Best Guitar Tuners 2021 – All Types Explained

Best Guitar Tuner

Thanks for ‘tuning’ in! With so many different options available, it can be a difficult task trying to find the best guitar tuner for your personal situation.

Keeping your guitar as close to perfect pitch as possible is fundamental in helping you to sound your best, so a quality tuner is a key part of every guitarist’s toolkit.

In this article, I’ll try my best to clear up the confusion and make your choice a simple one!

We’ll first look at the different types of tuner available, then we’ll discuss what key features you should be looking for, and then we’ll look at my current favorite guitar tuners broken down by style and budget. Finally, I will answer some common tuner questions that you might have.

Table Of Contents
This article is pretty long, so why not skip to the part(s) you’re interested in?

  1. Types Of Guitar Tuners
  2. Key Features Of A Good Guitar Tuner
  3. 8 Tips For Better Guitar Tuning
  4. Best Guitar Tuner Pedals
  5. Best Clip-On Guitar Tuners
  6. Best Handheld & Desktop Tuners
  7. Best Guitar Tuner Apps
  8. Best Automatic Guitar Tuner
  9. FAQ

Types Of Guitar Tuners

Guitar Tuners – These types of tuners are specialized only for the notes and tunings related specifically to guitars (e.g. EADGBE). They are not full chromatic tuners.

Chromatic Tuners – These are the most common types of guitar tuner. Chromatic tuners will only identify each of the 12 notes found in the chromatic scale in Western music (i.e. A, A#, B, C, etc.). Tuning is done one note at a time, and these units tend to be the most affordable option.

Polyphonic Tuners – Polyphonic tuners are a more recent innovation and allow you to tune all of your strings at the same time. Great for very quick adjustments on the fly, or for quickly checking you are still in tune mid-song.

Strobe Tuners – Strobe tuners tend to be the most costly options, but they are also the most accurate. They are a little more complicated to read, but once you get used to them the extra accuracy is well worth the additional outlay.

Key Features Of A Good Guitar Tuner

Wait a minute, all a tuner needs to do is tell you the pitch of each string, right? Well yeah, but there are a few key features that set apart a basic model from a great model.

1. Accuracy

The more accurate your guitar tuner is, the closer you will be to perfect pitch.

The degree of accuracy of a guitar tuner is measured in ‘cents’. A cent is one-hundredth of a semitone (so 1%), and a semitone equates to a single fret on your fingerboard. So this means that an A# note is 100 cents higher (or one semitone) than an A note.

At the store I work at, our best-selling guitar tuner pedal is the Boss TU-3, which is accurate to within plus or minus 1 cent. So once tuned using that pedal, the actual note could be 1 cent higher or 1 cent lower than the reading.

In my research for this article, I found a study that suggested that humans can only distinguish a difference in pitch of 5-6 cents or more. However other sources show that people with good ear training (such as us musicians!) can detect variances in pitch as low as 2, or even 1 cent!

So try to aim for something with an accuracy of at least +/- 2 cents to be safe.

2. Muting Your Guitar

Being able to hear your strings when tuning is acceptable when you’re in your bedroom, but what about when you’re playing live? Do you really want the audience to be able to hear you tuning up in between songs?

A great feature of a quality guitar tuner is the ability to mute your signal when you’re using it. Tuning in silence will help you project a more professional appearance when playing live.

In addition, you can use this muting feature in other scenarios. For example, you can spare your audience the horrendous sound of cables being plugged in during a guitar swap. Or during sections where you don’t play, you can easily mute yourself to instantly kill feedback or amp hum.

3. Screen Visibility and Brightness

What’s the use of your tuner if you can’t properly read the values due to the screen being too small, or too dimly lit?

If you have poor eyesight, you need to make sure that you select a model with a large enough display for it to be read from your pedalboard. Or if you opt for a clip-on tuner, from your headstock.

It’s also important to make sure you select a guitar tuner with a bright enough display to be read in all types of environment. For example, it might perform perfectly in a darkened club, but take it to an outdoor gig and the sun might completely wash out the screen.

Some newer tuners will come with an OLED display, which allows for excellent readability from any angle and in any light. Others might include brightness options so that you can fine-tune depending on the situation.

