Pedal Tuner VS Clip-On: Which Will Be The Right Tuner For You?

Pedal Tuners VS Clip-On Tuners

What are the advantages of a clip-on tuner versus a pedal and vice versa?

Are you plugged in or are you playing acoustic?

Are you jamming at home, rocking it with a couple buddies, or are you tuning up on the sly while on stage?

Regardless of your opinion on which type of guitar tuner is superior, there’s a right tool for the job depending on where you are and what your tuning needs are in that moment.

We discuss features and scenarios that call for a pedal or clip-on to help you decide where you should put your money.  The best guitar tuners are the ones that work best for the moment you need it.

Pedal Tuners

Pedal tuners are hugely beneficial to electric, electro acoustic, and professional musicians.   Usually set in an effects daisy pedal chain, pedal tuners can be plugged right into your guitar for highly accurate tuning on the fly.

  • Fast and easy to use
  • Direct link to guitar
  • Can have multiple features
  • Bright displays visible on dark stages
  • Not affected by ambient noise/vibrations
  • More expensive than clip-on tuners

Clip On Tuners

Clip-on tuners are extremely convenient and portable devices to own.  They’re designed to be compact, lightweight, and accurate.  Because they’re detachable, you can share your tuner with others, so everyone is on the same page ready to jam.

  • Detachable
  • Built-in vibration sensor
  • Not affected by ambient noise
  • Can have multiple features
  • Compact/easily portable
  • Runs on batteries

Pedal VS Clip On Tuners

Let’s run through various factors that may influence your buying decision on whether a clip-on will serve you best or if a trusty pedal is the way to go.

1. Price

If it’s simply up to budget, the clip-on wins the race.  While they vary in price, you can find multiple clip-on tuners, under $20 that can reliably get you in tune – for example, the Snark ST-2 and ST-8

There are relatively inexpensive pedal tuners in the market, but not as many as clip-ons.  Additionally, they can easily cost five times as much as a clip-on.  On price alone, a clip-on is the cheapest option.

Winner: Clip-on tuner

2. Size

The obvious winner is the clip-on tuner.  Because they’re designed to be small, inconspicuous, and portable, they can be constructed with minimalistic features for convenience.  They can have low profile designs, small and simple displays, and can run on thin CR2032 batteries. 

On the other end of the scale, there are some high-profile clip-ons with large displays, but they’re still generally smaller than a stomp box.

Winner: Clip-on tuner

3. Durability

The pedal tuner, hands down.  Pedals are made to be stomped on, and high-quality ones are made with stomp-proof constructions with metal housings versus the plastic and fragile build of a clip-on.  Additionally, a pedal is typically a one-piece unit whereas a clip-on may have multiple pieces to construct the clamp, connecting pieces, and the display. 

The concern with clip-ons is their durability to hold up from accidental abuse and the swivel display staying attached to the connecting joints or clamp.

Winner: Pedal tuner

4. Accuracy

Generally, pedal tuners are considered more accurate than clip-on tuners, but high-quality clip-ons can be just as accurate.  It’s all about the tuner’s ability to detect frequencies or pitch to the closest cent, sometimes as accurate as 1/1000th of a semitone which is what will be needed in a guitar tuner for intonation

Of course, being brand and quality specific will determine if the tuner is truly stable enough to achieve such accuracy.

Other points that weigh in on a tuner’s accuracy is related to how it detects notes, e.g. vibration sensor, internal mic, or direct input.  Vibration sensors can be prone to picking up interference from near-by instruments and vibrating stages. 

Microphones can pick up audio and ambient noise.  But, direct input from guitar to tuner eliminates both issues.  However, a pedal is not an option for an acoustic instrument.  On equal playing grounds between a pedal or a tuner, it’s back to square one of being brand and quality specific.

Winner: Tie

5. Ease of Use/Fast Tuning

It really just depends on what you’re comfortable with.  If you’re an electric player, having a pedal to stomp on makes for fast and easy tuning, even more so than having to mess with the on-board volume knob.  But, having a clip-on to pop on and off to quickly get in tune can be just as easy to do at home or right before going on stage.

Winner: Tie

6. Tuner Type

These days, you can get both clip-on and pedal tuners that are available in non-chromatic, chromatic, Hz tuning, strobe, and automatic systems.  Strobes are notably more expensive.  You can also find tuners with a combination of these systems so you can custom tune your instrument the way you want.

Winner: Tie

7. Tuner Features

What are tuner features?  Built-in mics, power save modes, onboard presets, 360-degree swivel displays, pitch cal, HD displays, adjustable brightness displays, Hz tuning, metronome, true bypass, and more.  Multiple features exist on both types of tuners, and some are specific to either the pedal or the clip-on.

But, you don’t solely judge a tuner on what features it can offer, you judge it by how well it can provide tuning accuracy.  You may not need all the features that can be tedious and time-consuming due to the more complex user interface.  However, if you’re looking to have the most features in your tuner, it’s usually after you’ve decided on whether a pedal or a clip-on is right for you.

Winner: Tie

8. Battery Life

Pedals are versatile tuners in terms of battery life as they can be hooked up to a power supply or they can run on batteries.  Clip-ons are generally battery operated only devices, and they will vary in battery consumption and type depending on how often its used, what features it employs, and power save options.

Winner: Pedal tuner

9. Portability

The clip-on isn’t tied down to cables, doesn’t need to be plugged in, and it functions on batteries.  It’s made for ultimate portability with its compact, lightweight, attachable, and ready-to-go design.  It’s the ideal tuner to take with you wherever you take your guitar for playing on the sidewalk, at the park, or with mates in the garage.

If your pedal can run on batteries, all you’d need is the pedal and the cable for an acousto-electric to get in tune for playing where you can’t plug in.  However, acoustic electric guitars may already have an on-board tuner for this purpose rendering the pedal and cable unnecessary as it’s extra gear to haul around. 

Electric guitars being plugged in for casual jamming sessions will usually have a built-in tuner on the amp.  Unless you’re lugging around your pedal chain everywhere you go, a clip-on seems to be the way to go.

Winner: Clip-on tuner

10. Plugged-in Live Performances

It’s the pedal.  A clip-on just can’t match the reliability of the pedal in these situations.  Not only is being able to mute the output to discreetly tune a string or two during performances a huge benefit of the pedal, it’s also impervious to ambient audio and vibrations.

A clip-on detects vibrations through the wood from the strings of the guitar, but it can also pick up vibrations from nearby instruments or resonating vibrations through the podium interfering with the tuner’s ability to hone in on your instrument.  It’s not always the case, but it can and does happen.

Winner: Pedal tuner

It’s Not a Competition

It’s really not.  Neither one is inherently better than the other.  A pedal may be an excellent choice for live performances where you can mute the output, but it’s not as convenient or portable compared to the clip-on.

What is the compromise?  There is no compromise, alternative, and either-or debate unless you’re willing to spend a great deal on a high-quality, multi-functional console like a Peterson StroboPlus HD.  What you need is to have both types of tuners in your gear bag. 

With a pedal for band practice sessions and live gigs, and a clip-on for everything else, you’ll be in tune anytime and anywhere.

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