Okay so it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but buying one of the best guitar tuners should really be the first port of call for any guitarist. Nobody wants to hear an out-of-tune guitar and there’s nothing worse than picking up your axe and finding it’s not ready to rock. Sure that free tuning app is great, but it’s not gonna do the job at a show or rehearsal, and you’ll never get as accurate a reading as you would from plugging something directly into or onto your guitar itself.
There are now loads of different options for any instrument from expensive rack mount tuners to the cheap-as-chips clip-on variety. In fact, there are so many guitar tuners out there that it can be difficult to work out which is the best one for you. Thankfully we’ve been twisting tuning machines for decades and we’re on hand to offer you our expert opinion on the best tuners available today.
If you’re buying for the first time, or just have a few more questions on the subject we've included some in-depth buying advice at the end of the article. If you just want to get your guitar in tune and get rocking, then read on for our top picks.
Best guitar tuners: Guitar World's pick
TC Electronic's PolyTune range is one of the very best, particularly the TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini, which tops our best guitar tuners list. The latest iteration sees the small-footprint mini pedal updated to include both buffered and true bypass outputs, plus an always-on mode for tracking your tuning as you play.
Although this is a mini pedal, the display is easy to read in almost any lighting conditions – even with all those LEDs flashing away It’s not exactly a cheap option, but it’s worth a few extra dollars over the competition. Also, using mini pedals means you can get more on your board. Need we say any more?
Another worthy choice is Korg’s new Pitchblack X Pedal Tuner. If you want a super solid, bright, easy to read and easy to use tuner pedal that now features a buffer to safeguard your pedalboard tone, then this is probably the tuner for you. It boasts many more features than Korg’s previous Pitchblack pedal but retains a sensible price tag.
For those who only want the very best, the go-to option is the Peterson StroboStomp HD. Yes, it's expensive, but it's also one of the most accurate, easy-to-read tuner pedals around. With 135 tuning presets available, and a whole bag of 'sweetened' tunings for when standard just isn't quite doing it for you, the StroboStomp has you covered in nearly every eventuality.
Best guitar tuners: Product guide & reviews
TC Electronic's PolyTune 3 Mini could be the best guitar tuner for you if you’d rather devote pedalboard space to cool, creative effects. During testing, we were thoroughly impressed by what the Mini is capable of - and the tuning accuracy is spot on.
Polyphonic functionality is part and parcel of the PolyTune line – and the dinky display’s 109 LEDs do a good job of clearly conveying the potentially complicated view of your guitar’s full six-string tuning.
Ever play slide guitar? Fretless? Long emotive string bends? Use the Mini’s handy always-on function to guide your pitching. And, with both buffered and true bypass modes, you can be sure there’s a place for the PolyTune anywhere in your signal chain.
Read the full TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini review
The Pitchblack X Pedal Tuner is Korg’s next gen stompbox tuner, a pedal that boasts many new features, yet has become even easier to use. Not that the previous version required MENSA membership!
Korg is particularly proud that the Pitchblack X now features its newly developed Ultra Buffer technology, as well as true bypass. Continue to choose true bypass for unadulterated tone when you’re using a rig with short cable runs and just a few I/O points. If, however, you’re using passive pickups with a rig that has a longer reach of cables, or multiple pedal instances, then you’re better off switching to Ultra Buffer. This will boost your signal slightly to avoid loss of tone, even when the Pitchblack X is switched off.
More LEDs have been added for higher visibility on brightly lit stages, and Korg has introduced ‘just-right tuning’ which is a fancy way of saying that both arrows blink when tuning is correct. Accuracy is a jaw-dropping +/- 0.1 cent, so you’ll be putting those blinking arrows through their paces.
There are four meter display modes to choose from. Regular mode features a central, stationary LED together with a second LED that moves as you alter the pitch of a string. When the two coincide and the arrows start blinking then you’re perfectly in tune. ‘Strobe’ and ‘half strobe’ indicate changes in pitch by the direction and speed of the LEDs. Make them grind to a halt and you’ll be in tune. Finally, ‘mirror’ mode uses moving LEDs on the left and right of centre that converge as your guitar string becomes progressively more in tune.
