Best clip-on guitar tuners 2023: stay in tune with our pick of the best available today

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Clip on guitar tuner on an acoustic guitar

(Image credit: Future)

1. Product guide
2. Buying advice
3. How we choose products

Even the greatest guitar in the world, played by the most outrageous virtuoso, would become nothing more than an incoherent mess if it's not in tune – but that's where one of the best clip-on guitar tuners comes in. These convenient and easy-to-use guitar accessories will ensure you are always sounding your best, and our top choices from TC Electronic, Snark, Boss and D'Addario won't break the bank, either.

Clip-on tuners couldn't be easier to use. Simply attach it to the headstock of your guitar, bass or ukulele, play a note, check the reading, and bring the string to pitch. Nowadays, any clip-on tuner worth its salt will be chromatic, meaning the tuner will recognize all 12 notes between each octave – making them a viable option for open-tuning voyagers and standard tuning traditionalists alike. 

This guide not only shares the best clip-on guitar tuners you can buy today but also explores the benefits a clip-on tuner has over alternatives such as a tuner pedal, rack-mounted unit, or – eek! – a tuning fork and your ear. If you'd like to learn more about clip-on tuners, head down to our buying advice section below, otherwise keep scrolling to see our top picks.

Guitar World author Jonathan Horsley
Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

Best clip-on guitar tuners: Product guide

There are loads of different clip on tuners available nowadays from pretty much every major guitar brand. Sorting through them all can be a headache, so we've whittled them down to the very best, sorting by each's best particular application.

Best clip-on guitar tuners: Buying advice

TC Electronic Polytune on a leather guitar case

(Image credit: Future)

To find the right tuner for you, it’s important to start by asking yourself a few key questions. Allow us to walk you through them:

Why do I need a clip-on guitar tuner?

That’s easy – because you are not a sadist and you wish to keep your bandmates and audience sane! There’s nothing worse than an out-of-tune guitar, or indeed the sound of a guitar tuning up.

In the past, we might have tuned by ear to a tuning fork or reference pitch, and that was more or less good enough for rock’n’roll, but this approach takes training of the ear to be anywhere near accurate. And besides, your tuner will help you make adjustments to your guitar’s intonation – so it can be in tune at all – and facilitate alternate tunings if that’s your bag. There’s no question that a tuner is an essential tool for 99% of guitarists out there.

Are clip-on guitar tuners any good?

That’s a good question. For acoustic guitar players, it’s a no-brainer. Some acoustic-electric guitars will have an onboard tuner in their pickup and preamp system, but otherwise a clip-on is your best bet.

For electric guitar players it is a little more complicated. Of course, you could stay in tune with a pedal tuner, or with a fancy rack-mounted unit like the Korg Pitchblack Pro, but let’s imagine your pedalboard is already overcrowded as it is. Removing the tuner would free up some valuable real estate for, ooh, an analog delay pedal, for example. The clip-on tuner could make that a reality.

There are other advantages besides pedalboard space. Using a clip-on guitar tuner takes out another variable in your signal chain; you won’t need another patch cable, it’s less cable to go through, and if you’ve got a long and complicated signal chain there’s fewer worries about high-end roll-off or other neurotic considerations that keep guitarists awake at night.

Another practical consideration, and we’re definitely not cork-sniffing here, is that the clip-on guitar tuner is portable, typically taking a lithium-ion battery. You can keep it in your case or in some cases your pocket. Share it with your bandmates; if you have a ukulele or bass guitar player in your ranks, it will tune them up, too. And if everyone is using the same tuner, then you’re all tuning to the same standard and your jam sessions will be even more harmonious.

Now, a quick word of caution if you own a vintage acoustic or a very high-end instrument with a delicate nitrocellulose lacquer finish: some manufacturers, such as Snark, recommend that you don’t use them with fine finishes. While most clip-ons should be okay for all finishes, it’s always best to check it is suitable for your guitar’s finish before taking the plunge.

Best clip-on guitar tuners: TC Electronic Polytune Clip attached to a Martin acoustic guitar's headstock

(Image credit: Future)

Which clip-on guitar tuner is right for me?

There are three main types of guitar tuner and each one operates a little differently.

Perhaps the most common is the chromatic tuner. Here you play one note at a time and the tuner can tune to each of the 12 notes of Western music’s chromatic scale. The display might either show a needle or LED, typically showing green when you reach pitch.

Then you’ve got the polyphonic tuner. These allow you to play all six strings simultaneously and will display which notes are in tune and which are not. For quickly identifying tuning problems, there’s nothing better, and it’ll save you going string to string as with a chromatic tuner. This is a great option when time is of the essence, such as during a gig, or a recording session where the clock is ticking.

Finally, you’ve got the strobe tuner, the most accurate and the most expensive of the options available. If they can be a little bit fiddly to operate at first - with the tuner displaying a spinning circle of the reference note and the note that you’ve picked, and you’ve got to tune very carefully until the display registers the correct pitch - the accuracy is incredible.

Which clip-on guitar tuner is right for your needs depends on a number of factors, but we’d say that if you are a beginner, and likely to be playing a beginner’s guitar, you might be better off using a chromatic tuner. They will be cheaper, easier to use and a quality chromatic tuner will be accurate enough to make your guitar sound in tune.

Pros would no doubt be better off with a strobe tuner, especially in the studio, but if your ear cannot pick up that amount of accuracy, is there any point in spending the extra money? 

How accurate are clip-on guitar tuners?

Here’s the elephant in the room; your guitar is never in tune. At least, not totally, and that is because stringed instruments are volatile.

Stringed instruments are dealing with a lot of frequencies, a lot of reverberations, and your tuning depends on a number of factors, not least your setup. You want your intonation to be bang on so that fretted notes sound as in-tune as open notes, but that is not always achievable, and is often contingent on your guitar’s construction. 

Then there is your playing style. The harder you hit the strings, the more you will pop in and out of tune. You can see this whenever you play a string through a tuner, whenever you play a note it goes sharp before returning to pitch. 

Should this worry you? To a degree, yes. We should always be striving for accuracy, for our intonation to be set up correctly.

A tuner’s accuracy is measured in cents. You’ll see this a lot in the recommendations in this buyer’s guide. A cent is a hundredth of a semitone. So if a tuner is accurate to 2 cents it is accurate to within 2/100 of a semitone with a 4-cent swing either way. When you factor in the other five strings, there could be a noticeable difference in a guitar that is “in tune” according to a tuner with a 2-cent accuracy and one that is “in tune” to a 0.02 cent accuracy.

Again, this is a question of how good your ear is. What might send a producer to the restroom crying might sound perfect to 99 percent of the audience.

We’ve included the accuracy stats for our top picks in this guide to help match you with the write tuner for your needs.

How do you use a clip-on guitar tuner?

Using a clip-on guitar tuner couldn't be easier. Simply attach the tuner to the headstock of your guitar and pluck the string you wish to tune. The screen will then light up, showing you if you need to sharpen or flatten the note - that's it! 

The clip-on guitar tuner uses either a sensor - a piezo-style transducer - to pick up the string's vibration through the guitar's body, it then processes the note using its software and displays the note on a screen. This makes the clip-on tuner ideal for when there is a lot of external noise, such as on-stage during a gig or when you need to tune-up at a band rehearsal.

How we choose products for this guide

Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything guitar and bass related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.

When choosing what we believe to be the best clip-on guitar tuners available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.

First and foremost, we are guitarists, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best clip-on guitar tuners on the market right now.

Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.  

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.