We know, even the best guitar tuners aren't the sexiest pieces of kit you can buy, not when compared to the thrill of getting your hands on a brilliant new electric guitar, a great beginner acoustic guitar or even a new pedalboard to house your already out of control pedal collection. However, you'll be pleased you saved some cash for a guitar tuner, as this humble device will help you sound good from bedroom to studio to stage.
But with so many of them available to buy, how do you know which is the best guitar tuner for you? And how can you find out quickly so that you can buy the damn thing, then get on with the business of turning up your amp and playing that new riff you just wrote?
That's where we come in. We've rounded-up a bunch of Guitar World experts to find the top guitar tuners available to buy. Want a sneak peek at our top pick? Ok, seeing as you asked nicely...
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What is the best guitar tuner?
We love the TC Electronic PolyTune range, particularly the TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini, which tops our best guitar tuners list. This year, the company updated their small-footprint mini pedal to include both buffered and true bypass outputs, plus an always-on mode for tracking your tuning as you play.
Alongside TC’s world-class accurate and fast reading polyphonic tuning technology, there’s a lot to love here. Not least that this is a pedal that doesn’t really suffer for being in mini form either.
The display is easy to read, even with all those LEDs flashing away, and in almost any light conditions (so good for the stage). It’s not exactly a cheap pedal, but it’s worth a few extra dollars over the competition.
Best guitar tuners: everything you need to know
There are three main types of tuner, and each have their pros and cons. Get to grips with them and you’ll find it easier to choose the best guitar tuner for you. Here they are in a nutshell:
1. Chromatic tuners
‘Chromatic’ just means that the tuner only identifies one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale in Western music. Very useful indeed, but you’ll be playing one note at a time to tune.
2. Polyphonic tuners
These are a more recent design, allowing you to play all six strings together, with a display showing how in or out of tune all six are at once. Clever, huh? Those displays can take a bit of getting used to but once you do you’ll find tuning on the fly much easier.
3. Strobe tuners
These tend to be the most accurate tuners of all – usually reflected in a higher price. Certainly not necessary for beginners, but pro players and guitar techs swear by them.
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In the main, the best guitar tuners include a mixture of these, using different ways to capture and analyze your guitar’s sound. For example, the Snark ST-2 has only a chromatic display, but it can pick up sound either via its built-in microphone or through vibrations when you attach it to your electric or acoustic guitar.
Finally, of course, pedal tuners enable you to plug your guitar cable direct into them. This makes them near impervious to ambient noise; you’ll likely get the best results from plugging in.
The best guitar tuners to buy now
TC Electronic has updated its PolyTune line with the latest 3 Mini model (superseding the 2 Mini, naturally). If you’d rather devote pedalboard space to cool, creative effects, this really could be the best guitar tuner for you.
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.
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.
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Korg’s evolution of their best-selling Pitchblack tuner, the Advance pedal is extremely simple to use, making it the best guitar tuner for beginners. Hook it up, choose your favorite display mode and you’re off. If you want no more than the basics in a robust and reliable package, this is the best guitar tuner there is.
That’s not to say there aren’t a couple of extras. The Advance’s calibrate button makes for easy setting of the reference tuning pitch between 436 and 445 hertz. The display button switches between four visuals – all very basic and easy to follow.
Finally, there’s a power output. This pedal enables you to daisy chain other pedals to its own power supply, cutting down the number of wall warts you need. A great pedal.
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!
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.
Still an industry standard, Boss’ ever-present rock solid build quality is evident. You may find other pedals do more for your money, however.
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.
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. So, what might those essentials be? First of all, 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.
Second, 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!
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.
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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.
Famed for their accuracy, Peterson strobe tuners have long been the choice of pros seeking the highest quality gear, and 2019 saw the company unveil 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. You can even save your own presets.
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.
Whereas the market is flooded with pedals, automatic motorised tuners are few and far between. Using its vibration sensor, the Roadie 2 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.
Not enough to tempt you? Well, consider that Roadie 2 comes equipped with 40 altered tuning presets (plus 40 free for custom user presets). DADGAD? Sure! Capo tunings? Yessirree Bob! Simply access them via the onboard OLED screen. For expanded editing features you’ll need the Roadie 2 app. Definitely one of the best guitar tuners of its kind.
If you’re in need of a tuner to sit in a rack mounted setup this Peterson is still one of the very best available, despite being released back in 2008. You’ll be splashing the cash though. Street prices are around the $400 mark and if you choose to upgrade with the SR-EX Pro Input Expander you’re looking at another $125.
Of course, the tuner is of the expected Peterson quality, but its younger sibling, the StroboStomp HD appears to be a thorn in the rack’s side in terms of value. Released in 2019 the HD includes a full 100 extra presets. If it doesn’t matter to you, the StroboRack is still a great tuner though.