Have you ever been frustrated because your guitar’s out of tune?
Whether you’re playing live, or just practicing at home, intonation problems can be as frustrating as trying to find your cell phone when it’s time to head to a gig (not that that has ever happened to me, mind you)! lol
Fear not, ’cause I’ve found for you some truly fail-safe and rockin’ options.
Below is the LAST LIST YOU’LL NEED this year, and at the end… my number one pick, and the very choice I still use to this day!
1) KLIQ UberTuner Clip
Let me be up front about this: I’m not really a fan of clip-on tuners. They just don’t come equipped with the real estate necessary to really see the micro-measuring that I need in a professional stage environment. Plus, I haven’t found them precise enough for my liking.
That being said, tho’, I realize that there’s a huge market for inexpensive, non-professional tuner uses. So we’ll start things off here with the cheapest option I can actually recommend without cringing: the Kliq.
It’s for two big reasons:
- It’s the easiest to see and read onstage
- It’s faster than its competition
In a pro gig environment, unless you have your own side-stage gear techs to handle your guitars and tuning them (and if so… can I be YOU for a week… or more?!) those are two of your biggest concerns. You don’t want tuning to take long, and you need to be able to see your unit regardless of what the lighting person is giving you. Or NOT giving you, which is usually more the case.
It also appears that, in today’s market, this particular tuner is the best bang for your buck if you can only afford at most twenty or thirty bucks. There are some cheaper, and more expensive, that don’t work as well as this one!
It makes sense that this would be the best among the clip-ons, since KLIQ Music Gear, the company, was founded by a couple real musicians who really liked the clip-on idea, but (like me) couldn’t find a reliable one. Guess they took the old adage to heart that says, “Don’t complain. Provide a solution.”
The battery life on this unit is not stellar – you’ve only got @ 8 hours on one battery. Since there’s no low battery indicator, you’ll also not know you’re running outta juice until it appears to not work right, or your screen goes blurry, or both. But, again, for the price point, they can’t do everything!
They can, however, give you a great warranty – THREE years! Always good to see a company with the confidence to stand behind their product for so long, isn’t it?
The Kliq provides a few tuning modes which I appreciate in something this inexpensive. Although they’re not all-encompassing by any means, it’s at least a start. It comes with:
- Chromatic Mode
- Guitar Mode
- Bass Mode
- Violin Mode
- Ukulele Mode (both C and D keys)
Now, the accuracy on this is ±1.0 cent. For a clip-on tuner, that’s… about what I’d expect. For me personally? It’s not enough. Unless I’m around a campfire, in a non-professional setting, you wouldn’t find me onstage with this model. But that’s just me.
If, however, you’re a player who isn’t as picky as I am about intonation, and likes the immediate, visual aid that a clip-on brings, and doesn’t have a big wad to spend… well, this could be your lucky clamp. ‘-)
- The UberTuner USER MANUAL
2) TC Electronic PolyTune Clip
Remember what I said about clip-ons not being precise enough? Well, leave it to the great company TC Electronics to come along and prove me wrong. In writing this article I was so intrigued by this little guy that, yes… I went out and bought one. And so far… it’s working great!
The PolyTune has three things going for it that caused me to surrender to the clip gods:
- Its accuracy is truly exceptional: ±0.02 cents!
- It has “polyphonic view”!
- Strobe tuning is one of the visual options
The accuracy speaks for itself, but what’s this “polyphonic view” thing?
It’s a very cool feature, that’s what! It’s something I’ve never had the privilege to test in action until now, but I already love – you can strum ALL the strings at once, and the monitor will show you all six current string tunings! You’ll be able to see instantly if any of them are off at all.
Every tuner should have this feature. Being able to look at all the strings and see if any of the six are off instantly… that saves a TON of time! And if you add up all your gigs and the time spent in the past checking your tuner, you’re bound to see what pay-off this is in the long run.
The alternate tuning modes within the unit are pretty good. They don’t cover the kind of wacky ground I use, but for most the options will keep ’em happy. The options are:
- Standard tuning
- All strings tuned down 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 semi-tones
- CAPO tunings at the 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7th fret!
I especially like the capo tunings. If you use capos all the time, like I do on acoustic, that’ll definitely come in handy.
There are a couple ways this tuner is the best on the list: first, it has the largest tuning RANGE of all the tuners listed here: A0 to B6. That’s a huge range, far beyond what you’d need for guitar. Harp, anyone??
Second, the accuracy on the PolyTune is second to none. If you use the strobe display option you will get 0.02 cent accuracy! That, my friends, is the best on the list. So definitely use the strobe option. I mean, when it comes to tuning… isn’t accuracy the point??