8 Tips For Better Guitar Tuning

Switch To The Neck Pickup – If using an electric guitar, the neck pickup will generally provide a stronger fundamental tone. This is the frequency that the tuner needs in order to operate, so should give slightly better results. You can improve accuracy even more by rolling the tone knob all the way off.

Tune Twice – Once you’ve tuned all of the strings, go back and check them again. The strings are all pulling on the same neck, so changing the pitch of one will slightly affect the others.

Mute The Strings – Try to keep all strings muted, apart from the string you are tuning. If you don’t, other strings can start to vibrate and cause inaccurate readings. If you’re using a polyphonic tuner this rule doesn’t apply!

Tune UP To Pitch – Always tune slightly down first, and then tune up to pitch. By adding tension rather than removing it, the string will be less likely to slip and go out of tune again when you begin to play.

Give It A Second – After you pluck the string, give it a second to ring out before you start to adjust its pitch. If you pick the string too hard it registers a little sharp at first, so this gives it time to settle.

Use A Light Touch – When using the tuning pegs try to use a light touch. Putting too much force on the neck could cause all strings to become slightly sharp or flat.

Place Your Tuner First – If you opt for a guitar tuner pedal, make sure to place it first in your chain. A direct connection to your guitar will give more accurate results.

Check Intonation – If your tuner says the guitar is in tune but it still sounds off when playing, you may also need to adjust your intonation. To check this, you can compare the pitch of the note at the 12th fret with the pitch of the 12th fret harmonic. If there’s a notable difference you will need to correct this intonation issue.

Best Guitar Tuner Pedal

Pros:
+ Highly Durable
+ Very Accurate
+ Not Reliant On Batteries
+ Signal Mute
+ Bright Displays

Cons:
x Can Be Expensive
x No Use With Non-Electric Instruments
X Uses A Spot On Pedalboard

A quality guitar tuner pedal is probably the most common tuner choice for the majority of serious guitarists.

They are rugged, highly accurate, have the brightest displays, and carry additional benefits such as the ability to easily mute your guitar signal.

Let’s take a look at a couple of my favorite models…

Boss TU-3 – Most Popular Guitar Tuner Pedal

Boss TU-3 Guitar Pedal Tuner Review

Link click here to check it out

For years, the Boss TU-2 was the go-to tuner pedal for musicians around the world. It had a tuning accuracy of +/-3 cents, which although acceptable, is lower than any of the other options in this guide.

Luckily, its replacement, the TU-3, has improved the situation greatly with an upgraded accuracy of +/-1 cent. The torch has been passed down from the TU-2 to the TU-3, and it is currently the world’s most popular guitar tuner pedal. In fact, it’s actually BOSS’ best-selling compact guitar pedal, period!

The TU-3 allows you to tune in the more traditional chromatic mode, where the tuner will display each note name. Alternatively, there is also guitar/bass mode, which instead will display the string number – this has support for up to 7-string guitars or 6-string basses.

There is also an additional Guitar Flat Mode, which is specifically designed for drop-tuning up to 6 semitones lower than standard tuning.

In either mode, the LEDs (there are 21 of them) will illuminate in a very bold visualization (BOSS calls this the Accu-Pitch Sign) to distinctly indicate when tuning is complete.

The display also features a high-brightness mode, which you can engage in bright, outdoor environments to ensure that the screen remains perfectly visible.

Other useful features include automatic muting of your signal when tuning, although you can bypass this feature if preferred. It also has the ability to supply power for up to 7 other pedals (via an optional cable), and the facility to alter the reference pitch between 436hz and 445hz.

The TU-3 doesn’t offer true bypass switching, but the buffered output does mean that your tone should remain unaltered when using many other pedals and leads.

The range of compact guitar pedals from BOSS are well known for their rugged, tank-like build quality, and long-lasting durability. A TU-3 is likely to last you for years, if not decades of hard use.

Check out the video below to see it in action.

Sound like the tuner for you? Check it out at the link above!

TC Electronic Polytune 3 – Most Versatile Guitar Tuner Pedal

TC Electronic Polytune 3 Guitar Pedal Tuner Review

Link click here to check it out

Way back in 2010, TC introduced the original Polytune pedal and instantly shook up the world of tuners. And now, 2 generations later, the Polytune 3 has further improved the design with additional tuning modes and innovative features.

As far as tuning modes are concerned, the Polytune 3 has the same number as its little brother the Polytune Clip below- i.e. chromatic, polyphonic, and strobe tuning.

