Are Guitar Tuner Apps Accurate? (Pros and Cons Explained)

If you’re like me, you often rely on a smartphone app to tune your guitar. It’s just so convenient and seems to work fine for the most part.

However, things change up quite a bit when you’re in a noisy environment.

Now if you (and your poor tuner app) have been annoyed by your neighbor’s dog barking in G, or that Volvo truck honking its horn in F#, you need to keep reading!

In this article, I’ll be answering your question: Are guitar tuner apps accurate?

Plus, I’ll also share some of my personal favorite apps that I use and highly recommend.

So let’s begin!

Are Smartphone Tuner Apps Accurate?

Smartphone tuner apps are accurate in quiet environments only. Remember, they’ll pick up each and every sound via your phone’s mic. So if there’s any ambient noise, you might get a lot of false readings and random notes which may mess up your tuning process.

Given that most guitar tuner apps are free and give very good results, they might be all you need for your home or any isolated setting.

But for gigs or other not-so-isolated places, you need a better solution. We’re going to discuss that a bit later. But let’s first understand how exactly does a tuner app works.

How Does a Guitar Tuner App Work?

Let’s get nerdy here. In general, guitar tuner apps detect the sound signal from the smartphone’s audio interface coming from the microphone or cable input.

This signal is amplified within the app, which determines the average sound waves from all the incoming signal waves.

Then what we see on the screen is a comparison of these waves’ average to the nearest note of the chromatic scale or specific tuning, depending on whether the tuner is set to chromatic or fixed notes.

Scientifically, the frequency of a note is measured in Hertz (Hz), referring to the number of sound waves in a second. Also, 1000Hz = 1kHz (Kilohertz).

So, for example, the C bass note of the first position C guitar chord has 261 complete sound waves on it. Pretty cool!

Here’s a table showing the exact frequency values belonging to each guitar string:

Guitar StringFrequency
6th String – Low E82.4Hz
5th String – A110Hz
4th String – D146.8Hz
3rd String – G196.0Hz
2nd String – B246.9Hz
1st String – High E329.6Hz

To use a guitar tuner app, you just run the app, pluck an individual guitar string close to your phone, and move your tuning gear up or down depending on what the app indicates you to get the right note.

Then repeat the process with each guitar string, and you’re ready to rock.

Guitar Tuner Apps vs Clip-on Tuners vs Tuner Pedals

There’s a perfect scenario for each type of tuner. Here we show you the basics of each of them.

Smartphone Tuner Apps

As mentioned above, tuner apps follow the same process of discovering what’s the ringing note that physical tuners do.

If you want your tuner in handy wherever you go but don’t want to spend money, you can’t beat free tuner smartphone apps.

The tuner app will always be at your disposal and you’re free to use it outside strictly musical scenarios, even just with your voice and no instrument.

This makes app tuners the only ones in this list suitable for singers.

Pros:

  • You can have them for free.
  • They are perfectly accurate.

Cons:

  • They tend to pick up every loud sound, like your neighbor’s dog barking, or your grandma yelling at you to turn down your guitar volume.
  • Most free versions include annoying ads.

Clip-on Tuners

They operate with a sensor that translates physical vibration into the tuning circuit and then follows the same process of showing you the most predominant note from all frequencies being input.

These are great for quick re-tunes because they can be left on your guitar’s headstock, so you’ll know the freedom of tuning between songs.

A clip-on tuner will probably fit in any pocket of your instrument’s gig bag or hard case.

You can even use them as an easy tool for setting up your guitar’s intonation because they’ll perfectly measure each note you play on it.

Pros:

  • Very portable.
  • Super quick to use.

Cons:

  • You’ll have to change batteries occasionally.
  • They aren’t aesthetic at all.

Tuner Pedals/Amp Tuners

Pedals and Amp tuners are the oldies of this list.

Pedal tuners came when guitar pedals were on their very apogee and gave the guitarist the -at that moment- unbelievable possibility of tuning the guitar without using a separate channel.

And amp tuners are an extension of that concept which saves even more space. You’ll usually see them in combo guitar amps.

These are a great alternative if you don’t like clip-on tuners, and if you’re used to having several pedals in your rig.

