It is a common sense that before buying any of the fancy pedal effects, you should probably consider putting some money on a solid guitar tuner. Honestly - how many times have you seen someone do a cover of a song, and the guitar just doesn’t sound right. Something is slightly off…
Well, it’s annoying and frustrating – especially if you are a beginner. It’s almost impossible to play along with a song while the notes on your guitar aren’t even the ones that are played in that song – even if you are reading of the tab written by the artist himself. Of course you can try and tune your guitar by ear, but again, if you’re someone who’s just learning how to play, your ear is probably not trained enough to recognize small variation in the notes. You can also try the so-called “online tuners”, but let’s be honest, unless you’ve got a $100 mic connected to you PC, this doesn’t come even close to stand-alone guitar tuners. There’s a reason for their popularity and usage, especially by professional artists.
Now, things to consider: are you looking for a tuner for your acoustic guitar, your electric guitar, or both?
There is a difference! Maybe not in the technical sense (they all measure the same notes), but in the way in which you connect your guitar to the tuner. If you have an acoustic guitar, with no plug-in jack, you can’t really connect the guitar to the tuner, can you? There are tuners made with this in mind. They come equipped with built-in microphones, or high-sensitivity sensors which measure the vibration frequency of the string you play. Or if you have an electric guitar, which doesn’t resonate quite as well as an acoustic, you’d probably prefer to plug it in directly in the tuner, in the same fashion you connect it to an amp.
These are perhaps the main things you should consider before buying a tuner – of course next to the price, which as it usually goes is a solid pinpoint of the quality of the tuner. It starts from under $10 for a really basic tuner, and goes up above $100 for a professional tuner. We’ll list three to four of the best guitar tuners from each category (clip on, stand-alone and pedal tuners), starting with the cheapest/most affordable and finishing up with top-of-the-line tuner used by well known players. We’ll also post links to stores where you can buy them for the lowest available price.
Snark SN All Instrument Clip-On Chromatic Tuner
This little tuner is quite popular among the users. This is probably result from it’s super cheap price of only couple of dollars. The cheapest one, SN-1 can be found for as cheap as $8, and the “top-model” is only $15.
As far as the quality goes, well, we’d say you get more than what you pay for. Honestly, for $8 this is a great little tuner which you can carry around in your pocket, or even leave on the headstock and tune your guitar on the go. It uses both the high sensitivity piezo sensor, and the microphone for tuning. The display is sufficiently bright and clear, and it’s highly adjustable (can rotate 360 degrees). Some of the SN tuners even have a built-in metronome.
In order to work, Snark SN clip-on tuner uses one CR2032 battery.
Should I get one? Yes, but.. we’d recommend it as a secondary tuner – you know, the one you take with you when you head outside with the guitar in your hands, and couple of friends waiting by a campfire. Even if you lose it – it’s no big deal – for couple of bucks you can get another one!
Korg AW2G Clip-on Chromatic Guitar Tuner
Korg is a well known company for most musicians. Their main focus is on the manufacturing of electronic musical instruments like keyboards, but they also specialize in making guitar effects and tuners.
This clip-on tuner ranks a little bit higher than Snark. It has a 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 can use either piezo sensor or the mic to tune the guitar, and you’ll need a standard CR2032 battery (included) to run it.
Should I get one? Yes. If you’re looking for a good, relatively cheap long-term tuner – look no further.
Peterson SC-1 Strobo Series StroboClip Guitar Tuner
This is (we believe) 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 start. They use somehow different approach from chromatic tuners - comparing the note played with a reference frequency, like the one of the flashing LED light. But the most important thing is that a strobe tuner is accurate to the 1/10 of a cent, compared to 1 whole cent of an average chromatic tuner.
As said, Peterson is pretty much the golden standard when it comes to these types of tuners. They know their game and you simply can’t miss when buying one of their products.
Should I get one? Absolutely yes! This thing 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, so yea… if you want something super quick – look above. If you want something super accurate look no further.
Pocket-sized Guitar Tuners
Korg GA-40 Guitar and Bass Tuner
We’ll start of with 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 tune 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 just perfect. It also has an output jack, which means that you can have your guitar connected at all times, without the need of unplugging it to plug it into an amp.
One thing that’s really cool about this little tuner is that it has a separate function for tuning a bass guitar, which is particularly useful for new players who practice both instruments.
Should I get one? Sure. This is probably the tuner we would personally recommend to a beginner. It does good job tuning both acoustics and electrics, and it’s really affordable.
Yamaha YT250 Chromatic Tuner
Yamaha is somewhat underrated when it comes to their musical products. But the fact is – they make some great guitars, even better keyboards and wide variety of other high quality instruments.
