While some musicians can tune their guitar strings by ear, most of us aren’t blessed with such a gift. This means that it’s necessary to have a proper tuner to get your guitar or bass in tune with the rest of the band.
The thing is, live situations don’t always allow for the use of standard handheld tuners due to extraneous noise, and having to remember your clip-on tuner (or the clip-on tuner batteries) is just another thing to have on your mind.
In that case, why not just get an accurate tuner pedal that can sit alongside your other pedals on your board for quick and easy tuning in-between songs?
Let’s go over some of the best tuner pedals on the market and why you need one!
Top 5 Tuner Pedals Compared
TC Electronic Polytune 3
Our Top Pick!
The TC Electronic Polytune 3 is easily one of the most revolutionary guitar tuner pedals on the market. In its third iteration, it has some serious features that separate it from the rest.
Thanks to its ability to tune polyphonically, all you have to do is give your guitar a nice strum and watch as the screen lights up with readings.
Beyond the cool polyphonic tuning mode, you can pick between a wide number of added tuning modes as well if you want to go more traditional.
One of the unique things is that this pedal gives you the option to choose between buffered and true bypass. The buffered bypass can ever so slightly tame harshness while preserving tasty tone that you love.
The reason we love the buffered mode is that you can leave it on while you play to take in visual feedback of your guitar up and down the neck. This is perfect if you’re worried about the intonation of your guitar throughout a set.
Bottom Line: With the number of tuning modes including strobe and polyphonic, the ultra-bright LED display, and the switchable true/buffered bypass modes, the TC-Electronic Polytune 3 is one of the best and most innovative tuner pedals on the market.
If you've ever seen a pedalboard, there is no doubt that you've laid your eyes upon a beautiful little Boss stompbox. If there were one word to describe the Boss TU-3, it would be "accurate."
They've added a few awesome upgrades from the TU-2, which was one of the most popular tuner pedals on Earth.
Even with the needle-style design, the Boss TU-3 gives you a chromatic tuning display that can be switched between bright and dark depending on your playing situation. They even have the Accu-Pitch, providing you with extra assurance if you don't trust the needle.
If you play bass, this should also be your choice, as it can read super low frequencies much better than most tuners, some of which can’t even seem to read them at all.
From 7-string guitars to 6-string basses, the Boss TU-3 can truly do it all.
Bottom Line: The Boss TU-3 is an excellent tuner pedal for both guitar or bass. With a build that is more than suitable for heavy touring and an accuracy that is unparalleled in design, it is no doubt one of the top tuners around.
The Korg Pitchblack has always had an excellent reputation in terms of its build and accuracy. The Korg Pitchblack Custom takes that a step up.
This guitar tuner pedal is one of the first 3D visual tuners with incredible +/- 0.1 cent tuning ability and true bypass switching for getting rid of any tone coloration.
If you’re looking for a pedal that is long lasting, know that this little guy is built like an absolute tank thanks to the diecast aluminum design.
One of the cool things about this pedal is that you can use it to power other effects pedals thanks to the parallel connection of the DC output.
In terms of the display, it gives you the best tuning visibility of just about any tuner out there. It’s a genuinely innovative display that makes tuning so much easier and far less mundane.
If you’re more traditional, you’ll be happy to know that there are four other display modes to utilize as well.
Bottom Line: With an incredible amount of visibility thanks to the 3D display, and incredible precision and accuracy with a +/- 0.1 cent design, the Korg Pitchblack Custom has marked its spot as another innovative upgrade from the king of tuner pedals.
Kliq became a company not too long ago, though they are really starting to come up in the tuner world with their high-quality line of handheld, clip-on, and pedal tuners.
Their clip-on tuners were made to deal with the issue of lack of accuracy. Essentially, Kliq tuners are made to have incredibly fast response times, fine-tuning accuracy, and simple designs.
If you're familiar with their clip-on tuners, you'll recognize the TinyTune right off the bat. The company has taken all of the great things about their clip-on and put them in pedal form.
You’ll get accurate tuning abilities with quick response times all wrapped up in a durable metal chassis that you can bring with you just about anywhere. That is also thanks to the tiny size, which doesn’t take up tons of room on your pedalboard.
Beyond your standard tuning modes, you can also use drop/flat tuning with a four-semitone range.
