Whether you’re just getting your start as a guitar player, or you’ve been honing your chops for decades, you know that nothing can undermine your sound and enjoyment of playing like an out of tune guitar.

Often overlooked, the humble tuner pedal is perhaps the unsung hero of the guitar world, and any serious guitarist should have one in their repertoire.

But, with so many different brands on the market, it can be tough to narrow the field and decide on the best tuner pedal for your needs. Today, we’re going to learn a bit more about what goes into a tuner pedal, and take a closer look at all of the best tuner pedals on the market.

What is the Best Tuner Pedal?

What exactly is a tuner pedal and what does it do?

Just as the name entails, a tuner pedal is a stompbox version of a guitar tuner.

Guitar tuners provide you with a digital or analog readout of how close your guitar is to perfect A440 pitch. They usually feature some LED lights which indicate whether you’re sharp or flat, and a screen with a readout that tells you exactly how sharp or flat you are, and when you’re in tune.

Over the years, most of the tuners on the market were relatively compact and featured a single input which you’d plug in to and tune your guitar. While these tuners work well, the fact that you have to unplug from your amp and plug into your tuner any time you wanted to tune your guitar is impractical.

That’s where pedal tuners come in. Pedal tuners work like any other stompbox in the sense that they have an input and an output, allowing you to feed your signal along into your other effects and ultimately your amplifier.

Whether you’re playing in a band, an ensemble, or just jamming at home, having a player tuner makes the arduous task of tuning your guitar faster and less tedious.

What makes a great tuner pedal?

When it comes to tuner pedals, there are a few factors which differentiate the best models from those that are mediocre. In a moment, we’ll cover all of the best options on the market. Whether you opt for one of those pedals or go for a pedal that’s not on our list, you should always evaluate different tuner pedals you’re considering based on these criteria:

  1. Tuning accuracy
  2. Ease of operation
  3. True-bypass wiring
  4. Additional tuning modes and features

Tuning Accuracy

Unsurprisingly, the most important thing for you to look for in a pedal tuner is how accurate it is.

While some guitar tuners allow you to tweak the exact pitch you tune to, the standard across all forms of music is A440Hz, which is known as Concert pitch. Guitar tuners indicate how sharp or flat your guitar is in relation to Concert pitch for each string.

While it sounds easy enough on paper, it’s very difficult for a guitar tuner to achieve perfect accuracy. As such, you’ll always see a variation associated with every tuner, which lets you know how accurate the tuner is in relation to Concert pitch.

The standard variation is +/- 2 cents, which is fairly accurate, and difficult for the human ear to differentiate the variance of. More accurate tuners are accurate to within 1 cent, and that’s about as good as you can expect to get with a pedal tuner.

Another form of guitar tuner, the strobe tuner, allows you to dial in incredibly accurate tuning that achieves complete unison with concern pitch. However, genuine strobe tuners are larger and aren’t especially practical for performance or practice.

No pedal tuner is going to provide 100% dead-on accuracy, but all of the top models do provide extremely accurate tuning that you can count on in all situations. If you’re especially particular about tuning, look for a pedal that offers accuracy within a single cent.

Ease of Operation

Another critical feature to consider is how easy the pedal is to operate. A quality pedal tuner should be the type of pedal where you could use the instruction manual to light a cigar with and still know exactly how to use the pedal right out of the box.

Of equal importance, you’ll want to ensure that the tuner you’re going with provides an easy to read screen that you’ll have no trouble reading regardless of stage or lighting conditions. Whether you’re on a pitch black stage, or in full sunlight or stage lights, you should be able to read your tuner pedal without issue.

Each brand has a unique readout, and some do a better job of indicating how flat or sharp your guitar is, which makes it easier to get tuned up quickly. The best way to determine how easy a tuner is to use is to take it for a test drive and go for the one that’s easiest to read and use.

True bypass wiring

With all guitar effects, be they distortion pedals, delay, modulation, or a tuner, there are two different ways you can build the circuitry of the pedal.

Pedals can either true bypass or buffered bypass.

At first, there were true bypass pedals, which allow your guitar’s signal to make its way through the pedal completely unimpeded. These kinds of pedals provide a true and unfiltered representation of your guitar’s sound. But, there are a few small caveats.

