In 2021, a guitar tuner is not a necessary piece of equipment for a guitarist anymore. With the rise of smartphones every person who owns a phone also owns a device that could tune their guitar. Thus, we must look for a tuner that either outperforms a smartphone app or does something that an app can’t do. With those criteria in mind, the best guitar tuner to get is Peterson StroboClip HD Clip-On Tuner. It can tune a guitar in a noisy environment (which an app always struggles with) and is much more precise than any phone app out there.
But, of course, things are not that clear-cut. You may be someone who needs a tuner for stage use, in such cases, something like a Boss TU-3 is the best guitar tuner to buy. As a brand, Boss is very respected, and many of the professional guitar players have used their tuners (and other pedals for that fact). Compared to the StroboClip, which is a clip-on tuner, the Boss TU-3 is a plug-in tuner. Meaning, you plug your guitar straight into it, so it’s perfect for electric guitar players.
Keep in mind, both of these are somewhat premium priced. If you’re looking for the best tuner based on your budget, there are a few of those listed further down the line. But, less money also means less performance and fewer features. So, again, we’re going back to the question – could a phone app be enough for you? Be sure to at least try to install a few apps and see if they’ll do the job for now, before spending any money.
The Best Guitar Tuners on the market
The Best Guitar Tuners 2021
Best Clip-On Guitar Tuner
StroboClip is, as the name implies, a clip-on tuner. But, the first part of the name implies something a little bit more interesting. That is that this is a strobe tuner. Simplified, this means that it offers a much greater accuracy than a chromatic tuner.
Chromatic tuners have around 1 cent of accuracy, which translates to a one-hundredth of a semitone. In other words, one-hundredth part of the space between frets.
The Peterson StroboClip has the alleged accuracy of 0.1 cents, which is ten times that or one-thousandth of a semitone.
Furthermore, strobe tuning feels better and more precise than chromatic. You’re not limited by the physical sections on the display. The note isn’t in tune when a LED light on a tuner lights up green, but when the strobe pattern stops spinning. You have to try it to feel this superiority in methods of tuning, but it is definitely there.
Aside from the accuracy, StroboClip feels premium across the board. It has a pretty unique design, a sturdy case, a proper strong clip, a very nice display, and it’s packed with features.
Main things to mention here are the micro USB for future firmware updates, and the custom tunings modes. Please note that you cannot use the USB for charging, which is a minus.
These custom modes are what Peterson calls “Sweetened Tunings”. In short, they are slight modifications to the standard guitar tuning (like the Buzz Feiten tuning system). There are modes for 6 string guitars, basses, 12-string guitars, lap steel, as well as violins and violas. A few of these are also uncharacteristic tunings used in other parts of the world, which an option that’s nice to have.
Best Guitar Tuner Pedal
Of course – this list can’t go without the Boss TU pedal tuner. This tuner is the successor of the TU-2, which is/was on most of the professional players’ pedalboards. For instance, John Mayer used the TU-2 tuner during the original Trio tour.
The TU-3 takes a lot from its older brother. Starting with the classic stomp pedal design, which many like, especially when they want the tuner to fit well with the rest of the pedalboard. The TU-3 has a more detailed display compared to the legendary TU-2, with a a larger amount of sections/LED lights. It’s worth noting that this display performs the best out of all listed here outdoors under sun glare. Keep that in mind if that’s something you want from a tuner.
About features, this tuner comes with a pretty standard pack. You get dedicated bass and guitar tuning options, as well as chromatic and non-chromatic modes. One notable thing is that the TU-3 has a bypass mode, which allows you to have the tuner on even while you’re playing. If you’re using the standard mode, the tuner mutes the guitar signal as soon as you engage it.
There isn’t that much to say about the TU-3 except that most everyone who plays the guitar has either this or the older model. While there are more accurate tuners out there, filled with way more features, this is a work horse – bare bone tuner that will serve you for years to come.
You can also read our full in-depth review of the Boss TU-3 here.
3. Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner
Best Standalone Tuner
On the best standalone tuner, this was a toss between two different tuners, the Korg and the Boss TU-12EX. But, seeing how the Boss is almost twice as much money, Korg seemed like a better deal. And there isn’t that much to the Boss to be worth the extra money, to be honest.
The Korg tuner is very robust and it feels like a serious piece of equipment. It’s worth noting that it is a bit bulky, and best left sitting on a desk, so don’t plan on carrying it around in your pocket. You do get a small soft case with it, that allows for safe transport.
Main thing that separates this tuner from cheaper tuners is the fact that it has a physical needle that tells you how far off you are from the note. This makes the tuning feel responsive, especially if you tune in the “slow” mode, which makes the needle more sensitive. You can also connect a microphone to it to make the tuning process even more accurate.
Also, since this is an Orchestral Tuner, it’s meant for more instruments than a guitar. You can tune a piano with it usually with no problem, as well as almost any string instrument. The detection range is from A0 (27.50 Hz) to C8 (4186 Hz), and pitch calibration from 349 to 499 Hz with 1 Hz step increments.
In short, this a tuner that does everything. Even if you plan to use it only on guitars, those extra features are very nice to have. It’s not perfect. It has some problems detecting the top and bottom octaves, so don’t count on the advertised 8-octave detection range. But for this price, that’s all forgivable.
Best Guitar Tuner for Beginners
For such a low price it’s hard to find something worth complaining about the Snark ST-8. Yeah, it’s all cheap plastic, but it’s not like we expected aluminum casing at this price point anyways.
