Best Guitar Tuners

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

13 Models Considered
43 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
125 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best guitar tuners

Last Updated September 2019

Your guitar doesn't stay in tune. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with the instrument or you; guitars are just temperamental. Your instrument could get cold on the way to a gig, then warm up inside the venue, but still require several tunings before the instrument settles. That's why, if you're a musician, you understand that a guitar tuner isn't a crutch; it’s a necessary tool that allows you to sound your best.

But there are hundreds of guitar tuners available. How do you know which one to choose? There is a degree of preference involved in picking a guitar tuner, but there are also a number of essential features that your tuner should have. This article will walk you through everything you need to know so you can purchase a guitar tuner that makes both you and your listeners happy.

The top three reasons a guitar goes out of tune are all easily fixed using a tuner. The reasons: playing hard, a change in temperature, or a change in humidity.

Main types of guitar tuners

The guitarist has six options when it comes to tuners that are physical devices: clip-on, handheld, pedal, soundhole, automatic, and rackmount tuners.

Clip-on tuners

A clip-on guitar tuner attaches to your guitar like a chip clip. It picks up the vibrations that are transmitted through the instrument when a string is played, allowing the guitar to be tuned in a noisy environment.

Handheld tuners

The size of a smartphone, these devices are a little more flexible than other options. They typically have a microphone that picks up sound as well as a 1/4-inch input jack that allows the tuner to be directly plugged into an electric or acoustic/electric guitar. Additionally, most of these tuners can generate a reference tone.

Pedal tuners

This type of tuner is designed for a guitar player who uses pedal effects. A quick stomp on the button puts this unit into bypass mode, allowing for a highly accurate tuning.

Rackmount tuners

If you use rackmount effects for your guitar or you have a studio that utilizes rackmount effects, this is the type of tuner for you. Keep in mind, however, if budget is a primary concern, rackmount tuners can be a bit more expensive than other tuners that perform similar functions.

Soundhole tuners

This type of tuner is for guitar players who like the convenience of a clip-on tuner but find the device can get in the way, get lost, or break frequently. A soundhole tuner can be permanently installed inside the soundhole of an acoustic guitar.

Automatic tuners

These devices are part robot. Typically, you affix an automatic tuner to a tuning peg, pluck the string, and let the machine do the rest. Automatic tuners are impressive, but once you are comfortable tuning your own guitar, you may want to purchase a different type of tuner.

Fast, accurate, and easy to read

KLIQ's UberTuner has all the bells and whistles you could want to tune your guitar, bass, violin, ukulele, or any other instrument (if you use the chromatic mode). The Piezo sensor picks up vibrations through the instrument, has a fast response, and is consistent. The brightly colored display is adjustable and easy to read, even on stage. If you need to do a little fine-tuning or recalibrating, the unit allows you to adjust the reference pitch (A at 440 Hz) in 1 Hz increments.

Features to consider

Following is a list of features you need to consider when purchasing a guitar tuner. Some are options or preferences, but others are essential.

Built-in microphone

A built-in microphone can be used to tune a guitar, but other methods are preferred. It is best for woodwinds, brass, piano, and other types of acoustic instruments.

Calibration

You might hardly ever use it, but when you need it, having a tuner that can be recalibrated to a slightly different frequency is invaluable. This might happen if you are playing a gig with an acoustic piano that has slightly dropped in pitch. If you can't tune to an A that's not 440 Hz, it's not going to sound right when the instruments play together.

Chromatic tuning capabilities

A chromatic tuner lets you tune every note. If your tuner only recognizes six different pitches, at some point, you are going to outgrow it.

Detects notes

Some lower-end tuners can be very limiting — you set the note that you want to tune to and then go for it. It might not even register as sharp or flat until you are close, which could lead to broken strings. It is faster and easier to tune with a unit that can tell you exactly where you are at all times.

Durable

You want a tuner that can handle the rigors of the road and an accidental bump or two. Otherwise, you'll be buying a lot of tuners.

Ease of reading

You need a tuner that is easy to read. Choose whatever works best for you, whether it has a monochrome meter, bright colors, a strobe, or something else. We recommend selecting a tuner that is visible in all lighting situations and at a wide variety of angles.

Fast and accurate

It goes without saying that you need a tuner that is consistently accurate. Having one that processes information rapidly is also desirable. If it takes a couple seconds for the tuner to keep up with what you're playing, you may end up improperly tuned … and frustrated.

Input jack

A tuner with a 1/4-inch input jack is ideal for electric or electric/acoustic guitars. This allows you to plug your guitar directly into a tuner so you can check the tuning at any time.

Lightweight

If the unit fastens to your guitar, you'll want it to be light enough that you don’t notice it while playing. However, if it's a pedal box, weight won't be as much of a concern. You might even prefer something heavy because you'll constantly be stomping on it.

Polyphonic

Polyphonic tuners allow you to strum your guitar to see at a glance which strings are out of tune. This type of tuner can be handy, but it is unnecessary — it’s more of a bell or a whistle than an essential feature.