For one, driving extremely long cables (25’ and up) becomes an issue with true bypass pedals, and there’s also a popping sound that’s audible when you turn the pedal on or off, although it’s only especially noticeable at high volume and with high gain.

With a buffered bypass, the pedal employs a buffer, which functions much like a tiny preamp to amplify your signal, feed it through the effect engine, and on through the rest of your signal chain. Since these pedals employ a buffer to amplify the weak signal coming from your guitar, they can drive longer cables with less interference, and they can be turned on and off without any noise.

While that sounds great in theory, the issue is that the buffer will invariably change your guitar tone slightly. This may not be a big issue for non-gear snobs, but for most guitarists, you spend a lot of money on your gear and want to enjoy the truest and most pure sound from your instrument possible.

While there’s nothing wrong with buffered pedals, do you really want your tuner pedal of all things introducing color to your tone? If not, look for a true bypass pedal to ensure that the sound of your guitar makes it to your amp the same way it came out of your guitar.

Additional tuning modes and features

Lastly, you may want to consider whether the tuner offers any additional functionality or features. Most guitarists are in the market for a simple chromatic tuner that allows them to accurately tune their guitar to the pitches they need. But, some players, especially those who like to experiment with altered tunings or different temperaments, may want to look into a tuner with some extra bells and whistles.

Most quality tuners offer the ability to modify a few parameters, such as the calibration. Adjusting the calibration of a tuner allows you to modify what “in tune” is. While A440Hz is the standard, you may be interested in tuning to A442Hz, or A439Hz, or any number in between for that matter.

In fact, there’s a contingent of musicians who believe Concert pitch should be adjusted to A432Hz. The legendary Boston Symphony Orchestra tunes to A441Hz. I’m sure you’re getting the picture.

Some tuners will even allow you to adjust the temperament, which is the distance between different notes within a scale. While western music operates on equal temperament, where the distance between notes is identical from note to note, some forms of music call for different temperaments, and a tuner that can adjust to accommodate them is key for world music players.

Tuner Pedal Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

TC Electronic Polytune3

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

The new industry standard for pedal tuners, the TC Electronic Polytune3 allows you to tune your guitar polyphonically, meaning you can strum all six strings at once and accurately tune your guitar from that. Polyphonic operation makes this pedal ideal for singer-songwriters, but it’s just as applicable for other guitarists as well.

  • Incredibly accurate to within +/- .5 cent
  • Multiple tuning modes
  • Switchable buffered/true bypass
  • 109 LED display adjusts to different lighting conditions

Truly one of the most revolutionary tuners to hit the market since the electronic tuner was first invented, the Polytune3 has several impressive features you simply can’t find in other tuners. Most notably, polyphonic operation allows you to tune all six strings with a single strum, but there’s so much more to this tuner beneath the surface.

The Polytune3 features a switchable bypass system, allowing you to choose between a true bypass or buffered bypass depending on your needs and stage conditions. This pedal uses TC Electronic’s patented Bonafide buffer system which promises the benefits of buffered operation without any of the signal degradation associated with buffered effects.

The display features 109 LEDs that adjusts automatically to ambient lighting conditions, helping to ensure you’ll always be able to easily read your tuner in any conditions. The tuner also automatically switches between polyphonic and chromatic operation for unparalleled ease of use.

What Customers Like

  • Incredible accuracy
  • Intuitive display lighting
  • Switchable bypass

What Customers Dislike

  • Expensive
  • Polyphonic mode is less accurate than chromatic mode

Korg Pitchblack Advance

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

A high-quality pedal tuner at a budget-friendly price from the reliable folks at Korg. The Pitchblack amp offers unparalleled accuracy to within +/- .1 cent, four different display modes, true bypass construction and a unique look that’s a welcomed departure from the more utilitarian pedals on the market.

  • Accurate to within +/- .1 cent
  • Four different display modes
  • True bypass construction
  • Parallel DC out eliminates power supply noise

While it’s around 40% cheaper than the high-end options on the market, the Pitchblack Advance delivers intuitive features and incredibly accurate tuning. Factor in the affordable price and you have one of the most compelling pedal tuners on the market.

