5 Best Clip On Guitar Tuners

Buyer's guide

Personal favorite

The StroboClip HD is the Indy car of tuners, bolting away at a flat-out 0.1 cent accuracy.  A Piezo sensor cancels out all background noise for the most accurate tuning possible.

Best tuner you can buy: Peterson StroboClip
Runner up: TC Electronic Polytune Clip
Best tuner on a budget: KLIQ Ubertuner
Cheapest tuner and gets the job done: Snark ST-2

What’s worse than playing out of time? Playing out of tune.

Being in tune is essential, so it’s important to get the best tuner you can, and I think clip-on is the way to go. I know It’s not the coolest piece of gear out there, but it’s essential to sounding your best. With so many on the market, how do you know which one to choose? Read on, and I’ll try to help you to see which tuner is right for you.

Buyer's guide

Advantages of clipping on

A clip-on tuner’s compact size makes it portable and convenient. This is great if you play in a lot of different locations or have multiple guitars. You can even leave the tuner on your guitar while you’re playing for fast, accurate tuning during practice or a gig.

Most clip-on tuners are simple to use and you can learn how to use a one in less than a minute.

No special electronics are needed, no cables, or guitar pickups.

It’s easy to share, great for friends, or groups of guitar players.

It can be used standing up or sitting down, unlike a traditional tuner that needs to be set down on something or held.

Clip ons use vibration sensing technology (see below). The advantage of a sensor rather than a mic is that it can be used in noisy environments, like backstage, without picking up background noises that could cause a false reading.

They’re also really well-priced — usually between $8 to $50.

I know players who love clip-on tuners because they can just about make eye contact with the audience, instead of looking at the floor to tune up.

Disadvantages

Since they’re small, they can be easy to lose.

Some (very few) headstocks don’t have room for the clip to fit without obstructing the view of the screen

It can get knocked off or fall off if you like to move around or dance a lot while you are playing, though I have never had this happen and I move a lot when I play.

Some musicians dislike clipping it on and off their headstock when they don’t want it attached while they’re playing.

I’ve heard some people say they look unprofessional, but I disagree.

How Does a Clip-On Tuner Work?

A clip-on tuner attaches to your headstock (the part where the tuning knobs are) using a spring-loaded clip, sort of like a clothespin. Almost all of them are outfitted with rubber pads for a secure grip and to ensure they don’t damage your instrument.

When you pick or pluck a string, your whole guitar will resonate with the pitch of the string. These tuners measure the pitch of the strings via vibrations in the wood and transfer them to a tuning circuit. The guitar will not usually vibrate to sounds around it, especially if it is up against your body, meaning accurate readings even in loud environments.

Traditional tuners measure string pitch with a microphone. These devices are only useful in situations with no background noise because they “hear” everything. It can be frustrating to others when you ask them to keep it down so you can tune.  And frustrating for you to see the needle bounce all over as it tries to hear your guitar.

How to Use a Clip-On Tuner

The clip on tuner is super simple to use, even if you’re a newbie. Just follow these three steps:

  • Place the tuner on the guitar head without blocking the strings or the pegs. Make sure you can see the screen, even when your hand is on the tuning pegs. Clip-ons easily fit on most guitars, but you may need to try a few locations to feel comfortable.
  • Turn the tuner on (normally by holding down the power button), strum the E string and look at the tuner’s readout. Some tuners have a needle-like meter that displays how close or far you are from the correct string tension.  Other tuners use LED lights that shift from red to green as you hit the correct pitch. 
  • Twist the peg to loosen the string if it is too high (called sharp) or to tighten the string if it is too low (called flat).
  • Repeat on the remaining strings.

That’s it!

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How do I tune my guitar?

Remember, standard tuning for a guitar is from lowest to highest:

E-A-D-G-B-E

You can remember this by thinking of the phrase:

Eddie-Ate-Dynomite-GoodBye-Eddie

The outside two strings can be called – Fat-E and Skin-E

The strings are numbered from biggest to smallest.

6-5-4-3-2-1

For the tuners to function properly, Make sure all the strings wind toward the center of the tuning pegs.

How Often Should I Tune My Guitar?

As often as possible!

Anytime you have a break between songs, it would be wise to tune up. Even when you’re playing quietly at home. No matter how good an ear you have, a tuner will still come in handy. Here are other situations when you’ll want to glance at this useful device:

  • If you drop your guitar. (after you stop crying)
  • When you’ve traveled from one location to another.
  • When you’re using a capo.
  • When you’re bending strings a lot.
  • If you haven’t played for a while.

