GETTING IN TUNE: PART DEUX
Last week I skimmed the surface of the world of the guitar tuner. This week, well, let’s be honest here, I’m looking for more readers. So being the controversial person I am, I share my not so positive thoughts on the best selling tuners on the market. I’m also a positive guy too so I will share my personal favorites. Anyway, lots of random helpful information sprinkled in so let’s get started.
CHROMATIC TUNERS, THIS IS THE WAY:
If you are reading this there’s a good chance you are in the market for a tuner. Maybe you’ve been playing for years and never thought about the importance of a good tuner. Perhaps you are brand new to playing guitar and you just want a simple answer for a guitar tuner. EIther way, you 100% want to get a chromatic tuner. There are some tuners on the market that are designed to only be used for specific instruments such as: guitar, ukulele, violin, etc.These are terrible. What’s the difference you ask? A Chromatic tuner will read whatever note the string produces. This is very useful for alternate tunings and tuning instruments that are very far out of tune. These tuners can be used on any instrument that produces a vibration. It’s just a better experience when performing normal everyday tuning. An instrument specific tuner is designed to only read the notes of that instrument. For example, a guitar tuner will only register: E-A-D-G-B-E. That’s all well and good if you: only tune your guitar to standard, never change your strings, or want a specific tuner for every instrument you play. I won’t go into the details but these tuners are very limited in what they offer. Trust me and buy a chromatic tuner, you’ll be much happier.
Recently, I’ve noticed some tuners that try to stick out from the crowd by offering “high end” features. This doesn’t guarantee they are good at the primary function of tuning. Also, some of these “high end” features are not very practical in my opinion. Remember, the ultimate goal is to get your guitar tuned quickly and accurately. The latest trend for Clip-On style tuners is they are rechargeable. Honestly, I’m not feeling it. First off, the C2032 batteries used in most Clip-On tuners last a long time and are not expensive to replace. Also, It’s a lot faster to replace a battery then wait for a tuner to recharge in a wall outlet. I can’t plug my tuner into an outlet and use it on stage at the same time. Second, just because it is rechargeable doesn’t mean it's good. I have two models in the store with this feature. They both underperform compared to my favorites that cost less. So don't pay extra for unnecessary features that make the product more expensive but less effective.
Pedal tuners tend to offer extra utility features, such as built in-buffer. These don’t bother me as much. In my experience most pedal tuners are great at the primary function of tuning. If you can get one pedal that will fulfill multiple needs then I say that’s a win. That being said, if you don’t need or use those features then don’t let that affect your decision on which option to buy. Remember, the ability to tune is primary. Focus my friends.
DOES A TUNER NEED TO BE THAT ACCURATE?
I hear customers complain about certain tuners because the needle never gets exactly in the middle. I speculate that the tuner they are using is a very precise tuner. Let me explain. If you are tuning your string to a very small precise measurement then there is a small margin for error. So, it takes great patiences and accuracy to get the guitar string to tune to an exact frequency. That’s great for many applications. If you are recording or setting up the intonation on a guitar then you want precision. But if you are jamming the night away in your buddies basement then accuracy is not crucial. So, you don’t always need the most accurate tuner. A tuner that provides accuracy of +/- 1 cent is more than adequate. Get a tuner that works well and gets close without having to battle the needle.
MY TUNER JUMPS FROM NOTE TO NOTE?
Have you ever been tuning your B string and noticed that the tuner flashes a F# and then flashes back to B. Don’t panic, understand that when you pluck a string the string can produce harmonics that the tuner can pick up and register. Hopefully the tuner is good enough that it will hone in on the predominant frequency as you adjust the tuning. Just be patient, and keep on adjusting your tuner head until the tuner reads a good solid note. Many times, you can move the tuner to a different part of the headstock to register a stronger signal, which brings me to my next point.
MY TUNER IS JUNK, IT DOESN’T REGISTER ANY NOTES
When customers complain about this I find that this mostly happens using Clip-On tuners when tuning lower notes. It’s not uncommon for a tuner to struggle registering a Low B not on a bass or lower note on an extended range guitar. The first thing you want to check is to make sure there’s not too much slack on the string. If you drop tune a guitar a couple of steps down you want to make sure you use heavier gauge strings so the string maintains its tension. The next thing to try is to move the tuner to different spots on the guitar. I feel like some guitars have dead spots, so I will move the tuner from one part of the headstock to a different location and viola, the tuner starts to register. Remember, tuners pick up vibration and the guitar vibrates everywhere. I’ve clipped a tuner on a strap button, volume/tone knob, saddle, tuner head, almost anywhere.. So if your tuner is not registering, try moving it around. The key is a firm tight grip so the sensor can fully register the vibration.
Now we move on and talk about my favorite tuners available. I’ve been performing guitar tech work at JAMS for almost 10 years and a good tuner is a tech’s best friend. When they work great it makes the job easier. If they lack in performance then it's a hassle. I’ve used a lot of options on stage and tuning guitars in the shop. I’ve learned which ones are my favorites and which ones I could throw in the trash.