The Pitchblack Advance features an ultra-bright LED screen that offers four different readout modes that you can toggle between depending on your preference. True bypass construction ensures that your tone remains uncolored as it travels along your signal path, and there’s a parallel DC out to eliminate noise that is sometimes caused by power supplies.

Most notably, this tuner’s accuracy is razor sharp, which is especially impressive given the low price of this tuner.

What Customers Like

  • Incredibly accurate
  • Multiple display modes
  • Looks awesome

What Customers Dislike

  • Switching is a bit loud
  • Doesn’t remember your settings unless you use battery power

Boss TU-3

What Makes It Special?

A true industry standard, the Boss TU-3 is well known for its bulletproof construction and reliability. This upgraded model features a 21-segment LED display that offers a high brightness mode for visibility in all conditions, multiple tuning modes, and a built-in power supply that can power up to seven additional effects off a single power supply.

  • Accurate to within +/- 1 cent
  • Highly visible LED display
  • Powers up to seven additional pedals
  • Multiple tuning modes

While it seemed unlikely that Boss could improve on their flagship TU-2 tuner, they managed to break the mold with their latest offering, the TU-3. The latest model features an updated LED display, multiple tuning modes, and the ability to power up to seven additional pedals.

The tuner features chromatic and guitar/bass tuning modes that simplify the tuning process for beginners, and the ability to accommodate alternate tunings with ease. It would be nice if the tuner were slightly more accurate, but we along with many guitarists suspect that this tuner is a bit more accurate than it’s +/- 1 cent designation indicates.

What Customers Like

  • Intuitive and easy to use
  • Powers up to seven additional pedals
  • Five-year warranty

What Customers Dislike

  • Not true bypass
  • Not as accurate as other high-end options

Ibanez Big Mini

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

Simple and intuitive operation, an affordable price, and the ability to accommodate tunings from 435-445Hz make the Big Mini a compelling option for any guitarist, especially beginners. With a pitch range from A0-C8, the Big Mini is a great option for metal guitarists who use a baritone or 7-8 string guitars.

  • Simple and intuitive operation
  • Broad tuning range
  • Flat tuning up to 4 semitones
  • Needle and strobe tuning modes

While Ibanez isn’t especially well known for their tuning pedals, this tiny pedal makes a strong case that Ibanez is a name that should be in the tuner pedal conversation. This mini-sized pedal offers a broad tuning range from A0 to C8, can be calibrated from 435-445Hz, and offers true bypass wiring for an uncolored signal.

The Big Mini also offers traditional needle tuning mode, as well as a strobe mode, and it supports flat tunings up to 4 semitones below standard tuning. This pedal can be powered by batteries or a power supply, and at roughly half the size of other tuners, it’s perfect for packing up in a gig bag when you have lessons or practice.

What Customers Like

  • Easy to use
  • Ideal for extended scale guitars
  • Compact size

What Customers Dislike

  • Not as accurate as higher end tuners
  • Loud popping sound when the pedal is engaged

Donner DT-1

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

A no frills tuner pedal that provides the most utilitarian features without the bells and whistles, the DT-1 is easy to use, and it’s also perhaps the most affordable tuner pedal on the market.

  • A0-C8 tuning range
  • True bypass circuitry

The DT-1 from Donner is ideal for players who just need basic functionality from their tuner pedal without any additional features that they’ll probably never need. This affordable pedal provides a familiar digital read out along with LEDs to indicate whether the note is sharp, flat, or in tune.

True bypass circuitry ensures that your tone is uncolored as it travels along the signal path. The pedal’s case is made entirely of aluminum for added durability, and its mini-size chassis is perfect for stowing away in your gig bag or guitar case.

What Customers Like

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use

What Customers Dislike

  • Doesn’t run on batteries
  • Especially loud pop when tuner is engaged

6 More Really Good Tuner Pedals

Peterson Strobostomp HD

Peterson is well known for their incredibly accurate strobe tuners, and with the Strobostomp HD, they’ve made that accuracy available with the practicality of a pedal tuner. The Strobostomp HD features an incredibly wide calibration range from 390-490Hz, customizable lighting on the extra-large LCD screen, and over 100 different sweetened tunings and temperaments.

