Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Courtesy of Amazon
The cream of the crop of pedal tuners is TC Electronic’s latest tuner model. The Polytune line was introduced with a little trick up its sleeve, and the third iteration offers that same tech. Like the name implies, the Polytune 3 will actually offer you tuning meter data on all the strings of your guitar at the same time. You strum all the open strings on your guitar, and the display shows six mini meters at the same time with a quick-view indication of how sharp or how flat those strings are. It’s the flagship feature on the tuner, and it works really well.
But this little pedal is not a one-trick pony. You can set it to the standard tuning mode using the small button on the side and it’ll give you the regular, one-string-at-a-time tuning method. What’s extra great about it is the pedal offers two metering modes for the single string setting – a standard needle look and a strobe setting. Generally speaking, strobe settings tend to be more accurate because they visualize directly how out of phase and out of tune the string is, rather than translating that information to a digitized meter. But you can use either option. When deactivated, the tuner offers un-buffered, unaffected true bypass, so it’s a pedal that won’t mess with your tone, plus it’s a micro pedal so it won’t take up much space either.
Korg’s been in the tuner game since before it was cool to make flashy pedals with space-age features. Their band instrument tuners are classic machines that will last years before dying. Their Pitchblack line of guitar pedals have also made a claim to the pedal tuner industry, and the latest mini-installment is a new addition that is worth a look if you need a new tuner. For starters, it’s a micro pedal meant to free up rig real estate, which is a great prerequisite for any tuner purchase. It offers Korg’s tried-and-true tuning accuracy as close as +/- 0.1 cent, which is closer than many of the other tuning pedals out there. It has a true bypass to leave your tone completely alone, too.
But one of the neatest features you might not consider here is that it’s DC powered or battery powered – usually micro pedals aren’t big enough to accommodate a 9V battery. Finally, they’ve built in what they call Adjustable Calibration, so you can optimize it for whatever your tuning situation is and it won’t overshoot the tuning meter.
The magicians at TC Electronic have taken multi-string tech – the feature that allows you to strum every string on your guitar at the same time and read each tuning separately – and put it into a tiny headstock clip tuner. Historically, headstock tuners are the best bet for acoustic instruments, being limited by their tiny screen and plastic-y construction. The Polytune Clip subverts all of that with a solid construction and a sleek look. If you elect to do single-string tuning, you can put it into standard meter mode (with +/- 0.5-cent accuracy) or strobe meter mode (with +/- 0.2-cent accuracy). You can even access the more premium features of the Polytune pedal and set the tuner to account for capo placements in the polytune setting. It’s got all the convenience and quickness of a standard clip-on tuner and the flashy features.
The ST8HZ is a modern take on the classic tuner. Snark’s older models, including the SN-1 through SN-5s, offer a wide range of tuning technologies from microphones to vibration readers. The ST8HZ combines them all into one robust modern clip-on tuner with amazing accuracy. How accurate? Well, they’ve added hertz-based tuning, giving you precision as close as +/- 0.1 cent, which is about as accurate as you can expect from any top-of-the-line tuner on the market. Add that to a strong, smooth rubberized construction and the ability to rotate the super bright backlit display 360 degrees (so you can position it on the front or the back of your tuner), and you have a seriously versatile little device.
Twenty bucks can’t buy you a whole heck of a lot in the guitar world, at least if you’re looking for quality. But when it comes to pedals, there’s an interesting new burgeoning industry out there – one in which companies, usually based overseas, clone circuits in more popular pedals, reskin them and sell them at a cheap, direct-to-consumer price. Donner is one of those brands. While some of their pedals are questionable (maybe shell out more money for a decent overdrive distortion), things like a pedal board or a tuner just might comprise a category in which it’s totally OK to skimp on top dollar.
The DT-1 does everything it needs to do, from offering stable tuning within a cent of accuracy to a bright LED screen with range indicator lights to match. There's even true bypass so it doesn't buffer or affect your guitar tone. The screen, while bright, isn’t anything to write home about, but in the case of a tuner, that’s fine. As long as it accurately reads and displays the tuning (which this does), then it will do the job. It’s the least accurate tuner on the list, which is to be expected, but for the price, its accuracy is well within expectations.
A category of tuner that is woefully overlooked and painfully underutilized is a rackmount tuner. Most guitar players will opt for a pedal or even a clip-on tuner before they think to put one in their rack space. But, the true benefit of the rackmount tuner is that it gives you a much longer display, meaning the tuner has much more screen real estate to devote to depicting your pitch, which in turn means greater precision and visual accuracy. You’ll be able to see even the most minute adjustments required to get your guitar just in tune. For this spot on the list, we’ll turn again to Korg’s Pitchblack range. Frankly, there aren’t that many brands making rackmount tuners, but even if there were a lot, Korg’s expertise in the space (they created the first rackmount tuner way back in ‘87) would probably put it top-of-list for the rackmount options regardless.
You can set it to a standard metered mode, a more accurate strobe mode or even an in-between half strobe mode. The 19-inch rack unit is ultra light, too, which means that it won’t be cumbersome in your case, nor is it out of the question to pull it and use it out of the rack. There are a plethora of inputs on the front and back that add further versatility. Finally, Korg is attempting to break even more ground with an innovative 3D light display that offers an interesting, intuitive, organic feel for your tuning and looks pretty flashy on-stage.
The winner of “best innovation” guitar tuner on our list is the Roadie 2. And to be honest, just calling this thing a “tuner” is underselling what it can do. It’s not a pedal, not a clip-on and not even a rackmount. The Roadie 2 is a tuner and a robotic automatic machine-turning device all in one. Its premise is simple, but its function will astound people who have never seen something like it before. Taking a page out of Gibson’s book with their automatic headstock tuning systems, the Roadie 2 will actually read the pitch of your string when you pluck it and simultaneously turn the little mechanism at the same time until your string is in-tune. What this effectively means is that you won’t need to twist any tuners by hand – you’ll just have to place the device over the tuning machine, pluck the string and let it do the rest of the work.
As with any automatic piece of tech, there is a bit of a learning curve, and you’ll have to cut it some slack here and there, giving it the opportunity to tune again and correct itself. But all in all, it can save you a ton of time tuning, and it’s fun to watch. They’ve even loaded it up with the ability to program your own tunings into it, so you aren’t stuck letting it just tune your guitar to standard AEDGBE. And it takes only a couple minutes to tune up a full guitar.