The iPhone has revolutionized so many things. One area that has been revolutionized is the world of music; specifically, the way we tune our stringed instruments. The first time I downloaded an app that could help me tune my guitar I was pretty skeptical. In my mind nothing on my phone was going to replace my Boss TU-3 on my pedal board, it just wasn’t going to happen.
Update 07-01-2010: iStroboSoft works with iOS 4 now. Peterson has updated the app!
Update 06-22-2010: iStroboSoft does not work on iOS 4, the strobe no longer functions correctly. This is something that has been commented on in the App Store so hopefully Peterson will fix it soon.
Now, to be honest, I haven’t tried all the apps out there for tuning. I haven’t even tried most of them. There are just so many tuner apps available and because I found that after I tried one and read about the others, they all pretty much suffered from the same ill, the iPhone mic.
The first app I tried was Guitar Toolkit which is a great app for chord and scale references. The tuner works well, but again, it uses the built-in mic on the phone to pick up the tone of the string.
In the quiet of my living room, I can use the built-in iPhone mic to tune my guitar. However, while on stage it doesn’t work so well. I pretty much figured the idea of tuning my bass, or guitar on stage was going to be left to the pros and a stomp box or rack mount tuner.
Then, I discovered Peterson Strobe Tuners.
Quite by accident one day while checking out Victor Wooten’s gear page I noticed that he uses Peterson Strobe Tuners. Down at the bottom of the page, under the picture of his StroboStomp 2 pedal, he mentions that Peterson makes an iPhone app. After a quick Google search I found it.
It’s called iStroboSoft (iTunes App Store) and it works the same way as their famous StroboSoft 2.0 Software and StroboStomp Pedal Tuner, but it only costs $9.99 in the app store. That peeked my interest. I then discovered that they sold an ¼” iPhone/iTouch Adapter Cable for $12.99 which allows you to plug a guitar or bass straight into the phone so you don’t have to use the iPhone mic!
I downloaded the app and ordered the adaptor straight away and have been using it ever since in my bass rig. I run a dedicated line out from my GK head straight to the iPhone. Now on stage I just hit my tuning mute button, wake my iPhone and tune away.
I’ve been using iStroboSoft for a couple months now and have to say it’s the best tuner I’ve ever used. It features a strobe display which allows you to achieve pin-point accuracy when tuning. It features 1/10th-cent accuracy which is up to 30 times better than the accuracy of needle/LED tuners.
It has a note/octave window which displays the correct note and octave for the note being tuned. The cents display allows you to see how far out of tune your note is in cent values.
It has glowing flat and sharp indicators that assist when tuning a note very far from the target position. That comes in handy because when you’re really far out of tune on a note. It can be difficult to gauge which direction the strobe is moving.
A noise filter is used just in case you do need to use the iPhone mic, an external mic, or a clip-on tuning device to help reduce the effect of extraneous environmental noise during tuning.
For the low E on my bass I’ve found the input boost option to be invaluable. The input boost will raise all input frequencies by +24dB.
Finally, when you rotate the phone into landscape mode the tuner goes into full screen mode. This allows the strobe display to be maximized so that you can see it better from a distance.
It might seem a little silly to replace a Boss TU-3 which works just fine with an iPhone app, just for the sake of using my iPhone, but that’s not it at all. Strobe tuners are simply more accurate. As one of the answers on the Peterson FAQ page says:
A tuner can only be accurate if its display is accurate. This may sound obvious, but can a tuner really be accurate if it only has a simple green light to indicate “in tune”? Can it tell you accurately how out-of-tune you are? Can it display with equal accuracy over the entire range? Unless it has a high-definition display, the answer is of course, NO!
LED and needle-type displays are very basic and are not capable of displaying exact pitch. For example, some tuners use LED displays but never use more than twenty lights to represent 100 cents (the span of one equally-tempered semitone, or one “half-step”). This forces them to compromise or simplify the readout. This also applies to tuners with a so-called “strobe mode”.
Similarly, needle tuners have a limited number of reference points across the dial (about a dozen) which has the same effect. If you hold a switched off “LCD/needle” meter at a slant, you will see these reference points already mapped out!