pretty much the industry standard. The tuner uses well-known design language that many will appreciate. The body is sturdy and built to last. No true bypass, but the tuner features a buffer that eliminates the possibility of the tone getting sucked by long cables.
Realistically the tuner that deserves this place the most is the Peterson AutoStrobe 490, but due to limiting ourselves to a more moderate top price point of around $200 (compared to $700 for the AutoStrobe), we’ve decided to choose a different model.
As we’ve said previously, Peterson is pretty much the mother-of-all when it comes to modern guitar tuners, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have something on their shelf that has premium written all over it. Their Strobo Stomp tuner is extremely accurate and quick to lock onto a note, and it’s heavy and big – leaving the impression of an expensive and well built product.
Next to that, the tuner is equipped with ton of features. Peterson packed the Strobo Stomp with twenty five “sweetened” tunings – among them the Buzz Feiten system for both guitar and bass, and presets for steel and bluegrass guitar. The pedal can also operate under three different settings: monitor, true-bypass, and active DI (with XLR output).
So why is it good? The Strobo Stomp is the tuner that you should seriously consider if you’re really anal about being perfectly in tune, or you’re someone who plays, builds, or fixes guitar professionally. Only other tuner that can stand by it’s side is the Turbo Tuner by Sonic Research, which promises stunning accuracy of +/- 0.02 cents (probably to take the KOTH title at some point in the future).
Peterson Strobo Stomp
A beast that will tune well beyond the accuracy of a standard tuner (+/- 0.1 cent). It features die-cast body, strobe tuning, true bypass, and built-in presets. Perfect for studio use, and for perfectionists.
We hope this article was of some help to you in making your choice, and we wish you that your tuner serves you well and helps you progress further along the line. If you happen to own any of these tuners be free to share your own experience and impressions in the comments below!