There are sounds we encounter as musicians that are about as thrilling as bad karaoke—microphone feedback, 60-cycle hum, the echo of an empty hall as you take the stage. Not much is worse than the clang of an out-of-tune guitar, but the agonizing din of a guitarist getting in tune certainly comes close. In an effort to eliminate that vibe-killing dead time from all of our lives, TC Electronic has come up with a revolutionary concept: a polyphonic tuner that allows any axe slinger to check the tuning of all their strings simultaneously.
The PolyTune ($99 street) is pretty remarkable— simply strum all open strings, and the pedal’s LED display gives individual readings for each string. If a string is sharp, red lines appear above that string’s baseline LED; if flat, lines appear below the baseline. If you pluck an individual string, the PolyTune automatically switches to a more traditional monophonic mode that displays one of two readout styles (needle or sweeping strobe).
The PolyTune is both small and sturdy. It runs on either a battery or a 9V adaptor, and can power other pedals via daisy-chain. Engaging the pedal in either monophonic or polyphonic mode mutes the output. TC Electronic reports the pedal’s accuracy to be within one cent in polyphonic mode, and a half-cent in monophonic mode.
In testing, the PolyTune’s polyphonic mode performed much better with guitar than with bass; the open-string rumble of bass strings left the pedal perplexed as to which strings were out of tune. Strumming 12th-fret harmonics seemed to lesson the pedal’s confusion, but I still found the monophonic mode to be far more accurate.
As a bassist who plays a fair share of gigs on guitar, I really dug the PolyTune’s polyphonic capability. Though I was bummed that feature didn’t work as well with bass, I found the pedal’s other qualities—clear LED display, small footprint, and daisy-chain power potential—to make the PolyTune an otherwise worthy pedal tuner.