However boring it may seem, the humble tuner remains one of the most essential tools for electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass guitar players - not only does it help you tune up your own instrument, it ensures you're in tune with the rest of the band, too. Still don't own one? Our pick of the best guitar tuners should help...
Nowadays, there's a huge range on offer, from pedals to options that clip on to your guitar's headstock. Elsewhere there are handheld as well as free and paid-for guitar tuner apps for your smartphone or iPad. The most important thing to remember is that none of them will break the bank.
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So, if you're wondering which is the best guitar tuner for you, we've rounded up the leaders in the field, aimed at all abilities of guitar player. Whether you're tuning up your guitar for the first time or using one to set up your guitar's intonation, we've got you covered.
What is the best guitar tuner right now?
For us, it's hard to look past the TC Electronic PolyTune 3. The original PolyTune genuinely changed things up in the world of guitar tuning, and this newest iteration continues that lineage with the addition of buffered or true bypass. One for the pedal-heavy players, perhaps, but it's always good to have the option.
If headstock tuners are more suited, the D'Addario NS Micro is a thoroughly decent choice. Small enough so you won't know it's there, but accurate and cost-effective enough to make it ideal for anyone and any situation.
Best guitar tuner: buying advice
When it comes to buying the best guitar tuner for your needs, you have what we'd call a 'good limitation' – meaning there aren't hundreds of different variations to choose from. It's not like distortion pedals, where the options can be mind-boggling.
Tuners really fall into one of a small number of categories – pedal or headstock are the most common, although tuning via mobile devices has improved immensely in recent years. We'll skirt over panpipes or forks for the purposes of this article...
Pedal tuners are among the most popular. With a pedal tuner, you're looking for durability and accuracy. Durability covers the build-quality and ruggedness of the tuner. It'll likely find a home among your other pedals and is the pinnacle of set-and-forget. Place it in the chain in the desired location - usually at the start - and it'll sit there quietly doing its job whenever called upon.
If it is to be part of a wider pedalboard, you'll likely want to consider 'true bypass' as a feature. This ensures the audio signal from the guitar isn't tainted in any way as it travels through the rest of the chain. A poor signal at the start can be multiplied to bad effect once it hits gain pedals, tube amps etc.
Headstock tuners are a different kettle of fish, desired for their simplicity as much as their scaled down designs. They sit at the end of the guitar and interpret intonation through vibration. Where once these tuners were cheap and cheerful, and rarely made it out of the practice room, nowadays they can boast some seriously useful tech.
The new kid on the tuning block involves the phone or tablet you're possibly reading this article on now. For bedroom practice sessions, they're ideal too as they're quick to use, accurate and often inexpensive.
Whether it's a sturdy, solid gig staple you're after, or a simple but reliable option for backup, this list of the best guitar tuners has something for every player.
The best guitar tuners to buy right now
1. TC Electronic PolyTune 3
The best polyphonic pedal tuner, now with added buffer
Launch price: $99/£95 | Accuracy: 0.02 cents | Modes: Polyphonic, chromatic, strobe | Bypass: True bypass or buffered
TC Electronic is the first name in polyphonic tuning (which allows you to tune all strings at once), and its latest incarnation is its best pedal tuner yet. The third entry in the PolyTune line boasts a built-in BonaFide Buffer, which offers players the choice between all-analogue buffered bypass and true bypass, adjusted via internal DIP switches.
Buffered bypass is useful for boosting a signal along long cable runs or large pedalboards. Elsewhere, the pedal packs the same features as the PolyTune 2, including an ultra-bright LED display, polyphonic and chromatic tuning modes and a +/- 0.02-cent accurate strobe tuner.
More info: TC Electronic PolyTune 3
2. D'Addario NS Micro Tuner
The best headstock tuner for guitarists
Launch price: $21/£15 | Accuracy: 0.3 cents | Modes: Chromatic, metronome
Headstock tuners don’t get much smaller than this, but the NS Micro Tuner doesn’t sacrifice functionality thanks to an easily adjustable screen, multiple calibration modes and even a visual metronome. It’s easy to attach to the front or back of your guitar’s headstock, too, and will be invisible to all but the most eagle-eyed of audience members.
There's no problems fitting it to just about any instrument with a headstock, whether that's electric, acoustic, classical, bass, banjo, mandolin, ukulele or upright bass. Its discreet appearance, low price and quick tuning response make it the best headstock guitar tuner around.
3. Korg Pitchblack Advance
A tech-loaded pedal tuner with long-lasting battery life
Launch price: $89/£69 | Accuracy: 0.1 cents | Modes: LED, strobe, half-strobe, mirror | Bypass: True bypass
Korg's Pitchblack design has been refined many times over its eight-year lifespan - its mini and polyphonic editions being the most notable - but with the Pitchblack Advance, the company reckons it's crafted "the ultimate pedal tuner". Key among its new features is a fantastic 60-hour battery life from alkaline nine-volts, as well as the ability to limit power supply interference via "software control".
The pedal's slanted design offers improved visibility, aided by high-brightness colour LEDs, which nearly double the size of the note name display and are easily viewable in all light conditions. Accuracy in strobe mode is +/- 0.1 cents, while other meter display modes include regular, half-strobe and mirror mode. True bypass switching is also onboard, as is a low-noise dedicated DC out to share a 9V power supply with other pedals.
