No matter how good you are at your instrument, your playing will still sound bad if you're out of tune. It goes without saying that investing in a quality guitar tuner is essential to sounding your best.
First and foremost, it is recommended that you use a chromatic tuner over one that is designed specifically for guitar and bass. A chromatic tuner lets you tune to any pitch and is useful in adjusting intonation or setting your guitar for alternate tunings. While a guitar or bass tuner can still work fine, especially for beginners, a chromatic tuner is much more versatile.
When purchasing a tuner, it is important to find one that fits your needs. For practicing at home or the occasional jam with friends, a classic handheld chromatic tuner will suffice. Alternatively, many manufacturers make small tuners that clip on to your instrument’s headstock and help tune by detecting string vibrations. However, clip on tuners may sometimes get confused by the sound from other instruments in the room, making them less reliable in certain situations. Most chromatic tuners allow you to plug directly into a quarter inch input, letting you tune based on your instrument signal.
If you have a smartphone, you have access to many tuning applications. These use your phone’s microphone to pick up the sound from your instrument and let you tune that way. However, this is not recommended for live use, as there are many things that can go wrong with your precious smartphone on a crowded stage!
If you live to play live, a tuner pedal is the way to go. These handy devices are built very robustly to withstand heavy onstage and touring use and have much bigger displays, allowing for easy visibility all over dark stages. Checking your tuning between songs is very quick and easy - all you have to do is hit the tuner’s footswitch and you’re good to go. Pedal tuners also mute your signal as you tune, so your audience won’t have to listen to you adjust your tuning. Tuning aside, the pedal tuner’s mute feature also allow for easy switching of instruments and a quick way to cut your signal, like at the end of a song.
If you have an amplifier with a tuner out, like the Carvin Audio B2000 or MB15, you can connect the tuner of your choice and tune up without having it in your signal path. These models also come equipped with a mute switch, so you can tune silently, as you would with a pedal tuner.
Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s one that works for the long term! Instruments don’t stay tuned up forever- changes in temperature, humidity, and even playing style can affect tuning. As long as you find the right tuner for your needs, you’ll be fine!