For those of you that work on your guitars yourself, you’ll be pleased to know that the PolyTune is so precise, you can use it to set the intonation on your guitars. This kind of accuracy is rare, but go ahead – set it, then hit those harmonics. You’ll hear ’em POP with the power of dead-on Hz placement.
In the end, the PolyTune clocks in at only $49 for all these amenities, which is pretty astounding for the price point. Is it going to become my go-to tuner on stage now? Probably not, because that would mean it would have to beat out my usual tuner… which is the bomb. But you’ll see that one later… 😉
But I bought it. And I like it. If I don’t want to drag my whole rig with me… this is my new best friend.
- PolyTune Clip USER MANUAL
3) Peterson StroboClip HD Clip-on
The Peterson company has long made their mark by concentrating on two things in the music electronics market: pipe organ-equipment, and tuners. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Whereas other companies have ventured out and created new divisions creating other types of products, Peterson has clung to what it does, and has done, better than any other company for decades.
They’ve been making electronic tuners for musicians since 1964. Even back then multiple touring bands saw their worth and exclusively used them for their tours: the Grateful Dead; The Who; Pink Floyd; Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young…
The list is pretty long, folks. And I’m definitely on the list.
This Clip-on is the most expensive of these first three, but it’s also (clearly, to me) the best of the bunch. It’s definitely in the “you get what you pay for” category.
The StroboClip excels at a few things:
- It gives you excellent accuracy for tuning many instruments
- It provides the largest library of different tunings and settings in its genre
- It offers you “Sweetened Tunings”. No other company goes there.
- It allows you to create and upload your OWN tunings into the StroboClip!
If you’re unfamiliar with Sweetened tunings, as I was before I studied up on it a few years back, check out THIS ENLIGHTENING VID, which should bring its tonal worth into spotlight clarity for you.
Basically, it means that the StroboClip will slightly adjust notes to compensate for tuning problems that specific instruments have. James Taylor, for example, always uses the “ACU” sweetener setting in his Peterson for his signature J.T. acoustic guitar sound.
As for specs, they’re as tech’d as you’d expect!
- Strobe, HD backlit LCD display
- Concert A Reference Pitch 390Hz to 490Hz
- Tuning range from C0 – B6
- Accuracy of 0.1 cent
- 50+ Tuning Modes
- USB for software updates
- Included CR2032 battery
- Tour tough chassis
- Low Battery Indicator
- 2 year warranty
One sure way of getting a feel for the real-world worth of a piece of gear is to read the online reviews written by real players like you and me. The StroboClip has the most glowing reviews out of all the tuners on this list. People absolutely love it.
It usually comes down to two reasons: the accuracy and/or the new Sweetened Tunings mode. With this combination, Peterson stands in a class all by itself.
I personally started using a more ‘sweetened tuning’ a couple years ago after reading about the possibilities and consulting some local luthiers and hearing what they had to say on it.
Pretty much whenever I tune a guitar now, I optimize the G and B string harmonic relationship by not using true equal temperament. It makes a big difference, especially on acoustic guitars when I’m playing solo.
The Peterson products make this take no extra time since it’s already hard-wired to give you those relationships. Sweet!
If you occasionally have to play with pianos that have not been tuned in a while, you know the drill of having to tune to the piano, usually quite a bit flat. The StroboClip helps in that it has the largest Concert Pitch range out of any of today’s options. You can set it as low as 400 Hz or as high as 490 Hz. If you have to go lower or higher than that… dude – somebody call the piano tuner NOW!
The StroboClip is now on its third software upgrade, so you can see that they are relentless in keeping their product up-to-date. The USB connection allows you to get the latest version whenever a new one is released.
As for battery life, it registers the longest on the list: 20 hours! If you hate having to buy those expensive, round little batteries all the time, this will keep you going the longest, and avoiding a trip to Battery-Land. 😉
Finally, if you’re like me and create your own guitar tunings frequently, you’ll be able to designate and upload any of them into the StroboClip using their software and a USB cable. Check out THIS WEB PAGE for the specifics.
More expensive? Yes. Worth it? If the extras the StroboClip packs match the needs you have as a professional musician, then most definitely ‘yes’!
- The StroboClip USER MANUAL
4) TC Electronic PolyTune 2 Pedal
Whenever I write review articles, I really try to not ever give the same company my recommendation twice. In fact, this is the first time it’s ever happened.
And it won’t be the last. lol
But what can I do? When you put in the time to check products out, and some are just the clear winners, there’s no other option.
