When you play the guitar there is no greater favor you can do yourself or your audience than keeping your instrument in tune. Tuners take many forms, but perhaps one of the most convenient and cost-effective options is one of the best clip-on guitar tuners.
They really are simple to use. Just attach the clip-on tuner to your headstock, play a note, check the reading, adjust your tuning to bring the string to pitch, and off you go. The tuner will either register the note via an internal microphone or, more commonly, it will feature a sensor that registers the vibrations of the instrument, making it ideal for when there is a lot of external noise, such as a gig or band rehearsal.
Here we will look at 10 of the best clip-on guitar tuners you can buy today, and explore what benefits a clip-on tuner may have over alternatives such as a tuner pedal, rack-mounted unit, or – eek! – a tuning fork and your ear.
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What is the best clip-on guitar tuner right now?
Whether in pedal or clip-on form, the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip has been a game-changer, allowing you to play all the strings at once and see which are in or out of tune. The display is bright, the design excellent, and you can switch modes between PolyTune, strobe and chromatic. It’s not the cheapest out there, but works excellently and, at a push, is our number one pick.
The D'Addario Planet Waves NS Micro Universal clip-on tuner is compact, discreet and super cheap, but it brings a lot of functionality to the table, with an easy-to-read digital display with switchable colors and a dual-swivel clip-on mount so you can view it from most angles. It can be mounted either on the front or the rear of your guitar’s headstock and there’s a visual metronome on-board too, keeping you in tune and in time. Nice.
Best clip-on guitar tuners: buying advice
To find the right tuner for you, it’s important to start by asking a few questions:
Why do I need a guitar tuner?
That’s easy – because you are not a sadist and wish to keep your bandmates and audience sane. There is nothing worse than an out-of-tune guitar, or indeed the sound of a guitar tuning up.
In days gone by, we might have tuned by ear to a tuning fork or reference pitch, and that was good enough for rock’n’roll, but such an 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 is your bag.
There’s no question; a tuner is essential.
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Okay, but why a clip-on guitar tuner?
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.
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.
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 crowded. Removing the tuner would free up some valuable real estate for, ooh, an analog delay. 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 definitely not cork-sniffing, is that the clip-on guitar tuner is portable, typically taking a lithium-ion battery, and 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, you are all tuning to the same standard, which all adds up to a more harmonious jam.
Now, a quick note of caution for those with vintage acoustics or very high-end instruments with delicate nitrocellulose lacquer finishes: 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 you take the plunge.
Which clip-on guitar tuner is right for me?
There are three main types of guitar tuner. Each 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.
Finally, you’ve got the strobe tuner, the most accurate and the most expensive. 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 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? Maybe.
A question of accuracy
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 that follow. 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.
The best clip-on guitar tuners available today
The Polytune Clip is case in point that you don’t need a fancy floor unit to have a lot of features in a tuner. It delivers remarkable performance, with chromatic, strobe and polyphonic modes that make it a great option for players at all levels.
In chromatic mode, it offers an accuracy of 0.5 cents, which should be more than enough to put your guitar in tune – and if you need to track something special the strobe mode offers 0.02 cents accuracy, which means it is within one 5,000th of a semitone, which should satisfy most human ears.
The PolyTune Clip is five years old now but still the polytune mode impresses in its ability to display all six strings at once, making on-the-fly adjustments quick and easy. The screen is bright and you’ll get up to 18 hours of battery time.
The NS Micro Universal has a newly designed ratchet clip that allows it to fit discreetly onto pretty much any headstock, front or rear, and it has a 360-degree swivel adjustment and extendable arm to help position it so you can see the LCD screen as you play.
It is very light so it won’t tilt your headstock should you wish to keep it on throughout your performance. It’ll tune an electric guitar, but so too a bass, mandolin, banjo and so on. There’s a visual metronome mode, too, just to keep you in time.
It’s so compact, you’d hardly know it’s there. Out of the box it is calibrated for A=440Hz but can easily be adjusted anywhere between 410 and 480Hz, ideal if modern baroque pitch is your thing.
You are not going to find a more accurate clip-on guitar tuner on the market. At 0.1 cents accuracy, the StroboClip HD will satisfy the most pedantic ears in the audience, and prepare your instrument for recording and performance.
The StroboClip HD has a huge HD screen, soft rubber-gripped jaws, drop tuning and capo settings, and can accommodate over 50 of Peterson’s sweetened tunings, taking account for the tuning foibles of some of the most popular makes and models of guitars.