The Korg Pitchblack X Pedal Tuner can run on a 9V battery or an external power supply. Incidentally, if you don’t warm to its form factor then there are three other Pitchblack models to choose from: the rackmount 1U Pitchblack X Pro, the compact Pitchblack XS and the tiny Pitchblack X mini.
Famed for their accuracy, Peterson strobe tuners have long been the choice of pros seeking the highest quality gear, and in 2019 Peterson unveiled what it considers to be ‘the ultimate pedal guitar tuner’: the StroboStomp HD.
Boasting a feature set far beyond most of its rivals, you’ll find both true and buffered bypass modes, plus 135 ‘sweetened’ tunings – micro-adjusted reference pitch points optimised for a variety of instrument types and altered tunings. One feature we loved especially is the ability to save your own presets - making those tuning changes at shows so much easier.
Of course, this level of nerd-ish tweakery can only be employed by the most precise tuners, and the StroboStomp HD delivers 0.1 cent accuracy. That’s plenty enough for the most discerning of ears.
You’re probably thinking we’ve lost the plot here by including a volume pedal in this guide, but please let us explain. Ernie Ball’s expression-pedal based delays and overdrives have been a popular choice for guitarists worldwide, and now they’ve incorporated the most important pedal of them all.
The VJPR is a two-in-one pedal that combines a volume display and an onboard digital chromatic tuner on a crystal-clear display screen integrated on the pedal’s footboard. In ‘volume + tuning’ mode, wind the pedal all the way to the heel-down position (no signal) and the tuner engages, and as you increase the signal, a volume readout will appear. Ernie Ball has also provided ‘volume only’ and ‘tuner only’ modes, for those who like to keep things a bit more simple. We found these super useful during testing, as getting used to any new tech can be a challenge.
The tuner can not only be calibrated to a whole range of different pitches, but can be used as a master volume or gain control on your rig. The pedal sits in an ultra-durable aluminum housing, and features a Kevlar cord to ensure even tension throughout the foot sweep. Input-wise, the mono input jack can handle both passive and active signals, with up to 18V of headroom. This makes the VJPR perfect for passive and active guitars and basses.
Read the full Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner review
Designed for acoustic guitars, basses and ukuleles, D’Addario’s soundhole mounted tuner is a compact device, offering easy viewing from its bright multi-color display. Hiding discreetly inside your acoustic guitar’s soundhole, the NS Micro won’t spoil the appearance of your pride and joy either. A non-marking attachment enables stress free installation.
It works by picking up vibrations from your guitar’s soundboard – far more accurate than old fashioned microphone tuners prone to picking up ambient noise. Sure there are more accurate tuners available, and more expensive ones too. However, as it combines ease of use and an non-intrusive, diminutive form factor, the NS Micro is well worth a look.
Granted, this tuner will only work on acoustic instruments, but if you're looking for something small and infinitely useful to have in your acoustic gigbag, then you can't really go wrong with the NS Micro.
An evolution on Boss’ top-selling industry standard TU-2, the TU-3 now features drop tuning functionality, improved tuning accuracy and ‘Accu-Pitch’ verification to confirm you’ve tuned successfully. All good stuff, and you can add to that the TU-3’s brighter screen for cutting through bright sunlight. Perfect for busking!
Still an industry standard, Boss’ ever-present rock solid build quality is evident. You may find other pedals do more for your money, however. We'd argue, though, that there's only so much anyone wants their tuner to do - and tune effectively and efficiently is probably pretty high up on the priority list.
Boss offers only buffered bypass mode in the TU-3. If you really need a true-bypass Boss tuner, you’re looking at the TU-3W ‘Waza Craft’ edition. At $50 extra, though, you do pay a premium.
