13 Best Guitar Tuners: Compare, Buy & Save (2018)

best guitar tuners

No matter what kind of musician you are, there will never be a point where it will be acceptable to be out of tune. Sure, you might be in an ultra-avant-garde outfit with prepared instruments and no real tuning, but let’s face it: even then, you’ll need a baseline. At least one reference point.

Since that’s the case, tuners are incredibly important pieces of equipment for any musician. From the time you start learning through your last album going platinum, there will never be a time when you’re far away from one. The beginner guitarist starter pack usually comes with one, which admittedly will befuddle you for awhile. But once you learn the value of them and use them often, you’ll start feeling a weird connection to these little devices, swearing by a particular make or model, and you will likely become very reluctant to give them up.

My first tuner was the old Korg GT-3, which has been long discontinued. It wasn’t the best, but I liked it enough and I appreciated its simplicity. A lot of people begin with something like the Quik Tune QT11, which is certainly cheap enough, even though it is an inaccurate mess most of the time.

My main go-to these days is the Sabine STX-1100, which is also discontinued. That’s a shame, because it’s a gem of a tuner, even though the display is hilariously terrible and worthless in anything but the darkest rooms.

Tuner technology has moved on from all of those options, with clip-on or headstock tuners becoming the standard option. We present three different styles here so you can choose what works best for your setup. It’s an invaluable tool, so choose one you love and it will love you back.

For every performance, practice, and recording, here are our picks for the best guitar tuners:

What are the best guitar tuners?


Box Chromatic Tuners

This style of tuner is the oldest of them and the one most people recognize. They generally consist of a small plastic box that contains an LED screen, a microphone, and a 1/4 inch input jack. Non-chromatic versions exists, of course, which are setup to tune guitars to standard EADGBE tuning, but chromatic ones are far more useful.

Not only can you use them for other instruments, but they’re vital for alternate tuning and are usually a lot more accurate. These tend to be cheap and readily available everywhere and it’s always good to have one as a backup. Since they’ve been largely outmoded, there are only a few left on the market worth checking out, but we include them here for the sake of comparison.


1. Korg CA1 Chromatic Tuner – $12.95

korg box tuner

Korg

Pros: Cons:
  • Very accurate
  • Wide pitch range for various instruments
  • Speaker for reference pitch tones
  • Calibration allows for different concert pitches
  • Not as convenient as newer styles
  • Poor readability
  • Not made for durability
  • Middling performance in loud rooms

Almost everyone knows this ubiquitous little box. This is as simple as it gets — your garden-variety chromatic tuner, capable of a wide range of tunings and pitches and built do to one job and do it well. You can tune three ways with this: with the built-in mic, with a 1/4 inch input jack, and by ear using the reference tone from the internal speaker. It’s not particularly glamorous and the screen is difficult to read, but if you need to be absolutely sure you’re in tune, this is the place to start.

Buy the Korg CA1 Chromatic Tuner here.


2. Boss TU-80 Chromatic Tuner and Metronome – $PRICE

boss tu-80 box tuner

Boss

Pros: Cons:
  • Memory function stores your favorite setting
  • Accu-Pitch plays a tone when in tune
  • Speaker for reference pitch tones
  • Metronome function includes seven rhythms and 10 beats
  • Not as convenient as newer styles
  • Poor readability
  • Not made for durability
  • Middling performance in loud rooms

This is very similar to the Korg, but focused more on guitar players. It’s chromatic, so you can in theory tune anything you need to tune, but if you’re doing a whole orchestra or something, you might want to go for the Korg. This is the tuner we use as a backup to my Sabine in my band’s practice space. Nice to have on hand, especially with the tone letting you know the string is in tune.

Some of the reviews touch on the fact that it has trouble tracking when there’s other noise, even when using the input jack, and I can attest to that, as well. However, for solo practice, this is a nice, lightweight tuner to have around that can also come in handy for keeping time. The metronome isn’t just a click, but rather contains a variety of beats and rhythms to vary your practice sessions.

Buy the Boss TU-80 Chromatic Tuner and Metronome here.


Clip-On or Headstock Tuners

This style is among the more recent innovations when it comes to tuning. Combining a tiny version of the box tuner with a clamp, they pick up very quiet vibrations, making them super useful in loud settings.

