Boss TU-3 Tuner Review – An Industry Standard

By: GroundGuitar Dan
Posted under: Gear Review

If you at any time researched pedalboards of famous guitar players, there’s one pedal that you saw at least once. The famous Boss TU tuner. Classic looking stomp pedal that has been a go-to tuner for most guitarists who play standing up. It’s operated with a foot switch, it’s quick and simple to use, and it has a proper display that you can see even in daylight.

So, let’s see what’s all the fuss about it.

Boss TU-3 Review

Boss TU-3 guitar tuner activated with a foot, with a Stratocaster guitar sitting in the background.
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Pedal Tuner. Photo by: Dan Kopilovich/GroundGuitar

TU-3 Unboxed

It’s worth nothing that the Boss TU-3 packaging is a huge step up compared to some other tuners on the market. If you look a the Peterson StroboClip that we recently reviewed, Boss did so much better job at the whole presentation thing. Note that both of these tuners are top-end premium stuff, so they should be comparable in this particular aspect.

Boss TU-3 comes in a black leather textured cardboard box, that opens up the same way most of smartphone nowadays boxes do. First impression that you get when you pick up the tuner is that it is heavy and robust. It feels like something made out of single block of metal. It’s cold on touch, and reminds me on holding one of those well made die-cast miniature car models.

Boss TU-3 tuner unboxed.
Boss TU-3 unboxed.

As far as the paperwork, you get a very detailed owners manual, and a separate safety manual. I also got a card that I can use to register my tuner online, and a warranty card in what appears to be in Japanese. I was confused at first, since I bought this tuner in Europe. Bit, I’m guessing it’s because Boss is part of the Roland Corporation, which is based in Japan.

The Tuner

As far as the design, the tuner itself is just the right amount of ornate. This design is something that most pedal manufacturers use as their go-to, so it’s nothing new. But, I still prefer this over the simple box and a toggle switch that most tuners nowadays go for.

It’s also about the right size. The foot switch is comfortable to use, and there’s no mistaking whether you’re pressing it or not.

All in all, the looks are subjective, but I think most would agree that there’s nothing on the TU-3 worth hating. It’s a classic.

Boss TU-3 up-close.
The TU-3 standing proud in all its glory.

TU-3 comes with a GP 1604G 9V 300mAh battery already installed. It’s hidden under the foot pedal, sitting in its compartment, connected via two wires. You access the battery cavity by unscrewing the hand screw on the front side of the pedal (bottom right on the image below).

The battery compartment in the Boss TU-3 tuner.
TU-3’s battery compartment.

If you’re planning on using the pedal regularly, it’s best to ignore the battery altogether and buy a power adapter. The battery option is there if you need it, but really you should fit this tuner on a pedalboard.

Power Passthrough

Continuing along with the subject of the battery, on the back of the tuner there are two inputs. One is where the power adapter plugs in, and the second is for sending power to other pedals.

For this power passthrough, Boss recommends that you use their 200mAh or 500mAh PSA power adapters. In case you’re using the 200mAh version, this means that you have 170mAh for runing other pedals in the chain. But, this is only true you’re runing the tuner in normal mode. In high brightness mode (more on this later), the tuner draws 85mAh, so only 115mAh is left.

Inputs on the Boss TU-3.
The inputs on the Boss TU-3.

While skimming though the manual, I couldn’t find any info on whether there a limit to the amount of mA that the tuner can pass over to other pedals. But, Boss obviously wants you to use their adapters, which top at 500mAh. Realistically, this should be more than enough. A Boss DS-2 distortion for example consumes just 14mA, and Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah only 1mA. For a quick reference, you can use this Pedal Power Consumption List in milliamps.

However, I fail to see an advantage to this method as opposed to daisy chaining straight from the adapter, and using something like this. It would make sense if you could power other pedals though TU-3’s battery. But, Boss clearly states that this power passthrough is only available if you use a power adapter.