Pop it into chromatic tuning mode and we can easily tune each string, one at a time, and with an excellent accuracy of +/-0.5 cents! Alternatively, polyphonic mode is super quick and allows us to tune all strings at the same time (or have a quick check to make sure we’re still in tune!). With polyphonic mode you can quickly see which (if any) of your strings are out of tune, saving the need to individually check each one. The Polytune 3 will automatically switch between chromatic and polyphonic modes depending on how many strings you play.

And if you can spare a little more time to really dial in your tuning, strobe mode will get you to within +/-0.02 cents of perfect pitch – amazing! I am not currently aware of any other pedal which can compete with this level of precision.

The video below demonstrates all of the different tuning modes.

The display on the Polytune 3 is comprised of 109 ultra-bright LEDs for a super-clear readout. In addition, the pedal features an ambient light sensor that will adjust the screen brightness automatically for all lighting conditions.

TC has also managed to shoehorn its award-winning ‘Bonafide’ buffer circuitry into the Polytune 3. This will actually improve your tone over long cable runs! While true-bypass pedals can begin to degrade the treble end of your signal, placing the Polytune 3 at the start of your board means that your signal should remain unaltered. However, you can also switch to true-bypass mode if you would prefer. TC has covered all bases here, and this is a big selling point of the pedal.

Finally, a new always-on mode lets you leave the pedal display functioning throughout your entire gig or session. Perfect for quickly tweaking a string during songs.

If you like the sound of the Polytune 3, then check it out at the link above!

But Wait! There’s also the additional option of the Polytune 3 Mini, which takes almost all of these features and crams them into a smaller package. The screen is very slightly smaller, and you will also lose the ability to use battery power, and the facility to power other pedals. If none of this bothers you, then the Mini is probably a good choice for the space-saving benefit. It is also available in black as the Polytune 3 Mini Noir.

Best Clip On Guitar Tuner

Pros:
+ Compact Size
+ Frees Up A Pedalboard Slot
+ Great In Noisy Environments
+ Use With Non-Electric Guitars
+ Inexpensive

Cons:
x Battery Life Dependant
x Lower Screen Brightness
x May Damage Finish Over Time

Unlike a tuner pedal, you do not have to plug a clip on tuner directly into your guitar for them to function. So for that reason, a clip on guitar tuner is going to be the best option if you play mainly acoustic instruments. Although they also work great for electric guitars and basses.

Although some may incorporate a small audio microphone, most modern headstock tuners will tune via vibration. This makes them ideal for use in noisy environments.

Because they tune by vibration, they pair especially well with hollow-body guitars as these instruments are all about developing and amplifying vibration.

Let’s take a look at my two current top choices for the best clip-on guitar tuner.

Snark SN5X – Best Budget Clip On Guitar Tuner

Snark SN5X Clip On Tuner Review

Link click here to check it out

On a budget, my top pick is the excellent Snark SN5X, which you can pick up for less than the price of a pack of decent strings!

I’ve had one of these for probably over a decade now, and it’s still going strong. And the new models are even better than mine, having had several updates and improvements over the years.

An accuracy of roughly +/- 1 cent is more than sufficient for all but the absolute best-trained ears. As it is a chromatic tuner the Snark SN5X can deal with non-standard tunings as well.

The screen is full-color, so it’s very easy to read. Snark has also brightened the screen since I bought mine, so it should remain perfectly legible in all but the brightest sunlight. When tuning, red bars indicate that you are flat, yellow that you are sharp, and green that you are in tune. To save the battery, the screen automatically shuts off after 2 minutes.

The display on the Snark can also rotate 360 degrees, so you will easily be able to read the screen no matter where you attach the unit. This also means us awkward left-handed players will have no trouble!

It is made of plastic to keep costs down, but it still manages to feel robust. As I mentioned above, mine is still fighting the good fight after more than 10 years of loyal service. Meaning it has cost me less than $1 per year of ownership – it’s hard to complain about an investment like that!

As an added bonus, the Snark even has a built-in tap-tempo metronome.

The low cost and high accuracy has made them the most popular headstock guitar tuner amongst customers at the store I work at.

Sold? Check it out at the link above!