Best General Tuner (Any Instrument)
My pick for my favorite basic tuner are the Korg Pitch Clip tuners, specifically the PC-2. They are straightforward, easy to use, and I find them plenty accurate. I even use them to intonate if I’m in a pinch. For $15.99 I don’t think there’s a better option on the market. Nice bright display, chromatic, +/- 1 cent for accuracy, and a display so you can flip up when tuning or lay flat, so it’s a little more discrete then options that have a fixed display. Whether you are on the stage or performing a quick setup the PC-2 is a great option. If you are looking for a little more accuracy then that takes me to the next item.
Best Accurate Clip-On Tuner
As I mentioned before some tuners struggle to pick up lower frequencies. However, I find the Korg PC-2 + to be a great option for tuning those extended range notes. The PC-2 + offers a clear, cleaner display, is more accurate, and is fine-tuned to easily register lower notes. Accuracy is +/- 0.1 cent. It’s an excellent option if you want precise tuning and works well for tech work.
I do like the PRS Clip On Headstock tuner. I know I mentioned before I don’t really care for the rechargeable options, and I still don’t. But I do like how this tuner performs. Not the most accurate, but very very good and like I mentioned before sometimes we don’t need to be super accurate. Works well, tunes quickly, easy to use, and is rechargeable, if you care about those sorts of things. My favorite feature is the nice big display and it seems like the needle doesn’t jump around. It’s a little more pricey than some other options but I approve of this product.
D’addario Micro Tuners. I find these tuners to offer a nice bright display for its small compact design. I’ve used the headstock mount version and the soundhole version. Both are good for quick and easy tuning. If you want a good tuner that works well but also is very discrete then I recommend the D’addario Micro Tuners.
And the Award Goes To…
I find that Pedal Tuners, although more expensive, provide the best overall tuning experience. The Korg Pitchblack Mini X is my number one favorite. I love the original Pitchblack Mini and use it extensively on my pedal board and for intense setups in the shop. The original Pitchblack Mini is easy to use, very accurate, and the needle doesn’t jump around sporadically. The Pitchblack Mini X is even better, substantially better. I find that it tunes even better and quicker. I also enjoy the nice clean blue and white led display. My absolute favorite tuner. It also features a built in buffer, so if that’s something you need then it’s a bonus feature.
Korg Bias eh?
So you may have noticed that my favorite tuners are from Korg. After I finished writing this post I was surprised. (A little self discovery) I don’t think I’m being biased or loyal to one brand, I just really think they make a great product and I tend to enjoy using these tuners more. To be fair, I’ve used a number of Korg tuners that I thought were not great. But the PC-2, PC-2 +, and Pitch Black X series pedals are all top notch tuners and are excellent for their price point, sometimes out performing tuners that are more expensive. I’ve tried a varities of Snark, Fender, D’addario, and many more and I always go back to the Pitchclip Series or Pitchblack. We offer Korg tuners at JAMS because I believe in the product. Based on customer demand I will keep certain products in the store whether I like it or not. For the most part we carry products we are proud to sell and Korg tuners fit the bill.
Not my favorites
My wife always tries to make me a better person. That’s a really tough task. She always encourages me and my children to say, “not my favorite”, instead of, “I hate that”. Makes sense eh? So, I don’t like to put down products, secretly I really enjoy it. Professionally though, I try to have a little more discretion. So, with all due respect here are, “not my favorites”.
Snark is probably the most requested tuner brand at JAMS. But, I always feel it's the most requested because that’s the only brand people remember. All other tuner brands are known for other products: Korg - Keyboards, D’addario - Strings, PRS - Guitars, TC - Electronics - Delay and Reverb effects pedals. Snark is one of few who primarily make tuners. In my opinion, they are ok, they get the job done, sometimes. But I don’t feel it. There are a lot better options out there.
Pedal Tuner Style
For the, “Not my favorite Pedal Tuner”, that award goes to the Boss TU-3. I don’t get the hype. The TU-3 is more expensive than the average tuner pedal, features an outdated display that hasn’t gotten bigger or brighter in the last decade, and has a big and bulky footprint when compared to the selection of mini tuner pedals on the market. By the way, most mini tuner pedals have a brighter, clearer, and bigger display than the TU-3 and they take up less space. I feel most people who use a Boss TU-3 only do so because twenty years ago they used a Boss TU-2. The TU-3 is not a bad tuner, but I’m pretty sure we can do better. Most companies have shown there is better, and they offer an option at a lower price point.
Whew…that was a long one. Thanks for sticking it out and reading through. Let me know what you think. Do you love Snark tuners?. Do you hate Korg tuners? Let me know. My opinions are just that, an opinion. But over the past 10 years I’ve used more tuners and have tuned more guitars more often than most. These experiences have led me to my opinions and I feel they are justified. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and give some feedback. Thanks for reading.
- Chad Daniels.