Violin Tuners: So Many Choices!

Pitch perfect

music-musical-note-note-photography-sheet-favim-com-323852Hey everyone! If you’re like me, you enjoy having lots of options when it comes to your purchases. I don’t like to settle. I like to tailor my acquisitions to best meet my overall needs. Well, fortunately for us, that’s exactly the position we find ourselves in when it comes to violin tuners!

Now, many of these tuners can be used for other instruments as well. It’s such a great feeling: I can have one tuner that tunes every instrument I have. It’s like in The Lord of the Rings! ONE TUNER TO RULE THEM ALL! Well, don’t mind my really bad jokes. Stick with me here and let’s jump into a comprehensive list of what’s available to you as a violinist who wants to keep their fine fiddle in tune.

I always like to get everything out in front of me before I tackle a task, so let’s do that:

1) Pitch Pipe
2) Tuning Fork
3) Piano(preferably electric but more on that later)
4) A microphone-driven hand held tuner. These include : An online microphone-driven tuner (computer or similar device), or a microphone-driven tuner via a downloaded app on your phone.
5) A clip-on style tuner that reads the vibrations of your instrument

Pitch Pipe

The Pitch pipe is a tried and true method for tuning. It relies on metal tubing and blowing air through the holes in the tubing to create the pitches to which one can tune their four violin strings. I used this method throughout my youth and it has been viable for decades.

It’s a great way to tune your violin but there’s one issue: you have to be able to match pitches and tell if one pitch is higher or lower than another. What this means is your aural(ear) training and ability to recognize pitches has to be somewhat developed. For this reason, a pitch pipe can be difficult for the day-one beginner to use.

Tuning Fork

This is another method from yesteryear. For violinists, we use a tuning fork set to ring an A 440 Hz. In order to use the tuning fork, you tap the tuning fork on a hard surface and allow it to ring. Then gently place the ball end of the fork on the top of the violin in order to allow it to amplify via the resonating chamber of the violin. If your A string is perfectly in tune with the A of the fork, your open A string will ring sympathetically.

If not, you then tune your A to the ringing pitch and subsequently tune your D using your ear to make an interval of a 5th below the A. You then tune your G by using your ear to make an interval of a 5th below the D. Once you’ve tuned the other strings, you tune your E by making an interval of a 5th above your A string.

It’s a very portable method. However, it’s also subject to the same issues as the pitch pipe in that you are required to have a somewhat developed ear in order take full advantage of this form of tuning.

Piano

The piano is another ear-driven method for tuning your violin. In this case, we would play pitches on the piano, then tune those strings to match the E, A, D, and G strings. An acoustic piano can go out of tune, so I don’t recommend using that as your source for tuning only because it is subject to going out of tune itself (the exception is if you are performing with accompaniment from an acoustic piano. In that case, use it as your reference).

For that reason, I would suggest that one use an electric piano. Electric pianos are digital and therefore on the perfect pitch 99.9% of the time(I save that 0.1 % just in case of an electronic or computing malfunction in the piano software). However, we’re still talking about ear training, which is a skill that a day-one beginner may not have.

A Handheld Microphone Tuner

These come in many different shapes and sizes. They’re basically any device that allows you to play a pitch on your violin and have it picked up via microphone on the device and an indicator show you what pitch is being played and if that pitch is in tune. These are generally quite accurate and allow you no guess work when it comes to whether or not you are on pitch.

They can be technically difficult to use if you don’t like technology, particularly the online tuner and the downloadable tuning apps. The only drawback is that one still needs to know where pitches are in relation to each other (for example, D# is a half step lower than E), and the specific octave in which the pitch that your violin is playing resides.

For example, let’s say you’re attempting to tune your E and it’s reading as a C. Is that the C above or below the E that the violin uses? There’s the tricky part. To be honest, most of these methods suffer from this drawback. Online tuners and tuning apps are great because they can tell you which pitch your instrument’s open string is playing and they can play a loud tone to which you can match your E, A, D, or G string to. But when we go into the matching of pitches, we’re now back to the issue of having an ear developed enough to recognize the difference in pitches.

Clip-on Tuners

I mainly use clip-on violin tuners these days unless Im playing a solo concert with an acoustic piano or Im playing with an orchestra (where there would be an A played for me to tune to. Since Im playing with other acoustic instruments, it is ideal to match their tuning). These tuners generally work by clipping onto the scroll or upper bout of the violin, depending on which model you are using.

The contact points of the clip will read the vibrations from the strings that are transferred into the wood of the violin and therefore, the scroll. This is the difference between the microphone tuner verses the clip on tuner. Past this, the tuners work essentially the same way in that they are generally very accurate in reading and displaying the pitch of the string that is being struck or bowed.

