It should be common sense that before buying any of the fancy effect pedals, a person should probably invest some of your money in the 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 precious 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 tuners, and separated them in three groups – the reasoning behind each is explained at the start of each section.
Best Clip-on Guitar Tuners
Clip-On tuners are usually to be used with acoustic guitars, but they can be used on electrics without any significant issues. 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 in order to work. 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-8 Clip-On Chromatic Tuner
At this price point, it’s really hard to find something worth complaining about the Snark SN-8. Yeah, it’s all cheap plastic, but it’s not like we expected metal casing for this kind of money anyways. What’s important is that the tuner does its job pretty well, and most of the people are probably going to be amazed by it anyway 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 the 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.
Summary: Snark is certainly one of the least expensive tuners out there still offering a satisfying performance. It is perfectly suited for people who don’t want to be constantly worried about losing 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 risk the chance of losing it; with Snark, it’s no big deal. For few bucks, you can get a brand new one.
Korg Pitchhawk 2 Chromatic Guitar Tuner
Korg is a well-known company for most of the people who are into music equipment. Their main focus is on stuff like keyboards and synthesizers, but they also specialize in making guitar equipment – among them a few really good tuners.
This clip-on tuner in particular ranks a little bit higher than the Snark. It has a noticeably better build quality, highly adjustable double ball-joint backlit 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 point. You can use either the piezo sensor or the microphone to tune the guitar, and you’ll need a standard CR2032 battery (included) to run it.
Summary: If you’re looking for a good, relatively cheap long-term tuner – look no further. The Pitchhawk is perfect for someone who doesn’t necessarily want to invest too much in their first tuner, and for someone who mainly plays an acoustic or nylon guitar. The tuner also looks simplistic and pleasing and has a very slim profile, which is certainly a plus in our book.
Peterson StroboClip HD Guitar 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 a somehow different approach from chromatic tuners, – they compare the note played with a reference frequency, such as the flashing of an LED light, which makes them upwards of ten times more accurate.
The tuning process itself is somewhat different from what you’d encounter on a standard chromatic tuner. Instead of the half-circle with the green LED light on the apex, the display on a this tuner shows a strobe that spins at a speed that depends on how far you are from being perfectly in tune. It takes a bit longer to tune your guitar using a strobe, and 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 that is undetectable by human ear but well visualized on the display of the StroboClip.
We would also like to point out that we actually prefered the old version of this tuner, which has now unfortunately been discontinued in favor of this new version. The old version had an all metal build, and in our opinion had a much more original design – but it also sold at a higher price point. Nowadays, this old version sells for upwards of $300 on eBay, since there are a very few of them left out there.
Summary: Peterson StroboClip HD tuner measures to much greater accuracy than a standard tuner, it doesn’t require a silent environment which makes it perfect for gigging players, and the build quality is fairly decent. One thing to consider – if you happen to come across the old metal version of this tuner – grab one for yourself right away. If not, the new StroboClip HD is the next best thing out there.
Best Pocket-sized Guitar Tuners
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 until the needle hits the center.
The built-in microphone is not really that good at all and it requires low-level of background noise for you to be able to make proper use of it. We’ve put it side by side with a phone running a tuner app (GuitarTuna in our case), and honestly, it performed worse. The input jack however works much better in our experience, and the performance is more than satisfactory. So if you just plan to use it to tune your acoustic guitar, it’s not really worth it – and a clip-on tuner or a phone app is a better choice.
One thing worth noting about the GA-40 is that if you decide to use it for your electric guitar, it has an output jack – which means that you can keep it in your signal chain at all times. But then again, if you plan to use it in such fashion, a pedal tuner is obviously a much better choice.
Summary: This is probably the tuner we would personally recommend to a complete beginner / someone on a budget playing mainly an electric guitar. 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.
Korg TM-50 Tuner and Metronome
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 its reasons as we’ll see.
We personally compared the GA-40 and TM-50 at a local guitar store and the TM-50 seemed to have a much better response when using the microphone, especially while tuning in an environment where there’s lots of people talking and other instruments playing in the background. As said previously, the GA-40 struggles immensely with this. Tuning directly through a cable seemed to lessen the gap between the two somewhat, but the TM-50 still locked onto a note a lot quicker than the GA-40.
