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Are You Taking Your Tuner for Granted? What You Need to Know About Tuners

Let’s face it, some gear choices are afterthoughts. Perhaps it’s your random batch of patch cables, whatever picks happen to be in your pocket, and any tuner that finds its way into your gig bag. But a failure on any of these fronts could cost you the gig. Especially your tuner. Though simple, they’re sophisticated and integral to your pedalboard.

This week on TPS, Dan & Mick want to save tuner ignorant guys like me from such a slip-up. As always, their tutorial offered up the perfect blend of insider perspective with practical applications.

If it’s time for a new or renewed tuner, here are their top tips for making the best choice.

The Four Things Every Tuner Should Do

Wait, what? Don’t they only do one thing? Tune?! Turns out, that’s only one part of their job description.

As Mick outlined, in addition to getting your guitar in tune, a tuner should “fit wherever you want to put it… either on your pedalboard, on the bench in your studio, or clipped to the end of your instrument.” In short, it’s gotta be close at hand and functional.

Your guitar tuner also needs to be visible in any playing condition. This is not only about location, but about display. Will that display work in a deep dark pit of a pub and on a sunny day stage outdoors?

“It needs to work quickly and it needs to be accurate.” Nothing’s worse than having two bars to tune up before the chorus and seeing your tuner ping pong back and forth trying to dial in on your g-string.

Finally, the pedal needs to be silent. That means, it must come with the ability to cut the signal that would be sent to your amp while tuning.

Your Tuner Should Sound Good

This final criteria for an exceptional pedal tuner is a little contentious. Didn’t we just say it had to be silent? Yes. But when it’s not engaged, it cannot obstruct the architecture of your tone.

As Dan demonstrated, certain tuners can be set in an always-on (or always-display) mode. This means that your signal still screams through the amp while the pedal tuner spins or sways to track the note.

If you’re a pedal guru, you probably see where this is going. “The only thing to be aware of here,” Dan commented, “is that it requires a buffer because the signal splits to the amp and tuner.” The buffer enables this to occur without signal loss. Buffers too come in a variety of sonic shapes and sizes and often interact with your other items of gear.

What does this mean for your pedalboard? You always want to know which pedals have a buffer in them. Spend some time playing clean and getting a sense for how they might subtly shape your sound. This way you won’t have any unexpected tonal problems when a buffered pedal tuner enters the equation.

Save Time with a Polyphonic Tuner

If it’s been a while since your last tuner purchase, this one will blow your mind. Most of us are used to plucking on string at a time and dialing in the sharps and flats until they’re on point. There is, however, another way.

A polyphonic tuner, like any in the TC Electronic Range, will allow you to strum all six strings at once and then zero in on the strings that need a little love. As Mick commented, this clever feature maps on to six set of LEDs that reflect the frequency of each string, which “is great if you only have a few seconds to tune and you’re not quite sure which of your strings is out of tune.”

No matter your playing style, you need to be in tune. If you’re also gear conscious, tuner is an unexpected place to both streamline your rig and protect your tone.

TPS Episode Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster, PRS S2 Singlecut Standard, Collings CJ35.

Pedals: Sonic Research Turbo Guitar Tuner ST-300, D’Addario Pedal Tuner, Boss TU-3s, TC Electronic Polytune 3 Noir, Peterson StroboStomp HD Tuner, Dunlop EP103 Echoplex Delay Pedal, TC Electronic Polytune Clip Tuner, Keeley D&M Drive.

Amps: Orange Tremlord 30 112 / Lavoce Speaker, Matchless HC-30 with Hughes & Kettner Vintage 212 / Celestion G12M Greenback.

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One thought on “Are You Taking Your Tuner for Granted? What You Need to Know About Tuners

  • October 3, 2019 at 4:15 pm
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    Seriously, can’t people tune up by ear any more?

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