While this virtual strobe tuner isn’t quite as accurate as true strobe tuners, at +/- .1 cent accuracy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tuner that’s more accurate than this one. It’s a bit more expensive than the other high-end tuners on the market, but if you like to experiment with alternate tunings or temperaments, the Strobostomp HD is a no-brainer.

Boss TU-3w

The Boss TU-3 is easily the most popular pedal tuner on the market, and Boss has managed to improve upon its iconic design with the boutique quality Waza Craft version of the pedal. While the TU-3w is largely identical to the TU-3, there are a few important features that set it apart.

The internal components are all upgraded, ensuring even more reliable operation than you’d expect from a standard Boss pedal, along with the same industry-leading warranty. Unlike the regular TU-3, this upgraded model offers a selectable bypass that allows you to choose true bypass or buffered bypass operation.

Kliq TinyTune

An affordable and easy to use pedal tuner in a compact size that’s easy to pack up and take anywhere, the Kliq TinyTune is an ideal choice looking for basic functionality at an affordable price.

This tuner offers an ultra-bright LED display with an easy to understand readout, calibration between 430-450Hz, and support for flat tunings. Accurate to within .5 cents, the TinyTune punches out of its price range, bringing accuracy to the masses in an affordable and reliable package.

TC Electronic Polytune 2

Less than a decade ago, TC Electronic turned the industry on its ear with the world’s first polyphonic tuner, the Polytune. The Polytune 2 offers some impressive updates on the original that was developed with some of the top TC Electronic artists on the roster.

The Polytune 2 features a new true strobe tuning mode which provides unparalleled accuracy of +/- .1 cent. An all-new ultra-bright display ensures visibility in all lighting conditions, and the display even dims or brightens itself in real-time to accommodate to different lighting conditions.

Ortega Octopus Tuner and Power Plant

The perfect answer for guitarists who use only a few additional pedals, the Ortega Octopus provides a reliable and easy to use chromatic tuner that’s also capable of powering up to six additional pedals.

Living up to its name, the Ortega Octopus features three 9v power outputs on each side for powering additional pedals, and if you’re using each output, the pedal looks just like an octopus. The ultra-bright five-color LED display ensures that the pedal is easy to read in any lighting condition.

Best of all, the Octopus includes everything you’ll need to power the additional pedals right out of the box. Besides the pedal, you’ll receive an 18v power supply, a reverse polarity cable for eliminating signal noise, and eight daisy chain cables.

GuitarX X9

One of the most affordable tuner pedals on the market, the X9 from GuitarX offers impressive ease of use and accuracy in a pint-sized mini pedal housing.

The X9 features an impressive A0-C8 tuning range, pitch calibration from 430-450Hz, and support for flat tunings up to 4 semitones lower than standard tuning. This pedal is also true bypass, so you won’t have to worry about it affecting the raw tone of your guitar signal.

The display is large, crisp, and easy to read, and the build quality is very impressive for a pedal in this price range. Unfortunately, this pedal doesn’t support batteries, and to keep the price low, the power supply isn’t included, either. But, this pedal is compatible with virtually any 9v guitar effect power supply, and these small caveats don’t effect the performance of the pedal.

If you’re looking for a high-quality option that will keep you in tune for less coin than the heavyweights, the GuitarX X9 is a pedal to take a closer look at.

5 FAQ’s About Tuner Pedals

How do you use a tuner pedal?

Using a tuner pedal couldn’t be more simple.

To use one, simply plug into your tuner’s input, run another cable from the tuner’s output to the other pedals in your chain, or directly to your amp, and stomp on the pedal when it’s time to tune up.

If you want to experiment with different tunings, temperaments, or calibrations, your tuner’s manual will let you know how to tap into those features. But, for most tuner pedals, they’re the definition of a “plug and play” accessory, and any additional functionality or tuning modes can be easily accessed from small buttons on the front panel of the tuner.

Where do you place a tuner pedal (in the chain)?

