They don't tell you this at Rock Star School, but the guitar tuner is an indispensable if unglamorous tool for any electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar and ukulele player. It's probably the most important guitar accessory you'll ever buy.
It helps you keep your weapon of choice in tune - obviously - but it also makes sure you're in tune with any other musicians you play with. In short, you need one, and if you don't already own one, our selection of the very best guitar tuners out there is the best place to start.
There are many options for the modern guitar player - including tuner pedals, headstock clip-ons, handheld guitar tuner apps for your smartphone or iPad - but none of them should set you back too much.
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So, whether you're tuning up your acoustic 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?
We can't really find fault with the TC Electronic PolyTune 3. The original PolyTune genuinely changed things up in the guitar tuner market and the latest edition adds buffered or true bypass. OK, this is a feature for pedal-heavy players, but it's always good to have the option.
If your budget is smaller and if headstock tuners are more suited, the D'Addario NS Micro is a thoroughly decent choice. It's 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 tuners: what you need to know
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 overdrive pedals, where the options can be mind-boggling.
There are three main types of tuner, each with pros and cons. Get to grips with them and you’ll find it easier to choose the best guitar tuner for you:
- Chromatic tuners ‘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.
- Polyphonic tuners These are 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.
- Strobe tuners These tend to be the most accurate tuners of all – usually reflected in a higher price. Certainly not necessary for beginners, but pro players and guitar techs swear by them.
In terms of application, tuners 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.
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.
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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 available today
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Read the full Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner review
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.
More info: Download Fender Tune for Android
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 clip 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.
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.
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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.
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.
Whereas the market is flooded with pedals, automatic motorised tuners are few and far between. Using its vibration sensor, the Roadie 2 detects the pitch of a string then adjusts it to a preselected note. Just stick it on a machine head and the tuner does the winding for you.
Not enough to tempt you? Well, consider that Roadie 2 comes equipped with 40 altered tuning presets (plus 40 free for custom user presets). DADGAD? Sure! Capo tunings? Yessirree Bob! Simply access them via the onboard OLED screen. For expanded editing features you’ll need the Roadie 2 app. Definitely one of the best guitar tuners of its kind!