As any acoustic guitar player knows, a change in temperature or an inadvertent bump can be enough to push your favorite Gibson or Martin out of tune. This is a problem guitar players know all too well, whether playing solo or with a band. The good news is that there are a variety of acoustic guitar tuners on the market. And no matter your budget, you can find a solution that can work for you.
One thing to keep in mind when deciding on which tuner is best for you is considering where you’ll be playing your guitar. Are you playing at home by yourself? With a band? On stage? Where you’ll be playing is a key factor in determining which acoustic guitar tuner has the features that suit your needs.
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Types of Acoustic Guitar Tuners
Clip-on Guitar Tuners
Clip-on tuners come with a big advantage in that once you clip them onto your headstock, you can have access to both of your hands! One to pluck your strings and the other to turn your tuning knobs. They also often have a color digital display, making it easy to see if you’re in tune or not.
Because they measure the vibration of the guitar coming through the headstock, clip-on tuners won’t be affected by outside noise coming from a crowd or other instruments.
While not the most aesthetically pleasing devices, they are often small, affordable, and easily fit into most guitar cases without taking up a bunch of room.
A pedal tuner is a great option for anyone playing in a band that regularly plays live on stage. Often encased in metal, pedal tuners are durable, accurate, and easy to use even when you’re in the middle of playing your set. Most pedal tuners have a bypass mode, meaning you can tap them on with your foot and the pedal cuts off the signal to your amp, sparing the crowd from hearing you get your guitar back in tune. They are also a speedier option than tuning to one of your bandmates by ear on stage.
Handheld Guitar Tuners
Handheld tuners are a favorite amongst many acoustic guitar players and for good reason. They often feature a wide range of tuning modes and other options that make it easy to switch from standard tuning to an open tuning with the click of a few buttons.
Their size is perfect for grabbing with one hand and adjusting the settings with your thumb. Once you have the settings how you want them, it’s easy to place the tuner on your lap and get your acoustic in tune.
Handheld guitar tuners are also easily stored in most acoustic guitar cases and don’t cost an arm and a leg to buy. If we’re being honest though, they aren’t the best acoustic guitar tuners for playing on stage as a live crowd might be too loud to properly use this type of tuner effectively.
These types of tuners offer a discrete way to keep your guitar in tune and also pretty cool devices in their own right. These tuners slide onto the lip of your acoustic guitar soundhole, making it easy for the player to see the display screen.
Because of how small they are, soundhole tuners can be a nice trick for staying in tune on stage. You might even fool your audience into thinking you’re tuning by ear!
Guitar Tuning Apps
Guitar tuner apps are convenient because they are hard to lose. Why? Because they are on your phone! There are a ton of options on both Apple and Android app stores that provide an easy-to-use chromatic tuner in a digital interface. The app uses your phone’s microphone to listen to your acoustic guitar and visually displays how close you are to being in tune on the app.
While they are easy to use and you won’t lose them, using a guitar tuner app might not be the best option for playing live music. For starters, it’s going to look like you’re on stage playing with your phone, and secondly, you’ll need to eliminate background noise to properly tune your guitar with one.
While seemingly simple, tuning forks are amazing devices and have been around for a couple of hundred years. Invented in 1711 by musician John Shore, tuning forks are small metal devices that when tapped correctly, ring the tone of the key they are tuned to. Most tuning forks are tuned to the key of A, but you can find them tuned to E and other keys as well.
To use a tuning fork, you can tap it against your knee, allowing it to ring the key it’s in, and then place the stem of the tuning fork against your acoustic guitar. This should amplify the ring of the fork and make it easy to tune your A string to the key of A. Once your A string is tuned, you can use the relative tuning method to tune the rest of your strings. For example, pressing your tuned A string on the 5th fret will help you tune your D string to the key of D.
Tuning by Ear or with Piano
Believe it or not, some people can tune completely by ear! This is known as having perfect pitch, meaning the person can hear an out-of-tune stringed instrument and put it into tune using only their memory.
