Tuning your instrument

Listening to a guitar that’s not in tune is about as pleasant as hearing someone run their fingernails down a chalkboard. No matter how well you can play, it’s unlikely to sound good unless your instrument is properly tuned. These days, tuning your instrument couldn’t be easier, especially if you use a device like a clip-on tuner. But, how do they work and what are some of the differences between models? Read on to find out more.

Tuning your instrument

For musicians, there are few accessories more important than a tuner and tuning your instrument is something you should do every time before you play. If you’re a guitarist, the standard tuning from the thickest to the thinnest strings are the notes E – A – D – G – B – E and if you have trouble remembering this you can use the following saying to help you: Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie! If you’re tuning a bass guitar with four strings, the notes are E – A – D – G. Obviously, it’s important to know the note names of each string so that you can match them to the note names displayed on the tuner.

What is a clip-on tuner?

A clip-on tuner is just one of several different types. Generally, they’re compact devices with a clear display on the front and a clamp on the back. They have a built-in sensor that picks up the vibrations from your instrument and transfers them to the tuning circuit. That means they can be used for a range of instruments including guitars, ukuleles, violins or even something like a trombone! The biggest advantage of using a tuner with a vibration sensor instead of one with a microphone is the ability to use it in a noisy environment as well. Thanks to their compact design and ease of use, clip-on tuners are popular with musicians who play in lots of different locations. Some tuners are even small enough to leave on your instrument while you’re playing so that you can quickly and easily tune up between songs. Clip-on tuners were invented by Mark Wilson from the OnBoard Research Corporation in 1995. He named his first model the Intellitouch Tuner Model PT1.

How do you attach a clip-on tuner?

As its name suggests, a clip-on tuner simply clips on to your instrument. In the case of a guitar, you normally attach it to the headstock because the vibrations from the strings can be clearly felt there. Just try strumming a chord and touch the headstock if you don’t believe us! Incidentally, this is also a good way to test a guitar’s resonance. The more clearly you feel the strings vibrate on the headstock, the better the resonance a guitar has which is key to its overall sound. While most clip-on tuners have their clips on the back, other models have them on the side. Almost all of them are fitted with some sort of rubber to provide a good grip and ensure they don’t damage your instrument. Many models also have a display that can be angled for a perfect view.

How do you attach a clip-on tuner?

Are there different types of clip-on tuners?

There are many different models available, and although they all work in much the same way, there are a few subtle differences. That’s why some cost just a few pounds when others can set you back a few tenners. Exactly what are you paying for when you shell out a few more bucks though? There are three main things you should consider when buying a clip-on tuner.

The display

The cheapest models tend to have the most basic displays. Normally, they’re good enough, but they may not be easily readable in every situation. Other models have more comprehensive displays with different colours and different ways to show you whether your instrument is in tune or not. You’ll need to consider which tuner offers you the best display for your situation and budget.

Chromatic or non-chromatic

Chromatic or non-chromatic

Whereas a chromatic tuner shows you the name of the note of the semi-tone you’re closest to in the chromatic scale (hence its name), a non-chromatic tuner only shows you how close you are to a pre-determined note. This means that a non-chromatic tuner is fine if you only ever want to tune your guitar to the standard E-A-D-G-B-E notes, for instance. It also means you need to ensure that the non-chromatic tuner you buy is suitable for the instrument you want to tune. A chromatic tuner can also be used for alternate tunings, however, and is more flexible overall which tends to make it slightly more expensive.

Sensor quality

Because clip-on tuners use a sensor to pick up vibrations, the quality of the sensor is important. Cheaper models often have a sensor that’s less sensitive to certain frequency ranges. This means they can have more difficulty detecting the lower strings in particular. For that reason, certain models are not really suitable for bass guitars so you should choose carefully when looking for a bass tuner.

My Clip-On Tuner Has Stopped Working Properly!

Clip-on tuners are powered by batteries, and all batteries eventually run out of juice. Also, the thing about batteries is that they drain slowly, which means that your tuner isn’t likely to work perfectly one moment and suddenly quit on you the next. So, if you’re wondering why the display still lights up but the actual tuning process takes forever, it’s because the battery has simply become too weak. Time to replace the battery!

We hope that this blog has given you some useful information about clip-on tuners. You find our entire range of tuners here. If you have any additional questions, you can always contact our customer service team by email, by phone or by filling in the online form.

2 responses
  1. Danny | Bax Music says:

    Hello Trista,

    It could be that the clip-on tuner is on a place on the headstock where there simply isn’t enough of the note to transfer to the clip-on tuner. In that case you could best try and move it around until you find a spot where it does pick up the note.

    Another reason could be that the sensor in the tuner isn’t sensitive enough to pick up the note on these 2 headstocks and that there’s better transference of the note on that 1 headstock. This could be the case with more affordable guitar tuners in combination with many different factors.

    But before you decide to buy a new clip-on tuner, it’s always best to check if it starts working better with a new battery that’s full. In some cases an emptier battery will work and in other cases it will only light up or not work at all.

    Kind regards,

  2. Trista says:

    I have a cheap clip-on tuner like the one seen from the side above, that only works on one of the 3 Spanish style guitars I have tried it on. The guitars are all more or less in standard EADGBE tune. On one of them the tuner responds when I play each string – the display shows in grey, indicates sharp or flat and goes green when in tune. On both the other guitars when I clip the tuner in the same position and turn it on, the display appears in grey as usual, but doesn’t change when I play a string, whichever string I play. I can’t understand how this can be possible and thought I must be going crazy, but my partner witnessed it too.

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