More info: Korg Pitchblack Advance
4. Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner
The industry standard pedal tuner
Launch price: $99/£80 | Accuracy: 0.1 cent | Modes: Chromatic, strobe | Bypass: Buffered
Boss created an industry standard with the TU-2 pedal tuner in 1998, and its successor offers a number of improvements on the classic format. The TU-3 is quoted at +/-1 cent over a 23-segment LED display, which means it tunes more accurately. Other functions include drop tuning up to six semitones and bass tuning up to three flats.
A new high brightness mode means that maximum current draw is up from 55mA (TU-2) to 85mA. Using the recommended Boss supply and a PCS-20A daisy chain, the TU-3 will also pass power to a total of 200mA to up to seven other pedals. Boss is resisting true bypass switching, which may be an issue for the tone-obsessed, but the usual Boss buffered output helps when using long leads and numerous pedals.
5. Fender Tune
One of the best guitar tuner apps available on iOS and Android
Launch price: Free | Modes: Auto tune, manual, chromatic
Available for both iOS and Android, Fender's first ever app aims to deliver an intuitive, easy-to-use interface that makes it easy for newcomers to get their instrument in tune, while also covering basic tone tips, including strumming and setting up amps.
The app detects notes from acoustic guitars and amplified electrics, and offers auto tune, chromatic and manual tune modes, including alternate tuning options and the ability to create custom tunings. Additional in-app purchases add a more visually precise Pro Tuner, metronome and drum beats, plus scale diagrams and chord finder.
6. TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini
Low on pedalboard space? This is the best mini pedal tuner
Launch price: $89/£71 | Accuracy: 0.02 cents | Modes: Polyphonic, chromatic, strobe | Bypass: True bypass
A downsized version of the sequel to TC Electronic's groundbreaking polyphonic tuner, the PolyTune 3 Mini allows players to tune all strings simultaneously, while a chromatic strobe option offers 0.-2-cent tuning accuracy.
True bypass switching, an ultra-bright LED display that adapts to different lighting conditions, and the option of up to five semitones flat tunings only sweeten the deal, and make this the mini pedal tuner of choice when pedalboard space is at a premium.
More info: TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini
7. Korg AW-OTG POLY
A clip-on tuner with polyphonic tuning capability
Launch price: $79/£56 | Accuracy: 0.1 cents | Modes: Needle, strobe, 9 animated modes
The AW-OTG POLY (guitar) and AW-OTB-POLY (bass) feature OLED screens for smooth visibility at all angles, while their polyphonic function allows you to strum all strings at once and check they’re in tune. Accuracy is down as +/-0.1 cents, while a strobe feature further improves that figure.
Other features include 18-hour battery life from one AAA, plus alternative tuning animations “to make tuning fun” - these include a slot machine, bowling pins and a heart monitor-style display. There's also a Chord Finder, which detects what chord you're playing and displays it on the screen.
More info: Korg AW-OTG POLY
8. Peterson iStrobosoft
The most accurate tuner app on iOS and Android
Launch price: $9.99/£9.99 | Accuracy: 0.1 cents | Modes: Automatic, manual
For many professionals, strobe tuners have been the way to go for years, and Peterson is the company synonymous with them. The iStrobosoft for iOS and Android works best if you plug your guitar into the iPad using your usual input device, or use Peterson's own adaptor cable or mini capsule mic, which are available separately.
With accuracy to 1/10 of a cent, Peterson says that iStrobosoft offers the highest degree of precision available in a tuner app. And that makes it great not only for tuning but also for making intonation adjustments if you set up your own instruments. For the asking price, this has to be considered a genuine bargain. And as long as you have your Apple device and a connector with you, you'll never be without a tuner.
9. D'Addario NS Micro Soundhole Tuner
A handy tuning solution for acoustic guitarists
Launch price: $42.80/£19.90 | Accuracy: 0.3 cents | Modes: Automatic, manual
It's not the first acoustic soundhole tuner we've seen, but D'Addario's Micro Soundhole Tuner is certainly the smallest and least intrusive. Mounted via a non-marking universal mounting clip, the tiny chromatic tuner is concealed within your guitar's soundhole.
A highly sensitive piezo transducer detects vibrations from the soundboard, promising fast and accurate tuning response, while the bright display makes for easy viewing. The NS Micro Soundhole Tuner is designed for acoustic guitars, basses and ukuleles, and offers an A435-455 calibration range.
10. Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-300 Mini
One of the most accurate mini pedal tuners on the market
Launch price: $129/£139 | Accuracy: 0.02 cents | Modes: Chromatic, guitar, bass, standard, drop D, six-string bass | Bypass: True bypass
The Sonic Research range of true stroboscope tuners has been praised for its units' instant response and extreme accuracy, featuring an LED ring driven directly by the guitar signal and electronically strobed. The ST-300 Mini tuner puts that technology, with a stated accuracy of 0.02 cents, in a pedal the size of TC's popular PolyTune 2 Mini.
Of the six modes, chromatic mode displays the pitch of the plucked string, but there are also guitar and bass modes with a string number instead. Both of these and the remaining three are custom modes, so you can program and store altered tunings. For drop tunings, a facility lets you lower the pitch of all notes below the regular tuning from one to six semitones, but there's no pitched-up capo tuning facility.
Note detection is fast and the display is intuitive, but it's a matter of personal taste whether you prefer spinning LEDs or getting a stable green light as found on other tuners. If you're after a tiny tuner for your 'board, but don't need that polyphonic capability to show you which string is out of tune at a glance, and you also use altered tunings, then this may be the one for you.