This is generally my personal favorite tuning method because it doesn’t require the room in which you are tuning to be quiet. This can be very helpful if you are performing on stage, or in a room full of family and friends. Though this is a great method, we still suffer from the same issue of needing to recognize where, in the spectrum of pitches, the current pitch lies. Is it above the A that I want? Is it below the A that I want? These are the questions we will have to ask. Check out this article on how to tune your violin for more info on that.

Now that we’ve talked about our choices, let’s talk about a few tuners and brands to give us options for purchase.

 

strumaz-clip-on-tunerStrumaz Clip-on Tuner

The Strumaz Clip-On Tuner is so versatile that it’s almost hard to believe. It’s modes include Guitar, Bass, Violin, Ukulele, and Chromatic. This means you can literally tune any instrument known to mankind.

With this tuner, you can tune in standard 440 Hz or slightly up or down in that range. This tuner clips onto the scroll of your violin and reads the vibrations the instrument produces. This is particularly handy if you’re in a noisy room.

The display is large and colorful, but not obtrusive, it doesn’t get in the way. The manufacturer states that this tuner is very strong and they will replace it if it breaks with normal use. The clip is padded so it will not affect your instrument, tarnish it, or blemish the instrument in any way.

This tuner allows you to tune in chromatic mode (where it picks up any pitch within the tuner’s vast range) or violin mode, where it will focus on, detect, and aid in tuning just the four specific pitches and in the specific ranges used by the open strings of the violin (E, A, D, G).

This tuner stores easily in your violin case or carrying bag. An added benefit is that this tuner can be used for any instrument, but is suited very well for the violin. The Strumaz tuner has fantastic reviews across the board and one of it’s high points is it’s affordability. This tuner is very budget friendly.

Pros:

  • Easy to Carry
  • Not Affected by Noise
  • Sturdy Construction
  • Tunes Multiple Instruments
  • Tunes in Multiple Modes
  • Top-notch Reviews
  • Manufacturer replacement if damaged through normal use
  • Budget Friendly

 

Cons:

  • May be confusing to use or access all features

 

snark-sn-5Snark SN-5 Tuner

Here we have another clip-on tuner for multiple instruments. I’ve used this and other clip-on violin tuners to great effect. This particular tuner tunes violins, guitars, and bass guitars.

The Snark SN-5 is light, portable, and stows conveniently in a small area. The screen is very visible and swivels in all directions for easy viewing. This tuner allows for 440 Hz tuning and is adjustable from 415 to 466 Hz (a moveable A).

The Snark SN-5 tuner also tunes via picking up the vibrations the strings produce that travel through the body, and is therefore another great choice for tuning in noisy locations. With a secure, padded clip, this tuner will sit on your violin scroll and won’t blemish the instrument. This tuner tunes in chromatic mode exclusively. It doesn’t have specific modes that select only the pitches of the strings of the violin.

Still, the ability to tune any instrument (via the chromatic mode) is useful. This tuner has a 10 second timer that automatically turns off the tuner in order to save battery. This is a welcome feature! These clip-on tuners do tend to get left on and run through batteries, so it’s nice to have a fail safe built in.

This tuner has received excellent reviews and praise from many and it’s also another budget friendly option for your tuning needs. The tuner isn’t the most beautiful thing you’re ever going to see, but with all the features provided, it’s barely a con.

Pros:

  • Easy to Carry
  • Not Affected by Noise
  • Tunes Multiple Instruments
  • Top-notch Reviews
  • Battery saver automatic turn off
  • Moveable “A” Hz tuning
  • Well-lit and visible screen
  • Budget Friendly

 

Cons:

  • May be confusing to use or access all features
  • Does not have dedicated tuning mode for specific violin strings
  • Mediocre aesthetics

 

kliq-metropitchKLIQ Metropitch Tuner

The KLIQ Metropitch Tuner is absolutely stacked with features. It almost doesn’t get any better than this. For starters, it tunes from A0-C8. Translation: it can tune every pitch on an acoustic piano, which means absolutely no instrument is too high or too low for this tuner’s processor to recognize.

It’s not quite as compact as some of the clip-on tuners, but it is still quite portable and comes with a nice carrying case. This tuner has specific tuning modes for violin, guitar, bass, ukulele and chromatic (meaning any and every pitch). It takes AAA batteries which can actually be quite convenient as other tuners require watch-style batteries that are more difficult to come by.

It has a moveable tuning pitch feature meaning you can raise or lower your “A” within the range of 410-480, with 440 Hz being the concert standard. The screen lights up entirely green when you have hit your pitch dead on, so there’s no confusion about whether or not you are on the pitch.

