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TC Electronic PolyTune Poly-Chromatic Tuner Review

TC Electronic''s new PolyTune tunes all strings at once, accurately and easily.

Video Demo:

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How many times have you been playing a set of chords to a tune and hearing one note in the passage that just sounds a little sour compared to the rest? The only way to know for sure which one is to check all of the strings at once, which is time-consuming and frustrating onstage. In addition, many players (including myself) have relied on one tuner for years at a time. Even the most discontent gearheads among us—those who trade pedals the way others exchange sports cards—have likely stuck with one reliable tuner that’s been expected to last in its pedalboard location. In short, it would take the prospect of a very big improvement to kick the most used pedal on the board to the proverbial curb. Enter the TC Electronic PolyTune, which aims to do just that. Dubbed the world’s first polyphonic tuner, the PolyTune enables you to tune not just one string at a time, but detect tuning discrepancies in every string at once.

Tune Here, Here… and Here
When I first heard about the PolyTune, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. The concept was sound and the idea very intriguing, but questions about its accuracy loomed large. How could it possibly figure out, from the jumbled, discordant sound of all the open strings hit together, which ones were out of tune? More importantly, would it be strong enough to knock my trusty Korg DT-10 off of my board? Eager to test its mettle, I grabbed my 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom and plugged it into the PolyTune, which in turn was connected to an Orange Tiny Terror combo. I knew full well that the Les Paul was already in tune, so I randomly turned the tuning knobs in different directions to throw it out of whack, and then hit the open strings with the PolyTune engaged. The result on the LED screen was a simple readout of six small red indicators, each representing one of the strings I’d just struck. As I slowly tuned the low E up, I could see its corresponding LED indicator rise, eventually morphing into a green line indicating it was in tune. Guitarists who play live will absolutely love this feature, as it quickly tells them which string is out of tune without having to waste time trying to find it one by one.

When you pick just one string at a time, the PolyTune automatically displays a more familiar monophonic readout—a strobe display similar to a Korg Pitchblack or the ever-popular Boss compact pedal tuner (now the TU-3). It was really cool watching it flip back and forth between these modes—I tried in vain to confuse its ability to detect what I was playing. Even running a Boss DS-1distortion pedal in front of the PolyTune couldn’t knock its accuracy off. As a matter of fact, it strengthened it! The individual string indicators snapped to position much faster with the distortion running in front of the tuner, which still amazes me. Surprisingly, the easiest way to bewilder the tuner was to employ a dropped tuning on the lowest string. The single- note tuning mode accurately detected the pitch, but the polyphonic mode became useless at that point. The PolyTune can only make use of this mode when the guitar is in standard tuning. On the plus side, it can detect standard tuning when transposed, even all the way down to B. This is good, but it would have been nice if the PolyTune could’ve understood dropped-D, considering how common that tuning is. Luckily, the standard strobe readout handled individual string tuning very accurately, no matter what note I was aiming for. The PolyTune also has one more trick up its sleeve. Hidden in the casing is an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness of the LED readout according to the amount of light present in the area. Since a lot of us play the occasional outdoor show or festival, I decided to test this by placing the tuner directly in the sun while tuning a guitar outside. Though I felt rather goofy standing in the PG parking lot tuning the Strat, the readout was perfectly detectable without any glare. Nice.

The Final Mojo
I’m as guilty as the next gear fanatic of acquiring and flipping pedals over and over. My tuner, on the other hand, has always been the one thing I’ve hardly ever thought about changing. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’ve traded it out only two or three times—which is nothing compared to the countless delays and overdrives I’ve gone through over the years. Does the PolyTune qualify to be a rare entry in that list of tuners? Most definitely. Its tuning accuracy, useful polyphonic mode, small footprint, and the ability to power other pedals make it one of the best pedal tuners I’ve ever encountered— especially at its price point. I’m a little disappointed that it can’t track alternate tunings in its polyphonic mode, but its practicality and accuracy with standard tuning more than make up for that. Plus, there’s a USB port at the top of the pedal to update its firmware, so hopefully we’ll see this ability in the future. All in all, the PolyTune is a safe bet for anybody in the market for a fantastic tuner pedal, and even more for players who might’ve thought they couldn’t improve on the one they already had.
Buy if...
accuracy, ease of use and a bright readout are essential.
Skip if...
you always play in alternate tunings.

Street $99 - TC Electronic -