Staying in tune is one of the most important things when playing a live show. The last thing you want is for your bass or guitar to be knocked out of tune in the middle of a song without a feasible way to tune the instrument. Using a tuner pedal eliminates this anxiety and makes tuning your guitar much easier.
This article will break down why tuner pedals are worth it and why every guitarist or bassist should have one on their pedalboard.
How do tuner pedals work?
Tuner pedals look like any other stompbox effect pedal on the outside, usually with a footswitch and a small digital screen to show the notes that need to be tuned. When using a tuner pedal, you’ll plug your guitar into it, then turn it on using the footswitch, and play a note. When you play a note, the pedal will identify the pitch and display it. The pedal display also shows whether it is in tune or needs to be tuned up/down.
For example, the Boss Chromatic Tuner shows a small light over the note that will be shifted to the left if the pitch is flat and to the right if the pitch is sharp. The light will be green if the note is in tune and red/yellow if it is out of tune.
Stomping your tuner pedal will also cut your guitar transmission and prevent it from passing to the amp. This mutes your guitar and allows you to tune silently.
Are Tuner Pedals Worth It?
Tuner pedals are absolutely worth it! Keeping a guitar in tune is one of the most frustrating things for professional musicians. These pedals are an accurate and easy way to tune your guitar and are the most foolproof option for gigging musicians. While you can use a clip-on tuner or tune by ear tuner, pedals make life easier. The fact that you can tune silently during a song makes tuner pedals the best tuning option out there.
My tuning guide covers more about how to tune your guitar and the different ways you can do it.
Benefits of using a tuner pedal
- Most accurate type of tuner. Since you plug your guitar directly into the tuner, it is the most accurate and precise way to tune.
- Mutes your guitar. The audience doesn’t want to listen to you tune your guitar. Being able to silence your instrument makes the tuning process a less distracting part of the gig.
- Can tune in loud environments. Clip-on tuners won’t be as accurate if there is a lot of background noise that could disrupt the vibrations, but tuner pedals work just as well when there is background noise.
- Best tuner for touring musicians. If you play many gigs, you’ll want a tuning pedal over a clip-on tuner because they are much more accessible and foolproof.
What to look for in a tuner pedal
Here are a few things to look out for when buying a new tuner pedal.
Most gigging musicians play indoor gigs in low lighting, so you’ll want a tuner pedal with bright enough lights for you to be able to see the display in the dark. However, if you plan to play outdoor gigs in daylight, you’ll also want to ensure the pedal lights are visible in sunlight. For example, the lights on the Boss Chromatic Tuner are difficult to see in bright sunlight. So I prefer to use the TC Electronic Polytune for outdoor gigs.
Another important factor is responsiveness. Time is of the essence when you are on stage between songs, so you want a pedal that quickly responds to the pitch and allows you to adjust your tuning quickly. Some cheaper pedals may have a slower response time than high-end pedals.
Another thing many guitarists do not understand fully is the pedal buffer. To put it simply, when you have multiple effect pedals and cables connecting your instrument to your amp, the high-end frequencies can be cut down, and the sound may not be as full. An easy fix to this is to use a buffer pedal at the beginning of your pedal rig to maintain the sound frequencies. However, some effect pedals, such as Boss pedals, come with buffers pre-installed. So, consider looking for a tuner pedal that can also act as a buffer pedal.
Where to place a tuner pedal on your pedalboard
Tuner pedals should be placed at the beginning of your effects sequence. This means your guitar should plug straight into the tuner. If the tuner is placed in the middle or end of your pedal board setup, your guitar’s sound will pass through multiple effects pedals before passing through the tuner, meaning the tuner will not be as accurate. Having the tuner placed at the beginning of your pedalboard also ensures that it acts as a buffer. Check out my in-depth article on the correct pedal order for more information.