They come in different shapes, sizes, styles, and prices. But what’s the best guitar tuner for you? As in many things in life, the answer is: “It depends.”
Guitar tuners tend to fall into 3 different camps:
- Clip on – these clip on to your headstock and tune based on sensed vibrations.
- Foot pedal – these “stompbox” style tuners are geared towards hands free use and ‘live’ situations.
- Rack mount – these tuners fit well in rackmount stage rigs, but are less convenient for home or student use.
Check out the shortlist below and get a sense of the best guitar tuner for your situation.
Recommendations are listed at the end of each description.
1. Snark SN-5 Tuner for Guitar, Bass and Violin
The Snark series of tuners are extremely popular, and it’s easy to see why. They’re inexpensive, good quality, and they get the job done. They also come in cool colors. The Snark Sn-5 works by easily clipping on to your instrument and sensing vibrations through the wood. This is the perfect tuner for a beginner, or someone who only wants to spend a few bucks.
2. Korg GA1 Guitar and Bass Tuner
The Korg GA1 is a classic. An inexpensive tuner that is really accurate. When I first started playing guitar (waaaaay back when), these were everywhere. It seemed like every friend, or friend’s dad, had one of these in their gig bag. The display mimics an analog needle for tuning, which is a bit more intuitive than some of the LED-based tuners. You can tune using the built in microphone or line in. Recommended for beginner to intermediate players.
3. Korg CA-40 Large Display Auto Chromatic Tuner
A step up from the GA1, the Korg CA-40’s primary benefit is chromatic tuning. Chromatic tuning is a ‘must have’ for dealing with alternate tunings, intonation, or anything beyond the basic E-A-D-G-B-E tuning job. This is worth the extra $7.55 to upgrade from the GA1. Tune using built in microphone or line in. Recommended for beginner to intermediate players, and for non-guitar instruments.
4. Snark SN-10S Pedal Tuner
A foot pedal version from the popular Snark series of tuners. The SN-10S provides easy stomp box style chromatic tuning. Similar to the TU3 (see below), this type of tuner is designed for working with other gear and in ‘live’ situations. Great user reviews and a reasonable price make this a great tuner purchase. Recommended for all players for stand up playing.
5. BOSS Roland TU3 Compact Pedal Tuner
Now this is truly a classic. Actually the TU-2 was the earlier model that continues to show up on a lot of pro guitar player’s gear lists. The TU-3 is the latest incarnation. A stomp box, with line in and two line outs (output and bypass), this tuner is made to be used in combination with other gear. You can use it on it’s own, of course, but design and features are geared towards serving a) a larger signal chain, and b) hands free use in a ‘live’ situation. Recommended for anybody playing ‘live’.
6. TC Electronic PolyTune Poly-Chromatic Tru-Bypass Pedal Tuner
Rarely are there innovations in the world of tuning, but TC Electronic has done it. The PolyTune is a foot pedal style, chromatic tuner. But the magic lies in how it tunes. To quote their description, “With PolyTuneTM, you simply strum all strings on your guitar or bass at once, and it will immediately tell you which strings need tuning”. The user reviews are consistently high for this unit, which lends credence to their claim. This sounds like the ideal solution for the singer/songwriter, who inevitably faces moments on stage when they’re trying to tune string-by-string and tell stories to keep the crowd engaged at the same time. One strum with an auto-detect would be a lifesaver. Recommended for singer/songwriters and one-man shows.
7. BOSS TU-12EX Chromatic Tuner
The TU-12EX is a high quality, versatile, chromatic tuner with a metronome built in. The tuner uses a needle, giving intuitive tuning feedback. Tune using built in microphone or line inputs. The design is versatile enough to use on your lap in a practice room, or on a pedal board during a concert. I used one of these tuners for many years and it worked really well for me. Recommended for music students who need both high quality and flexibility.
8. Korg PB05 Pitchblack Pro 1U Rackmount Guitar and Bass Tuner
The PB05 is a rack-mounted, chromatic tuner with LED bars showing tuning center (think Knight Rider’s car). Guitar players’ with rack gear often like to keep everything together in one place, nice’n’tidy. The PB05 is perfect for that. The 1U space doesn’t take up much room, and the LED’s are easy to see across a dark stage. And since it’s always on, no need to stumble around for your pedal. Recommended for players committed to rack gear.
9. Peterson AutoStrobe 490 Strobe Tuner
The creme de la creme. The big cheese. The… well, you get the idea. This is as high quality and accurate as you can possibly get. Used to tune pianos, the Peterson AutoStrobes are essentially a high quality oscilloscope giving you a microscope level view of your instrument’s pitch waveform. Not for the faint of heart. I saw Alison Krauss and Union Station use these on stage a while back and there was definitely a high cool factor. It was like they were acoustic scientists working in their sonic laboratory. And, yes, you’re right. This is on my “if-I-ever-win-the-lottery” list. Recommended for big spenders or the demanding pro.
Bonus Round: More Clip-Ons
As clip on tuners have become popular, more brands are making them. These two models consistently get good feedback:
D’Addario NS Micro Clip-On Tuner
A low-profile clip on tuner designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. The goal here is to be invisible to the audience and distraction-free for the musician. The tuner is a great bet for simple, minimal, accurate tuning.
Peterson 403857 StroboClip Clip-On Strobe Tuner
You may recall from above that Peterson makes the ultra-high quality, ultra-high price AutoStrobe Tuner. Well, they now make a clip-on tuner. It’s very high quality stuff, includes a built-in metronome, and can use “sweetened” tunings to enhance the sound of your instrument.
What tuner do you recommend? Let us know in the comments below:
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”