TC Electronic Polytune Clip – Best Headstock Guitar Tuner

TC Electronic Polytune Clip Headstock Tuner Review

Link click here to check it out

The Snark is a great headstock tuner, but what if you want the crème de la crème? The best of the best. The Rolls-Royce of clip on guitar tuners…

Enter the TC Electronic Polytune Clip!

This stunning piece of kit features 3 different tuning modes. In chromatic mode it will tune each string one at a time, just like the Snark above. In polytune mode, you can strum all strings at once and tune them all at the same same time. Finally, we have the ultra-precise strobe mode, which claims an accuracy of an unbelievable +/- 0.02 cents. Most other clip-on guitar tuners come nowhere close to this level of accuracy!

This clever unit will switch between chromatic and polyphonic modes depending on how many strings you play. Use one of these modes for a quick tune-up on stage, or switch to the crazy-accurate strobe mode if you can spend a little more time to get near pitch-perfect results.

Note that while you can use chromatic and strobe modes with a bass guitar, the polyphonic mode is only compatible with 6-string guitars.

The display is comprised of a whopping 108 ultra-bright LED lights, which makes the Polytune Clip easily readable in any lighting conditions. It is by far the best display of any headstock tuner I have come across.

The screen will also automatically rotate to suit the angle that you set it at, making it great for both left and right-handed players.

Other key features include premium components for a classy aesthetic and excellent durability, reference pitch selection, internal memory to retain settings, and flat and capo tuning capability.

The Polytune Clip really is the best guitar tuner in its class. Check it out at the link above!

Best Handheld & Desktop Tuner

Pros:
+ Inexpensive
+ Metronome Ability
+ Works With Any Instrument

Cons:
x Reliant On Battery Life
x Poor Screen
x Dislikes Noisy Environments

Although a clip-on or pedal tuner is generally the best option for most players, a handheld guitar tuner can be a decent choice if you also need to tune instruments other than guitar.

In addition, most of these styles of tuners will also include a metronome function, making them very handy for practice sessions.

Korg TM60 Tuner & Metronome

Korg TM60 Guitar Tuner Review

Link click here to check it out

I am only going to recommend one product in this section, and that is the Korg TM60. This is by far the best-selling tuner of its kind at the guitar store I work at.

The unit features an in-built microphone for tuning non-electric instruments, which does mean that in this scenario the TM60 is only going to work well in quieter environments. However, if you have an electric guitar you can also plug it in for more accurate results. As far as accuracy is concerned, this unit should get you to within +/-1 cent of correct pitch.

The backlit LCD screen is adequate in most lights, however, it should ideally be placed directly in front of you as viewing angles are not amazing. A flip-out stand at the back helps to keep the TM60 display visible on your desktop.

The handy built-in metronome has a wide tempo range of between 30 and 252 bpm and features 3 different tempo settings and 15 rhythm variations.

The built-in speaker should be perfectly fine for practicing in quiet environments, but a headphone output is included as well.

You can check out the Korg TM60 Tuner at the link above!

Best Guitar Tuner Apps

Pros:
+ Inexpensive or Free
+ No Need For Extra Devices
+ Regular Feature Updates

Cons:
x Reliant On Phone Battery Life
x Lower Accuracy
x Dislikes Noisy Environments

We all have a smartphone, so why not use them to tune our guitars? It will save space on your pedalboard/gig bag, and more often than not, they’re completely free (at least for the basic versions).

Well, the downside is that they’re not quite as accurate as any of the other options above. The microphone in your phone is designed to work best with your voice, so it can only recognize a limited frequency of noises. In addition, the quality of the microphone will vary from phone to phone.

And because you are tuning with a microphone, rather than vibration of a direct connection, these are only going to perform well in quiet environments.

So the general consensus is that since they’re usually free, and you already own a phone, you may as well grab one, at least as a quick backup for your dedicated tuning device.

Another similar option is an online guitar tuner, which is great if you’d rather not download an app, or want to use a tuner on your computer. Check out my guide to the best free online guitar tuners.

Fender Guitar Tuner App

Fender Tune Pro Guitar Tuner App Review

Link click here for info

With over 1 million downloads on Android alone, Fender’s guitar tuner app is one of the most popular at present.

It works with guitar, bass, and ukulele, and has a free version as well as a more feature-packed paid-for version. Fender Tune is available for both iOS and Android.