They’re also smaller and some of them can easily be hidden behind the headstock during an entire performance, so perfect pitch is available on the fly. These are a great choice for acoustic guitar players who might otherwise have no need of a cord and whose instruments are generally more resonant.


3. Snark SN5X Clip-On Tuner – $9.99

snark sn5x guitar tuner

Snark

Pros: Cons:
  • Excellent screen
  • Clips snugly to headstock for accurate, vibration-based tuning
  • Screen swivels for best viewing angle
  • Fast response
  • Green indicator light section very large and may leave room for pitch error
  • If you have an old Snark, this model may not be an improvement
  • May not be very durable
  • Multiple models make purchasing confusing

My first recollection of a clip-on tuner is a Snark model of some sort. My local guitar shop had them up on the counter and I was pretty amazed by them at the time. They remain one of the most popular options for clip-on tuning. The screens are super crisp and bright and the response times are very fast. When choosing a Snark, you have many options, so shop carefully. The SN5X is the latest model meant for guitar, bass, and violin.

You can also opt for any of the ST- models, which means Super Tight, and promises better accuracy. The HZ models include hertz tuning mode for ultra-accurate readings. The SN-11 purports to be for all instruments, while the SN-2 has a tap tempo metronome on board. All in all, this option is probably best suited to something stringed with a headstock, which are the frequencies it likes best.

Buy the Snark SN5X Clip-On Tuner here.


4. TC Electronic PolyTune Clip – $47.90

tc electronic polytune clip guitar tuner

TC Electronic

Pros: Cons:
  • PolyTune technology allows you to tune all strings at once
  • Bright, easy to read screen
  • Flat tuning and capo modes
  • Stainless steel clip
  • Expensive
  • Guitar-focused
  • Screen doesn’t swivel
  • Must be manually switched between guitar and bass modes

Even newer than clip-on tuners in general is TC Electronic’s innovative PolyTune technology. It lets you strum all six strings at once and accurately tune them. In chromatic mode, this means +/- .5 cents and in strobe mode, +/- .02 cents, which is about as good as it gets. Reviewers note that it’s every bit as good as the pedal version that appears a bit later on our list.

It’s also very small and tough, so you can leave it on your headstock throughout the gig without fear. This is the advanced option, as the price indicates, although it isn’t the most expensive one on our list. People swear by this one, so if you’re frustrated with others or ready to graduate, look here.

Buy the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip here.


5. D’Addario NS Micro Clip-On Tuner – $8.99

d'addario ns micro guitar tuner

D’Addario

Pros: Cons:
  • Ultra compact design hides behind headstock
  • Very inexpensive
  • Extremely accurate
  • Visual metronome
  • Somewhat difficult to read
  • Can be difficult to situate on three-on-a-side headstocks
  • Adjustable mechanism isn’t meant to be taken off often
  • Tuning bars aren’t as subtle as other tuners

First appearing in our list of the best gifts for musicians, this little marvel focuses on being the tiniest clip-on tuner on the market. Unlike some of the other options, this one will work just as well on a mandolin as it does a guitar, and is cheap enough that you could pick one up and slap one on each of your instruments permanently. The unit’s connection to the instrument is a bit more solid, which promotes greater accuracy.

If you play acoustic, D’Addario makes a very similar unit for the sound hole, which is easier to see and won’t compete with tuning machines.

Buy the D’Addario NS Micro Clip-On Tuner here.


6. Peterson StroboClip Clip-On Strobe Tuner – $73.46

peterson stroboclip guitar tuner

Peterson

Pros: Cons:
  • 28 tuning settings, including Eastern and Buzz Feiten
  • Large, easy-to-read screen
  • Strobe readout allows for very accurate readings
  • Quick response
  • Expensive
  • Possibly over the top for most players
  • Large screen means it won’t be hidden
  • Better for studios and workbenches than live

If you need the deluxe treatment, this might just be it. This unit is a high-end, do-it-all clip-on device, capable of utilizing 28 so-called “Sweetened Tunings” to cover a very wide variety of needs. It even includes a setting for the Buzz Feiten Tuning System for you niche players.

