We look at a handful of virtual guitar tuners and compare their capabilities with real, hardware-based units.
Tuning a guitar is one of the first things new players must learn how to do. Unless you’re blessed with perfect pitch, you’ll need the help of a guitar tuner—especially when you’re starting out.
With so much more exciting gear to buy, a tuner may be low on your list of priorities, and many new guitarists turn to free, online guitar tuners as substitutes.
Online guitar tuners come in a couple different types and offer a range of options. None of them are really an adequate substitute for a real, physical guitar tuner (no pro guitarist would be caught opening his laptop to pull up an online tuner ather than retrieving his tuner out of his gig bag), but knowing what to look for will help you find one that can help develop your ear and in a pinch help you stay in tune.
Seven Online Guitar Tuners Reviewed
A quick Google search for “online guitar tuner” will return scores of free, online tools for helping you tune your guitar. In general, online tuners work in two ways:
Pitch-matching: These tuners give you reference notes to match by ear as you tune your instrument. This approach requires you to determine if you’re flat or sharp of the reference note then tune up or down accordingly—something new guitarists can find challenging.
Audio input: These tuners “listen” to each note as you pluck the guitar string and provide feedback to help you hone in on the reference note. To use these tuners, your computer or tablet will need to have a built-in mic.
Pitch-Matching Online Tuners
These tuners provide reference tones for you to match on your guitar. The accuracy of your tuning will depend on how good your ear is. These might not be the best options for a new musician tuning a guitar, but they can be useful in helping to train your ear.
The GetTuned.com Guitar Tuner is laid out in a colorful grid that provides a visual reference identifying each string’s note in standard, chromatic and alternate tunings. The tuner offers a broad range of tuning options including drop-D, open-D, and DADGAD and a tone-repeat option. There’s also a 12-string guitar tuner available here. Instructions and tips are provided below the tuner for new players.
GetTuned’s main weakness is its synth-like tones. A more realistic guitar sound is much easier for beginners to match.
2. Gieson Interactive
Mike Gieson’s online guitar tuner looks like an amp head and offers more options than many other online tuners including a long list of alternate scales, a delay control and an auto advance switch. The page includes an audio tutorial on how to tune by ear and a diverse collection of other tools and sounds.
Cons? Just one. The interface, though stylish, is slightly non-intuitive. (You sound the notes by clicking on the toggle switches or alternately press your spacebar.) Once you’re familiar with it, though, it’s a great tool for tuning and sharpening your ear.
3. Fender Online Guitar Tuner
The Fender Online Guitar Tuner is surprisingly clunky. Sleek and simple as it is, users report difficulties with the controls: menus don’t always drop down, tuning pegs don’t always respond to being clicked, and the guitar pick that follows the user’s cursor can be jumpy. (See Browser Dependency below.)
On the upside, the page is completely free of ads and there is a lot of helpful advice on the rest of the page about how to tune different guitars, tips from the pros, etc.
Audio Input Online Tuners
These tuners work with your gear by using your computer’s built-in microphone and/or a line in from your guitar to detect the notes you play and guide you towards the correct pitch. One drawback to using your mobile device’s built-in mic is its lack of accuracy. A good-quaIity iOS-ready mic will make your tablet or phone a better pitch-detecting tuner and enhance its sonic possibilities.
JamPlay’s online tuner options are among the the best out there. You can choose to tune by ear using a pitch-matching tuner if your device lacks a microphone or line-in connector for your guitar. But the real star here is the digital audio input tuner, which has a needle meter with multiple light segments that resembles those used on hardware tuners. The display makes it easy to to tune up or down to hit your target note by displaying the degree to which you’re sharp or flat. A handy input level control coupled with an input bar meter helps you dial in the right level for effective tuning.
The pitch-matching tuner doesn’t include a ton of options, but what it does, it does well. Selecting a tuning option brings up a brief explanation of each tuning—what it does and why it would be used. The sound mimics nylon acoustic strings very closely and there’s an autoplay function with speed control. The interface is simple and intuitive.
The digital tuner option features short, clear instructions for adjusting the settings for either the built-in mic or a direct line in, and for how to use the tuner in general.
5. Best Tuner Online
The name may be a bit of a stretch, but the Best Tuner Online does offer some view options that others don’t including a waveform display. It gets the job done simply and accurately (with no ads screaming at you). The site also offers a metronome and tempo trainer.
Con: The interface is a little awkward and unconventional.
The Tunerr.com online chromatic guitar tuner is another simple, effective tool that can be used with both acoustic guitars and a microphone, or electric guitars using the line-in option. The clean page and interface means zero extra features or resources, but zero ads and spam too. The bar display is quite responsive and accurate.
You can use the ProGuitarTuner.com online tuner using your device’s built-in mic or plugging your instrument in via a USB input. (The latter option might entail using an interface or cable adapter.) It features an extensive selection of alternate tunings to choose from making it one of the more versatile audio-input tuners we tested. A fretboard diagram alongside the meter is a nice touch.
It’s a clean, simple interface. The VU meter-like display uses multicolored virtual LEDs combined with a needle to indicate relative pitch. As noted below, we found the accuracy and responsiveness of this tuner was somewhat browser- dependent There is also an iPhone app version of the tuner available.
No, we’re not talking about internet addiction here. During our testing we discovered that the performance of some of the tuners covered here can vary according to the browser and operating system your computer uses. Most of these tuning applications use Adobe Flash Player and they seem to get along better with some browsers than others. If you find you’re getting erratic performance, try running the tuner in a different browser.
Let us know your experiences in the comments section below. Also, if you have a favorite online tuner not covered here, please help spread the word in comments.
Hardware Tuners: Still the Best Option
Online tuners can be helpful in a pinch (when you have good internet connection), but they’re no substitute for a real, high-quality tuner. Every guitar player needs a reliable tuner that will fit in a gig bag, can survive life on the road, and be on-call day or night.
There are several format options for digital tuners, two of the most popular being clip-on models and stompbox-style pedal tuners.
Clip-on tuners attach to the guitar’s headstock picking up the vibration of the string through the tonewood. Some clip-on tuners also use a small, internal mic to improve accuracy. The very affordable Snark SN-1 Guitar & Bass Tuner is a great example of a top-rated clip-on tuner.
The budget-friendly Snark SN-1 Guitar & Bass Tuner uses a heavy-duty clip and a bright swiveling display that’s easily read by left- or right-handed players.
Pedal tuners are built into a case with a foot control and typically have a bright LED display that’s easy to read on a darkened stage. They’re a standard addition to many players’ pedal boards. One model that gets consistently positive reviews for legibility and accuracy is the Modtone MT-PT1 Professional Chromatic Tuner Pedal.
A bright, multi-color LED display in a strong metal housing along with a de-tuning Flat button and Pitch control for extra-fine tuning makes Modtone’s MT-PT1 Professional Chromatic Tuner Pedal a popular choice.
You can browse the entire Musician’s Friend collection of tuners to find the one that’s perfect for you. And if you need some help deciding, check out the buying guide: Guitar and Chromatic Tuners: How to Choose.
Need Help Deciding on a Tuner?
As always, Musician’s Friend Gear Heads are here to help. If you need any more info on guitar tuners, give us a call at 877-880-5907.