It’s an essential bit of kit, but it's hard to get really excited by the humble guitar tuner. Until recently, that is. Now, polyphonic is the new buzz word in the tuning world and we’ve been putting the latest, clip-on Polyphonic tuner through its paces. The results? In a word: stunning.
TC Electronics introduced its first polyphonic tuner – PolyTune – around five years ago to glowing praise. It was a foot-pedal tuner and was followed by a more improved PolyTune 2 foot pedal in 2013. But this new device, the PolyTune Clip, is said to improve on both of these first two releases and has the added flexibility of being clip on. So you can tune just about anything with it, unlike the pedal version which needed to be connected with a 1/4 inch lead. Indeed, it’s the first ever clip on polyphonic tuner to hit the market.
If you haven't heard about Polyphonic tuning, do yourself a favor and try it out. Instead of listening to just one string, this thing listens to the whole fretboard at once. Strum your guitar, and a series of very bright LCDs light up for each string showing which is flat or sharp. Then pluck just a single string and the tuner instantly moves to chromatic mode and works like a standard tuner. Only better.
Firstly, the PolyTune Clip is fast and steady. It picks up the note very quickly and very accurately. The standard tuning mode is quick and easy and possibly all some users will need. But things get really interesting when you enter strobe mode and gain an incredible accuracy of +/- 0.02 cent. The chromatic tuner is quicker, just, but accurate to +/- 0.05 cent. You can hear the difference.
The unit also has modes to help tune open chords, key changes, tuning with a capo on, and a bass mode for ultra low frequency tuning. And they all work. And work well. We tried tuning an electric guitar, steel string acoustic, nylon string acoustic, a bass, a 12 string acoustic and a mandolin and it handled all without a problem.
Structurally, it’s a strong little device, with a stainless steel clip and a solid overall feel for such a tiny unit. It sits nicely on the headstock of the guitar and the screen flips around automatically depending on which way you have it placed, so the reading is always clear. The LED lights are very bright and the way the clip displays your tuning makes it easy to dial in the right note, or work out which string is out of tune. It also remembers the last mode you were in, making navigating and general use a cinch. There are three buttons –one to turn it on and off and the other two to switch between modes and tunings. Lastly, the lithium coin battery is said to give 18 hours of tuning pleasure – which is a lot!
So is this the tuner to replace all others? Not quite. Personally, I’ll use this little thing around 90 per cent of the time. Great for teaching music, band practice, personal practice and for quickly changing tunings on the fly or for tweaking strings during a session.
But, for performing, the pedal (PolyTune 2) is still my go to tuning tool. Mainly because it takes direct signal from my electric guitar, has a true by-pass system that doesn't mess with my tone and, best of all, cuts the signal completely and quietly when I step on the foot switch so I can tune on stage in silence. In practice I suspect the PolyTune Clip will remain on my guitar at the same time as I play for on the fly tweaks (mid song or for quick song changes). The pedal will be used when time permits.
Even after using this thing for a week, I’d already feel lost (and out of tune) without it –traditional tuners no longer cut it. To be honest, it’s difficult to see how the PolyTune Clip could be improved upon, and that’s rare for a product in any market.
And I haven't got to the best news yet. And that’s the price. You can pick one of these up for US$50. At that price, you could almost justify two – one for home and one for travel.
Take a closer look at the the PolyTune Clip in the video below.
Product page: TC Electronic PolyTune Clip