You’re jamming with your band, having a great time. All of a sudden heads start to shake – and not in a good way. You look up and see faces staring back at you, as though there’s a bad smell coming from your direction.
Suddenly the music stops, and everyone’s looking. You hear those words no musician wants to hear:
“umm… I think you’re out of tune”.
You’re then immediately fired from the band and your reputation as a musician is destroyed forever.
Okay, maybe our scenario was a little dramatic. We’re not trying to give you nightmares, we just want what’s best for you – and what’s best is being in tune!
With so many great options available, there’s really no excuse to be out of tune. In this article, we’ll talk about some different types of guitar tuners and help you figure out which one is right for you.
Perhaps the most popular type of guitar tuners, mainly due to their convenient size and accuracy.
- They are compact and attach to the headstock of the guitar via a clip.
- Work by detecting string vibration through the guitar neck, making them ideal for tuning in noisy environments.
- Battery-operated and most come with various features such as chromatic tuning, alternate tunings, and pitch calibration.
- Some guitarists don’t like leaving a tuner on the headstock as they feel it ruins the look of their guitar.
In the typical “stompbox” form, they are larger than clip-on tuners and designed ideally to sit on a pedalboard.
- Can use a DC power supply and has a bright display that can be seen from a distance.
- Even more accurate than clip-on tuners.
- Mutes signal when engaged, which allows the player to tune the guitar without the audience hearing.
Handheld tuners are small and portable, making them ideal for keeping your gig bag.
- These tuners are battery-operated and come with a display that can be seen easily in most lighting situations.
- Many allow for both plugged-in tuning via an input jack, and acoustic tuning via a built-in microphone.
- More accurate than smartphone apps and good for tuning in noisier environments (if plugged in).
Smartphone apps or website
These have become increasingly popular in recent years and are a great way to tune your guitar on the go.
- Most convenient and affordable, as most people these days are already carrying a smartphone.
- The downside of using smartphone apps is that they rely on the phone's microphone, which may not be as accurate as other types of tuners.
- Not ideal for tuning in noisy environments, making them better suited for home use.
Try out the guitar tuner in our tools section.
Rackmount tuners are the largest and most expensive option, used in a professional studio or live settings.
- They have a large display that can be easily read from a long distance.
- High-level tuning accuracy and include features such as true bypass, which allows the guitar signal to pass through the tuner without affecting the tone.
- The Peterson Strobe Tuner used to be an industry standard. Known for razor-sharp tuning, and its big orange dial that was visible from across large stages.
With ever-advancing algorithms and electrical wizardry you can now buy a tuner that is capable of analyzing the pitch of multiple stings at once.
- A relatively new concept – not many companies are producing polyphonic tuners.
- Unlikely to be used in any professional situation.
- Perhaps currently still more of a gimmick than anything else, but a clever piece of engineering nonetheless.
Pitch pipes are considered pretty old-fashioned these days. They work almost like a little six-note harmonica.
- It’s a small device that has several reeds inside that produce different pitches when blown into.
- The player needs good pitch-matching skills to tune the guitar by ear.
- On the plus side – they don’t need batteries, or a phone signal to function!
We have our own, very usable online guitar tuner.
Sometimes for simplicity tuners are built to only work for certain instruments, like ukuleles or cellos. There are pros and cons to this type of tuner, let’s take a quick look at some of the main differences.
Chromatic vs. non-chromatic tuners
- Non-chromatic tuners can only tune to a specific set of notes, for example, EADGBE for a guitar.
- This is great for beginner musicians that may not yet be familiar with which notes they need to tune their instrument to.
But, for more experienced players that can be too restrictive.
- Chromatic tuners are totally unrestricted and can recognize all twelve notes.
- This allows any desired tuning, for any instrument.
- Many guitarists will tune their guitar in a non-standard way – such as drop-tuning for metal, or an open-tuning for slide guitar.
440hz is the standard “concert pitch” that almost all instruments are tuned to. There are however many musicians that like to experiment with different frequencies and pitches.
- Most tuners are fixed to 440hz but there are some available that allow you to change this.
- You may have come across “binaural beats” music on Youtube, most of these tracks are in a non-standard frequency range such as 432hz.
- Non-western music also has microtonal instruments, which require tuning to notes outside of twelve-tone equal temperament.
We’ve checked out most types of guitar tuners available, and seen that each has its own unique features and benefits. By now it’s clear that choosing the right guitar tuner is essential – no matter how good you play, if you’re out of tune it’s not going to sound good.
The type of tuner you need really depends on a small set of factors:
- Your budget
- Where you will be using it
- What type of features you need
- If you’re a beginner or professional
Some key points to remember when choosing a guitar tuner:
- Smartphone apps are a convenient option but are better suited for home use.
- For live situations you’ll need a tuner that isn’t affected by external noises.
- If you’re planning on experimenting with different tunings make sure your tuner is chromatic.
You could have the best, most expensive gear in the world but if your guitar is out of tune none of it matters. In other words, being in tune will make or break your sound as a guitarist, so never underestimate the importance of a good tuner!
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