What is a Sound Hole Tuner?

A sound hole tuner is a clip-on tuner that fits discreetly into your acoustic guitar’s soundhole. Like an electric guitar tuner, it uses a Piezo sensor to identify the pitch. Placing the sensor so close to the sound supply provides exceptionally accurate tuning.

Things to consider When Buying a Tuner

Budget – There is quite a wide range in price here. Before you consider the following options ask yourself, do I want a cheap tuner that will get the job done or do I want the best tuner I can afford.

If you are only playing alone, with lots of time to tune, you can get away spending some time tuning and being slightly out of tune. In this case, a cheaper tuner would be fine.

but if you are planning on playing with other musicians, being in tune is critical, and being able to get it done quick is also important. In this case, I would suggest spending a bit more and getting a tuner you can trust on the gig.

Speed – You’ll want a tuner that responds nimbly to your playing. A cheap guitar tuner will take longer to “settle” on the note you are playing.

Accuracy – Accuracy is crucial because, well, that’s why you bought the tuner! Some clip-ons aren’t precise. You’ll need to find one that registers the string’s pitch within two cents (semitones). Accuracy is important so that you don’t have an onstage Spinal Tap moment fumbling to get your pitch right.

If you don’t have an ear for exact pitch, I would get a better tuner, it will take out some of the guesswork for you. With the cheaper models, you may need to do some fine tuning by ear to get it “just right”.

Size – This one is tricky, you want a screen you can see, but not one that is so big it is distracting. A tuner with a brighter screen can be smaller and still seen easily.

Tuning modes – Are you a simple kind of person or do you like bells and whistles? Options can vary a lot as price increases. These can include things like guitar only tuners on the simple side, and the ability to change the Hertz target (the sweet spot) for each string on the expensive side. The two main modes you will see are Chromatic or instrument specific. Here’s what they do:

  • Chromatic – Chromatic tuners are complex devices that can tune to any note in the scale. For instance, if you want to do an alternative tuning such as a dropped D, you can do it. These tuners can make it a bit harder for a beginner to tune the guitar to the right notes.
  • Guitar specific mode – A guitar mode tuner (also called non-chromatic) only tunes to a conventional E-A-D-G-B-E setting. This type of tuner is easier for beginners to learn on.

Of all the clip-on tuners out there, these are some of my favorites:

Guitar tuner Round-up

Peterson StroboClip HD Clip-On Strobe Tuner

Pros

  • Extremely accurate
  • Chromatic scale tuning
  • Sweetening programs make your guitar sing

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Can be overwhelming to a beginner
  • The clamp doesn’t open wide enough for some classical guitars

The StroboClip HD is the Indy car of tuners, bolting away at a flat-out 0.1 cent accuracy.  A Piezo sensor cancels out all background noise for the most accurate tuning possible. 

Peterson partnered with James Taylor for what they call “sweetened” tuning. As a matter of fact, it’s the first clip-on tuner that allows the creation of custom sweeteners (slight adjustments in the “in tune” pitch to account for normal tuning problems). It also serves up over 50 sweetened tuning presets for various stringed, woodwind and brass instruments, each customizable to your liking.

The StroboClip is chromatic and has an automatic transposition, which lets you drop-tune up to six steps and provides five steps of capo up-tuning. It also has the advantage of, well, being a strobe tuner. This makes it much more accurate than flashing lights, needles or garish colors. It has a high definition display that’s visible in strong, direct sunlight or pitch darkness. A three-way swivel also makes it easy to view.

The StroboClip’s rubber-padded jaw has a good bite, able to dependably chomp down on areas that are up to one inch thick. You can also keep it updated with the newest firmware via its USB port.

If you want the best of the best, this is the product for you

TC Electronics PolyTune Clip

Pros

  • Vivid, adaptive display
  • Chromatic (+/- 0.5 cent) mode and ultra-accurate strobe (+/- 0.02 cent) mode
  • MonoPoly function

Cons

  • The display doesn’t pivot
  • Devours batteries

The TC Electronics PolyTune Clip boasts the company’s trailblazing, lightning-fast polyphonic tuning, which lets you tune all six strings in a single strum. It’s very precise, especially in strobe mode, where it’s accurate to an exceptional +/- 0.02 cent. This tuner can even handle the low B string of a five-string bass.

The PolyTune is has a chromatic mode (+/- 0.5 cents) for quick onstage adjustments. Its Mono/Poly function conveniently detects whether you’re playing one string or strumming them all and automatically switches modes. The clip is outfitted with an ultra-bright 108-LED display easily visible in any lighting conditions, even glaring, direct sunlight.

