An automatic tuner that connects to your smartphone might sound gimmicky. Which is why it's surprising that Roadie is such a practical tool. The Roadie automatic guitar tuner, which was created by Seattle-based startup Band Industries, interfaces with your mobile device via Bluetooth and automatically tunes your guitar by physically rotating the guitar’s tuning pegs. To tune up, you simply attach the handheld device to a single peg, select a tuning (standard, open G, etc.) on the Roadie app, pluck the string and let the handheld device do the rest of the work. Roadie is sleek, easy to use and, most importantly, extremely accurate. What really sets Roadie apart is its mobile app, which listens to a plucked note using your phone’s internal microphone before communicating with the tuning device. Despite a smartphone mic’s obvious limitations, the app is as responsive as a high-end floor tuner. Within the app, you can select alternate tunings for a number of stringed instruments, including violin, banjo or mandolin, or even create your own custom tuning. Switching between different tunings is a huge pain in the ass. For intermediate to advanced players, this is where Roadie comes in most handy. I’d been meaning to learn John Fahey’s classic rendition of “Poor Boy a Long Way From Home” for a few weeks, but the thought of getting into open-D tuning always convinced me to put it off for another day. When I got my hands on a Roadie, however, not only was I able to quickly get into tune to learn the song, I found myself jumping between open D, G and standard quickly and without any of the frustration that often accompanies alternating between tunings. Roadie could also be a hugely valuable tool for guitar techs. It’s hard to overestimate how accurate-to-the-cent Roadie really is. That, coupled with its customizable tuning presets and an automatic winder button for changing strings, makes it well worth the investment for anyone needing to maintain a number of guitars. The only real fault I could find with Roadie is that it doesn’t recognize any note lower than A1, meaning it’s not applicable for bass or many seven-plus-string guitars. It’s easy to imagine an update to the app that could make this possible in the future. $99 might be too high a price point for some, but after trying out Roadie myself, it’s hard to imagine wanting to change strings or switch tunings without it. For more information, visit roadietuner.com.
Ethan Varian is a freelance writer and guitarist based in San Francisco. He has performed with a number of rock, blues, jazz and bluegrass groups in the Bay Area and in Colorado. Follow him on Twitter.