Review: Roadie 3 motorized multi-tool for stringed instruments
After completing its third successful Kickstarter, Band Industries started shipping the Roadie 3 – a kind of electronic multi-tool for string pickers – out to backers in November 2020. As with the previous generations, we got sent one to try.
At a glance:
- Combined peg turner, tuner and metronome
- Can work as a gig bag-friendly standalone device
- Tune-ups and string changes are quick and easy
Before taking a closer look at the Roadie 3 and diving into the review, let's have a quick recap. A Kickstarter was launched by startup Band Industries in November 2013 to fund the production of a gadget designed to take some of the strain out of regular stringed-instrument tune ups. The original Roadie combined a motorized peg turner with an app-based tuning system to bring a guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo and other stringed instruments with tunings pegs to pitch quickly and easily.
The Kickstarter was successful and we took the device for a test drive in early 2015 and it worked quite well, though our experience wasn't completely free of issues. Even though the designers had included algorithms to deal with background noise, the setup made use of the microphone on the smartphone or tablet running the app to register the pitch of plucked strings – so loud environments could be troublesome. And sometimes the Roadie did seem to lose its way and needed an assist. Still, nine times out of 10 the Roadie did its job without a hitch, and our dedicated tuning devices didn't see much use at all.
For the next iteration, the device became much more independent of the app. The Roadie 2 launched on Kickstarter in March 2017 and rather than rely on a smart device's microphone for pitch detection, Band Industries integrated vibration detection technology into the device itself. This effectively made the level of background noise pretty much irrelevant.
Again, the campaign proved a success and we got to try out generation two later that year. The OLED screen proved clear, navigation intuitive and accuracy spot on. And the included LED light prevented wayward peg stabbing in low light. The device could be used independent of the companion app, but would occasionally remind us to connect over Bluetooth – useful for checking for firmware updates.
A bigger version with a more powerful motor was launched at the same time as the Roadie 2, which we got to try mid-2018, and the Roadie Bass is still available for low-end thumpers. A Kickstarter for the latest generation began in May 2020, and shipments to backers were completed by the end of the year. The Roadie 3 is now on general sale for US$129. And that pretty much brings us up to date.
The best of the bunch
All of the Roadies thus far have rocked similar pistol-grip designs, but this new model marks something of a departure from the norm. The peg gripper has been moved from the side to the top and the light, which now remains on while the device is powered on, has been incorporated into the power button. The knurled dial around the power button on the Roadie 2 has been replaced by a four-way rocker button, which we found very responsive and intuitive to use. And the simple OLED display of the previous model has also been upgraded to a bright and sharp full-color LCD screen.
As we've tried out every version of the Roadie so far, we were quite familiar with the basic functionality but for anyone new to the device, we'd consider the quickstart guide that comes in the box to be far too basic. Indeed, in order to get to grips with much of the new functionality on offer here, we had to head to the product page and support sections of the company's website.
So let's run through how we set up the Roadie 3 to tune one of our six-string electric guitars. First, we had to add an instrument profile. Band Industries says that it's important to set up a separate profile for each instrument you use, rather than just a generic guitar or ukulele, so that the device can learn its particular character over time. The stringed instrument type list includes over a dozen defaults, including electric and acoustic guitars, ukuleles, mandolin, banjo and lap steel. The motor here isn't designed to tackle bass guitars, but as already mentioned, there is a separate Roadie for such things.
We then confirmed the number of strings on our electric, and gave it a name. Navigating to the right brought up the tuner screen where standard tuning is selected by default, but if that's not what you need then pressing right again brings you to a menu to choose from the large list of available tunings. You can also change the A4 reference pitch if desired or opt to tune with a capo attached to the instrument. And the instrument can also be renamed or deleted, too.
Rather than stick to standard, we selected Open G for our first test run and returned to the colorful tuning screen. Then we placed the peg turner on the peg of the lowest string and plucked the string. The Roadie 3 runs from lowest to highest string by default, but that can be changed in the settings.
The vibration sensing technology has been upgraded for the new Roadie to zero in on only what's happening at the instrument and ignore everything else, so the Roadie 3 can be used in the midst of loud background noise. We found that it only took one or two string picks before the Roadie vibrated and sounded a beep to declare the string had been brought to pitch, though it took a couple more when strings were way out of tune.