An alternative to this method for tuning your acoustic guitar would be to use another instrument that is already in tune, such as a piano, to tune your guitar. Simply press the note that matches the string you’re tuning and you should be in good shape to get in tune.
What to consider when choosing a tuner
Where will you be using it?
As mentioned earlier, where you will be using your acoustic guitar tuner is an important factor in deciding which tuner is right for you. Depending on how much you play you might even need multiple tuners so you have what you need for each situation.
If you think about it, tuners can be broken down into two categories. Category one would be tuners that require it to be relatively quiet to function properly. This would include Handheld tuners, guitar tuner apps, tuning forks, and tuning by your ear or another instrument. Though out of those 5 options, tuning by ear or an instrument can be done on stage, but is still difficult at times to get right.
The second category of tuners would be tuners that directly connect to your acoustic guitar. This category includes clip-on tuners, pedal tuners, and soundhole tuners. All three of these options can be plugged into or attached to your instrument without interrupting a live playing experience.
Ease of use
Ease of use should also be considered when purchasing an acoustic guitar tuner. Some tuners have a lot of features and complexities to them, others just turn on and don’t need to be messed with at all. You should choose a guitar tuner that you understand how to use and works seamlessly in your playing space. The last thing you want to do is have your tuner cause a headache and interrupt your playing vibe.
Buying a Strobe Tuner vs a Chromatic Tuner
Most tuners are chromatic tuners. The main point of using a chromatic guitar tuner is that you can tune all 12 notes in the chromatic scale. On your acoustic, you can simply pluck a string and a chromatic tuner will tell you how close that string is to a particular note.
There are also strobe tuners, which are the most accurate tuners we have. The analog versions of strobe tuners use a flashing light and rotating disc to display whether a note is in tune or not. I won’t bore you with the math used here, but the good news for the average guitar enthusiast is that they now make digital versions of these tuners, which means both pros and hobbyists alike can use strobe tuners. While more expensive, many players are willing to pay more for accurate tuning.
Unless you’re putting together a state-of-the-art recording studio, most guitar tuners cost between $10 and $120. The $10 range for low-end handheld or clip-on tuners and the $120 range for the higher-end guitar tuning pedals.
Believe it or not, a Peterson Autostrobe Tuner can run over $1,000! But again, those are designed for professionals and studio settings.
Brands of Tuners
Some of the most popular acoustic guitar tuner brands include Korg, Boss, Peterson, Snark, TC Electronic and D’Addario. There are many other brands out there, but it can be wise to purchase from a brand that other professional musicians trust. Better to spend $25-$50 or more on a pedal you know will last for years than to purchase the same $10 tuner every 3 months.
11 Best Acoustic Guitar Tuners
The Korg TM-60 is a handheld guitar tuner and a go-to for beginners and seasoned players alike. And for good reason. The TM-60 stands out for a few reasons:
- Easy to read display screen allows for super accurate tuning
- Functions as a guitar tuner and a metronome
- Can adjust the Hz setting for songs that are not tuned to the standard 440Hz
- Extremely long battery life (I’ve had my own last for years on the same battery)
- Headphone output
- 1/4″ input for electric guitars
- Under $30, making it affordable and reliable
The snark keeps things simple and easy. There aren’t any settings to worry about or a ton of buttons to hit. This tuner clips onto the headstock of your guitar and uses the vibration of the strings to get a reading on if you’re in tune or not. This makes the Snark a great tuner for live shows. In addition to being simple, the colorful display makes it easy to see if you’re in tune or not, which is helpful for playing in a dark venue.
- Reasonably priced at $39.99
- One of the easiest tuners to use
- The colorful display is easy to see in dark rooms
- Does not use a microphone making it great for live shows
Most of the guitar players I know either own a Korg TM-60 or a BOSS TU-3. While pedals are often associated with electric guitars, the Boss TU-3 is a great option for live performers that are plugging their acoustic guitar into an amp.
The LED display on this pedal is easy to read, especially in dark venues and it’s also housed in a pedal body that is built to last, the BOSS TU-3 is more expensive than many of the other tuners we’ve listed in this article, but it’ll last forever and be worth the investment. It’s also convenient that it’s a perfectly easy solution to use for acoustic guitar players plugging into an amp or electric guitars as well.
