5 free and 7 paid tuners are tested: which are the best?

Apple’s iPhone and iPod have ever-expanding libraries of useful applications for guitarists—and the new iPad will no doubt fuel even more. One of the handiest types for us guitarists is the tuner. At press time, there were more than 70 apps with tuning functions of some sort. We took a look at 12 guitar-specific apps ranging in price from free to $9.99. The apps were tested with a Gibson Les Paul Custom and a Martin DC-16, and we compared the apps’ functionality with the results the Paul got from a Boss TU-1000 and what the Martin got with its built-in tuner.

Free Tone-Generating Apps
If you’re looking for a simple tone generator to tune your guitar to, we tested three free options:
iTuner has tones for guitar or bass, though those for bass aren’t very strong.
Guitar Tuner by PFG Software is polyphonic, and the tones are recorded rather than electronic. It features 21 tuning options, though there are some lag issues.
Guitar Tuner is a straightforward tone generator with nine tuning options, including a half- or whole-step down.

Free Chromatic Tuners
Free tuners are hit or miss. Luckily, they’re free so you’re not out any cash, but we’ll save you the trouble.
Tuner Tool has seven tuning options, including chromatic. It has decent tracking across all strings, but we experienced difficulty picking up the low E. One thing we appreciated was the large “No Sound” button that flashed when the tuner wasn’t picking up any signal.
• Trace Tuner is a chromatic tuner with a unique display that “traces” the tuning for five seconds in order to improve accuracy. It picks up low frequencies well, works well at close or far proximities, and can also transpose pitches. It was remarkably accurate for a free application.

Paid Tuners
With paid tuners, you get increased accuracy and features, but not all of them are winners.
• Easy Tune ($.99) opened strong with instructions—something none of the other apps had—but it all proved to be for nothing: The app didn’t detect a signal, even when our iPhone was placed inside the soundhole of our acoustic guitar.
• PitchBot Smart Chromatic Tuner ($1.99) was very responsive at a distance, picking up fretted notes and low frequencies without problems. The traditional needle display was a bit jumpy for our tastes.
• TuneORama ($2.99), from the same developer as PitchBot, allows you to transpose and cycle through different tunings easier than any of the apps we tried. The chromatic mode was also useful.
• StayInTune – Chromatic Tuner ($3.99) is one of the smoothest-operating apps we tested. It has a simple (though unattractive) needle display, and includes a tone generator with either synth or recorded piano tones. There are modes for several different instruments, which makes it useful for the whole band.
• ClearTune – Chromatic Tuner ($3.99) has a needle-and-dial display that’s a little erratic but quite accurate. It allows you to change octaves and has a tone generator with an extended range.
• OmniTuner ($5.99) is feature packed, with tunings for many different instruments, multiple guitar tunings, and the ability to create and download your own tunings. These features are nice, but in its simplest form it wasn’t as accurate as most of the other tuners apps we tested.
• iStroboSoft ($9.99) is the Peterson Tuners StroboSoft tuning application brought to the iPhone. It’s extremely responsive from distances of just a few inches up to four feet, and it also features a handy Noise Filter that adeptly ignored normal-volume voices—the only tuner with such a feature. This app was incredibly accurate.


Best Free Tuner
Trace Tuner
Best Value
Best Overall

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