Buying a new guitar is very exciting, but buying a guitar tuner is far less glamorous. Having said that, finding the best guitar tuner you can is going to save you some headaches down the line.
Guitar tuners have a pretty simple job to do, but they have to do it quickly and accurately. There are lots of different types of tuners on the market, from smartphone apps to foot pedals. Some tuners are even polyphonic, meaning you can strum all the open strings together and instantly see which string is out. The best type for you will depend on how you set up your gear and your playing level.
This is a redundant question, right? Of course, you use a guitar tuner to tune your guitar. However, if you have been a guitarist for some time working with other musicians, you'll know there are a few reasons to use a tuner.
If you are a beginner, a good guitar tuner is an absolute must. Not only to stay in tune, but to help you train your ears properly to notice when something sounds a bit off. For more experienced players who have been around the block a few times, you'll know that some players like to tune by ear (especially in rehearsals).
Experienced guitarists can tune by ear and get pretty close without major issues. But everyone has met that one guitarist who thinks they have perfect pitch when in reality, they are way off. What happens next is 20 minutes of rehearsal time wasted and arguing over who's in tune and who isn't.
Do yourself a favor: Buy the best guitar tuner that you can. Keep yourself in tune and have a back-up reality check for others if ever needed.
You can download apps like Fender Tune on your smart device for free. So, there's no excuse for not being in tune — not ever!
Outside of free apps, you can spend anywhere from $10 to over $100 on various types of guitar tuners. The accuracy of a tuner isn't directly aligned with the price but generally speaking; you get what you pay for (with a few exceptions).
Here's what we think are the top 10 guitar tuners on the market. All of these tuners are great, but they won't all suit every player. The best guitar tuner for you could be anywhere on our list.
We are starting with one of the smallest headstock tuners you will ever see. The best thing about the D'addario Micro Tuner is its great functionality despite its tiny size.
It has two tuning modes: chromatic and metronome. Both modes are easy to use and access thanks to a small screen and simple button layout. The NS Micro Tuner has an accuracy level of 0.3 cents, which is perfect as far as an audience goes.
It clips nicely onto your headstock, and you can forget all about it until you need it.
You can't go wrong with the NS Micro Tuner at all; you get value for money and then some. There is no polyphonic tuning mode, but it's hardly a big issue for this type of tuner. One minor complaint is that the screen is easier to see in darker conditions, but it's not so bad we had to list it in our cons.
The screen even displays a metronome, which is a surprise given how small it is. Any concerns over it being fidgety to use are put to rest by some relatively large and simple buttons. A good buy whatever way you look at it.
Korg released various versions of its Pitchblack tuner over the past decade. The Pitchblack Advance promises to be the best yet and perhaps the best pedal tuner currently available. The biggest improvement since previous models is that the Advance version now has 60-hour battery life. Korg has added a function that limits power supply interference via software control.
There are four modes: LED, strobe, half-strobe, and mirror. Accuracy is +/- 0.1 cents in strobe mode, which again is perfect for anyone listening. Other new additions are True Bypass switching and a low-noise DC out, allowing you to share a 9V power supply with other pedals.
Korg tends to make gear that looks pretty sleek and cool, and the Pitchblack Advance is no exception. The looks do add to the functionality too, though the new slanted design increases visibility.
As far as features go, the Pitchblack Advanced is certainly an advanced tuner. It's packed with features that are all super easy to use.
The 60-hour battery life may be the most notable improvement, but simple things like brighter LEDs and better screen visibility make this pedal guitar tuner a joy to use. It's not the cheapest tuner out there, but it's a solid buy.
As you can probably guess from the name, this is a polyphonic tuner and the third version of TC Electronic's PolyTune model. The PolyTune 3 comes with a built-in BonaFide buffer, which many pedal tuners don't have. The buffer gives users a choice between an all-analog buffered bypass and a true bypass. That can come in very useful for boosting your signal when needed.
It is also one of the most accurate tuners you will find, offering +/- 0.02 cents accuracy in strobe mode. Along with strobe mode, there are polyphonic and chromatic modes. The visual feedback from the PolyTune 3 is fantastic too, with its super-bright LEDs.
The PolyTune 3 is a more expensive tuner, but it's by no means overpriced. It's one of the most accurate you will ever own, and the option of buffered bypass make it worth the expense. To add to that, if being polyphonic tuning matters to you, then it's a no brainer — awesome work from TC Electronic.
This pedal tuner's predecessor, the TU-2, was a long-time industry standard. The TU-3 offers some very noticeable improvements, not least that it now tunes more accurately. It tunes with an accuracy of +/- 0.1 cent with a new 23 step LED display. Tuning happens in chromatic or strobe modes.
As well as being more accurate, it now offers drop tunings up to six semitones and bass tuning up to three flats.
The TU-3 has a new high brightness mode that dramatically increases visibility. Another awesome feature of this tuner is that it can pass power (max 200mA) to up to seven more pedals. You do it using the Boss power supply and a PCS-20A daisy chain.
Like previous models, the TU-3 has a buffered output, which is great for boosting your signal, but they have opted to leave out true bypass switching.
Boss has made some great improvements on what was already a hugely successful pedal tuner. The lack of true bypass switching may put off some of the tone-freaks out there, but features like drop tuning go some way to balance it out.
It's a very solid tuner that will take more than its fair share of bumps and scrapes without letting you down. The biggest issue is that it may be passed by, technology-wise, by some competitors. If drop tuning and dependability are your main priorities, the TU-3 is as reliable as any.