It’s a truly stomach churning experience. You’re just about long enough into your set for the heat of the stage lights to knock your tuning off. So, as you start to move one hand towards your guitar’s headstock you do a double take at your clip-on tuner. It’s dead, completely and utterly unresponsive…
Which is why Fender’s Flash Tuner is worth every cent of its miniscule price tag. It’s rechargeable, which is good for your mental stability and great for the planet. Give it a good wallop of power via the included USB cable and it’ll perform alongside you and your guitar for 20 hours. That’s continuous use mind, so the actual figure will be much, much higher because it has an auto shut-off feature that kicks in after five minutes of inactivity. In a nutshell, it’ll keep on partying long after you’ve called it a night.
For a small inexpensive clip-on tuner, it’s surprisingly big on features. The clippy bit boasts two 360° swivels and a 120° hinge, so you’ll always be able to adjust its colourful LED screen so that you can see it.
There are modes for Guitar, Bass, Ukulele, Violin and Chromatic tuning, plus alternate tuning settings of half step flat, full step flat and open G, D and E.
Perhaps best of all, its screen features a very visible battery indicator, so you’ll never be caught out ever again.
It’s been around since 2015, but TC Electronic’s diminutive clip-on is still a worthy offering, boasting impressive accuracy of a miniscule +/- 0.02-cent strobe-mode accuracy (that’s one 5,000th of a semitone!) and 0.5 cents in chromatic mode.
As its name suggests, the PolyTune Clip is polyphonic but it offers a regular one-note ‘needle’ mode for players who find a six-string display just too much of a light show. We say ‘six-string’... PolyTune Clip is suitable for bass guitars too, albeit only in needle mode. Still, this is a stylish and functional tuner regardless.
It's not exactly cheap as far as clip-on tuners go, but in our testing we found it outdoes nearly every other clip-on tuner on the market - so if you need a small, convenient, accurate tuner, then this is the one.
Much like D’Addario’s soundhole mounted offering, the Micro Headstock Tuner is a small un-intrusive device. It’s lightweight too – ideal for maintaining your instrument’s balance.
At 0.3 cents, this is one of the most accurate models in our best guitar tuners list. That’s an impressive feat considering it’s also one of the cheapest here.
Sure the display is a simple chromatic layout, with none of the strobe style offerings of the more expensive models here, but this is all about wallet-friendly simplicity. It really is one of the best headstock tuners available to buy.
As the name suggests, the Stroboclip HD offers the accuracy of a stompbox strobe tuner but in a much smaller package that’s ready to be clipped to the headstock of your guitar. Or many other instruments for that matter.
Accuracy is an astonishing 0.01 cent, and tuning is as easy as adjusting your guitar’s tuning pegs until the animated strobe disk stops spinning. Peterson claims that this method of tuning is quite literally ‘spot-on’, and far more accurate than the animated arrows or flashing lights found in other tuners.
It goes without saying that being in tune is always a good thing, but the accuracy of the StroboClip HD enables you to experiment with ‘sweetened tunings’ too. It ships with a library of 50 sweetened tunings for a variety of instruments from banjos to brass including, of course, guitar.
Despite its tiny size, the StroboClip HD’s LCD screen is easily seen in the gloom of a poorly lit stage, and even remains perfectly visible in direct sunlight. If you own a bass as well as a guitar or two, you’ll be delighted to learn that it’s one of the few clip-on tuners that’ll recognize the low E string without any issues whatsoever.
Imagine taking all the good stuff from a Pitchblack X Pedal Tuner and shoving it into a 1U rackmount enclosure. Yes, but why would you want to do that? Visibility and accuracy, that’s why. The Pitchblack X Pro’s massive display makes it so much easier to perform very fine adjustments, which is critical with a tuner as accurate as this.
So, if you’re confined to your studio for most of your guitar playing life and already use a rack or two to house other equipment then the Pitchblack X Pro is a natural fit. You’ll be able to see it clearly from across the room, and it’ll speed up the process of tuning no end.
What about performance? Wouldn’t it be great to benefit from a super-large display on stage? Absolutely. In fact, with the help of some rack ears, it’s simplicity itself to mount it on a pedalboard.
