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Whether you’re a master songwriter or a real-life guitar hero, none of that matters if you’re out of tune. Even a slight deviation from the intended tuning can make the best player sound wonky and risk losing listeners, both for live shows and on recorded tracks. Fortunately, there are a ton of tuners available to make sure you’re always on-point, no matter if you’re sticking with the standard EADGBE or inventing your own.
What Are the Best Guitar Tuners?
There are a number of things to look for when shopping for the best guitar tuner for you. We’ve rounded up a few key things to keep in mind.
Display: A display that’s easy to read is great no matter what, but for live shows and tuning up before hitting the stage, backlighting is a must-have. Venues are often dark, and a tuner without lighting is going to be hard to see. Same goes for on stage too – if this is going onto your pedalboard, make sure it’s not only lit up, but also clearly visible from your head to your feet.
Battery: For the clip-ons and other tuners without an AC plug, battery life is important for long tours, to avoid getting caught with a dead charger right before you’re ready to go on. Battery-powered tuners are frequently left on for long stretches of time (either intentionally or by accident) and won’t tell you when it’s running low. Plus, many of the smaller ones take oddly-sized batteries that might be tougher to find when you’re on the road.
Accuracy: Accuracy is possibly the most important attribute of all, as without accurate tuning, everything else is irrelevant. Tuners measure accuracy by a “cent” – or, one-hundredth of a semi-tone, which represents one fret on a guitar’s fingerboard. For an even faster way to check if you’re all tuned up, some tuners let you strum all six strings at once – a huge timesaver when you’re about to perform.
Response Time: This is the speed of how fast a tuner shows you the result and can switch between strings. Seconds can feel like hours when an audience is waiting for you to get your tuning right, particularly for odd or original tunings where being a cent sharp or flat can sour your sound.
Connection: There are a few different options here, and they all work notably well for different settings. In a quiet practice space, a unit with an external mic will get the job done. But a clip-on is an excellent option, sensing notes entirely on vibrations alone. A noisy environment can range from a nuisance, to impossible to operate a mic-based tuner in, but vibrations bypass all of that and let you tune up no matter the decibel level around you.
If you’ve got an array of pedals and would rather tune up by feet than hand, there are options for that as well. Pedal-based tuners fit right onto your board and into your setup. These can also mute the sound coming through them as well, so the crowd doesn’t have to listen to you tune up.
Extras: Additional features like a built-in metronome are a nice bonus, especially for beginners. There are even tuners that physically can turn the tuning peg for you, though these can lack accuracy, and it’s advisable to learn the hands-on way and get acquainted with tuning by hand and ear first with the help of a good regular tuner. Same goes for locking tuners – while they may make string changes more efficient, they won’t do much in the way of keeping your tuning stable and from slipping out.
Fit: Finally, a tuner needs to fit – either on your pedalboard, or onto the headstock of your instrument. Make sure there’s going to be room for the one you want.
After your guitar’s back in its case, keep your tuner out for other instruments – as the best guitar tuners can also work with violins, ukuleles, pedal steel, and hundreds more.
1. BOSS TU-3 Tuner
If you’ve got a pedalboard, chances are there’s a BOSS somewhere on it. And if not, this is an ideal one to start with.
The company has gone above and beyond to prove their reliability and road-worthiness for nearly 50 years, with pedals that stand up to being stomped on and set up repeatedly night after night. Their TU line of tuners has evolved over the decades, with this TU-3 being a step up from the TU-2. It still matches that same tank-like durability, along with an accuracy that tells you your guitar’s tuning fast, and within +/- one cent.
Chromatic scales are a given, but this can also handle all sorts of odd tuning – up to six semitones below the standard pitch. Plus, this supplies power for seven other BOSS compact effect pedals, so start loading up your board to get the exact sound (and tuning) you’re after.
2. Peterson StroboStomp HD Guitar Tuner
The Peterson’s display couldn’t be any clearer, brightly lit with an HD LED backing, that can easily be read from a distance. You can even change the color too.
It’s extremely accurate and precise, pinpointing a note down to .01 cent, or 1/1000 of a semitone or fret, and can be powered with a micro USB cable. Notes are displayed in real-time, and the unit is designed to reduce sudden and annoying “pops” when powering on or off, thanks to the dual relay circuit cutting down on incoming signals, all without affecting quality or clarity of the final sound.
This works with an impressively wide and worldly array of more than 135 instruments, including harps and orchestral strings.
3. Monoprice Guitar Tuner
Monoprice is well-established in the music and tech world as having no-nonsense, reliable gear at an affordable price point. This chromatic pedal tuner can be battery or AC-powered, and the aluminum body is durable enough to be stomped on and knocked around (while still small enough to fit on a pedalboard).
The display is a nice balance of big and bright, easy to read, but not overpowering in the dark. It’s also extremely accurate, within one cent, and has little to no lag when tuning up.
4. Snark SN5X Clip-On Tuner
This clip-on tuner with a clear and colorful HD display also doubles as a metronome, making it the perfect tool to take along in your case. The head swivels in all directions, easy to see the result of each note even in the dark or from odd angles.
Tuning is precise and accurate, and the clip holds tight onto the headstock if you want to keep it on while playing. It also works well with other instruments like violins and ukuleles, and is ideal for kids and beginners too.