You’re playing your seemingly tuned-in guitar, but when you hit the higher frets, it sounds off. You tuned your guitar, so why are your ears in pain?
You didn’t set the intonation before you started strumming and sliding away.
How do you fix this? Set the intonation the fast way with a tuner that helps you get there with ease.
We’ll lay out a few tuners for intonation so there’s no sharp or flat variations at the higher frets.
For the sake of preserving your ear drums, take some notes and buy the right guitar tuner for the job.
Quick Answer: Best Guitar Tuner for Intonation
What is Intonation?
Simply put, it’s being in tune when playing harmonics and fretted notes along the fretboard.
Acoustic, acoustic electric and electric guitars require correct intonation, and both types can be adjusted manually. The goal is to lengthen or shorten the scale length of individual strings. Acoustic guitars may require filing or moving of the saddle or compensating the nut. Additionally, there are many different types of bridges on electric guitars with their own system of adjusting the saddle. It could just be that the strings need to be replaced.
However, we won’t get into the how-to here as you may want it done by a professional technician. If you’re ready with screwdriver or filer in hand, we’ll provide you with the tuners that are highly accurate to help set the intonation as adjustments needed may be very small and slight, but they make a huge difference to the ears.
The fastest way to check for intonation is to tune the open strings as you normally would. Hit the fretted high E the 12th fret and then check it against the tuner to see how far off you are from being in tune. Make the necessary adjustments: flat – shorten the length; sharp – lengthen it. Then, retune the open E. Now, you can fine tune for the fretted E at the 12th fret for perfect intonation.
As you can see, you’ll be depending on a tuner a great deal during this process. What are the best tuners for intonation? Here they are!
Best Guitar Tuners for Setting Intonation
1. Boss TU-10 Clip On Review
- Proven BOSS quality and reliability in a clip-on format
- Dramatic advancement of visibility with unique Degree true color± LCD and reflection-display function
The Boss TU-10 is a clip-on compatible for both acoustic and electric guitars. It’s inexpensive, highly accurate, and allows the option of color or monochrome displays.
- Display modes
- -/+ 1 cent tuning accuracy
- Clip on
- Accu-Pitch function
- No swivel display
How accurate does a tuner need to be? The truth is, many cheap tuners boasting of 1/1000th of a semitone are incapable of being that stable. It’s also about being brand specific. A high-quality 1/100th of a semitone tuner from a reliable and trusted brand may outperform a cheap tuner with 1/1000th of a semitone accuracy. In this case, Boss is a brand you can trust to get intonated.
It displays colored needles to help you get to your target pitch to be in tune. However, in back-lit color display mode on the LCD screen, it will decrease battery life to 12 hours. If used in non-lit monochrome mode, it can last up to 24 hours of use. A CR2032 battery powers the TU-10 and further battery life is conserved with the TU-10’s auto power off function.
Because it’s a clip-on, it can be mounted to any headstock on a guitar or electric guitar. If you wanted to plug in, you can check out the review on the BOSS TU-3 pedal but you will have to decide between a clip-on versus a pedal tuner.
The TU-10 also features an Accu-Pitch function that features an indicator on the display letting you know your string is in tune. It also has a flat tuning feature for 5 semitones and down.
Part of its marketing point as a Boss product is its durability. Unlike other clip-ons that are made from multiple pieces proving to be fragile in construction, the TU-10 has a one-piece clip design with a coil spring for ultimate strength but lacks a swiveling display which is a popular feature of the Snark tuners.
Many have trusted Boss products for years, and the TU-10 has all the same great features and accuracy as the very popular TU-3.
2. Peterson StroboPlus HD Review
- TRUE STROBE 0.1 CENT ACCURACY - Accurate to 1/1000th of a Semitone or 1/1000th of a Fret
- HIGH-DEFINITION BACKLIT DISPLAY - Can Display the Smallest Pitch Deviations
Far on the high end of the budget is the Peterson StroboPlus HD handheld tuner. It should come as no surprise that this tuner is expensive as Peterson is known to be the most accurate tuning brand there is with their strobe technology.
- Scrolling display
- Visual Strobe HD display
- -/+ 0.1 cent tuning accuracy
- Onboard presets
- Multiple features
The StroboPlus HD might be overkill for your needs, but if you plan on using this high-performing, extremely accurate device for more than one instrument, it’s your guy. It employs a scrolling display that is vastly different to the needle system. How do you read the strobe?
Essentially, the wheel will travel left if it’s flat and it will travel right if it’s sharp. You make the decision when it is “in tune” when the wheel becomes as still as possible – but . . . Because the display is in “real time” and it’s capable of picking up the slightest adjustments, the strobe will not become still or lock in place because the frequency/pitch is never totally stable. You can’t get any more accurate than this. With this feature, its 1/1000th of a fret tuning accuracy, and its numeric cent display showing how far out of tune you are, it makes it an especially high-quality tuner for your needs.
The StroboPlus is jam-packed with multiple features – be sure to read the instruction manual. It can be charged via the built-in USB jack, can be tripod mounted, or used with the kick stand. It features a metronome, over 90 on-board, preset Sweetened Tunings, is capable of firmware updates, and allows for custom configuration for the ultimate, personalized tuning profile. There’s so much more to discover on the Peterson. Overkill for a simple tuning? Yes. Worth it? Most definitely.
3. KORG GA Review
- 3D visual meter with revolutionary visual effects
- Ultra-high tuning accuracy of +/- 0.1 cents
The KORG GA is Custom Guitar tuner that’s fully chromatic, has high visibility, and pin-point accuracy. Don’t be fooled by the low price as it’s made to support the tuning needs of everyone from beginners to professionals at home or on the road.
- -/+1 cent tuning accuracy
- 3D lights
- High-sensitivity built-in mic
- Plastic housing
The plastic build versus a metal one is predictable given the low price. It just means you need to take extra care of your tuner, and it should go without saying that it shouldn’t be used for a pedal board – yes, it’s been asked before. If you want a pedal tuner, the KORG Pitchblack Custom pedal is the way to go. The trade-off is the lightweight, compact, and portable design.
It allows for high tuning accuracy with 1/1000th of a semitone tuning, although for the price, it may not be truly capable of this, but it will more than get you in the right pitch to intonate your guitar.
It has a visually stunning display with its 3D meter, has an auto power off function after three minutes, and the built-in mic is sensitive enough to pick up audio from acoustic and orchestral instruments. Can it hit the low Bs for bassists? You know it.
It takes 2x AAA batteries to run up to 50 hours of continuous use, has input and bypass jacks, and is 3.9 x 2.6″ in size.
If you’re strapped to a tight budget, and you’re after one of the most affordable tuners to intonate your guitar, stick with KORG.
Are You in Tune?
It seems like such a simple question, and yes, you can be in tune without your instrument being intonated.
There are so many variables and factors to consider when correcting the intonation of your guitar, so we don’t recommend a DIY fix on it, especially if you have an acoustic guitar where you’re messing with the saddle and nut.
But, if you have the skills and knowledge to take it on, you will know you must have a highly accurate tuner to get it done. With these models to choose from, you can get in tune, get intonated, and stay in tune. Rock on!
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Simon is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado. When he is not playing the guitar or listening to music he is either eating tacos or snoring too loudly.