Changing the metronome or using other features requires you to use the thumb wheel and I can say from experience that this is by far and away faster and more enjoyable than poking at a button until you reach your desired setting. It’s got an input jack for headphones in case one wanted to use the metronome without disturbing anyone else in the room.

Speaking of the metronome, it has a range of 30-250 BPM and also has a tap feature that allows you to simply tap a button and set the metronome speed you would like. Talk about a time saver (pun intended). There is a volume control for the speaker of the metronome as well for spacial listening. Additionally, there are two 1/4 inch jack inputs for guitar/piano/bass/violin/anything that can have this type of cable plugged into it.

This works well for noisy rooms, but requires wires and requires your violin to have a pickup on it to use effectively. One can also tune via the on-board microphone, where the tuner hears your note and registers it visually. This is not optimal for noisy rooms or on-stage, but is certainly useful during rehearsals or practices.

There is also a tone generator option where you can make the tuner produce the exact pitch of the string you are trying to tune and then you match your string to the pitch. This is also very useful for ear training in the future and your teacher may enjoy having this feature for instructional purposes.

When tuning normally, without the use of the tone generator, this tuner instantly recognizes pitches. It’s processor is very fast and very accurate. An added benefit is the manufacturer’s 3 year warranty. If it breaks or stops working, KLIQ will replace it or give you 100% of your money back. did I mention it also has a back kickstand for propping up on flat surfaces? Yes, this truly is a treasure trove of features.

The downside for this tuner might be that it simply has SO many features that it could be frustrating to learn them all. It’s hardly a detractor, but something to consider. There are only two color options, but again, nothing that’s a deal breaker.

What might have some effect on your decision of whether or not to purchase is that it does not clip on to your violin and therefore requires either a plug-in, tone generation, or microphone use to tune your instrument. If you’re in a noisy room or onstage, this may be a problem. This is slightly higher in price than the other tuners on our list, but it’s nothing that will break the bank, so still relatively budget friendly.

Pros:

  • Easy to carry
  • Tunes multiple instruments via 5 different modes
  • Top-notch reviews
  • Moveable “A” Hz tuning
  • Well-lit and visible screen
  • Relatively budget friendly
  • Built-in metronome
  • Extremely wide tuning range
  • 3-Year replacement warranty
  • Tone generator

 

Cons:

  • Tuning via microphone results in noisy rooms being a problem
  • May be confusing to use or access all features
  • Mediocre aesthetics
  • Relatively budget friendly

 

planet-waves-tuning-forkPlanet Waves Tuning Fork, Key of A

Here we are with a blast from the past. Don’t let anyone disparage these methods, they have worked for hundreds of years. That said, they’re also the ones with the least features.

Tuning forks are truly a minimalist’s approach to tuning. If you understand intervals and know how to find other pitches from one you’ve been given, this method will work for you.

The Planet Waves Tuning Fork, Key of A tuner comes in either E 329.6 or A 440 (both in Hz). Getting both wont hurt you at all, it might actually help. The tuning forks are color coded so you can tell the difference. They are very durable and come with a stable grip.

The one you most require is the A, as orchestras and chamber groups alike will provide an A for you to tune to and then use your knowledge of intervals to find the D, G, and E (but if you get the E fork as well, you will have an additional way to tune your E).

These tuning forks are compact and fit easily in any case or music bag. Many people enjoy having these as back-ups for their electronic tuners. If the batteries die on your modern methods, they reach for the tuning forks (they don’t require electricity). I suppose one could say that this is a long-term cost effective strategy.

At any rate, these tuners are machined to be incredibly accurate with their pitch production and are chrome coated for durability and luster. I want to stress that one must know a bit of music theory and intervals in order to use this method effectively. If you do, simply tap the fork on a hard surface (NOT your instrument), and then place the ball end on the top of your violin for amplification of the pitch.

TIP: If your open A string rings sympathetically with the pitch of your tuning fork during this process, your string is perfectly tuned.

Pros:

  • Extremely simple to use
  • Highly durable
  • Easy to carry
  • Color coded for pitch
  • Does not require batteries
  • Good aesthetics

 

Cons:

  • Requires some knowledge of music theory
  • Limited features

Final thoughts

Fun personal fact: In every musical group I’ve ever played in, Im known as the guy who likes to tune. I can’t stand being even slightly off pitch, and if I am, I want it to be because I made a mistake, and not because my instrument did. I also love things that are functional and effective. Any of these tuning devices, if kept up, will serve you well and make sure that you’re always on pitch and musically always on point!

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