Which is the most accurate acoustic guitar tuner?

Tuner technology has come a long way over the past 30+ years. Guitar players now have various options to choose from that best suit their needs, including acoustic guitar players. But which guitar tuner is the most accurate?

Guitar tuners are made to ease the process of tunning a guitar. Guitar tuners help with making sure that each of the guitar strings is in the correct intonation. Also, it helps with how fast you can get your guitar ready at the moment of the performance.

Acoustic players now have several options at their disposal to keep their guitars in tune, regardless of their situation with their instrument. These fall under the categories of onboard tuners, pedals, clip-ons, and apps.

So, let’s look at the options and see which is best for you.

taylor es b electronics tuner sharp
Taylor ES-B™ Acoustic Electronics | Taylor Guitars

On-board tuners

Many acoustic guitars with built-in preamps for their pickups will have an onboard tuner as part of the system. These are very convenient just by the simple fact that they’re part of the guitar! Just hit a button, and you’re tuning up! Many of them will also mute the guitar while you’re tuning, sparing the audience from atonal jams!

Much like anything else (and this will be a recurring theme), you get what you pay for. One of the biggest gripes with onboard tuners is their accuracy. While they can get you there, sometimes it’s only part of the way, requiring you to fine-tune by ear afterwards.

Generally, you will want to try to find a system made by a high-end builder (such as Taylor), or a reputable after-market company (such as LR Baggs or Fishman) to ensure that you’re getting a quality tuner on your guitar.

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Another popular option is the good, old tuner pedal. These devices have been mainstays on pedal boards for as long as they’ve been around.

There are also countless options of tuners that are highly accurate, provide buffering (such as the Boss TU-3 or TU-3w), or the option of true bypass (such as the TC Electronic Polytune line of pedals, with some models including their Bonafide Buffer as an option). Even pedalboard-format acoustic preamps, such as Fishman’s Platinum Pro include an onboard tuner.

The added bonus of using a pedal tuner is that it will also mute your line, allowing you to tune in glorious silence.

The only thing to keep in mind is that for a pedal tuner to work with your guitar, you will need a pickup system installed on it. Without that, the option of using a pedal goes right out the window. But, there is a great option for those instruments.

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Clip-on tuners

Something new to the game compared to other options, clip-on tuners give you the benefits of an electronic tuner without modifying your acoustic guitar to install a pickup and preamp system. Simply put, these tuners clip onto the guitar’s headstock, and the notes are detected through vibration.\

They also vary in style and price, with Snark’s line of tuners being some of the most popular and affordable, to TC Electronic’s Polytune Clip, offering all the tuning options of the polytunnel pedal, albeit at a higher price point.

This is another area where you get what you pay for, with cheaper tuners suffering performance and accuracy issues. If you’re going to go this route, it’s best to save up a few bucks for a quality tuner. Your ears and audience will thank you for that.

Tuning apps

And finally, there are a ton of phone applications (for both Android and iPhone) that will allow you to tune your guitar using the device’s microphone. Major companies have also come out with their own apps, such as Petersen and Boss, who are big players in the guitar tuning game.

The major drawback is trying to tune in a noisy environment (you are using a microphone, after all) which can affect accuracy and performance. Their very design also makes them impractical to use in a live setting. While convenient, these are best left as a “last resort” means of tuning unless you are in ideal conditions.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-beige-dress-shirt-tuning-acoustic-guitar-3914594/

Tuning by ear

Here is one that I usually would not add to this conversation because we are talking about electronics that you use, but there is nothing better than a well-developed ear to tune the guitar. With a master’s degree in classical guitar, I was repeatedly reminded to tune with my ears. And yes, many times it is better.

Of course, in a group setting, tuning by ear can become tedious, especially when tuning more than 15 students. In that case, I tune the guitar decent enough that it sounds kind of good. But it isn’t easy to tune more than 15 guitars by ear and then continue with the group lesson. I can lose at least 5 or 10 minutes.

All this probably sounds like an unpopular opinion in the classical guitar world, but again, why make things difficult when you can go fast with a clip-on tuner.

So, which option is the best?

It does depend on your setup and situation. For myself, I personally use a Snark Clip-On tuner for its accuracy and value. I teach a lot in group settings, and the clip-on helps massively to tune more than 20 students quickly. Also, I recommend it to my students, and sometimes I ask them to tune by themself or to help me tune the others. It is very easy to use and, most important, very affordable.

In the electric guitar case, it is understandable that tuning with the pedal is the best option. An excellent example of this would be playing in a rock concert. You don’t want to make noise, and many pedals have tuners. In fact, many electric guitarists have many guitars with already costume tuning. But that doesn’t take the fact that it is very convenient to have the tuner in the pedals.

I usually would tend to stay away from using apps as I find them impractical in most situations. Also, it is less consistent, while I totally see it as convenient to have it on your phone just in case. I can’t say the app tuners haven’t saved my life!

After all, that’s just my preference. Thankfully though, every scenario has great options that will get your chords shimmering in tune with ease!

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