Do guitar tuner apps work? Are they accurate?
Yes, but there's more to the story...
Guitar tuner apps don't necessarily fail accuracy, but they work through a microphone, which means external noise can make it less accurate or simply more difficult to tune. A far better option is a pedal tuner, which isolates your guitar signal without any external noise or need for a microphone.
Guitar tuner apps are generally accurate, in and of themselves. The problem arises with excess noise and the fact that they rely on microphones instead of direct input from a guitar.
I'll cover the positives and negatives about tuner apps, and the benefits of chromatic pedal tuners.
Because guitar tuner apps absolutely have their place.
But are they right for your situation?
Let's find out.
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How do they work?
Guitar tuner apps work by using the microphone on your smartphone, tablet, or even a laptop/desktop computer. As long as a microphone is enabled on your device, tuner apps will work. Without a microphone they're not going to work at all, unless they simply produce a sound that you can then tune to manually, like the Fender tuner page.
With the microphone enabled, the app picks up sound from your guitar in open air, which is an important point to keep in mind. Whereas some smaller tuners clip to your guitar's headstock - and use vibrations to tune - this is not the case with tuner apps.
These tuning apps are able to pick up the frequency of each string without coming into direct contact with the guitar.
The Question of Accuracy
Guitar tuner apps are usually accurate. But as I've pointed out already, the problems come up when you have external noise that comes with picking up sounds from a microphone.
To be fair to tuner apps, you're not going to have something that's egregiously sharp or flat because of this, but it can make it harder to tune and to get the needle or note to hit the target and level out.
Even in a quiet environment, white noise plays a role.
Granted, in a living room or bedroom, this will usually work fine. Where it gets more problematic is when you're in a performance setting or in a louder place, particularly outdoors.
But overall, guitar tuner apps are accurate.
The Question of Convenience
There are both convenient and inconvenient aspects of guitar tuner apps.
- You always have it with you
- The apps are usually free
- You don't need to plug anything in
- Great for tuning in quiet rooms
- Difficult to use among external noise
- Takes time to get out your phone and load the app
- Not a good fit for electric guitars
- Can't tune on the fly or during a song
- Not considered a professional solution
What is a chromatic tuner?
You may have heard of the Boss TU chromatic tuner pedal series.
A chromatic tuner is a tuner that allows you to tune by a specific note or string. The alternative is something like the swinging needle tuner, that looks for a middle point. They're similar, but we'd prefer a chromatic tuner because it's clearer and easier to use.
Most tuner pedals, like the Boss TU-2 and TU-3, are chromatic tuners.
Why pedal tuners are better
Pedal tuners like the TU series are vastly more capable and functional. Since they're part of your pedal chain, they're always connected to your guitar which means you can tune on the fly easily.
It's also a great way to easily mute your guitar.
Granted, this is not possible in an unplugged scenario, or with an acoustic guitar that doesn't have a preamp.
But for any plugged in rig, particularly if you're playing live, we'd recommend a pedal tuner over a tuner app.
Yes, you have to pay for pedals, but it's well worth it.
Which pedal tuners are the best?
Here are a few pedal tuners we'd recommend:
When app tuners are a better solution
Mobile app tuners are great for unplugged acoustic guitars and in-home practice. They can also be used in a pinch if you don't have access to another form of tuning. Guitar lessons, living rooms, bedrooms, and quiet environments will do just fine with the guitar tuner app approach.
And if you're trying to save money, you can roll with a tuner app until you're playing enough - perhaps gigging - to warrant investing in a pedal tuner.
Which tuner apps are the best?
Here are a few popular tuner apps. The main one I have experience with is Guitar Tuna, but there are a couple other options that get a lot of downloads.
- Fender's tuner app (desktop version of this as well)
- Guitar Tuna (Yousician's tuner app)
- Pro Guitar Tuner
There are also apps that will play the string sound and allow you to tune to the sound manually. Fender's tuner browser app (web app for laptop and desktop) works this way, as do several others online.
Conclusion and Questions
To conclude, guitar tuner apps have their place and are very convenient in the right situation. But there should be a point where you graduate from these into a more professional rig where you can directly plug into your tuner.
If you have questions about tuner apps or tuner pedals, drop them in the comments section below.
We'll help out as much as possible.