The tuner also has both the input and the output jack, which saves you from the hassle of dealing with cables each time you tune the guitar. The display is back-lit, meaning that it’s very easy to read in both daylight and in dark environments, with the option to turn the light off manually to preserve battery. The built-in metronome is somewhat quiet, but does its job well enough. The great plus is the ability to tune to different pitch standards with a range from 410-480Hz, apart from the standard 440Hz.
Summary: In our experience, this tuner outperforms the GA-40 in every way, and as said for these type of tuners, it is just perfect for carrying around in your pocket and just taking it out whenever and wherever you need it. If you don’t care for the small 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.
BOSS TU-12EX Chromatic Tuner
For the most demanding users, we initially had three options to consider: BOSS TU-12, Seiko Sat1100, and Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner. These are all top of the line 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, and it frankly is our favorite of the three, but almost no store has the tuner in stock anymore, so the decision was made to push the Boss into the spotlight (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 its analog display – which was luckily carried over to the TU-12EX. The tuner has a physical needle, which is really a cool feature and adds to the overall premium feel of this tuner. The movement of the needle happens in real time, as opposed to “simulated” needles which are obiovuly limited by the segments on digital displays.
The casing on this tuner is build to last and leaves the impression of a very well built product. Tuner of course has both the microphone and the input/output jacks, and it’s powered by two AAA batteries or a power adapter – which is a feature that many among you will appreciate.
Summary: 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.
Best Stage (Pedal) Guitar Tuners
Korg Pitchblack Tuner Pedal
Again something from Korg. This time a compact stage tuner that offers pretty much everything an average user would ever need. It comes in a very sturdy die-cast case which holds a bright and a very readable screen with a couple of different display modes. The Pitchblack is powered by either a power adapted or a 9V battery. It’s smaller in size when compared to most other 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.
Suumary: The Pitchhawk tuner 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 value. Consider it an entry-level model and ticket to the world of professional guitar gear.
TC Electronic Polytune 2
The TC Electronic Polytune is as straight-forward as a guitar pedal tuner 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 the strings at once.
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.
For finer tuning and setting up the intonation of your guitar, the Polytune also has a virtual strobe tuning mode. This increases the accuracy to up to ten times compared to the standard mode.
As a side note – if you happen to prefer a clip-on tuner, TC Electronics recently released a PolyTune Clip tuner which offers the same features as this tuner, but it’s targeted at acoustic guitar users. The price is usually around $50.
Summary: 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.
BOSS TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal
Of course – this list can’t go without the famous Boss TU pedal tuner. This particular model is the successor of the widely popular and 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 classic and timeless design of the pedal itself, which is a great plus if you want it to fit well with the rest of the pedals on your pedalboard.
Another thing that separates the TU-3 from the rest is the display, which is readable even in the bright sunlight (to some extent of course) making it a perfect choice for professionals who often play on outdoor stages. The previously mentioned Korg Pitchblack surely lacks in this aspect, and the TC Polytune too could use a brighter display.
When compared to those two tuners, the TU-3 lacks true bypass but features a buffer that eliminates the possibility of the tone getting sucked by long cables (most of the concern just to professional guitarists – you can read more about it here Buffered vs. True Bypass Pedals).
Summary: Even without professionals endorsing it, the Boss TU-3 can stand on its 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 / stage setting.
♛ King of the Hill
Peterson VSS-C Strobo Stomp Tuner
Realistically the tuner that deserves this place the most is the Peterson AutoStrobe 590, but due to limiting ourselves to a more moderate price point of around $200 (compared to around $1000 for the AutoStrobe), we decided to choose a different model.
As we 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 a true premium product.
Next to that, the tuner is equipped with a ton of features, most notably what Peterson calls Sweetened tunings. This basically instructs you to tune each string off by few cents, to achieve a different type of sound. You can basically do this on any decent tuner, except that StroboStomp actually has them memorized as presets so you don’t have to.
The pedal can also operate under three different settings: monitor, true-bypass, and active DI (with XLR output).
Summary: The Strobo Stomp is the tuner that you should consider seriously if you main goal is being perfectly in tune, or you’re someone who plays, builds, or fixes guitars professionally. Only other tuner that can stand by its 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).
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!