When a string is out of tune, you’ll see red lights and then green when it’s in tune. The LED will also dim a bit to show that it’s shifting to the next light position. Unlike many tuners, the PolyTune’s indicator holds steady and doesn’t jump around. Its display detects which way it’s oriented and flips the view (like autorotate on a cell phone) to adapt to both right- and left-handed players.

Another great feature of this mighty mite is that it can save and recall default tuning and reference pitches, even if you take the batteries out.

This tuner gets my runner up for best of the best.

KLIQ UberTuner

Pros

  • Bright, exceptionally readable screen
  • Extremely flexible tilt and swivel screen
  • Three-year warranty

Cons

  • Some have had screen flickers
  • sometimes has a hard time detecting notes

We now reach the top of the budget tuners.

The KLIQ UberTuner is a versatile clip-on tuner that works with bass, violin, and ukulele, in addition to guitar. With clean, rugged construction, the UberTuner has a large, day-glo display that can easily be read in any lighting. Speed and precision are must-haves with a tuner, and the UberTuner delivers good accuracy.

Unlike many tuners that lack range of motion, the UberTuner swivels 360 degrees and tilts back 125 degrees so you can adjust it to the perfect angle.  This will give you lots of positioning options when clipping it on.

Its super-responsive Piezo sensor allows you to tune up in less than a minute. The sensor reads tuning directly from headstock vibrations and is unaffected by ambient noises.

It’s been my experience that tuners can be temperamental, but the UberTuner is pretty consistent. It has a guitar/bass only mode as well as a chromatic mode for all other stringed instruments.

If that’s not enough, it has transposition settings for Bb, Eb, F and D woodwind and brass instruments. The tuner has a nice, long three-year guarantee. Battery drain can be an issue with clip-on tuners, and the UberTuner combats this with 16-hour extended battery life.

Snark ST-2 All-Instrument Chromatic Tuner

Pros

  • Ridiculously inexpensive
  • Fast and accurate enough for most
  • Works on most instruments

Cons

  • Display can be hard to read in bright light
  • Not built to last

A snark tuner is cheap and will get the job done.  I tend to go through these things, but that’s ok because they are inexpensive.  If you just need a tuner for around the house you’re good to just get one of these.

The ST-2 is equipped with both mic and vibration modes that wipe out interference from the conversation, room noise, and other instruments being tuned. The Snark has earned its “Super Tight” name, with a strong, dependable grip.

The ST-2 is fast and accurate to a respectable ±/0.5 cent. It can easily handle drop tunings all the way to a drop A. However, it struggles a bit with drop-tuned basses.

The ST-2 helps save battery by dimming the screen when it does not detect vibrations for 5 seconds.  When it doesn’t detect vibrations for two minutes, it will shut off. It’s also got a tap tempo metronome which is decent.

The ST-2 has a bright, full color, display that rotates 360 degrees. Readouts are consistent and they don’t jump around when tuning. 

Real Tuner LA-1 Chromatic

Pros

  • Easy-to-read screen
  • Inexpensive
  • Multiple modes

Cons

  • Has issues with E and B bass strings
  • Slow response time

I have not used this tuner, but I have heard good things.

Whether you’re familiar with clip-on tuners or this is your first rodeo, the Real Tuner LA-1 Chromatic Clip-On Tuner is incredibly easy to understand and use. It’s simple yet effective, displaying the string number and the note name using either mic or vibration mode. It tunes very accurately.

Tuning info is presented on a large, bright display mounted on a customizable 360-degree swivel. It can be pivoted to your perfect angle. The prongs that hold the ball are sturdy and resistant to breakage. This is a spot that seems to snap off easily on many other tuners.

Real Tuner is compatible with most string, brass, and woodwinds. Its response is just as fast for bass as it is for guitar. The tuner works great for open or non-standard guitar tunings. Buttons are well-placed and accessible. It default-sets itself to “chromatic” so there’s no guessing. It does grope a bit on the E and B bass strings.

The LA-1 will automatically turn off after three minutes of non-use for battery conservation. When it powers back up, it remembers where you left off.

Final thoughts

Buy a tuner!

The Peterson StroboClip gets my vote for best of the bunch. I love the sweetening presets and the clip’s adaptability to string, brass and woodwind instruments. And did I mention blazing speed and pinpoint accuracy?

But it’s not necessary to get the best of the best, just get something…and use it often

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