Regular Needle, LCD and LED Display Tuners
A needle, LCD or regular LED type tuner uses a microprocessor to measure the average period of the waveform. It uses this to then drive the needle or array of lights. The array of lights from LED that appears to move to left or right seems better than the meter needle of the early meter tuners. When the musician plays a single note, the tuner senses the input from the microphone or input jack (from an electric instrument). The tuner then displays the input frequency in relation to the desired pitch and indicates whether the pitch of that note is lower, higher, or approximately equal to the desired pitch. With needle displays, the note is in tune when the needle is in a 90° vertical position, with leftward or rightward deviations indicating that the note is flat or sharp, respectively. Tuners with a needle are often supplied with a backlight, so that the display can be read on a darkened stage.
For block LED or LCD display tuners, markings on the readout drift left if the note is flat and right if the note is sharp from the desired pitch. If the input frequency is matched to the desired pitch frequency the LEDs are steady in the middle and an 'in tune' reading is given.
Some LCD displays mimic needle tuners with a needle graphic that moves in the same way as a genuine needle tuner. Somewhat misleadingly, many LED displays have a 'strobe mode' that mimics strobe tuners by scrolling the flashing of the LEDs cyclically to simulate the display of a true strobe. However, these are all just display options. The way a regular tuner 'hears' and compares the input note to a desired pitch is exactly the same, with no change in accuracy. For more on how strobe tuners work see the dedicated section.
The least expensive models only detect and display a small number of pitches, often those pitches that are required to tune a given instrument (e.g., E, A, D, G, B, E of standard guitar tuning). While this type of tuner is useful for bands that only use stringed instruments such as guitar and electric bass, it is not that useful for tuning brass or woodwind instruments. Tuners at the next price point offer "chromatic tuning", which means that the device will detect and assess all of the pitches in the chromatic scale (e.g., C, C#, D, D#, etc.). Chromatic tuners can thus be used for Bb and Eb brass instruments such as saxophones and horns.
Many models have circuitry that automatically detects which pitch is being played, and then compares it against the correct pitch. Less expensive models require the musician to specify the target pitch via a switch or slider. Most low- and mid-priced electronic tuners only allow tuning to an equal temperament scale.
Electric guitar and electric bass players who perform concerts may use electronic tuners which are built into an effects pedal often called a "stomp box". These tuners have a rugged metal or heavy-duty plastic housing and a foot-operated switch to toggle between the tuner and a bypass mode. Professional guitarists may use a more expensive version of the LED tuner which is mounted in a rack-mount case, and has a larger range of LEDs, thus allowing a more accurate display of the flatness or sharpness. More expensive models allow the user to select reference pitches other than A440.
In some cases, this is used to select a different note, as in the case of bands which detune their guitars to "Eb" or "D" for a lower, more resonant sound. More subtle changes of a quarter tone or less can be made with some models. This enables instrumentalists to tune to a fixed pitch instrument such as an organ or piano that is not tuned to A440. Some Baroque musicians playing period instruments perform at lower reference pitches such as A435. Some higher-priced electronic tuners allow tuning to a range of different temperaments, which is a feature of interest to some guitarists and to harpsichord players.
Some expensive tuners also include an on-board speaker and amplifier which can sound notes, either to facilitate tuning "by ear" or to act as a pitch reference point for intonation practice, while scales or arpeggios are being practiced. Another feature offered on the most expensive tuners is an adjustable "read time", which determines whether the circuitry will attempt to make a quick assessment of the pitch, or make its assessment over a longer period. Due to their combination of all the above mentioned features, very high-quality needle tuners are suitable for tuning the different types of instruments in an orchestra; these are sometimes called "orchestral tuners".
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