Another reason Korg super-sized the Pitchblack X is so that it could throw in some extra features. As well as all the regular highlights and innovations – such as true bypass, Ultra Buffer, four meter modes and incredible accuracy – this version also includes a cable checker and an option to change the hue of the LEDs.
You see, the Pitchblack X Pro is an absolute riot of colour. You can choose one of five different colour types, from a blue to red gradation, a green to red gradation or single-coloured gradations rooted in cyan, green or blue. Make your selection for maximum visibility, or to match your stage lighting, your guitar, your outfit or even your lippy. The choice is yours!
Whereas the market is flooded with pedals, automatic motorised tuners are few and far between. Using its vibration sensor, the Roadie 3 detects the pitch of a string then adjusts it to a preselected note. Just stick it on a machine head and the tuner does the winding for you, at up to 120rpm.
Roadie 3 also has an integrated metronome to help you nail your timings, and an improved peg connector means it’ll fit even more instruments.
Not enough to tempt you? Well, consider that Roadie 3 comes equipped with over 100 built-in tuning presets. DADGAD? Sure! Capo tunings? You bet!! Simply access them via the onboard LED screen. For expanded editing features you’ll need the free Roadie 3 app.
At this small price, it’s worth having an ST-2 around even if you only keep it in a gigbag. Definitely the best guitar tuner for those on a budget. Though there are several pricier and fully featured guitar tuners here, Snark’s ST-2 is aimed at the player who wants just the bare essentials.
First of all, the attachment system is robust and the screen is easily angled – a surprisingly important feature because these types of tuner have to fit in around tuning machines on six-string guitars, 12-strings, mandolins, basses… you get the idea!
Secondly, the ST-2 tracks quickly. Set it to the vibration sensor and it’ll work just fine in all but the loudest of gigs. The microphone is for acoustic instruments of course, so you’ll need some peace and quiet.
Best guitar tuners: Buying advice
What types of guitar tuners are there?
There are three main types of guitar tuner. Once you peel back the marketing hype, the main difference comes down to personal preference:
Chromatic: The first is chromatic. These tuners compare the input signal to one of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale. This means they are limited to only these notes, as well as only tuning one note at a time. For most players, neither of those limitations is likely to be an issue.
Polyphonic: The second type of tuner is polyphonic. Just as with pitch-shifters or synths, 'polyphonic' simply means that the tuner can process multiple notes at once. The downside, of course, is that this is harder to show to the user. They can be incredibly useful live, however, as you can strike all the strings to see if everything lights up green.
Strobe: The final type of tuner is the strobe tuner. Unlike the chromatic tuner, the strobe tuner can be set to custom frequencies and temperaments. This is very useful for players that play music outside of standard Western scales. It can also be useful for experimenting with different pitch standards, like basing around 432Hz instead of 440Hz. Though this sounds esoteric, Soundgarden's smash Black Hole Sun used 432Hz and many artists favor the standard. Strobe tuners are typically the most expensive and specialist of the three.
Generally speaking, although it's a matter of taste, you can't go wrong with a chromatic tuner as long as you're working within standard Western scales.
Pedal vs clip-on vs microphone tuners - what's better?
You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
Form-factor wise, there's again three main types. Although some bass and uke-specific models exist, there should be no issues switching between instruments.
Microphone tuner (free-$/£10): As these small, usually cheap tuners use a microphone for their input, they're flexible in terms of what source they can take. Great if you need to tune up many stringed instruments - but the trade-off is that they're susceptible to interference from background noise. When we were coming up, these were usually dedicated hardware boxes, but nowadays, they're just as likely to be an app on your phone.
Clip-on ($/£5-30): Clip-on guitar tuners attach to the headstock of the instrument and work via detecting vibrations. As a result, they can be very efficient in battery use, as well as small. The accuracy of clip-ons like the TC Polytune Clip and Unitune is now good enough that we've seen them used in professional studios, mostly due to their convenience. They can be kept near to hand, or scattered around so there's always a tuner within reach for when that great idea arrives.
