What is a Chromatic Tuner?

Guitar tuners today have become very efficient and accurate. There was a time when they were kind of clunky and not very easy to use. But with the new technology used today equipped with the ability to tune to even vibrations, it has become very handy and is a must for beginners. But what is a chromatic tuner, and how does it work?

what is a chromatic tuner

What is a Chromatic Tuner?

A chromatic tuner can detect and display all the 12 possible pitches, or notes, that are available on the guitar fretboard. These notes are part of the chromatic scale. It’s detailed enough for the tuning schemes important to the guitar, right down to the octave.

A regular tuner on the other hand is not quite as sophisticated. It’s only really capable of showing you how flat or sharp the string is when tuning to conventional:

  • EADGBE

It will not display a semitone as a chromatic tuner will. But why choose one over the other? Who can benefit from either technology?

How to Use a Chromatic Tuner

There are a few different types of chromatic tuners on the market today. Technology in this area has provided some convenient devices, but they don’t all work the same. Some are in the form of an effects pedal and come in a metal enclosure.

While others can simply be clipped to your guitar and sense the vibration of the strings. But the general idea is the same and, besides the connection methods, the process will be similar. Here we will focus on standard tuning: E, A, D, G, B, E.

  • Connect the chromatic tuner as required. This might mean using patch cables and providing power. Or could simply be clipping it onto the guitar.
  • Play the first string starting from the top. This will be the 6th. As you play it open, pay attention to the tuner and what the display reads. This string will need to be an E and so depending on the reading, you will need to adjust it.
  • Once you have been provided a reading, proceed to turn the tuners. Clockwise will loosen and counter-clockwise will tighten the string. If the pitch is lower than E, tighten the string. If it’s high, loosen it.
  • Once you have adjusted the string and got the right note name, you can move onto the rest. If the notes are out by a lot, don’t worry about fine-tuning. Get them all close to start.
  • Once the notes are all correct, fine tune them. This will require paying closer attention to the readout and if there are any needles that help your accuracy.
  • Play a chord. If something doesn’t sound right, you may be out an octave on one of the strings. Proceed to perform the steps again, paying closer attention to the note name.

Chromatic Tuner Pedal

The pedal style chromatic tuner is very handy if you have a large board. Most players will require a proper and accurate device, especially if playing live. It isn’t always quiet enough on stages to accurately adjust. And so a proper bright display is a necessity. The benefit of the chromatic tuner pedal is that you can set it and forget it. 

Once on the board, normally first in the chain, you can turn it on and off, tune-up and get back to rocking. They are normally powered by an external supply, and so there isn’t much to do once it is installed correctly. And if you tune your guitar down a step or two, a chromatic is the only way to go.

Clip On Type

The clip-on style tuner is also a very handy little device. This unit can be stored in your case, only taken out when needed. They are usually battery powered, and so they may need a new one occasionally. But the operation is quite simple.

You simply clip the unit onto the guitar and turn it on. It’s normally clipped to the headstock where it is in perfect view. Then play a note and read the display. Adjust as necessary and you’re done.

This is great for acoustics without electronics, but is not limited to that alone. It’s another great device for beginners or even seasoned players who need a tuner in a loud room. 

Built In Microphone

Some chromatic tuners come with built-in microphones. These can also be handy if you are not in a very loud room. Noise will limit the accuracy of the device, and so it’s best used at home. A good number of them come with a microphone built in to give you a few different options. 

But this method is not quite as popular as the clip-on or direct connection types. They have their place and are a nice option to have built-in. Sometimes you can also find a built-in metronome, which then makes it a 2 in 1 device.

For Your Phone

Most people carry around a smartphone, and one quick and easy way to tune on the fly is with an app! Boss makes a great app that you can load to your phone. The chromatic tuner is ready to be loaded onto your phone and is quite accurate.

While we wouldn’t recommend the app for any professional situation, it is handy just to have it in a pinch. The app is available on smartphones as well as tablets and so you can always have one with you just in case!

Chromatic Tuner Online

Another option is a chromatic tuner online. Several websites provide players the ability to simply turn on their computer’s microphone and play a string. The online tuner will then provide a reading and allow you to adjust your instrument as needed.

This can be handy if you play at a desk with a computer. It’s quick, easy, and free. But again, it’s not a professional application and will exhibit a degree or error.

Summary

So what is a chromatic tuner? Well, it’s the end of struggling to get your instrument in tune, that’s for sure. If you are in the market for a tuner, then a chromatic model is a real benefit. Because their range will cover every note on the guitar, they are great when exploring different pitches.

Down tuning has never been easier with this type. Skill level doesn’t matter with this device, it will benefit players from all levels and provide accurate guitars quickly.

Photo of author

Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear.I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!