Now, I know some of you out there are pedal pushers. You’ve got the ‘big toe dance’ goin’ during performances and it’s your thing. That’s cool. The current pedal trend of the last 6 years or so is not my thing, but back in the day I remember what it was like (my first gear purchase after guitar & amp was a classic Boss Chorus pedal!).
So, you in that camp? You want a TUNER PEDAL? Then there’s really no better option right now than the PolyTune 2.
This TC pedal version gives you all the niceties of the Clip, which to me already sets it ahead of its competition without going any farther.
But consider this: with the pedal you can plug in an optional power cord (the TC Electronic PowerPlug 9) and never have to worry about batteries again. That, to me, is a real plus, ‘cuz I never want to have a battery die during a gig, know what I mean? This unit, like so many, also doesn’t have a low battery indicator, so there’s yet another reason to go for the electric cable.
On the flip side though, a recent battery test of the PolyTune 2 showed it going for 10+ hours before caving in, which is pretty good compared to other pedals.
The PolyTune is also a TrueBypass unit, so there’ll be no tone-sucking when you’re done tuning.
(And if none of that made any sense to you, you might want to read THIS. 😉
Since these types of pedals tend to be paired with electric guitars, which don’t tend towards alternate tunings, the onboard tuning options definitely satisfy, since they blow away its competition:
- 1 – 5 semitones flat
- 1 – 7 semitones Capo
I think that’s plenty to keep us satisfied, don’t you?
Unlike most pedals, the PolyTune sports a USB port in the back, which allows, like the Peterson Clip, for firmware updates and the like. A simple hook-up in the future to your computer and it’s like buying a newer unit.
A very useful feature in this pedal is the ambient light detector. The brightness of the unit will increase or decrease based on how much light it detects in its environment. With this feature, you won’t find the pedal insanely bright when the stage is dark, but if you’re doing an outdoor gig in the sun, it’ll amp up to max brightness so you can still see the darn thing. Cool addition.
If you’re a tireless golden tone seeker like me and never want “tone sucking”, breathe a sigh of relief – the PolyTune 2 operates in True Bypass mode to protect all your knob-twiddling efforts.
The warranty of three years matches that of the KLIQ UberTuner, but this is a vastly superior unit so that warranty means even more than usual.
Two small caveats before we go: first, this pedal has a one difference as compared to the PolyTune Clip. The Clip is measured, in the strobe mode, at ±0.02 Cent accuracy. This pedal, by comparison, is measured at ±0.1 Cent accuracy. The difference is because of the brand new quartz crystal oscillator that the Clip uses, which provides optimal differentiation in intonation.
That being said, the rest of the features they’ve packed into this pedal still clearly sets it as the pack leader. The famed Boss TU-3, for example, has only ±1 cent accuracy, its display is not as big or bright as the PolyTune, nor does it provide anywhere near the amount of tuning options.
The second caveat is this: if you typically have long cable runs with your rig, or you have an insanely convoluted pedal board, you might want to opt for the PolyTune 3, simply because it has a true analog buffer, but, alas, for more cash.
Regardless, tho’, if you’re a dancin’ guitar lad or lady who knows what intonation is, you now have a friend in TC!
- PolyTune 2 USER MANUAL
5) D’Addario NS Micro Soundhole Tuner
So, some of you out there are dependable and traditional: you play acoustic guitar in standard tuning, leave the electric soloing for others with wackier hair, and just want a no-frills, straight-ahead method of covering your part with deftness and skill on the instrument as it was designed to be played.
If that’s you, then I include this on the list with you in mind: the D’Addario NS Micro tuner.
There’s not a lot of bells & whistles on the Micro. The selling point here is that it fits under the rim of your acoustic soundhole, not be noticed by anyone in the crowd. Besides that, you get the basics:
- Chromatic 12-note equal temperament tuning
- Designed for guitars, ukuleles, and other acoustic instruments
- Calibration range of 435 Hz – 445Hz
- Backlit LCD screen
- One CR2032 battery included
Simple and to the point, right? The big point with this one is that 1) it’s hidden, and 2) once you install it, which is as simple as turning a plastic screw, this tuner is always with you, right on the instrument. Great idea, right (I’m talkin’ to you, Mr. ‘I-forgot-it-again-at-home‘ player)?!
The “hidden” feature is actually loved by a certain select few who hate the look of some dangly thing hangin’ off the headstock, totally destroying any Zen flow in your expensive instrument. Maybe you’re like that? Well, if you don’t want extra plastic making your axe look stupid – this one’s for you. D’Addario‘s got discrete covered by this puppy.
