A tuner is the most important accessory you'll ever buy for your electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar or ukulele – because if you aren't in tune, you'll never sound good. And the ability to tune your instrument whenever you need is made even easier by investing in the best clip-on guitar tuner for your needs.
Clip-on guitar tuners can detect the pitch of notes played via the vibrations of your strings (some offer a mic too) and fix to the headstock of your guitar without you having to spend time plugging in. The ease of use and portability makes a clip-on guitar tuner an essential purchase – and unlike guitar picks, they're not easy to lose because they clip onto your guitar securely.
The market for headstock guitar tuners has grown considerably over the last five years and there's a huge choice out there for players to keep their guitar strings in tune, and our guide will help you find the right one for your needs.
Whether you're a beginner or gigging veteran, we've carefully chosen a selection that will deliver accurate tuning and be a faithful fixture on your journey as a player. But not all clip-on tuners offer the same features, so be sure to scroll down to our buying advice section to understand the key differences between them.
You can never have enough guitar tuners so if you're looking to invest in a pedal tuner for gigging as well, check out our more general best guitar tuners buying guide.
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Best clip-on guitar tuners: Our top picks
The idea of leaving your clip-on tuner permanently on your guitar while keeping its look discrete is easily achieved with the reasonably-priced D'Addario NS Micro Tuner. It's small, light and offers a vibrant tri-colour backlit screen to make it easy to read. This 'stealth' tuner's 410-480Hz calibration range and auto-off further enhance a very practical choice that you can fix on your guitar and forget it's there until you need to tune again.
When it comes to accuracy, the Peterson StroboClip HD is unrivalled in the clip-on guitar tuner market with 0.1 cents accuracy. It boasts excellent build quality and a crisp HD display plus a unique selling proposition with its 'sweetened' optimised tuning options to tailored to the kind of chords you're playing.
Best clip-on guitar tuners: Product guide
We all want to keep our guitars looking good, so the small size of the NS Micro Tuner doesn't get in the way of that. But it also offers everything you need from a clip-on guitar tuner.
Its screen can rotate 360 degrees and works effectively at the front or rear of your headstock to be even more discrete. It doesn't scrimp on features either with various calibration modes and a visual metronome. Moreover, it's sensitive response will make it a go-to accessory you'll use everyday.
Whether you're using the D'Addario NS Micro Tuner with an electric, acoustic or bass guitar and any other stringed instrument, it's easy to fit and keep as a permanent fixture in your playing life.
The 0.1 cents accuracy of the StroboClip HD is unrivalled in the clip-on tuner field, so if it has to be perfect, this should be top of the list. Peterson has a great reputation in the industry for build, feature and accuracy; the StroboClip HS delivers on all three fronts.
The large HD screen is an attractive proposition and with the amount of features on offer here, you'll need it to keep track of things. In addition to settings to accommodate drop tunings and the use of a capo, Peterson offers over 50 of its 'sweetened tunings' to allow players to access custom tuning presets to accommodate types of instrument (including a specific preset for acoustic guitar) and even the types of chords you may be playing - such as a bias to making major or minor chords intonate better.
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TC Electronic turned heads (and ears) when it unveiled its PolyTune pedal in 2010, five years later the Clip continued that good work and it remains a popular option for players with impressive +/- 0.02 cents accuracy in strobe mode and 0.5 cents in chromatic mode.
This is combined with a clear and vibrant LED screen and the polyphonic functionality will reveal which of your strings are in and out of tune by simply strumming your strings.
Another handy feature is auto orientation; if you're left-handed or use the PolyTune Clip at the back of your headstock, the display flips accordingly. But we found the polyphonic accuracy a little hit and miss at times in comparison with the pedal version (it will sometimes say your tuning is out when the chromatic mode says it's in tune) .
The larger size of the Clip also won't be for everyone, but with its two different tuning modes and bright display, this will suit many players.