- LED meter is easy to read
- Flat tuning modes allow for drop and alternate tunings
- Guitar signal is muted automatically when you turn the tuner on
- Will last forever
While this tuner may seem more for the studio heads out there and less for the hobbyists or live performers, you might be surprised to learn that this tuner is also used by many of the world’s largest acts, and for good reason. If you’re looking to take your setup to the next level, investing in top-notch equipment is a sound investment (pun intended.)
As most sound engineers know, recording and live performances sound best when the instruments are in tune. Not only do they sound better, but if you’re going to punch in other instruments or be playing to large audiences in more complex acoustic settings, it’s essential to keep everything as accurate as possible.
If you’re looking to keep your acoustic guitars in tune with the best accuracy there is, the Peterson 490 is the way to go. With up to 0.1 cent accuracy, you’re guaranteed to have your acoustic perfectly tuned during each studio session or live performance.
- 0.1 Cent Accuracy
- Handsfree note selection
- Great for situations that require precise tuning
Leveraging similar technology to the traditional analog strobe tuners on the market, the Peterson StroboClip takes the 0.1 Cent accuracy of other strobes digital. A much more affordable strobe tuner, the StroboClip features an easy-to-see backlit display, adjustable Hz calibration, drop tuning and capo settings, and more.
The clip-on capability makes this easy for acoustic players to use in all playing settings and without harming your guitar. At a price point of $69, it lands in a nice middle range when it comes to purchasing a guitar tuner.
- Affordable but accurate
- 0.1 cent strobe accuracy
- Easy to use anywhere
- Won’t damage your acoustic’s finish
As mentioned earlier, soundhole tuners are a sneaky solution for acoustic guitar players to leverage when playing live. The D’Addario NS Micro does not disappoint and at a price point of $23, it feels like a steal. The multi-color display makes it easy to use in dark or light settings. Since it uses the vibrations from the soundboard, you don’t have to worry about it interrupting your performance as many clip-on tuners do.
- Discrete setup
- Multi-color display
- Great for any acoustic instrument with a soundhole
When it comes to tuning forks, what you’re looking for is quality material for a reliable tone. D’Addario’s tuning forks are precision manufactured, meaning you can trust the accuracy of the tone. The handle is also easy to hold, making it easy to apply to your instrument to get in tune.
If a BOSS TU-3 and a strobe tuner had a baby they’d make a Peterson StroboStomp HD Tuning Pedal. Designed for tone purists, the StroboStomp has a true-bypass that will not effect the tone of your guitar, whether it’s an electric or an acoustic. The LED display makes it easy to see onstage and is a favorite among players looking for precision, easy of use, and portability.
- true bypass does not affect tone
- Strobe technology provides accuracy
- Great for live gigs
- An alternative to the BOSS TU-3
Another great alternative pedal tuner to the BOSS TU-3, Korg’s Pitchblack Advance Tuner brings all the quality you expect out of a Korg tuner boxed in a sleek design. Bright LEDs make this tuner easy to read in any playing environment and the accuracy is hard to beat.
- 0.1 Cent Accuracy
- Great for live gigs
- An Alternative to the BOSS TU-3
- True bypass design
Imagine having a tuner that didn’t need batteries or an adapter? Look no further than the PRS USB Rechargeable Clip-On Tuner. A single charge on this tuner last weeks, meaning you won’t have to worry about batteries or losing track of another adapter if you own a ton of pedals.
- Very afforable
- 0.5 Cent Accuracy
- 4 Tuning Modes
- 360º rotating arm
If you’re looking for an even more affordable, less complex, but equally reliable tuner to the Korg TM-60, you’ll be happy to meet the Korg CA-2 Chromatic Tuner. Suited for a variety of instruments, the CA-2 is lightweight and easily fits into an acoustic guitar case.
- Adjustable calibration
- Under $20
- 200hrs of battery life
- Easy-to-read display