We know, we know: even the best guitar tuners aren't the sexiest pieces of kit you can buy – especially when you compare that to the thrill of getting your hands on a brilliant new pedalboard, electric guitar or even a great new beginner acoustic guitar. You'll be pleased you saved some cash for a guitar tuner though, as this humble device is one of the best investments you can make in your guitar playing, from bedroom to studio to stage.
With so many options on the market, 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 actually playing guitar?
That's where we come in. We've rounded up Guitar World's resident gear experts to track down the top guitar tuners available to buy.
If you'd like to read some more in-depth buying advice, then click the 'buying advice' button above. If you'd rather get straight to the products, then keep scrolling.
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Best guitar tuners: Guitar World's pick
We love the TC Electronic PolyTune range, 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.
This may be a mini pedal, but there’s a lot to love here. 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 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?
Crucially, it features TC’s accurate and fast-reading polyphonic tuning technology – that means you can strum all the strings at once, and it will quickly let you know which ones need tuning up.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
If you’re after a big, bold tuner to sit in your rack setup then the Pitchblack Pro could be right up your street. Borrowing most of its guts from the floor pedal version, you can expect highly accurate tuning and easy calibration from this option. Multiple display modes allow for intuitive use at all times, and Korg’s revolutionary cable checker is a welcomed addition. All you need to do is plug one end of your cable into the input, and the other end into the ‘cable check’ socket. If a red ‘X’ shows, then it’s time to say bye-bye to your cable. Nobody wants any cable-related embarrassment now, do they?
An updated design from previous models, Korg’s Pitchblack Pro is over a kilogram lighter than its predecessors. The depth has also been reduced dramatically, partly to shed weight, but also because the Pitchblack Pro can be used outside of a rack setup. The rack ears can be reattached to the bottom of the unit to allow for pedalboard or floor monitor mounting.
While being super lightweight is a cool touch, it does open the floor to some potential issues. The body of the unit and rack ears are made from plastic - perfect if you’re a careful player, or if your rack setup isn’t going to be traveling with you. But if you’re likely to use and abuse your gear, then a more robust option may be appropriate.
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
Types of guitar tuner explained
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
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): These small, usually cheap, tuners use a microphone for their input, making them flexible in terms of what source they can take. 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.