We already have the PolyTune 3 in our top 10, so why are we adding the PolyTune 2 Mini? Simple: Guitarists get addicted to pedals, and real estate on that pedalboard disappears fast. The PolyTune 2 Mini offers premium functions without taking up too much space.
With an accuracy of +/- 0.1 cent, it's less accurate than the PolyTune 3, but more accurate than most of a similar size. It offers polyphonic and chromatic tuning modes as well as drop tuning up to five semitones. True bypass switch is available just like the full-size pedals, and the ultra-bright LED display even adapts to various light conditions.
There isn't too much to say here. The PolyTune 2 Mini is a great pedal tuner with remarkably good features for its size. If you need a polyphonic tuner and you want to save space, then buy this. But if you don't care about saving space, then go for the PolyTune 3 because it's not much more expensive.
Fender Tune is a free app available on iOS and Android. The idea of Fender Tune is to be extremely user-friendly for complete beginners to stay in tune. The app detects the notes you play and offers three tuning modes: autotune, manual, and chromatic.
These modes also feature alternate tuning modes and the option to create your own custom tuning. Fender has also included some useful tips for beginners like strumming techniques and how to set up your amp.
You can expand the app with some add-ons that you can purchase. These include a more precise Pro Tuner, a metronome, and drum beats, along with scale and chord functions.
Fender Tune is an app that you will outgrow as you get more advanced, that's for sure. In the meantime, if you are a beginner, this is absolutely perfect! You get a tuner that is accurate enough for your needs, you get some useful tips, and you don't spend a dollar. No complaints about that!
The iStrobosoft is (from what we've seen) the most accurate tuner app available for iOS and Android. It has an accuracy of +/- 0.1 cent, which is just crazy for a tuner app.
Your device's built-in mic will detect notes much like other tuner apps, but you also have the option to plug in. An adapter cable and mini capsule mic are available (at extra cost) for the most accurate tuning.
The chromatic tuner display is very easy to navigate with all of the main features on-screen at once and no need to menu-dive. Flat/sharp indicators light up clearly showing not only which way you are out but by how many cents you are out too. Similar can be said about the strobe tuner display; everything is clear and easily visible in any conditions.
It's not a free app, but at under $10, it's worth a look.
There are some amazingly impressive things about this app, and then there are some reasons to be less impressed. The accuracy it offers as a mobile app is nothing short of astounding.
However, the fact you need to plug in to make the most of that accuracy could make you think: Why not just buy a physical tuner instead? It's still very impressive, and if you want a tuner app that's with you all the time, this is probably it. Unless you are a beginner, in which case, go for the free Fender Tune.
The AW-OTG POLY has an OLED screen. We say this before anything because visibility is key, and Korg has nailed it here. Needle mode has an accuracy of +/- 0.1 cents, with strobe mode promising to improve on that figure. Along with those two main modes, there are nine animated modes, including a slot machine and heart monitor style display. These modes don't offer extra functionality, but they look great on the OLED screen and will be fun for younger guitarists.
It comes with an 18-hour battery life (one AAA battery) which is pretty impressive as far as clip-on tuners go. There is a chord finder function that detects which chord you are playing and displays it by name on the screen.
The Korg AW-OTG POLY is pretty impressive indeed. This is a great choice if you want a clip-on alternative to the TC Electronic PolyTune pedal range. The OLED screen is fantastic for general visibility not to mention the animated modes. It's a professional-grade tuner with some quirky features for kids and beginners.
The ST-300 Mini is the most accurate mini pedal tuner you can buy. It has an accuracy of +/- 0.02 cents in a pedal as small as any mini pedal tuner. That is extreme accuracy by any standards, and the fact it's coming from a mini pedal just makes it more impressive.
This tuner is not short of functions either with six modes including chromatic, guitar, bass, standard, drop D, and six-string bass. The modes differ in various ways. For example, in chromatic mode, the pitch of the plucked string is shown on screen while other modes display a string number. The drop tuning modes allow you to lower the pitch by up to six semitones and custom modes let you create and store your own tuning.
One of the most impressive things, accuracy aside, is the speed at which it detects the notes. The display is pretty user-friendly, although a little different from some alternative tuners.
As far as mini pedal tuners go, we see it as a two-horse race. You have the ridiculously accurate ST-300 Mini or the PolyTune 2 Mini. The ST-300 Mini is more expensive than most mini pedal tuners but that accuracy comes at a price. It comes down to what you want most, higher accuracy or polyphonic tuning.
Soundhole tuners are not popular with all guitarists, but this one is the neatest we have seen. It works via a very sensitive piezo transducer detecting vibrations from the soundboard. In theory, this should mean very fast and very accurate tuning response.
At +/- 0.3 cents accuracy, there are more accurate tuners out there, but you choose one like this for discretion. If you don't want to fiddle about with a tuner, this is a gem. The screen is small of course, but it's still easily visible.
Aesthetically speaking, this is as close as you will come to a clip-on tuner that doesn't alter the appearance of your guitar.
The Soundhole is another simple tuner. You sacrifice a little accuracy for a less intrusive device. If the accuracy is an issue, you'll never be happy with this tuner. If the accuracy isn't an issue, you will be delighted by the fact no one but you will see it! For acoustic guitarists who just want a basic tuner that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, this is it.
Deciding what is the best guitar tuner isn't like deciding which guitar to buy because there isn't a creative element attached to it.
Some tuners do offer features, such as chord finding, that can potentially improve your creative ability. But on the whole, a tuner is there to do a practical job, and your decision should be based on practical factors.
You should think about the following:
Ultimately, it's common sense, but any gear that does a very practical job has to make it easier for you to do your creative job.