The strobe display is meant to give you very accurate readouts, which are easy to see on a screen this large. It’s aimed at precision, so you’ll probably want this for your recordings and setups more than you’ll want it for the stage, but you have the option, nevertheless. They also make a pedal version, if you prefer.

Buy the Peterson StroboClip Clip-On Strobe Tuner here.


7. KLIQ UberTuner – $21.97

kliq ubertuner guitar tuner

KLIQ Music Gear

Pros: Cons:
  • Ultra clear screen
  • Multi-adjustment allows for many screen angles
  • Three-year warranty
  • Transposition settings for various instruments
  • Relatively large
  • May have trouble registering some strings on bass
  • Accuracy may be wanting
  • Big clip may have trouble on some headstocks

The spiritual successor to the Snark, this takes up the cue of the bright and colorful screen. The manufacturer suggests that it’s made to be tough and road-ready, which appears to be reinforced by the sheer girth of the thing. The three year warranty helps, too.

Otherwise, like the other clip-ons, this is a microprocessor and a piezo put together, and includes the hertz readout as well as pitch calibration and transposition. This one also appears to have a slightly quicker response than some of the others, which could be useful in live settings.

Buy the KLIQ UberTuner here.


8. Intellitouch PT10 Mini Clip-On Tuner – $20.75

intellitouch pt-10 guitar tuner

IntelliTouch

Pros: Cons:
  • Backlight color indicates correct pitch
  • Easy-to-read screen
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Good for most stringed instruments
  • May struggle to register lower pitch strings
  • Reviews suggest it works better on instruments with a large area for the clip, such as a guitar headstock
  • Buttons may rattle
  • Mounting mechanism somewhat fragile

These clip-on tuners are pretty useless if you can’t read or reckon what’s on the screen. This model gets around that problem by changing the color of the backlight depending on the pitch. When it’s out of tune, it’s red and switches to green once you’ve reached the proper pitch.

Otherwise, you get a pinpoint meter and a large note display. This one would probably be best for guitars, as orientation of the screen may make it somewhat difficult to clamp to instruments without that large, flat headstock surface.

Buy the Intellitouch PT10 Mini Clip-On Tuner here.


Pedal Tuners

As the clip-on tuners are to acoustic players, so are pedal tuners to electric players. Really, anyone possessing a cable can make excellent use of pedal tuners, the better versions of which are ultra-accurate and often have a vaunted position on a player’s pedalboard. Part of the function of a pedal tuner is to mute the signal during tuning, which your listening public will appreciate. They’re made for the stage, so displays tend to be bright and easy to read at a distance.


9. Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Tuner – $79.99

korg pitchblack guitar tuner

Korg

Pros: Cons:
  • Multiple tuning modes
  • True bypass
  • Easy-to-read display
  • Rugged enclosure
  • Some units pop when switched on
  • Difficult to see in direct light
  • Slow to register
  • Pitch indicator somewhat jumpy

As I said in the intro, I relied on a Korg tuner for the first few years of playing guitar. While that simple little unit was up to the job, it pales in comparison to this beast. This is a true bypass tuner with a bright, easy-to-read display that offers four modes. Meter mode is the familiar tuner operation where the indicator moves to center as it gets closer to being in tune. Full strobe illuminates the entire display continuously toward sharp or flat, while half strobe illuminates only the side indicating the direction in which the pitch is off. Mirror mode moves two LEDs toward each other until the string is in tune.

It’s a fantastic unit that was developed with stage use in mind. For a little more, you can get the polyphonic version, which, like the TC Electronic PolyTune, allows you to tune all strings at once. You can also get it in mini format, too.

Buy the Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Tuner here.


10. Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal – $99

boss tu-3 guitar tuner

Boss

Pros: Cons:
  • Chromatic and guitar/bass modes
  • LED brightness control
  • Accu-Pitch function
  • Flat tuning mode
  • Not true bypass
  • Hard to read
  • Mode switch is easily flipped accidentally
  • Better for stage use than studio or home

The final Boss installment on this list is a legend. Some folks swear by this and will get twitchy if you suggest that they use anything else. The TU-3 will certainly appear in the annals of pedal history if it’s ever discontinued. It’s basically everything we’ve discussed about a solid Boss tuner, only this one uses 21 lighted segments to indicate pitch movement. It does the clip-on Boss tuner one better by offering six semitones below standard pitch for flat tuning.

