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Close Up: N-Tune Onboard Chromatic Guitar Tuner

A closer look at the N-Tune Onboard Tuner in practice

The N-Tune onboard tuner aims to simplify the tuning process affordably, and without requiring permanent modifications to your guitar. With true bypass design available in either a 250k or 500k ohm pot (for single-coil pickup or humbucker-equipped guitars), the N-Tune is basically a DIY kit that allows you to put a +/- 2 cents accurate tuner right on your guitar that operates using the volume knob: pull it up for silent tuning; push down to play. The kit requires nothing more than standard soldering tools to install.

I put it on a Squier Telecaster in less than half-an-hour. It is fully chromatic, easy to use, and gives a little light show when you pull up the knob. Since I wasn’t as focused on the task of replacing the existing pot as I should’ve been, I’ll offer one additional pointer from my experience installing it: make sure there’s enough room in the guitar’s control cavity for a 9V battery— measure it, don’t eyeball it (like me), or you’ll end up jury-rigging it to make it fit.

There are pluses and minuses to an onboard tuner. If you’ve lost track of one tuner after another, because you forget where you put the thing down, or because somebody asked to “borrow it for a sec,” this solves your problem. You’ll always know where it is (provided you’re not the kind who misplaces guitars), and you can shrug blithely while pointing to your axe if someone asks to use your tuner. On the other hand, you can only tune one guitar with it, and batteries don’t last forever.

While I’m not completely sold on the utility of an onboard tuner, the makers of the N-Tune did address the concerns I had about it. I’m not crazy about having to open up the guitar for every battery replacement, but Zero Crossing estimates a standard 9V will provide power for around six-hundred tunings, so it wouldn’t be a regular chore.

Also, the kit inclues tuning rings in several colors to suit different guitars—white, black, parchment, Fender-Cream and Gibson- Crème—but it’s not an unlimited choice. There wasn’t a perfect fit (aesthetically speaking) for the chrome barrel knobs on my Squire Tele, but Zero Crossing informs me that they will offer chrome and other metallic tuning rings in the near future. If you like the idea of an onboard tuner, N-Tune is sure worth a try.