Bottom Line: With wildly fast response times and accuracy that is the flagship characteristic of Kliq tuners, the Kliq TinyTune is a tuner to be reckoned with. If you’re looking for a simple tuner that won’t take up a ton of real estate on your board, this is an excellent option.
If you’re into serious budgeting, Donner is a good company to know. They make tons of high-quality pieces of music equipment that are both inexpensive and effective. Considering the very low price of this model, it does an excellent job.
Because of the chromatic style of the tuner, you can tune to just about any note that you can think of, though it is a bit harder to get to the in-betweens.
One thing we love is how bright the LCD display is. No matter how dark the venue that you play in, you’ll easily be able to read it.
Like we mention in the buying guide below, when you get down to a certain level of cent accuracy, it doesn't really matter.
It may not look the most accurate on the spec chart, though when in use, you can hardly notice the difference.
In terms of features, it's pretty empty. This makes it perfect for guitarists or bassists who are looking for something simple.
Bottom Line: The Donner DT-1 is an excellent budget tuner that is simple in design and incredibly easy to use. If you’re someone who likes no-frills equipment, you’ll love this little pedal.
What Makes a Great Guitar Tuner Pedal?
The accuracy of a pedal is measured in what they call "cents". 100 cents is equal to one semitone. This means that a tuner's accuracy is based on the ability to read fractions of semitones or the notes between notes.
Some tuners have a +/- 1 cent rating while others have a +/-0.01 cent rating. From experience, this small difference does not have a huge impact on your tuning. The human ear isn’t even able to recognize these tiny differences anyway.
In terms of accuracy, you should be worried about how quickly the pedal responds to your playing, as you want to make sure that it hears the note you are hitting and not any overtones or harmonics. Don't let this "fraction of a fraction of a cent" marketing fool you.
Whether you end up playing in dark clubs or bright churches, you’re going to want a tuner that is easy to read. This means that you’ll want a tuner with a bright enough display for just about any kinds of light conditions that you encounter.
The type of display that you get will depend on the type of tuner, as some more modern ones come with bright LCD displays while older versions come with needle displays. That’s not to say that needle displays aren’t also bright, though it is a case-by-case basis.
Some tuner pedals come with needle displays, either analog or digital, that move while you adjust the tension of your string. These have a reasonably fast response and tend to waver if your instrument isn’t entirely in pitch, giving you a solid amount of visual feedback.
Some higher-end tuners come with multiple tuning modes, allowing you to pick between your favorites. You’ll usually find that more expensive digital tuners have strobe modes, allowing you to see your pitch in real time. Because of the sheer speed of these tuners, many guitar technicians swear by them.
Lastly, you also have tuners with polyphonic modes. These polyphonic tuners allow you to strum each of your strings while the tuner reads them individually. While they aren't as accurate, they can be helpful for a speedy tuning job.
When it comes to buying a tuner pedal, you don’t need it to take up a ton of real estate on your board. This is especially true if you are a beginner who is starting to collect pedals.
Many companies sell full versions of their pedals, as well as miniature versions. Just look at TC-Electronic!
Mini versions don’t typically carry all of the same features as their older siblings, though they are perfect for those who are trying to create less of a footprint on their pedal domain.
True Vs. Buffered Bypass
Something that many people don’t consider when buying a tuning pedal, though definitely should, is the bypass options. Tuners will either be labeled true bypass or buffered bypass, while some will have both, allowing you to switch between the two.
True bypass tuners give you an accurate representation of your guitar signal and tone when they are turned off. Essentially, they allow the signal to flow through the pedal without affecting it in any way.
Buffered bypass, on the other hand, can diminish your tone just slightly, even when off. Many guitarists like buffered bypass though, as it can tame some harshness that is unwanted.
Try and educate yourself on the difference between the two to better understand how it can affect your overall tone.
One Last Note
When you finally decide that it is time to buy a tuner for your setup, you’ll want to make sure that you consider all of the things we mentioned above. Buying the first tuner you see may not be the best decision, especially when you consider how important it is that it does the job correctly.
Overall, we highly recommend picking yourself up a TC Electronic Polytune 3. It’s such an incredibly versatile tuner that will last you forever. It also gives you a ton of different options for tuning, meaning professionals and amateurs alike can find something they like about it.
We hope that our little tuning guide helped narrow down your options. A tuner is something that should never be put on the back burner, as no matter how many crazy effects you might have, or how great your playing is, it will never sound great if it’s out of tune.
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