This little tuner follows that reputation. It’s a little bit more expensive than the Korg GA-40, but that has it’s reasons. We personally compared them together, and the Yamaha seems to have a better microphone, especially while tuning in a environment where there’s people talking and other instruments playing in the background. It has both the input and output jack, which saves you the hassle of dealing with connections every time. The display is very easy to read in the daylight, and bellow it there are three LED light to help you tune your guitar in the dark. This tuner is powered by a single 9v battery.
Should I get one? Yes. In our experience this tuner outperforms the Korg, and as said for these type of tuners, it is great to carry around in your pocket without the fear of braking it – which is more likely to happen with a clip-on tuner. If you don’t care for the $10 difference when compared to the Korg – go for it!
Seiko Sat1100 Chromatic 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 already reviewed two Korg tuners, and we plan on reviewing a Boss tuner in the next category, and for that sole purpose the choice fell on the Seiko. But, if you prefer the Korg, or decide to jump on the Boss bandwagon - don’t worry, you’ll end up with a great tuner either way.
Saiko as a company is of course best known for producing digital watches, but what is less known is that they actually manufacture a wide variety of other electronic devices - including guitar tuners. They offer around 10 different models, with this one being their top of the line chromatic tuner.
The Sat1100 has two displays -analog display with a physical needle, and a digital display showing the frequency. Control are pretty much straight forward, and you’ll have no difficulties using it. The casing is build to last, and leaves the impression of a well build product; and it also has a stand – which to be perfectly honest isn’t all that practical.
Tuner of course has both the microphone and the input/output jacks, and is powered by 2 AAA batteries (included).
Should I get one? 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 wan’t something that will serve you for years to come, this is an ideal choice.
Stage (Pedal) Tuners
Snark SN-10S Stage and Studio Guitar Tuner
We’ve previously talked about Snark, and it’s quite obvious that they focus on making entry level equipment. Not to say that their products are not good, on the contrary, they are excellent – but they are targeted at less demanding buyers.
This tuners is pretty straight forward. It is packed in a very well built die-cast case with an LED display on the top showing the note and the frequency, and a foot-switch bellow it which activates the pedal. It also features a try by-pass, meaning that it passes the signal straight through from input to output without any interference, or changing the sound. The screen is big enough so you’ll have no difficulties reading the note, even if you’re standing above it.
As this tuner is supposed to be on your pedalboard, it is be powered with a 9V power adapted, but can also work without it, in which case you’ll need a standard 9V battery.
Should I get one? As said, this guitar tuner is for less demanding players – but it works just as well as any other pedal tuner. If you like the design, and you’re looking for something cheap – go for it.
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 aluminium casing which holds a bright and very easy-readable LED screen with a couple of different display modes.
Tuner is powered by either a power adapted or a 9V battery. It’s smaller in size that most of the tuners, which is good if you want something that will not take a lot of space on you pedalboard. This tuner also features a true by-pass, and it automatically mutes the guitar signal while it’s on.
Should I get one? This thing is simply amazing. The quality of the case itself, and the precision which this tuner offers makes it a great purchase. We surely recommend it.
TC Electronic Polytune 2
This tuner was not initially a part of this list, but after testing it at a local music shop, we decided that it just wouldn’t be fair not to mention it, since it left a great impression on us.
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 90 degrees. You of course power it with either a power adapted, or a 9V battery, and it will not mess with your guitar sound since it features true-bypass switching. This thing is also packed with features - a dedicated bass mode, capo mode, dropped tunings, strobe-tuning function, and even a USB port for firmware updates.
But even if forget all this, there is just something about this tuner that makes it a little bit more enjoyable to use than the rest of the pedal tuners we’ve used. It is probably just a placebo - or it might just simply be the design -but we honestly adore it!
Should I get one? If you are stuck between the Korg and Boss tuners, the TC Polytune not only fits perfectly price-wise, but feature-wise too. It delivers basically all you need from a tuner, whether you’re playing professionally or as a hobby.
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal
And of course – this review can’t go without the all-known Boss TU tuner. This tuner is the successor of the widely used TU-2, which probably is/was on most of the famous players’ pedalboards.
What to say about it, except that it has everything you’ll ever need from a tuner. It works in the same way most of the tuners do – displaying a pattern featuring red and green lines which move according the the pitch of the note you’re playing. 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 the board. Also, Boss is a well known company in the music industry, and most of the stuff they make is worth the money.
Should I get one? Almost everyone who plays a guitar professionally has either this, or the older model. That information alone is all you need to make up your decision.
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 in the comments.