What’s important is that the tuner does its job pretty well, and most of the people will find it amazing it anyway. This is especially the case with people for whom this will be their first tuner ever. Some of the more experienced will however notice the gap between this and a more premium tuner.
The Snark uses the high sensitivity piezo sensor to detect a note. The display is bright and clear, and it’s adjustable (can rotate 360 degrees). It even has a battery-saving feature that dims the light after ten seconds and completely shuts down the tuner after two minutes of idleness.
Also, since this is a higher-end Snark model, it has a built-in metronome, plus a feature that allows for tuning with a capo on. Although this sounds cool, it’s actually pretty simple and almost a gimmick. Basically. he tuner displays the EBGDAE standard tuning wherever you place the capo.
All in all, if you want a most budget friendly tuner out there, good enough for day to day tuning, this little Snark is your guy.
To read our full in-depth review of the Snark ST-8 click here.
5. Peterson StroboStomp
Most Accurate Stage Tuner
If you’re one of the people who want the best of the best, while still keeping it at a reasonable price, this should do the job. Peterson StroboStomp is a strobe tuner with an accuracy ten times better than an average guitar tuner. It’s also packed with features that most of the other don’t even come close to.
First worth mentioning is what Peterson calls “Sweetened” tunings. These are presets which alter the standard tuning to make your guitar sound better – at least according to Peterson. Included are also the Buzz Feiten tuning, as well as other non-standard tunings such as Drop D, DADGAD, etc.
The tuner also has a pretty nice display, which is a step above anything else on the market. The display can change colors, and the user has the ability to set the brightness according to personal needs.
You can use this tuner either in a buffer mode or in true bypass mode. You can also choose whether you want the tuner to mute your guitar when you engage it, or you want your signal to be on all the time.
6. TC Electronic PolyTune
Best Polyphonic Tuner
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 adapter, or a 9V battery, and it will not mess with your guitar sound since it features true-bypass switching.
One of the two main things that stand out in this tuner is the fact that it has an integrated analog buffer. This is great for people who already use a buffer, as it will save space on a pedalboard. The circuitry is the same as in TC’s Bonafide Buffer, a model very popular in the industry.
The second feature worth mentioning is the fact that it has a polyphonic tuning, meaning that you can tune all strings at once. Beware that this works best for a quick check. Most often, you’ll feel the need to go back and tune each string one by one.
Also worth mentioning are the separate modes available for chromatic and non-chromatic tuning. You also get the option for strobe tuning, which is always nice to have for setups and fine tuning.
The display is very bright, and one of the best on the market. You won’t have any trouble seeing whether you’re in tune from a distance, nor in sunny environments.
In case you want a polyphonic tuner in clip-on form, you can get a TC Electronics PolyTune Clip. This tuner shares most of the features with the pedal tuner, aside from the obvious ones like the built-in buffer.
A Thing or Two on the Subject of Guitar Tuners
The Types of Guitar Tuners
Clip-On Guitar Tuners
These are usually made for acoustic guitar use, but they can tune an electric too. They measure a note using a high-sensitivity vibration (piezo) sensor. This makes them ideal for loud environments as they do not need complete silence. To tune your guitar, place the tuner on the guitar’s headstock using the clip-on mechanism.
Pocket Guitar Tuners
These tuners are usually battery powered and have both microphone and input-jack. They are for both electric and acoustic guitars. Usually, they are somewhat cheap and small in size, which makes them great for carrying around in your pocket.
Pedal Guitar Tuners
This category of tuners is very popular among professional players who play on stage. They fit quite well on a pedalboard, and you can use them hands-free. If you’re often playing while standing, this category is right for you. Be aware – these tuners don’t have a microphone so they can’t tune an acoustic or classical guitar without a jack.
Chromatic, Non-Chromatic, Strobe Tuners
We can also separate tuners into Chromatic tuners and Non-Chromatic tuners.
Non-chromatic tuners allow you to tune only to set notes, for example, the standard EBGDAE. Chromatic tuners straight up tell you what note you’re playing, and you have to do the rest.
In practice, let’s say you’ve tuned your guitar to DADGAD to play some Kashmir. When you pick the first D string, a non-chromatic tuner would tell you to tune it up to E, because that’s the standard tuning which the tuner recognizes. A chromatic tuner would tell you whether the D is flat, sharp, or on point. In this case, the choice of the note is completely on you. This also means that you have to memorize the tunings that you want to use.
The third category is the strobe tuners. These work same as chromatic tuners, but have much greater accuracy. Chromatic tuners’ limit is the chromatic scale, and they tune relative to the nearest semi-tone. Strobe tuners are only limited by their internal frequency generator. This generator serves as a reference frequency, so a strobe tuner shows even the slightest deviation from it. This deviation you see in the movement of the rotating strobe disc.
How Much Accuracy Do You Need From A Guitar Tuner
People seem to like their accuracy in a tuner. In reality, there’s rarely need for a tuner that’s accurate beyond the standard accuracy. This is around +/- 1 cent. To put things into perspective, one cent is one hundredth off a semitone (or a fret on your guitar).
For example, the Peterson StroboClip HD has the alleged accuracy of 0.1 cents. This is one-thousandth of a semitone. In other words – this is something an average person would in no way ever notice. It’s pretty much pointless, and only a marketing strategy. It sounds like a cool thing to have, but it not necessary.
If you’re curious whether you should worry about each cent, I recommend this article by Hank Wallace – What Do Guitar Tuner Accuracy Specs Mean. Hank explains that a guitar changes pitch influenced by the temperature of the instrument and environment. So, there’s no need for such accuracy, when you think about it.