If you like combo amps and you can find the right one that also comes with a tuner, that’s a great plus.

Pros:

  • Won’t mess with your beloved guitar’s looking.
  • The pedals mute your signal so you don’t have any external noise, giving you even more accuracy.

Cons:

  • You’ll have to come back to your pedalboard or amp to see what’s happening there.
  • They only work with electric instruments.

4 Best Guitar Tuner Apps (Our Personal Favorites)

These are some of our top picks. Each one has what it takes to be your guitar companion. It’s up to you which one to choose depending on your specific needs:

Best for Plucked-string Instruments: GuitarTuna

GuitarTuna

Platform: Android and iOS; Pricing: Free

From the creators of Yousician comes GuitarTuna. Perfect for guitar and most plucked-string instruments.

It gained popularity among beginners and pros thanks to its accuracy and background noise cancellation.

It’s also special thanks to its auto-mode, which detects which instrument and even which string you’re plucking.

And has extra features, including chords lists and even games.

Best for Perfect Accuracy: Peterson iStroboSoft

Peterson iStroboSoft

Platform: iOS; Pricing: Paid

The “strobe tuning” technology was the first successful attempt of making a digital tuning machine back in 1936.

The app version of the original instrument tuner, the father of all of them, is as great as you’d expect.

It’s the most accurate of this list, and it’s perfect for tuning and practicing with non-tempered instruments, so any violinist could grow their perfect pitch faster with this app.

The only drawback is that it’s only available for IOS at the moment.

Best as an All-in-one app: Smart Chords: 30 Guitar Tools

Smart Chords: 30 Guitar Tools

Platform: Android; Pricing: Free

This is a fantastic all-in-one tool that will give you way more than just a great tuner.

It supports various instruments, from strings to winds and anything in between. Plus, it includes a useful list of fretboard charts, scales, chords, and arpeggios.

And it includes a metronome also. Turning it into a complete practice powerhouse, perfect for beginners and intermediate players.

Good for all Instruments: Boss Tuner

BOSS Tuner

Platform: Android and iOS; Pricing: Free

This is the classic and iconic Boss Tuner pedal transformed into an app that performs as well as its original version… and it’s completely free, with no ads!

It is visually engaging! Sharing the same design as its physical TU-3 and TU-3W counterparts, it’s easy to read and gives a professional vibe.

Boss Tuner is super precise, giving an accuracy of up to 1 cent of a tone.

It has a wide range of signal processing, from A#-0 to G-8, which is perfect for orchestral instruments players.

BONUS: Some Fun Use-cases Of Guitar Tuning Apps

Don’t let the simplicity of tuner apps trick you. These guitar tuning apps have plenty of other applications you can use to learn interesting stuff or simply have some fun with your friends:

  • Expose a song to the tuner and see what’s the most recurring note, chances are that this is the key of the song.
  • Train yourself to get an accurate pitch by singing the notes to it
  • Also, you can play with your friends, proving who’s the king of perfect pitch.

FAQs

Should I Buy a Guitar Tuner or Use an App?

The physical tuner is most practical if you want it for playing live.

But if you want it for rehearsing in your bedroom or tuning your guitar right before a campfire show with friends, the app will work perfectly fine, and it will be with you always as it’s obviously on your phone.

What About Online Guitar Tuners? Are They Any Good?

They’re certainly great, but they’re restricted to use only when you are in front of your computer.

You can perfectly use them when you’re practicing with a guitar VST plugin in standalone mode and don’t want to open your DAW only for loading a tuner plugin.

Are there any Differences Between the Free and Paid Tuner Apps?

The primordial difference will always be the lack of ads in paid versions.

Free apps work as well as paid ones, but if you want the extra features that some of them include, you’ll have to purchase one of them.

Conclusion

Apart from showing you the pitch you’re playing, a great tuner app has to be able to show you the exact accuracy of the pitch.

Guitar players are somewhat free from this perfect tuning burden, but for orchestral players, each and every “cent” matters.

The only issue you’d encounter with app tuners is external noise messing with the input signal, which you can solve by plugging your guitar into your phone.

90% of players will use the standard tuning mode, but thankfully, good tuning apps give you a plethora of tunings to experiment and find new musical landscapes.

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