By default, the Roadie is set to prioritize speed, and tuning all six strings from over a step down on each string took around the 15 second mark, on average. There is an option to give accuracy the upper hand though, which does add a few seconds to the experience. But either way, we found tune-ups to be quick and easy, and markedly quieter than with the Roadies that have gone before. And everything lined up nicely when checked against our pedalboard Pitchblack Poly tuner, too. Nice.
Once a new instrument is set up and stored in the device's memory, the tuning screen is the first to appear after navigating to an instrument in the list.
A change is as good as a rest
Every so often, you'll need to change your strings. The Roadie 3 incorporates a motorized string winder/unwinder to help make this task less laborious, and at 120 RPM, the motor is twice the speed of the Roadie 2. But this time there's a new twist.
Where restringing and bringing to pitch were previously undertaken as separate tasks, now it's now possible to do so in one action – sort of. As before, the new Roadie has a dedicated wind/unwind function but that's there just for turning pegs. If you want to restring and tune in one operation, you'll need to head back to the tuning screen and long press right on the name of the string that you've replaced.
It won't wind and bring to tune completely on its own though – and will just keep going and going until your new string snaps if you don't get involved (as we discovered ourselves). So the idea is that you feel for when the string is approaching tension and then release the long press so that the device enters tuning mode. You then pick the string as you would in normal tuning mode until it's brought to the correct pitch.
It did take us a few tries before we settled into a comfortable rhythm, but this two-pronged process got the job done quicker and easier than restringing manually from scratch, even when making use of the Roadie's wind/unwind function.
The last of the main features on the device itself is a versatile metronome. This will be of enormous help to those who want to keep perfect time without having to invest in a separate clicker or beeper.
The user can set the beats per minute and beat count, and can also opt to have the device beep, vibrate or just display the timing onscreen – or combinations of actions. For solo practice, having the timing beep might be preferable, for example, but if you're at rehearsal, steady beats vibrating in your pocket could be more useful. Whatever your poison, we found this to be a very versatile and useful aid.
There's an app for that
The Roadie 3 can be used as a completely standalone device, but pairing it with the companion iOS/Android app opens up more functionality, means you can save your instrument profiles somewhere other than the device itself, allows for firmware updates to be applied (the firmware has been updated twice since we started our review), and more.
As well as Bluetooth being active on our Android device, the internet connection also needed to be on, which could be an issue if your monthly mobile data allowance is low, as the first thing that the app does is to check for firmware updates.
In addition to being able to undertake some general housekeeping, such as changing the order of instruments that appear on the Roadie's list, the app will also appeal to players who like to have more control, as it's possible to add custom instruments to the list, generate your own custom tunings one string at a time (including modifying the frequency), and generally dive deeper into bowels of the Roadie tuner's capabilities.
We actually found that creating new instrument profiles via the app was much easier and quicker than doing so on the device itself, and allows for things like the brand to be included. We did have issues saving multiple changes with one app/Roadie sync though, so would recommend performing a sync after each tweak, addition or deletion.
If you opt to register for an account, your tunings, instruments and settings will be backed up in the cloud, too.
The bottom line
The Roadie 3 supports string gauges up to 75 (my Skinny Top, Heavy Bottom sets run from 10 to 52, while my XLs rock 10 to 46, by way of example), has a 27.5-Hz to 668.84-Hz detection range, and the 500-mAh Li-Po battery is reckoned good for more than 150 strings per charge. We've performed over a hundred tune-ups and a couple of total restrings during our review time and still have life in the battery.
Personally, I preferred the pistol grip design of the earlier Roadies, but the new shape is comfortable and can make the LCD screen visible while tuning. The housing has a rubber-like feel to it, which should help with sweaty hands, the 4-way click wheel worked well for navigation, and the addition of the metronome function proved very welcome for practice.
Of course, those perfectly happy with their existing chromatic tuner and manual peg turner may not be tempted, but we'd highly recommend the Roadie 3 for anyone looking for a new tuner that does a good deal more than just tune – it could be particularly useful for guitar techs regularly changing strings and keeping instruments in perfect pitch, and for those new to playing a stringed instrument who want a quick and easy way to tune up, keep time, change strings and more. It's on sale now for $129.
Product page: Roadie 3