One possible consideration for this is that it isn’t true bypass, and is buffered. This can be advantageous when placed at the very beginning of your pedal chain, a concept we discussed in detail here. If you’re in need of both a buffer and a tuner, this is certainly the way to go. Otherwise, it’s a touch expensive for what it is, so I’ve taken the liberty of linking to a bundle that includes four cables for a little added value. Realistically, you can’t go wrong here as this pedal has more than proven its worth over the years.

If you love the TU-3 but wish it was true bypass, opt for the TU-3W Waza Craft, which is switchable between buffered and true bypass modes. The circuitry is apparently improved, as well, but watch the price. There’s also the TU-3s, which is a more compact version, if you need the space.

Buy the Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal here.


11. TC Electronic Polytune 2 Pedal Tuner – $84.95

tc electronic polytune 2 guitar tuner

TC Electronic

Pros: Cons:
  • +/- .1 cent accuracy
  • Very clear display
  • Polyphonic tuning
  • True bypass
  • Opposite of the Boss, may be slightly better in studio settings
  • Pop can occur during switching
  • Some reviewers find disagreement between polytune mode and single string tuning
  • In some applications, you may hear a beeping or clicking as it searches for the note

Available in both standard and mini configurations, the Polytune 2 is the bigger brother of the clip-on version. Using an all-analog circuit, this gives you access to the polyphonic tuning capabilities TC Electronic developed and brought to the market. The strobe mode is super-precise and the LEDs are extremely bright. If the polytune mode doesn’t work for you, you might want to look elsewhere, as that’s pretty much this unit’s calling card. Takes up very little space on your board considering its technological prowess.

It’s also available in the noir color scheme, for some reason, as well as a mini configuration.

Buy the TC Electronic Polytune 2 Pedal Tuner here.


12. Donner Dt-1 Chromatic Guitar Tuner – $19.99

donner dt-1 guitar tuner

Donner

Pros: Cons:
  • Inexpensive
  • Mini form factor saves space
  • True bypass
  • Chromatic tuning capability
  • Slow to track
  • Produces hiss when engaged
  • Switch feels cheap
  • Pops can occur during switching

You by now have noticed that tuning pedals don’t really occupy the same price point as either the standard box tuners or clip-on tuners. Pedal makers know what they can command, and to be fair, for the premium offerings, they tend to be cheaper than effects on the whole.

Still, if you only have a Jackson to lay down on a pedal tuner, Donner is here to save the day. It’s in the familiar Chinese-style mini pedal format, designed in every way to compete on price. Still, it’s true bypass with a bright and relatively clear display. It will certainly get the job done for the average rock guitarist or bassist.

For $10 more, they make a deluxe version that is purportedly more accurate.

Buy the Donner Dt-1 Chromatic Guitar Tuner here.


13. Behringer TU300 Chromatic Tuner – $24.90

behringer tu300 guitar tuner

Behringer

Pros: Cons:
  • Cheap
  • Four modes: regular, flat, double flat, and chromatic
  • Color-coded LEDs by function
  • Not true bypass
  • Plastic enclosure
  • Buzz when engaged

Another budget option to consider is this Behringer tuner. As virtually all Behringer pedals, this is based most closely on the Boss TU-3 and employs a very similar layout. The switch in this is a little more reliable than the one in the Donner, so if that’s an issue, it’ll only cost you a few more dollars to try this one. Otherwise, it’s a straightforward, inexpensive pedal tuner that will save you money and keep you in tune.

Buy the Behringer TU300 Chromatic Tuner here.

Other Instrument Tuner Options

roadie 2 guitar tuner

Roadie

Another option is this really cool Roadie 2 Automatic Guitar Tuner ($129). It works by selecting one of eight preset tunings and then fitting the slot over the tuning machine. The unit does the rest, bringing the string perfectly into pitch. It’s a very cool innovation that doesn’t require any work on your part and will perform even in less-than-ideal settings.

You could also always just get an old fashioned pitch pipe and get gud.


See Also:


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