Reader, take note: buying yourself one of the best guitar tuners could be the smartest way of spending your cash. It’s not necessarily the most exciting of purchases, but a good quality, reliable guitar tuner could make the difference between a good gig, or recording session and a bad one.
A guitar tuner makes sure that all of your strings (whether you play electric, acoustic, bass or ukulele) are in tune with each other, so that when you play a chord, the intervals within it are ringing out as they should, resulting in something that hopefully sounds good! The best guitar tuners become even more crucial when playing with other musicians - there’s nothing worse than you all playing the same thing and one of you is slightly out of tune. A band being incredibly in tune with one another can also help them sound tighter.
Many players can tune by ear, but a good tuner is usually more accurate, plus it means you’re not having to shush the audience to hear yourself when playing live.
You really don’t have to spend a lot either - there are even free guitar tuner options included in this guide. We’ve put together our list of the best guitar tuners, plus some useful buying advice to ensure that no one has to endure an out of tune Stairway To Heaven again.
Best guitar tuners: MusicRadar's choice
There are some fantastic choices on offer, but if we had to pick the best guitar tuner available today, we’d probably opt for the TC Electronic Polytune 3. Making subtle improvements to previous models, it’s super reliable, accurate and easy to read. Being able to tune all your strings in one go can save time too.
If you’re after a killer clip-on option, our vote would go to the D’Addario NS Micro Tuner. It’s really discrete, placing itself on the back of your headstock so it doesn’t look unsightly, plus it’s convenient for the player. It works within 0.3 cents too, so it’s accurate.
Best guitar tuners: Product guide
TC Electronic is the first name in polyphonic tuning (which allows you to tune all strings at once), and its latest incarnation is, in our opinion, 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. Hit the link below to see how we found it in action.
Read the full TC Electronic Polytune 3 review
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. We found it easy to attach to the front or back of our guitar’s headstock, too, and was 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 guitar, acoustic, classical, bass, banjo, mandolin, ukulele or upright bass. Its discrete appearance, low price and quick tuning response make it the best headstock guitar tuner around.
Read the full D'Addario NS Micro Tuner review
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.
Famed for their accuracy, Peterson strobe tuners have long been the choice of pros seeking the highest quality gear, and 2019 saw the company unveil what it considers to be ‘the ultimate pedal guitar tuner’ – the StroboStomp HD.
Boasting a feature set far beyond most of its rivals, you’ll find both true and buffered bypass modes, plus 135 ‘sweetened’ tunings – micro-adjusted reference pitch points optimised for a variety of instrument types and altered tunings. You can even save your own presets.
Of course, this level of nerd-ish tweakery can only be employed by the most precise tuners – and the StroboStomp HD delivers 0.1 percent accuracy. Enough for the most discerning of ears.
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, something we can attest to. 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.
Read the full Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner review
Though there are several pricier and fully featured tuners here, Snark’s ST-2 is aimed at the player who wants just the bare essentials. So, what might those essentials be?
First of all, the ST-2 tracks quickly. Set it to the vibration sensor and it’ll work just fine in all but the loudest of gigs. The microphone is for acoustic instruments of course, so you’ll need some peace and quiet.
Second, the attachment system is robust and the screen is easily angled – a surprisingly important feature because clip-ons have to fit in around tuning machines on six-string guitars, 12-strings, mandolins, basses… you get the idea!
At this price it’s worth having an ST-2 around even if you only keep it in a gig bag.
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.
Read the full TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini review
Boss has been responsible for some of the most iconic products in the world of guitar. The TU series of tuners, usually a solid metal chunk, capable of killing an annoying gig promoter from a great distance, is considered an industry standard by many. This latest lightweight, portable foray into the world of clip-ons however, is a welcome move.
The TU-02 has a super bright, high-contrast colour display, providing easy visibility for any gigging or practice situation. With a staggering 24hr battery life and an automatic power off feature, you needn’t waste your time with battery anxiety.
Boss has listed the TU-02 as a guitar tuner, although it can do way more than you think. With separate tuning modes for guitar, bass and ukulele, as well as a chromatic tuning mode, there’s not a lot this TU-02 can’t handle. With a tuning range from A0 (27.5Hz) to C8 (4,186.0Hz), we can’t think of many better options for under $/£15.
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.
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.
Automatic motorised guitar tuners aren’t exactly commonplace - but is that about to change? The Roadie 3 uses its vibration sensors to figure out the pitch of a string, and then adjusts it to a preselected note. Just pick a machine head, and let your very own roadie do the hard work, at up to 120rpm.
If completely automatic tuning wasn’t enough to tempt you, consider that Roadie 3 comes equipped with over 100 built-in tuning presets. Fancy having a go in DADGAD or Open G? All you need to do is access them via the onboard LED screen. Roadie 3 also has an integrated metronome to help you make timing problems a thing of the past, and an improved peg connector means it’ll fit even more instruments.
