The tuner pedal is the most humble and arguably one of the most important pedals on your board.
The reason is no amount of expensive gear will sound remotely good if your guitar is not in tune.
I must admit, ordering your pedals (including the tuner) can be tricky to understand if you are new to setting up a pedalboard.
For this reason, I created this post as the quick guide to knowing where to position a tuner pedal on your pedalbord. Also explaining the important reason why it goes there. So let’s dive right in…
The Main Answer
The tuner pedal should go first in the effect signal chain. This is to allow the cleanest signal into the pedal for viewing the most accurate tuning pitch. Positioning the tuner pedal after other effects (distortion, modulation, EQ pedals, etc) can distort the notes in the signal affecting pitch accuracy.
The Second Reason
The other reason tuner pedals usually go first in the chain is because it will mute the signal for silent tuning. This is definitely a requirement for the live gigging guitarists out there.
The reason is no audience wants to hear the annoying and irritating sound of a live guitarist tuning up on stage. (unprofessional and highly annoying!)
Example of a Simple Pedalboard
So let’s put this all together with a simple picture.
Remember, your pedals signal always starts from right to left. So the tuner pedal will go at the very right of the signal chain (beginning.)
So with this in mind, here’s a helpful image below of a basic pedalboard setup.
What About Other Orders?
Technically, the tuner can be positioned anywhere on your pedalboard. First, last or least common in the middle of the chain!
After all, pedal placement is subjective and always will be.
Basically, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to ordering your pedal chain.
However, there are guidelines to follow when placing certain pedals to get the most out of them including the tuner.
And for this reason, as we have discussed the tuner pedal will want the cleanest and purest signal coming through the unit.
After Distortions and Other Effects
If you were to order a tuner pedal after (to the left) of a chorus or distortion pedal (very uncommon) for this example. This will not be ideal for getting the clearest signal to your tuner.
The reason is a chorus pedal will naturally detune notes making it difficult for the tuner pedal to receive the correct pitch giving you a false reading when trying to tune your guitar accurately.
Likewise, if you were to place your distortions after your tuner pedal, distortions naturally color the signal and notes which will mask them again giving your tuner a hard time picking up notes and tracking them effectively.
Also, it means you will have to turn off effect effects pedals when you want to go and tune your guitar.
Now for the basic and simple task of tuning my guitar, I do not want to be tap dancing with my pedals, and I’m sure you do not want to either.
The Verdict on Tuner Order
So if you are fairly new to pedal placement, positioning your tuner pedal first would be the solid option when it comes to pedal order.
If you look at rig rundown style videos on YouTube, 90% of the professional and famous guitarists will have a tuner first in line.
With that said, there’s no harm in experimenting with other orders to suit your style and personal preference.
I always recommend experimenting with your gear to find a winning combination that works for you.
Chromatic vs Polyphonic
If you have a tuner pedal or looking to upgrade from a headstock ‘clip on’ or any other type?
You may find it useful to know the different types of tuner pedals on the market. The most common pedals are ‘Chromatic’ and ‘Polyphonic’ pedals. let’s explain the differences between them both.
Chromatic tuners are the most common type of tuners and more importantly the most versatile compared to a non-chromatic tuner.
The advantage to a chromatic tuner is that you can tune your guitar to any note in the scale. Meaning you can tune to alternate tunings such as drop and open tunings for example.
Whereas non-chromatic tuners can only interpret and register standard tuning (EADGBE.) So if you played a high E string, the tuner will only receive how flat or sharp the pitch is in relation to the note E.
For this reason, the chromatic tuner is the industry standard option to go when selecting one for tuning your guitar on your pedalboard.
Polyphonic tuners are somewhat of new technology when it comes to the guitar tuner.
I wouldn’t say they have revolutionized the wheel but they are certainly a different option. So what makes them unique?
The main difference is you have the ability to tune all the strings of your guitar at once. If you are not sure what that means let me explain…
How They Work
When you hit all the strings at once (open strings) a polyphonic tuner will display all the strings pitch (in a handy interface) so you can tweak the strings that may have slipped out of tune.
The advantage to this is that you can tune your guitar with one sweep of the open strings making less effort compared to a chromatic tuner.
But in reality, it only shaves a fraction of the time than tuning each string individually so it is not a huge time saver but it is a cool feature regardless.
What is a ‘buffer’ inside a pedal?
A buffer is a device inside a pedal to increase the signal strength to avoid loss of signal, tone and high-end. Buffers are useful for keeping the core tone unaffected if you are running a large pedalboard with lots of cables that can remove tone from the chain.
What does ‘true bypass’ mean?
‘True bypass’ pedals allow the signal to bypass the pedal with no interference or loading when the pedal is switched off in bypass mode (off.) It means the pedal will not boost the signal when switched off and remain unaffected.
Thanks for ‘Tunning In!’
I must admit, the tuner pedal is not exactly the most glamorous or sexiest pedal within your pedalboard.
Players (me included) get far more excited by the large selection of distortions/overdrives, crazy octaves, and shimmering reverb and delays rather than a dull tuner pedal.
With that said, you could be rocking a custom shop guitar wired to the biggest collection of premium boutique pedals fed to an expensive handmade amplifier.
And none of this will sound remotely good during a performance if your guitar is not in tune.
So with this point, the tuner pedal is actually an important piece of the puzzle for optimal sound and should not be overlooked.
Before You Go…
If you liked this post and found it informative. I suggest you read ‘where to place an octave pedal in the signal chain.’ This post is the full guide to correctly ordering an octave pedal on your pedalboard.