We chose to focus our guitar tuner lineup on portable tuners that clipped onto the headstock of the guitar. These tuners are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. The tuners work by picking up vibrations, allowing you to tune your guitar even in noisy environments. This gives clip-on guitar tuners an advantage over free apps on your phone, which can only measure the tone and require a silent room. For more information, check out our articles on guitar tuners.
Best Guitar Tuner for Beginners
If you are just starting lessons, having an accurate guitar tuner is incredibly important. A proper note helps you know when your finger placement is correct and your fretting is accurate. The Korg AW-Series is the best guitar tuner for beginners. The tuner is incredibly accurate – the precision of the unit is +/- 1 cent. It has a large readable screen that gives you a letter reading, making it easier to understand than tuners that focus on frequency only. The clip is also adjustable, allowing you to turn the screen in a comfortable direction, a plus for learners who have to focus more on looking at the strings as they play. The screen changes orientation with your preference. You can view the screen either vertically or horizontally.
The Korg AW-Series guitar tuner has pads along the clamp so you don't have to worry about it scratching your instrument. We were pleased with its double ball-joint that allows you to move the screen so you can be sure to see it whether you are right- or left-handed. The tuner is small enough that you can hide it behind your headstock so it isn't as obtrusive as you get ready for your performance.
Best Guitar Tuner for Advanced Musicians
For more advanced musicians, extreme accuracy is important and more information is helpful. For certain songs, knowing the letter isn’t enough. You need a versatile guitar tuner that works for different instruments and multiple frequencies. The best guitar tuner for musicians is the FISHMAN FT-Series for a number of reasons. First, this guitar tuner has a wide detection range and near perfect accuracy. The range of the unit is 27.5Hz to 4,186Hz and it’s accurate within +/- 0.5 cent. This makes the unit good for a variety of instruments, including guitar, bass and ukulele. Second, the FISHMAN FT-Series displays a full meter, letting you know just how flat or sharp your note is.
A big plus with this guitar tuner is that it measures the note with both a vibration sensor and an internal microphone. This means that you can choose to clip it on or keep it in your case. When you’re getting ready to perform in front of a live audience, you don’t want to waste too much time clipping and unclipping a tuner to your headstock. A tuner that can sit on a stool also helps if you have to tune multiple instruments for your set.
The FT-Series guitar tuner has a lot of wasted space. Unlike some of the other tuners we looked at, this one has a small screen on a fairly large device that you’ll have trouble fitting in your guitar case. One positive note, though, is how accessible the buttons on the front of the tuner are.
Best Guitar Tuner for Players On the Go
If you’re the kind of person who takes your guitar wherever you go, you want a tuner that doesn’t take up a lot of space. Size is important, and the smaller the tuner, the easier it is to carry around. The best guitar tuner for players on the go is the SNARK SN-Series. This tuner weighs only 2 ounces and is one of the smallest tuners without sacrificing accuracy and ease of use. Despite having a smaller display, this tuner isn’t hard to read and changes colors when you’ve hit the right note.
Best of all, the 3V lithium battery will last a long time, meaning you can rely on your tuner no matter where you are at the time. It also helps that the SNARK SN-Series comes with a power-save option. The lights dim automatically when the tuner doesn’t register a musical vibration.
The SNARK SN-Series guitar tuner is a unique clip-on tuner in a couple of ways. First, while the other tuners sport a black case, the SNARK is vibrant blue in color. Not only is the case a different color but the screen shows more color than any of the others. We found that the color variations are a great visual indicator. In a quick glance you will know if you are sharp or flat.
How Clip-On Guitar Tuners Work
You might have thought that a guitar tuner “hears” the note with a microphone and registers the tone. Some offer a microphone as an additional feature, but all the guitar tuners in our lineup use a piezo sensor as their main measurement tool. When you clip your tuner onto the headstock of your guitar, the tuner picks up the note by sensing the vibrations of the strings. This makes it ideal for tuning your instrument in loud environments.
While the piezo sensor offers the most accurate results, a tuner with a built-in microphone still has some advantages. It works well for multiple instruments – you don’t have to clip it on and off every time. It’s also good for at-home practice when the environment is naturally quieter.
Other Important Features of Guitar Tuners
One feature you should look for is auto-suspend. This means that the guitar tuner only turns on when it senses vibration. So, if you forget to turn off your tuner after you’ve finished getting your guitar calibrated, the tuner will shut off on its own after a short time. Since the clip-on guitar tuners in our lineup aren’t rechargeable, this small feature could save you hours of battery life.
Manufacturer support is a helpful plus. The company should provide an online manual. Guitar tuners by their nature are quite small, and figuring out which button does what can be tricky. A phone number or accessible email address also provides peace of mind. Even if a product is easy to use, there should be a quick way to contact the company if your unit stops working.