Believe it or not, how you position your pedals in your signal chain can have a significant effect on the way your guitar sounds. If your pedals are placed incorrectly, you may find that they don’t operate correctly, or they introduce unwanted noise or feedback to your signal.

There are some general rules about setting up your signal chain, and following them should ensure that you don’t run into any problems when running your pedalboard.

First, you’ll want to start with your tuner pedal. From there, place any dynamic effects you have, such as a compressor, sonic maximizer, or volume pedal. Next comes filter effects, such as a wah pedal. From there, place your gain effects like distortion, overdrive or fuzz. Next comes to modulation effects like chorus, flanger, or phaser. Finally, place any time-based effects you have, like reverb or delay.

You may find that placing your time-based effects into the effects loop on your amp provides you with a clearer sound and more control over your effects. Some guitarists will also experiment with where they place certain pedals, such as their volume pedal or graphic EQ to achieve different tones.

Always make your tuner pedal the first pedal in your signal chain.

What are the top tuner pedal brands?

TC Electronic is a relative newcomer when it comes to tuner pedals, although they’ve been manufacturing a broad array of other quality effects for decades. Before TC Electronic, virtually every pedal on the market offered chromatic operation, but they pioneered polyphonic tuning, which turned the tuner industry on its head. These days, their polytune line is considered one of the best in the business.

Boss is another heavyweight pedal manufacturer that has honed a reputation for producing some of the best pedals in the world. Their TU-2 tuner pedal is a staple on most pedal boards, and many consider it to be the best tuner pedal on the market. Boss stands behind all their pedals with a bulletproof 5-year warranty.

Korg is a major player in the musical instrument industry, and they are the parent company to some of the musical world’s finest brands including Korg, Vox, Blackstar, and Spector. Korg is best known for their keyboards and guitar tuners, and their Pitchblack series of pedal tuners is one of the best options for players looking for an affordable pro-quality tuner.

How much does a good tuner pedal typically cost?

When it comes to pedal tuners, the price ranges from about $25 to just over $100. While most players usually go for one of the tuners in the $100 range because of their accuracy, reliability, and features, there are still accurate and capable tuners available for less.

For example, Korg and D’Addario have tuners in the $60 range that can compete with many of the heavy hitters on the market.

On the cheaper side, many of the sub-$50 tuners on the market are also quite capable; they just lack the name recognition or perhaps the warranty of more costly pedals.

Where can I learn more about tuner pedals?

Sweetwater is a musical instrument retailer that goes above and beyond when it comes to educating customers on gear. Most of their product pages feature demo videos which fully explain every product, and their blog has tons of great information to help you learn more about the gear you need to sound your best.

The Hub by Musician’s Friend is another quality resource. Similar to Sweetwater, Musician’s Friend is a musical instrument retailer. As Sweetwater places a continued emphasis on educating their customers, Musician’s Friend followed suit, and their Hub blog features tons of great information you’ll surely want to check out.

ComposerFocus is a blog for musicians and songwriters that offers tons of great information on subjects ranging from music theory to gear reviews to recording tips. If it concerns you as a guitar player, chances are, ComposerFocus has a great article to help you learn more.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a metal master, or you make your bones as a classically trained soloist, having a quality guitar tuner at your disposal is absolutely critical to your sound as a musician. For electric guitarists, a pedal tuner is easily the most convenient and efficient way to make sure your axe is in top shape when you take the stage.

What’s your favorite pedal tuner? Do you have any advice for our readers? Sound off in the comments below!

When shopping for a guitar tuner pedal, guitarists also often take a look at:

  • Pedalboards
  • Power supplies
  • Clip-on tuners
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cool stuff for cool people. Get yours.

We're testing the stuff you want to buy. Sign up for gear and gadget updates and giveaways.

You May Also Like

11 Best Noise Gate Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner and Hobbyist’s Guide

Let’s take a look at one of the most underutilized, yet powerful,…

11 Best Pitch Shifter Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner & Hobbyist’s Guide

When it comes to guitar effects, few pedals are as unique or…

11 Best Looper Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner & Hobbyist’s Guide

Have you ever wished that you had an extra set of hands?…

11 Best Compressor Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner & Hobbyist’s Guide

Guitar effects typically have a profound effect on the overall tone of…