Sweetened tunings take account of how, say, a Telecaster with a three-saddle bridge might wobble in tuning as you fret a chord higher up on the fretboard, and makes the according adjustments. It’s not for everyone but for those occasions when the tuning just doesn’t sound right a sweetened tuning is often the solution. Of course, it is worth bearing in mind that tuning your guitar with a super-accurate strobe like this can be tricky for inexperienced players, but those who use them swear by them.
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Accuracy-wise, the Korg AW-OTG’s strobe mode has a similar 0.1 cents accuracy to the Peterson tuner. It, too, has an excellent display, with a bright OLED and adjustable clip to set the angle just as you like it.
While it doesn’t have the sweetened tunings feature of the Peterson, it does have a chord finder function that makes it a pretty interesting piece of kit for the adventurous player who is finding new chord voicings on their own.
You’ll get up to 18 hours of continuous playing time from just one AAA battery, and there are 11 display types to choose from. The traditionalist in us is happy enough with the needle, but there is an animated tuning display that should encourage young players and the easily distracted (okay, us) to pay attention to tuning. Hey, being in tune is very important, and Korg would like you to know that.
The Boss TU-10 is a serious tuner. At 1 cent accuracy, it’s as accurate as the vast majority of players would need, and it is compact, lightweight, and pretty darn easy to use.
There is a flat tuning mode, where you can tune down up to 5 semitones, making drop and alternate tunings relatively pain free (the set-up on your guitar notwithstanding!).
The display performs well in a number of low and well-lit scenarios, and it will tune your bass, uke or mandolin too. It’s typical Boss; well-designed, no fuss, player friendly, and for the price, that’s a fair degree of functionality and accuracy.
The original Pitchclip has been improved. While the PC2 remains an excellent super-budget option you can pick up for 12 bucks and it’ll be accurate to a cent, the PC2+ has a much better display, offering half-strobe and full strobe modes.
These new modes improve the accuracy of the tuner tenfold, but perhaps just as important in a tuner with such a compact profile, the PC2+ just seems brighter and more readable in all situations.
Its display is reversible, making it a decent option for right and left-handed players. It’ll tune a bass, too, and while it doesn’t list the full 24 hours playing time as its predecessor (that display is going to eat some power), you’ll get a very respectable 18 hours from one battery. There is a self-shutdown mode after three minutes to make sure you get all 18.
Here is a smart little clip-on guitar tuner for acoustic players. You mount it in your soundhole, so it’s for your eyes only, and when you turn it one you’ll get a bright multicolor display that’s accurate to 0.3 cents.
You can use this for ukes and other acoustic stringed instruments, and calibrate it from 434 to 445Hz so you can use it with the local orchestra if and when the occasion arises.
Not everyone likes having a clip-on tuner on the headstock, or keeping one there, so the convenience of having this secreted away means you can have it on whenever you need it. It’s easy to operate, quick, and shouldn’t foul up your guitar’s finish.
If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful clip-on guitar tuner that’s accurate to a cent either way, and you don’t need bells and whistles, the FT-2 is hard to beat.
There is no HD 4K display, no holographic Pokémon to shout out how flat you are, it’s just a tuner. It’s compact, unobtrusive, and it switches itself off after five minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. What more do you want?
And it’s not like the display doesn’t get the job done. The digital chromatic setup is a breeze; it’s red when you are sharp (which is the worst; you’d rather be flat than sharp), amber when flat, and green when you’re in tune. Simple.
It looks a little like a sniper scope, and perhaps there’s something in that, for Fender’s Bullet clip-on tuner offers a very discrete tuning performance with a circular display mounted on a cylindrical barrel design that can be mounted on the front or back of the headstock.
The Bullet is accurate to one cent, which again is more than accurate enough for all but the most exacting pros, and the display makes tune ups quick and easy.
It is calibrated for concert pitch where A4 = 440Hz which rules out use for some orchestra settings, but for keeping your Telecaster in good order for blues night down Fat Sam’s, it’ll work a treat.
Snark makes clip-on guitar tuners in many different colors, in many different styles, but there is a recurring theme in that they are all very accessibly-priced and have a bright colorful screen that makes them visible in low light situations – y’know, like the stage.
The Super Tight is exactly that. It clamps on tight to your headstock, offering a chromatic tuner that can be switched between microphone mode for tuning acoustic instruments and vibration mode, which uses a transducer to convert and interpret the string’s vibrations into a tuning reading.
The accuracy is not posted by Snark, and while tuners from the likes of Peterson and TC Electronic would lick it in those stakes, the Snark will be fast and accurate enough for most players, and is especially easy to get to grips with for beginners.
There is even a tap-tempo metronome mode, which again is an excellent feature at the price. If you’re looking for an entry-level clip-on guitar tuner that’s small enough to throw in the gigbag or jacket pocket, this is a very decent option.