Like most players, I’ve been struggling with tuning for most of my guitar-playing life. At first, you don’t notice if a string is off by a cent. But the more you play, the more you’ll develop an ear for anything that is discordant. An out-of-tune guitar will really get my attention. “Dude, you’re out of tune. Check your G string; it sounds flat.” Sound familiar?
For my acoustic guitars, I almost always resorted to banging a tuning fork on something then bringing it to touch around the sound hole. That was always a mystical experience. You must admit, making a tuning fork resonate and getting the 440 note is pretty cool. Kids would have me repeatedly tune my guitar. It was that or tuning the acoustic meant tuning to another tuned guitar, if there was one nearby.
Tuning electric guitars doesn’t work with a tuning fork, however, you have many more possibilities to tune electronically. For the longest time, most multi-effects pedals included a tuner. My Boss GT-3 has one as does my Boss ME-25.
Dedicated pedal tuners offer more tuning options and are generally more precise. The Boss TU-3 has been a standard for decades. Petersen tuners are high-end, cost hundreds of dollars, and precise to .25 cents. Other tuners are precise to one cent.
You can imagine my elation when I discovered these clip-on tuners about eight years ago (dear reader: I am quite aware that I am late to writing this.). I looked at the guy at the music store where I was a regular pain-in-the-ass customer and asked him what exactly it was. He said, “You’ll like this. It will solve all your tuning issues.” I replied, “looks like a novelty item. Not sure how it works.” “It works on the resonating frequencies picked up on the headstock. It’s insanely precise, and it only costs $30.”
I picked one up. A Boss TU-10. I have been loyal to Boss products for so many years. This was a no-brainer. How can this not be good? What was the catch?
It was surprisingly fun to use until….
While convenient to use on an acoustic headstock in a well-lighted area, this product is almost unusable on electrics.
Backlighting or Lack of Thereof
Much of my guitar playing is done in a darker, dimly lighted setting. The TU-10’s display is LCD-based, meaning it is monochrome. There is no backlight as there is on other models (see my Petersen stroboCLIP Hd write-up here).
The TU-10 has a monochrome on-off mode, however, it makes visibility only slightly better. I cannot use the TU-10 in a darkly lit setting, which means I don’t bring it to campfire jams.
Use with Electric Guitars; Specifically, Fender
The TU-10 reflects the usual Boss quality and robustness we’ve all come to expect. When you hold the TU-10, it feels heavier and chunkier than other flimsier clip-on tuners. However, the way the display is fixed to the clip, flexibility comes at a loss. I consider this a design flaw, not related to its product quality.
Given the challenges of not having a proper backlight, I find myself even more challenged when trying to clip it on to my Strat or Tele. You can see why in the photos below.
The issues I’ve described with the TU-10 are based on my experience. It is not a bad product. It is just not the right product for me. Since the introduction of clip-on tuners, we’re seeing more of them used on stage. They are more convenient than having to bring your pedal tuner, which also requires additional power and patch cord, and
Last caveat about clip-on tuners, which are not specific to the Boss TU-10, but apply to the range of clip-ons out there, is that they are often lost and sometimes stolen. Clip-ons have fallen of my Fenders more than once. My TU-10 has proven to be reliable over the years. I have lost for weeks at a time (only to find it in my backyard), it’s been trampled on, chairs placed on it, but it still works.
If my TU-10 was backlit and had bigger buttons, I would really be a happy camper.