Vibration sensing

A tuner that can sense vibrations from your guitar can be used in a noisy environment. This is desirable because it can be impossible to get silence in a rehearsal or performance situation. However, a vibration-sensing tuner is not your only solution to this problem. A tuner with a 1/4-inch input jack would also work.

If your guitar sounds fine when playing open strings but out of tune when you finger notes and chords, it is not a problem you can fix with a tuner. You likely have an intonation problem and will need to take your guitar to a technician.

Guitar tuner prices

A guitar tuner can range from $4 to over $100. In that first range, from $4 to $10, expect no-frills clip-on models that are monochromatic, possibly slow to respond, and might not be able to handle alternate tunings. Guitar tuners in the range of $10 to $25 have brightly colored displays, feature a faster response, may detect all frequencies, and can be calibrated for fine-tuning. In the $25 to $50 range, the tuners are standalone handheld units that include all the bells and whistles. These units are also likely to have a microphone to make the unit effective for brass, woodwind, piano, and other acoustic instruments. Once you move past $50 and start getting closer to $100, you're approaching the realm of pedal effects, soundhole tuners, rackmount tuners, and even automatic tuners.

An affordable little marvel

At what could be considered an entry-level price, Snark has developed a little marvel that can almost go toe-to-toe with tuners that cost considerably more. It is an adjustable clip-on model with a bright, easy-to-read display. It offers fairly rapid response, has a built-in tap tempo metronome, and is best suited for guitar, bass, and violin.

Tips for tuning your guitar

Tuning a guitar is a fairly straightforward process: you play a note, look at the tuner, then tighten or loosen the string accordingly. The biggest mistake beginners make is turning the pegs too much. It is easy to become impatient and frustrated and make a flat note sharp or a sharp note flat. The best approach is to drop the tuning (make the string flat), then raise it slowly and steadily until it is in tune.

Once you get the hang of tuning, your approach may change, but for now, here are some tips to minimize those initial frustrations.

  • Be sure you are tuning the right string. The natural instinct is to twist the tuning peg more frantically when it doesn't immediately register a change on your tuning device. Often, this is because the guitarist inadvertently grabbed the wrong peg. This can easily result in a broken string.

  • Always tune up. Loosen the string you are tuning until it is flat. Then, approach the proper tune by tightening the string. This method helps keep strings from slipping flat while you’re practicing or performing.

  • Always use smaller motions. It doesn't take much twisting to get a guitar back in tune. If you tune aggressively, it is easy to over-tighten your strings. This could result in many snapped high E strings before you learn a softer approach.

  • Give the tuner a minute to determine the initial pitch. A note is actually made up of several frequencies, so it might take lower-end tuners a moment to determine which string you are actually playing. Don't get mad at the tuner. Try playing louder or softer until the tuner correctly identifies the note.

  • Give your tuner a moment to catch up to your tuning. Sound is a fluctuating frequency. You may have to let the tone ring for a brief period after adjusting the tuning peg to get the correct reading on your tuner.

  • Don't play the note you are tuning too aggressively. How hard you pick or pluck the string will momentarily affect the pitch.

EXPERT TIP

As a performer, there are times when you will need to deviate from a standard guitar tuning (E, A, D, G, B, E). Make sure that the guitar tuner you choose can handle alternate tunings so you will not be disappointed.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Sometimes, when you are playing with other instruments, you may need to temporarily recalibrate your guitar tuner to accommodate the tuning limitations of those other instruments.


Staff  | BestReviews

Other products we considered

With such a wide variety of guitar tuners available, highlighting just a handful of our favorites leaves some exceptional options unmentioned. If you're looking for something a little different from the stalwarts we've already told you about, here are three more guitar tuners that might fit your needs.

If you want an affordable novelty item that looks cool and works as good as pricier models, try 2ElevenMusic's Sign of the Horns glow-in-the-dark tuner. For the traditionalists out there, Donner has a chromatic pedal tuner that offers a true bypass to be sure you are getting an accurate reading. Lastly, KLIQ Music Gear has a versatile three-in-one handheld tuner that functions as a metronome, a pitch generator, and a chromatic tuner.

A trick some guitar players use is to give the strings a little pull after they've been tuned to eliminate slack or play in the tuning heads. After this little tug, be sure to re-tune the string.

FAQ

Q. How often do I need to tune my guitar?
A.
A guitar is not like a piano; it doesn't hold its tune for months at a time. Set yourself up for good habits by tuning your guitar every time you pick it up for a session, whether it's a jam session, a songwriting session, a practice session, or a performance. Then, keep your ears focused on your music because it is possible you will need to tune your guitar during the session as well.

Q. How often should I change my strings?
A.
The answer to this is a matter of personal preference. Ideally, you should be able to get about three months out of a set of strings. However, if you play every day, that might be too long. You will begin to notice a buildup of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells on your strings that makes them feel and sound a little lackluster. Once this happens, it's time for new strings. Alternatively, you could try cleaning your strings and fretboard with a dry cloth, but usually, a string change is the most effective solution.

The team that worked on this review
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    Allen
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    Web Producer
  • Katie
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    Senior Editor
  • Michael
    Michael
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