Getting in Tune
This is Part I of my series about Guitar Tuners. Next week we will discuss the practical differences between each style, what Tuners I like, what Tuners I tolerate, and what Tuners that I think underperform.
For this week’s topic we talk about one of the most commonly sold guitar accessories; the guitar tuner. Everyone, I mean everyone has owned, and still uses, a guitar tuner. Whether you’ve been playing for 5 minutes or for 5 decades, you use a tuner. Let’s talk about them, the types, styles, brands and whether or not you have the right type for your purpose.
Not too long ago, I ran across one of my essays I had written in high school English class. It was titled, “Tuning your Strings about Guitars”. Looking back I can’t believe that I wrote a paper on said topic; I must have been desperate for material. I had been playing guitar for less than a year and I felt the need to write a paper on the electric guitar. (Sigh) Boy how times have changed in the past twenty years, and so has the technology for tuners. My first tuner was a hand held Boss TU-70 that plugged inline with your amp/pedals. The display was a super fancy “digital” needle meter (Google it). It also had a mic that could pick up the string acoustically. Not to mention a nice dimly orange light that you could use only in the darkest of the nights. Although it was great at the time, I’m thankful technology has brought us to where we are today. So let us take a dive into the guitar tuners of today.
Let’s start with the free options; Tuner Apps. Most folks reading this own a smartphone. If you don’t, it’s best you quit reading now and just go find your old TU-70, it will probably suit you better than today’s technology. But, if you have your eye on something modern and you have an IOS or Android device you’ll find a small plethora of tuning apps available to use. They’re actually pretty good too. I’ve used the Boss Tuner app and Guitar Tuna app and they work really well. Simply to use, accurate, gets the job done. The best part is they are free to use. They do have their limitations. The mic of your device picks up the string frequency, so any outside sound will interfere with the tuner. So basically, if your drummer is within a mile of you it would not be very effective. But, for bedroom practice, by yourself, you can use an app all day and be just fine. Whether you left your tuner at home and need a lifeline, or just never leave home, Tuner Apps are a quick, easy, and affordable option for a quick tune.
Clip On Tuners
I’ll be honest, from the year 2000 until 2013 I had not bought a guitar tuner, nor even paid attention to the ones on the market. I was happy with the durable, and expensive, Boss TU-70 I bought from Mars Music in St. Louis, Mo. I also commonly used the integrated tuner on my high tech, and 2000's-era-fancy, Line 6 Vetta Modeling Amplifier. So, when I opened the store in 2013 I quickly discovered Clip On tuners and thought they were the best thing invented since hot wings.
The basic idea for Clip On tuners is they read the vibration of your instrument when attached to the head stock or any other part of the instrument. This was pretty ground breaking at the time of its initial development as most tuners either used a mic to pick up sound waves or had to be plugged in. With a Clip On tuner you can tune your instrument, any instrument that produces a vibration, even with tons of stage noise. Lightweight, portable, inexpensive, and super accurate. Since then, I’ve tried many different brands of clip on tuners. Boss, Korg, Snark, and basically any other brand that sells guitar accessories offer an affordable Clip On style tuner. It’s the perfect option for all musicians. Whether you perform on stage, play around the campfire, rock out in your bedroom, or do minor setup work, there’s a clip on tuner option for you.
The next best option are pedal tuners. Pedal tuners, such as the TC Electronic Polytune or Boss TU-3, are pedal sized and plug right inline with the rest of your pedals on your board. Many of them feature multiple display styles, such as strobe or standard needle, and the nicer models have bonus features such as: a built in buffer, and or power output, capable of powering other pedals with a daisy chain cable. If you are looking for the most accurate option and can benefit from certain extra utilities such as a buffer, then pedal tuners are the choice for you.
Stick around for Part II of my discussion about tuners. Next week, we will dive in even further and break down the subtle differences from some of the most popular tuner models on the market. I’ll give you my personal feedback on tuners I love, and the ones I don’t get the hype.