Precision-wise, it’s typical: ±1.0 cent accuracy. That’s the reason I haven’t opted for it, but again… my intonation bar is a lot higher than most.
I’ve long used products from D’Addario as a company: their strings, their tuners, their many and various guitar accessories. They’re a fine, trustworthy and well-respected company in the music industry, and this is not their first tuning rodeo.
And that’s no bull.
(Sorry. Just had to do that. LOL)
If the Micro’s got you coveting it already, just make sure (caveat emptor), that you have a soundboard that is the right thickness. The Micro NS can handle any top up to .150″ (3.81 mm) thick. I mean, ya want the li’l bugger to fit, right?
D’Addario also makes a version of this that is cheaper, but the screen glows a buggy green color. They heard enough complaints to warrant this upgrade to a tuner that is much more discrete and less apt to startle you, thinking there’s a praying mantis in your soundhole! Ouch!!
Because this tuner is chromatic you can tune your guitar any way you want, either standard or alternate, and the Micro will track it well. I saw one guy online who tuned his low E down to a C (which I do as well from time to time) and the Micro tuned it, no problemo!
Couldn’t locate a user manual for the little guy, so let’s peruse the final tally on it:
6) The Roadie 2 Machine-Heads Tuner
This one is the oddball out on today’s list, but it just had to be here.
Here’s the deal: whether you’re an axe-slinger who must do your own string changing should you break one on a gig, or you’re a tech in the wings waiting for that next string to break and you’ll have to change strings FAST for the shredding girl or guy you’re working for, this tuner makes your job soooo muuuuuch easier.
This is a tuner you use only when you’re changing strings. Basically, you put this unit right over your tuning peg, and it turns it to just the right frequency WAY faster than you ever could.
Think of it like the Indy 500 pit crew mega-tool of string changing and tuning!
And it’s not just for guitar; the company proudly states that the Roadie is ready for:
- electric guitars
- acoustic guitars
- 7 & 12-string guitars
- A dulcimer, santour or anything else with geared pegs!
The tuning accuracy of the unit is ±2.0 cent, which the company says is three times more accurate than the human ear. That may be the case, but it’s still not as good as all the others on this list.
But then, for the purpose of re-stringing your instrument quicker than you ever have, it doesn’t have to be, does it?
The Roadie is the kind of tool that is specialized to do one thing really well, and super quick. Its features are limited, but strong:
- 300:1 gear ratio motor
- Rechargeable Lithium Ion included battery
- 1 month on a single charge
- Battery indicator light
- Micro USB charging port & cable included
- Turn knob scrolls through instruments and tunings
- Backlit interface makes it easy to see
- Bluetooth 4.0 low energy ready
- Haptic feedback enabled. When a string is in tune, it shakes to verify
- Built-in user interface easy and intuitive to use
- Free Smartphone app is your guitars and tunings Control Center
- 1 year warranty
The Roadie App erally increases the unit’s versatility, and it’s compatible with the iPhone (4S & above), iPad (3rd gen. & above), iPad Mini, iPod touch (5th gen. & above) and any Android device running Android version 4.3 or newer AND equipped with Bluetooth 4.0.
Their manual says that it’s also possible to tune with a capo on, change the reference pitch and create custom tunings with this unit. Pretty wide-ranging for a product with such a unique raison d’etre.
Beyond that, you can also finesse the reference pitch of the tuner from 420 Hz up to 460 Hz, again, for those out-of-tune instruments (musicians?) you’re forced to play with.
Now, I know it seems pricey at over a hundred bucks, but consider how strong the motor has to be to wind strings up on the various instruments you’re going to use it on. That’s where the strength has to be there, every time. So don’t be too hard on our little A.I. helper… he’s actually pretty dang powerful and worth the pretty pennies.
If you don’t play out professionally then the speed at which you change your strings and tune them isn’t so much of an issue. But if you have to do it yourself… when an audience is waiting??! Dude – get this NOW!
- The Roadie 2 USER MANUAL
7) The Peterson VS-R StroboRack Tuner
Rack tuners. I love ’em. They’re sturdy, usually filled with more features than their smaller counterparts, and look hi-tech and sleek to any audience, should they happen to see it. And this particular model, the Peterson StrobeTuner, is my all-time favorite!
I was impressed with this unit’s performance from the first time I plugged it in. It’s been my gig rig tuner now for about 4 years, and every year I’ve been grateful I paid the extra money and got the best.