The app is super easy to use and fairly basic in its non-paid-for guise. Simply pluck the string and Fender Tune will detect which string you are playing and indicate if you are sharp, flat, or in tune. You can also tap each string in the app to hear the note and work on your ear training.

There are different modes for tuning electric, acoustic, and bass guitar, as well as ukulele. A ton of common tunings are built-in, but you can also add your own custom tunings.

Upgrading to Fender Tune PLUS will unlock additional features such as a chord and scale library, metronome/drum tracks, and the ability to change reference pitch. It will also unlock the PRO Tuner which will improve accuracy with a more detailed readout.

GuitarTuna Tuner App

GuitarTuna Best Guitar Tuner App Review

Link click here to check it out

GuitarTuna is the most popular guitar tuner app at present, with over 50 million downloads on Android alone. There is also an online version which you can use with any device that has a microphone (or you can also tune by ear).

It has support for many different instruments, including guitar, bass, ukulele, violin, viola, and even cavaquinho!

Like the Fender app above, GuitarTuna is fairly basic in its non-paid-for version. Pick the string and the app will show you if you are flat, sharp, or in-tune, or tap each string on the app to tune by ear.

A slight downside is that the free version will only tune to standard pitch. So unless you are happy to pay for more, the Fender app above may be a better choice for you. It comes with all tunings without having to upgrade. Although, make sure to try them both and compare yourself!

Other handy features of the free version include a metronome, a few guitar learning games, and a basic chord library.

Upgrading to GuitarTuna Pro will give access to all tunings, a chromatic tuner, a chord library, and the full range of guitar learning games.

Best Automatic Guitar Tuner

Pros:
+ Does The Work For You
+ Works Great In Noisy Places

Cons:
x Reliant On Battery Life
x Can Be Slightly Fiddly To Use

Here’s a fun option that you may not have considered, or even been aware of! If you’d like to take all of the work out of tuning your guitar, then an automatic tuner could be worth a look.

Simply place this innovative little gadget on your tuning peg, pick the string, and it will rotate the tuner itself until the correct pitch has been achieved. Very cool – you’ll be the talk of your musician friends!

One of the big names in this space is Roadie. A few years ago I reviewed the Roadie 2, but since then the new and improved Roadie 3 has been released.

Roadie 3 Automatic Guitar Tuner

Roadie 3 Automatic Guitar Tuner Review

Link click here to check it out

Compared to my Roadie 2, the Roadie 3 has introduced a raft of new features and upgrades to make it an even better proposition.

Firstly, the new motor is twice as fast as the one found on the 2nd generation model. In addition, it has improved vibration detection, which should result in more accurate tuning.

The new unit is also a good deal smaller in size, while still featuring a larger, higher resolution screen which is now also in full color. Battery life is also improved, lasting up to a full month per charge.

Finally, it now also features a vibrating metronome so that you can feel the tempo while you play – handy!

Over 150 tunings are built into the unit, and you can also store as many custom tunings as you can come up with.

The Roadie 3 will tune a variety of different instruments including all types of 6, 7, and 12-string guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, and banjos. The motor is not powerful enough to tackle a bass, however, there is a special Roadie Bass model available for you slappers and poppers.

Pitch Pipes

Why would you want to subject yourself to this torture?! I’m not even going to recommend you an option here, just do yourself a favor and pick any of the other options above!

Pitch pipes are the most challenging method of guitar tuning, and also the least accurate. I still have the pitch pipes that came with my very first starter guitar package (I guess I’m a hoarder). Out of curiosity, I checked it against the Fender Tune app – it wasn’t even close!

Advocates recommend them as they also help to train your ears. But seriously, buy a proper tuner and then do ear-training separately.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Does A Tuner Pedal Go In The Signal Chain?

It is best to place your tuner pedal first in your signal chain. This will give the most accurate tuning result as the pedal will receive the cleanest signal possible. If you were to position it in the middle or after other pedals, then those pedals could potentially color the notes, resulting in lower accuracy.

Do I NEED To Buy A Guitar Tuner?

Every guitarist worth their salt should own a good tuner, but there are plenty of free options to get your guitar in tune if you’d rather not buy one. Loads of apps are available for iOs and Android, or you can also check out a free online guitar tuner.

Why Is A Guitar Tuned EADGBE?

You can find out the answer to this question in my article – why is standard guitar tuning EADGBE?.

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