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So You Want To Be a Performing Singer-Songwriter: Tuners

Updated on October 21, 2020


Okay, on to accessories. Please keep in mind this is simply from my experience throughout my career as a performing songwriter, my personal tastes.

For me, a reliable tuner is incredibly important when on stage since I don't have perfect pitch and in loud rooms it's often hard to hear anyway. If you're just doing one or two songs at an open mic, I'd recommend simply checking your tuning before you step up to the mic, make sure it's in tune and leave it at that for your one or two songs. Don't adjust it once you're up at the mic because more often than not, you make it worse if you're not a skilled, experienced guitar player who has a gift for pitch. Plus, it drives the audience nuts and takes up your very limited time with tuning rather than wowing them with your gifted songwriting and performance skills.

If you have graduated to a full-length gig (say half an hour or more for the purposes of this article), that's enough time for the wood and strings of your guitar to do a little breathing and adjusting when you're playing. I'd recommend you have a tuner in place during your performance.

There are a wide variety of tuners out there now. When I first began playing, the only tuners available were on the larger side--chunky boxy chromatic tuners that you had to set on your knee to use. Not only that, but you needed enough light to be able to see a very tiny thin pointer that responded to the signal, and it had to line up in the middle, at 440, while more often than not, wiggling back in forth in response to the wavering sound signal from your strings and the venue. The first ones didn't even have a backlit face, though that changed quickly.

At that time, if you used a tuner you were looked down on and judged as not being a "real" musician, by other musicians. However, years later, after said musicians have lost half of their hearing to too many ear-shattering concerts, I surmise that they, too, use tuners today. But then, maybe not....

Anyway, today tuners are smaller and smarter than ever. My TOP tuner in the past few years has the Intellitouch PT10 Mini Clip-On. But it may be difficult to find now. You clip it on, turn it on, pluck your string and watch for the entire little screen to light up green instead of red. That's it. Unlike other tuners, you don't have to move between arrows on either side or go from red to yellow to green, and you can easily see the two colors light up in dim or dark environments.

However, when I am on stage I ALSO like to plug into a pedal tuner if my guitar is being amplified. I have both a Fender and a Boss. I prefer the Boss simply because it's so reliable and easy to see. But there are other brands, as well, that you might prefer.

The reason I hook up two options (other than the fact that, although I'm better than I used to be, I don't have perfect pitch) is that in loud environments (clubs, parties, or when playing with a full band), the clip-on tuners often pick up too much of the sound around them, not just your guitar. The newer ones are better, but the pedal tuners have another bonus, as well. If you are hooked up to a pedal tuner, when you press the pedal to click into tuner mode, your signal going out to the amp or PA is cut off. That means that the audience doesn't have to listen to you pluck, pluck, pluck the same note over and over as you tune. How thoughtful of you! And the direct connection to the tuner through your guitar helps with reliability, especially with electric guitars. (May seem obvious to some, but that's a 1/4 inch cable from your guitar that goes into the tuner (or your effects board if you have a few pedals in a case or on a board at your feet) then into any other effects pedals you're using, then into the amp or PA. But I think clip-ons are best for acoustic listening rooms, house concerts, and other quieter venues.

All for now. Next up: Capos.


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