But before waxing on about how awesome it is, you should consider whether a rack-mount tuner should even be in the cards for you. The question you need to ask is this: will I need to be able to see and/or touch the unit while I’m on stage??
For me the answer was ‘yes’. I do have occasional gigs where the stage must be empty of gear, but for the most part I have my gear next to me, beside my amp & cabinet that I use for monitoring when I play. So anytime between songs, if I feel something’s off, I can just look to my right or left, where the rack is about waist level on a tilted amp-stand, and see what I’ve knocked out of alignment.
If you can’t have any gear onstage at all, then you might consider the other options above. I personally do everything I can to always have this at least side-stage in the wings where I can just glance over at it and check where my pitch is sitting. Even from that far away, this unit is that easy to read!
No more inadequate tuners for me. I went ‘full Peterson’ and I’m never goin’ back!! lol
If the price is daunting to you, I know how you feel. It definitely is the highest price point you’ll find. But there’s also a reason. I also had never bought, or even considered, a tuner that pricey before. But I went for it anyway, because I really wanted a problem fixed that affected my professionalism every time I gigged.
And fix it it did! I can say without hesitation it’s one of the best gear investments I have ever made. And, yes, all my intonation dreams have come true! Thanks to this StroboTuner every single time I tune with it I hear sweet, musical gold.
At least, if I play everything right.
It has a long list of features, but here are the major ones:
- Internal power supply
- C0 to A#8 note range (16.35Hz – 7302Hz)!
- ±0.1 Cent accuracy
- Built-in microphone
- Mute-able Output
- User Presets ready
- (2) 1/4″ Mono inputs, Rear 1/4″ Stereo inputs
- 1/4″ Mute footswitch input
- Strobe backlit LCD display
- Concert A Reference Pitch can be ‘nudged’ from 390Hz to 490Hz
- Die-cast, road-ready construction
- Global offset range of 50 cents
- 24 Sweetened Tunings settings
- 11 Classic tuning temperaments
- 25 User Presets
- Low Noise level makes for transparent sound pass-through
- Built-in power supply (No wall wart!)
- Neutrik jacks
- One Year Warranty
In addition, this is the only tuner on the market currently to contain specific tempered tunings for pedal steel, lap steel and Resonator guitars; perfect fifths for violin, viola, & cello; “Early Music” instruments such as harpsichord, lute, and viola da gamba… heck, they even have a BAGPIPE tuning temperament programmed! What can’t this unit do??!!
Setting your guitar & bass intonations are a breeze with this tuner. In fact, their manual walks you through exactly how to do it. So if you’ve never primed up your axe before, rather than pay someone… do it yourself, with the StroboRack.
A specialized ‘drop tuning” button on the front allows you to lower your tuning in semitone intervals down to wherever you want.
Oh, and if you have specific alternate tunings that you use often, there’s 8 presets for you to plug them into so they’re ready at the touch of a button too.
As a funny addition to all this unit offers, they also allow you to let your kid out to play by programming your own scrolling screen saver/marquee for you, other band members or your audience to see when the unit is bypassed. Their manual offers this crowd-pleasing idea:
Obviously, they have a good sense of humour.
This is a very specialized unit, optimized for the touring professional, and certainly not for everybody. The price alone makes that obvious.
But if dependability, accuracy and the latest cutting-edge technology for harmonic equilibrium is what you expect out of your gear, then you have found your tuner. Join me in spreading the love for what Peterson has created – the very best tuner money can buy!
- StroboRack USER MANUAL
The Final Pitch
There are lots of other options out in capitalist heaven for you to peruse, and I’m well aware of the options. I researched Handheld, App, and Virtual models along with the Pedal, Rack and Clip-on categories you see represented here. Honestly, none of that first group impressed me enough to see them included here.
But I think we’ve got enough, don’t we? With the options I’ve outlined above, there’s no reason why you can’t quickly, consistently slap those flappin’ frequencies into line. All it takes is to buy the right tool for the job. Take a look at your budget, think about how you’ll be using it and how you’d prefer to SEE the unit when you need it, then make your choice.
If you go with any of what you’ve seen above, you’ll be buying the best in the industry, right now, in 2018.
Hope that helps. Got questions? Have a tuner you think should have made the list? Got a favorite amidst the list?? Wonder where to get good sushi during a recording break??! Ask away! Someone around here is bound to know (for that last one, it’s ALWAYS “Noble Fish”!).
And after you get a tuner to make your axe shine the brightest, go over to THIS POST to find out how to record that guitar, make some music, and take over the world!!
Now, go… make… (in-tune…) sounds!!