Stompbox tuner ($/£50-100): The final type is the stompbox. These take a standard 1/4" jack input to operate. This means that they will only work with electric guitars, basses and ukuleles, or acoustic instruments with a pickup. In terms of signal path, this stompbox should normally go first in your signal chain, as it can be used to mute the guitar when in use. However, due to the use of buffers in many tuners, some players prefer to keep it out of the audio path. There are effect pedals with a dedicated tuner out so you can split your signal into a tuner mid-chain. This generally has been our preference, and means the tuner can be left 'always on.'
Are guitar tuner apps accurate?
Increasingly, new players are turning to microphone-using apps rather than dedicated hardware tuners. Although they can be useful for tuning an acoustic in a hurry, for practicing or concert use these are insufficient. Background noise and ergonomics mean that the microphone often can't get an accurate input. Besides, having an 'always on' option on the floor is far more reliable when you need it.
Google also recently launched it's new browser-based Google Tuner. While you have to strike the strings pretty hard for them to register, it worked consistently in our tests against the Korg chromatic tuner and TC Electronic’s PolyTune app. The main interface is pretty user-friendly, too. Google Tuner would be a useful backup if you ever forgot your hardware tuner or found yourself out of batteries, but we would always advocate owning a dedicated tuner.
What are sweetened tunings?
Because of their accuracy, some strobe tuners enable you to experiment with sweetened tunings. Let’s explain. Most modern western scales and tuning standards use equal temperament, which means that an octave is equally divided into 12 notes. It works well enough and is mathematically convenient, but it’s not strictly correct. For reasons too complicated to go into here, it’s a compromise.
Similarly, on a stringed instrument such as a guitar, some fretted notes will be very slightly out of tune, even if it’s correctly set up and well intonated. Sweetened tuning attempts to rectify these problems by slightly adjusting the space between each interval. They’ll no longer be equally spaced, but dyads and chords should sound better, or sweeter, in some circumstances.
There is, however, always a trade-off. Although certain chords or harmonies played on a particular section of the neck will sound better, others may sound worse. Tuner developers overcome this by providing scores of sweetened tunings for different instruments, open notes, musical genres and so on. This enables you to chop and change tunings to best suit the piece you are currently playing.
What does the term A440 refer to?
It seems extraordinary, but western composers and musicians have only relatively recently agreed which frequency constitutes a certain pitch. For example, not so long ago in France the note C had a different pitch to the same note C played just across the border in Germany. Consequently, you’ll find that antique flutes from France and Germany are slightly different lengths. In fact, some European cities within the same country adhered to their very own tuning standards, which must have made life for travelling freelance musicians a right pain.
Even in the late 1800s the French were tuning A below middle C to 435Hz, while the English were tuning significantly higher to 452Hz. It was only in 1939 that an international committee finally agreed to set 440Hz as concert pitch, but even that standard wasn’t ratified by the International Organization for Standardization until 1955.
Does any of this really matter? Is it a problem if your guitar tuner is fixed at A=440Hz? For most guitarists probably not. However, if you have any classical pieces in your repertoire that you play within an ensemble, you may find that your fellow musicians prefer to tune to an older, more authentic standard.
The rising popularity of music for meditation and wellness means that another standard is becoming increasingly common too. Many in the New Age fraternity believe that A=432Hz is better cosmically attuned to the universe, so should be used in place of A=440Hz. The upshot of this is that many singing bowls, chimes and so on are tuned to the 432Hz standard, which makes accompanying them on a guitar tricky, unless you can tune down with accuracy.
Find out more about how we make our recommendations, how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides and our review policy.
How we choose products
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 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 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 guitar tuners on the market right now.
Related buyer's guides
- Need a do-it-all FX unit? Check out our pick of the best multi-effects pedals
- Get top-notch sound with the best amps for pedals
- Update your board with these killer cheap guitar pedals
- Check out the best Tube Screamer clones
- Beginner guitar gear essentials and accessories
- Meet the best distortion pedals in the world right now
- Cut the cable with the best guitar wireless systems
- Freedom on a budget: the best cheap wireless guitar systems
- You may also like to check out best beginner electric guitars
- And stock up on the best electric guitar strings