In any case, even if you find it useful, don’t count on this being the long term solution for all of your pedals. An isolated power supply is always the best choice if you want to avoid any potential problems, like noise.

Inputs, Outputs, use as a Splitter

On the side of the pedal there are three jack plugs. You have your input and output, which are self-explanatory, and a jack plug labeled as “Bypass”. Basically, if you want your guitar muted when you tune, you use the output jack. If you want your guitar to always be heard, you use the bypass.

One advantage to these separate outputs is that you could potentially use the TU-3 as a splitter. Since the tuner mutes the output when you turn it on, you could use this to your advantage. If you use two different amp/effect setups, one signal could go through the output and only be activated when the tuner is off. This way you could add multiple effects at once with a single pedal, in case you have them after the output.

In short, the bypass you always hear, and output you add when you want. Boss possibly didn’t even plan for this, but it’s a pretty sweet feature.

Boss TU-3’s Jack Plugs’

Displays, Menus

Displays on the TU-3 are very basic. You get your note shown on a small LED display on the bottom. Your cents, or how near you are to the note, is displayed on the top in the oval section.

You can use the display in the standard mode, and in the High Brightness mode. To activate the second mode, press and hold the Stream/Cent button for two seconds. This modes consumes a lot more battery, but it should be usefull if you’re tuning under an intense light source.

The TU-3 can operate under two different modes. To switch between these, you use the button on the left labeled as Stream/Cent. First mode is the standard tuning mode where you tune your guitar until the green LED lights up in the middle. The second mode is more like a strobe, and you tune until the pattern stops spinning. Same results, but different methods.

One the right, you have a button labeled as Mode. This is for switching between chromatic, guitar, and bass tuning. In between these, you also get your flat tunings. All very self-explanatory and simple to use.

Lastly, you also have to option to calibrate pitch. To access this option, press the two buttons at the same time and hold. You can calibrate between 436 and 445 Hz.

Responsiveness, Accuracy

I tested the TU-3’s accuracy against the most popular strobe tuner on the market, the Peterson StroboClip HD. Arguably, the StroboClip is one of the more precise tuners on the market, at least in this price range. It’s a strobe tuner, meaning that you can see even the slightest discrepancies in the notes.

Boss TU-3 compared to Peterson StroboClip HD tuner.
Peterson StroboClipHD on the headstock, Boss TU-3 Tuner on the ground.

I started by tuning each string on the TU-3 without looking at the Peterson at all. Surprisingly, as I went beck, and check everything, there was absolutely no need for adjustments. Both tuners perfectly agreed on the notes.

One thing that the TU-3 has over the StroboClip, or any clip-on tuner on the market, is responsiveness. Since you plug your guitar straight into it, there’s no interferences to the signal and everything is optimal as it can be. Tuning an electric guitar with the TU-3 is just perfectly optimized.

Verdict

Pros

  • Design, Size.
  • Responsiveness, Accuracy.
  • High brightness mode.
  • Dual outputs that allow for the tuner to be used as a switch.

Cons

  • Having the input cable plugged in, the battery drains even when the tuner is off (how is this even a thing, it’s crazy).
  • Two arrows above the display are pretty much useless in daylight as they are hard to see.
  • No ability to go right when choosing the tuning modes. Forces you to do a whole circle to the left if you miss by one.

There’s a reason why the Boss TU-3 tuner is considered to be an industry standard. Sure, you could say that Boss is the Apple of guitar pedals, and there’s something to be said about being blindly loyal to a brand. But, the TU-3 tuner stands on its own feet, and it’s really a high quality piece of equipment. It does its job perfectly, and there’s very few things to dislike on it. If you’re playing standing up, you already have a pedalboard or you plan on making one, this tuner is a perfect choice.

Beware, you should only use this pedal with a power adapter. Battery drains like crazy if you leave the cables plugged in.

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Boss TU-3

$129.99

All prices are either MSRP or taken at the time of publishing.

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Reviews, gear recommendations.