Should You Buy a Guitar Tuner or Just Use a Tuner App?

acoustic guitar | Sandy Music Lab

If you own a guitar, it is an indisputable fact that you also need a guitar tuner. It is an essential accessory to playing a guitar that sounds good; however, with the vast array of options available on the market, knowing which kind to use can be complicated. And now more than ever, people are wondering whether they should get a traditional tuner or just use a tuner app on their phone.

You should just use a tuner app if you are a beginner guitarist just learning to play, travel a lot, don’t have much space in your guitar bag, and have a quiet room to tune in. Buy a guitar tuner if you are more experienced, playing on stage, recording tracks, or don’t have a quiet space to play.

In this article, we will help you decide whether you should be using a traditional guitar tuner or a tuner app on your phone by discussing each one’s pros and cons and what situations you might use each of them in. We will also give you some recommendations of both traditional tuners and tuner apps you can use to get you started. Now let’s get into the article!

Which One Should You Use: Guitar Tuner Or Tuner App?

Ah, the age-old question that has plagued guitar players since the time that smartphones became popular and people started developing apps for, well, everything. However, unlike some of the other object vs. app debates out there, this one doesn’t have an obvious answer. Or at least, not an objective one, because let’s be honest, people will always have strong opinions on this topic.

So in the interest of giving you the most objective answer possible, we have done some investigating and will list the pros and cons of both tuner types, as well as how they work, and then give you our opinion on which one you should use.

Guitar Tuner

Traditional guitar tuners come in various form factors, but the most common kind is the kind that clips onto the guitar. They are clipped onto the guitar’s headstock and when you play your guitar or pluck at one of the strings, measure the resonant frequency of the string being played. This frequency is measured by the tuner picking up on the vibrations that move through the guitar’s body when a string is plucked.

The tuner will then analyze the frequency created by these vibrations and indicate to the player (on its LCD screen) whether they need to tighten or loosen that string’s peg to get it to create the correct frequency, and thus be “in tune” as they call it.

The design of each tuner and their respective LCD screen interfaces will differ; however, almost all of them will show which string they are measuring and will have a way of indicating when that string is correctly tuned. Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using this kind of tuner.

Pros

  • Give you the most accurate tuning on your guitar.
  • Don’t pick on ambient noise as tuner apps do, so they work much better in noisy places than the apps.
  • It can sometimes be plugged directly into your guitar, avoiding latency and external noise complications.

Cons

  • Some are big and take up a lot of space in your guitar bag or may need to be carried around in their own case.
  • Often very expensive.
  • Don’t offer the additional features that tuner apps often do.
  • Often operate on replaceable batteries, requiring you to keep extras on hand.

Tuner App

Tuning apps work entirely differently from the way that traditional tuners do. Where traditional tuners can directly measure the frequency of the string being played, tuner apps record the sound that the string creates and then use software to convert the sound into an understandable frequency.

Once the perceived sound has been converted to a frequency, the app will then use a code to determine whether that frequency falls within the accepted range of note accuracy. The app will display to the guitarist whether they need to tighten or loosen the peg that the string is attached to get the sound into its accepted range of accuracy. Once this has been done, your guitar will be considered “in tune.”

There are dozens of these apps available; however, the initial software developed for them hasn’t been improved that much in subsequent years. What has been improved upon is the hardware of the phones that these apps are installed on. The piece of hardware that is most important to the accuracy of a tuning app is the microphone.

As this piece of hardware is improved, your phone’s ability to pick up the sound of your guitar accurately improves along with it. And hopefully, in the future, the software that these apps use will also be improved to make their tuning capabilities even more accurate. Now let’s have a look at the pros and cons of tuning apps.

Pros

  • Convenient to carry, because most people carry their phones with them everywhere they go.
  • Less expensive than traditional tuners and often may be completely free.
  • Suitable for beginner players who don’t want to invest in a lot of gear from the get-go.
  • Offer additional features like a metronome, chord library, and alternate tunings.

Cons

  • Don’t tune as accurately as traditional tuners.
  • May suffer latency issues, making getting an accurate tuning more difficult.
  • Pick up on a lot of ambient noise, so they can’t be used in noisy places or on-the-go during a performance or sound-check.
  • Require your phone to be charged to use them.
  • Require that you have a relatively new smartphone for them to work at their best.
  • It may differ depending on the software your phone uses (i.e., iOS or Android).

As you can tell from the above information, there’s a lot to love and hate about both types of guitar tuners, and there is no clear-cut best option for you to choose from. However, there are some factors you can consider to make your decision easier.

If you are a beginner guitarist and are just starting to learn how to play the guitar, using a tuning app on your phone will work just fine for you. They are able to tune your guitar accurately enough that you’ll be able to play on it without any trouble. If you have a nice quiet room to practice in, an app will work just fine for you.

However, as you become a more advanced player and maybe want to start performing on stage or recording some songs of your own, it would be wise to invest in a traditional guitar tuner. They will tune your guitar with greater accuracy and are better to use if you need to tune your guitar in a noisy place or somewhere other people are also playing their instruments.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine which type of tuner will work best for you. Still, it may be a good idea to start out using a tuner app, then invest in a traditional tuner later on and keep the tuner app on your phone as a back-up to the traditional tuner.

Tuner Recommendations: Traditional and Apps

Now that we’ve discussed which tuner type is the best for you to use, we want to recommend some tuners that we think are good options to get you started.

Traditional Tuners

Tuner Apps

  • Fender Tune (iOS & Android)
  • gStrings (Android)
  • GuitarTuna (iOS & Android)
  • BOSS (iOS & Android)
  • Airyware (iOS & Android)

Conclusion

You should aim to learn how to tune your guitar by ear in the long run, but in the meantime, you can use either a tuner app on your phone or a traditional guitar tuner like the clip-on versions we listed above. Hopefully, this article was able to help you decide on whether you want to use a tuner app or a traditional tuner.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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