Read the full TC Electronic Polytune Clip review
Snark has long been a name to trust when it comes to guitar tuners and the ST-2 is a no-frills, reliable approach that should please a lot of players.
Though its accuracy isn't stated in specs, we found performance was good with swift tracking. You can choose between a mic or vibration sensor with the former a preferred option for acoustic instruments in quiet surroundings, while vibration is practical in noisier locations, and with electric guitars and basses.
The screen is bright, easy to read and angled for good visibility – and with instrument design varying, this offers flexibility that's very welcome at an affordable price.
Like TC Electronic and Peterson, Boss is a company with a very strong reputation for quality tuners – specifically the TU series of pedal tuners pedal tuners. So we're pleased to see a Boss clip-on model being offered at such an accessible price-point.
The TU-02's bright screen offers good contrast and visibility, especially considering the impressive 24 hour battery life. This is aided by the tuner's auto power-off feature if you forget to power it down after tuning up.
The choice of chromatic tuning mode, alongside modes for guitar, bass and ukulele is also pleasing to see at this price-point, making this a great buy for general use, or something to store in your gigbag.
You might be surprised to find just how many guitar tuners Korg now offers – but this has to be the most impressively featured of its clip-on models. The OLED screen here and 11 tuning animations are a sign of the premium quality – and there's more.
The +/-0.1 cent tuning accuracy puts this in the pro-level category of headstock guitar tuners, and it offers memory backup for your settings. But it's fun too to brighten up the often mundane task of tuning with animations featuring cats and taps if you want a break from needle and strobe modes.
In addition to the polyphonic tuning, there's a chord finder feature here; it will tell you the chord you're playing and even works with a capo up the 7th fret. Neat!
Fender took a different aesthetic approach than the competition here – though there's still a sturdy clip to keep this Bullet firmly on your headstock. We really like the low key look here that still manages to keep the note and reading on the circular colour display clear.
The one cent accuracy will be good enough for most of us and the response is sensitive and fast, but the option of only 440Hz calibration might be an issue for some players – especially if you play in an orchestra. On the whole though, this is another winner from the big F.
Something different here – and specifically for acoustic guitar players as this NS Micro series tuner fits on the rim of your soundhole, placing the tuner inside the body but still readable. It's so out of the way you can just leave it fitted on your guitar permanently.
It works really well and the accuracy for the price here is even better news – to 0.3 cents with calibration between 434 and 445Hz. There's no reason you can't fit it on other stringed acoustic instruments (though D'Addario offer the PW-CT-NS specifically for ukulele players) .
Best clip-on guitar tuners: Buying advice
Types of clip-on guitar tuner
Before we delve deeper into clip-on guitar tuners it's important to know the different types. They fall into three categories:
- Chromatic tuners are the most common. Here you play one note at a time and the tuner helps you tune to each of the 12 notes of Western music’s chromatic scale. It will often use a needle or LED light display to show you if you're flat or sharp (tuned low or high) and usually uses a green light to signify that you've tuned to pitch.
- Strobe tuners tend to be the most expensive options for players and require more time to operate – in return they offer the most accuracy. You'll have to use small alterations on your tuning peg to match the sensitivity here and the display is usually a spinning icon that slows as you get closer to the correct pitch.
- Polyphonic tuners are a relatively recent development compared to the previous two types. These allow you to play all six strings simultaneously and will then display which notes are in tune and which are not – usually with green and red lights. They're great for quickly identifying tuning issues, especially when you're short on time.
So which clip-on tuner is best for you?
Chromatic is the easiest to use so we'd suggest new players to start with this type, especially as they tend to be more reasonably priced. They're also accurate for most everyday player's needs.
A warning about clip-on guitar tuners
If you own a guitar with a nitrocellulose lacquer finish you have to be careful with both guitar stands and headstock tuners; the rubbers used in some can react with this kind of finish that's found on vintage and select higher-end guitars.
Most clip-on tuners won't be an issue but check the tuner's paperwork or specs online for any warnings or disclaimers.