It’s been a pretty popular choice since its introduction in 2015, but boasting a staggering tuning accuracy of +/- 0.02 cents in strobe mode and 0.5 cents in chromatic mode, the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip is still very much worth its salt in our opinion.
Not so surprisingly, it’s a polyphonic tuner at heart, but with both chromatic and strobe modes on hand, it’s suitable for people of all tuning persuasions. The PolyTune Clip is even suitable for our low-end merchants, with the one-note ‘needle’ mode.
Unfortunately we did experience the odd negative point. Polyphonic mode is prone to being a little buggy at times, especially in environments that aren't totally silent, and its' accuracy is a little way off. It’s also quite big for a clip-on, which might put some people off - but if you’re after something bold, bright and very visible, then this is the one for you.
Read the full TC Electronic Polytune Clip review
The SST stands for space saving tuner, and that’s exactly what it is. This nifty little device has been designed to fit between two pedals on your ‘board, underneath their jack inputs/outputs, saving you even more space. Connectors are attached to the tuner so you can get them hooked up to your guitar or patch cables, and power is supplied using a regular 9v adaptor.
It’s not the most accurate tuner on the list, but it will likely do for the majority of players, as it still helps get you very much in tune. There are eight reference pitches to choose from, so don’t worry if you’re not using the traditional standard tuning. It works well, it’s always on so you don’t have to do anything to check your tuning and it really does save a good amount of space.
Recently, we've found ourselves increasingly impressed with the budget offerings from NUX, and the NTU-3 is no exception. NUX has managed to pack a lot of valuable features into a relatively small package, all while keeping the cost down - it's a win, win!
The Flow Tune offers users a trio of display options, including strobe and two "Arrow" modes. Better yet, the colourful screen is incredibly vivid and large enough to see at any distance, perfect for large stages or outdoor gigs.
What's more, the NTU-3 offers players the ability to switch between true bypass and buffered bypass modes!
Best guitar tuners: Buying advice
What are the different types of guitar tuners?
Buying yourself the best guitar tuner is, thankfully, not as complex as buying a new overdrive pedal, chorus pedal or reverb pedal. The tuner market comes with what we’d call a 'good limitation' – meaning there aren't hundreds of different variations to choose from.
When it comes to guitar tuners, there are three main types that you'll come across. Get to grips with what they are and how they work, and you’ll find it much easier to choose the best guitar tuner for you:
- Chromatic tuners - The most common type of tuner - this is likely the place you’ll start. ‘Chromatic’ just means that the tuner only identifies one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale in Western music. Very useful indeed, but you’ll be playing one note at a time to tune. Luckily, chromatic tuners tend to be the cheapest - so there’s more money left over for beer.
- Strobe tuners - These tend to be the most accurate tuners of all – usually reflected in a higher price. They're certainly not necessary for beginners, but pro players and guitar techs swear by them.
- Polyphonic tuners - A more recent design, allowing you to play all six strings together, with a display showing how in or out of tune all six are at once. Clever, huh? Those displays can take a bit of getting used to but once you do you’ll find tuning on the fly much easier.
Should I use a pedal tuner, headstock tuner or app?
Tuners often fall into one of a small number of categories – pedal or headstock. That being said, tuning via mobile devices has improved immensely in recent years and can be hard to beat in terms of convenience for those who do most of their playing at home.
Headstock tuners are often desired for their simplicity as much as their scaled down designs - making them perfect for a beginner or someone who has never used a tuner before. They clip on to the headstock of the guitar and interpret intonation through vibration. These tuners were once cheap and cheerful, and never held their own outside of the practice room, but nowadays they can boast some seriously useful tech making them a great option if you don’t use pedals.
Pedal tuners are definitely the most popular choice. With a pedal tuner, you're looking for durability and accuracy. Your tuner will likely find a home among your other pedals and is the pinnacle of set-and-forget, but knowing that it won’t fall apart or give an inaccurate readout is crucial. 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.
The new kid on the tuning block involves using an app on the phone or iPad you're possibly reading this article on now. While perfect for bedroom practice sessions, this type of tuner is not the one to use if you're out gigging. Getting your phone out mid-set to tune up your guitar isn't the most professional-looking move in the world, and it won't be as accurate as a pedal or clip-on alternative.
Is true bypass important for a guitar tuner?
If you choose to go down the pedal route, you'll be faced with this question - does it matter if the pedal is true bypass or buffered?
The majority of the pedals on this list are true bypass, meaning the audio signal from the guitar isn't tainted in any way as it travels through the rest of the chain. Now, this does sound like the best option - after all, your guitar signal stays unaffected when the pedal is off - but it may not be the best choice for those with a large pedalboard.
As the name suggests, a buffered pedal contains a buffer. Basically, the buffer ensures your signal stays at an optimal level, meaning it won't degrade as it travels through meters of guitar cable. Now, some players don't like the sound difference that occurs when a buffer is introduced into the chain. Still, for many, it's a necessary addition. There is no right or wrong answer here - choose the best option for your needs.
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