Hands-on review: Peterson StroboClip tuner: Good thing, small package

(Dave Molter | Posted 2010-10-04)

Hands-on review: Peterson StroboClip tuner: Good thing, small package

Asked once to explain how he became so adept at giving between-song talks in concert, ex-Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel explained, “I was in a band with three 12-string guitars before electronic tuners were invented.”

There’s no dearth of electronic tuning products on the market these days – a far cry from the early days of rock, when tuning was catch as catch can and depended on the musician’s ability to match a note from a tuning fork, harmonica or keyboard. Peterson pioneered the use of strobe tuning in a stompbox, and now the company has upped the bar significantly with the introduction of the StroboClip – as its name implies, a clip-on strobe tuner designed for all instruments and packed with features that should have multi-instrumentalists smiling.

Powered by a single CR2032 battery, the StroboClip is small, lightweight and designed to be clipped to the headstock, bridge or bell of the instrument being tuned. Because the StroboClip reacts to vibration rather than sound, it’s perfect for tuning in noisy environments – onstage or even in a symphony orchestra, where nearly 100 instrumentalists may be trying to tune at the same time. Its orange and black backlit display is easy to read in dark environments, and it’s sensitive — but not too sensitive, — and accurate to 0.1 cent. Best of all, street price is less than $70, making it supremely affordable for nearly any player.

First glance
With its metal housing, the StroboClip is durable yet lightweight and a snap to operate right out of its metal box. Just push the power button, clip it on your instrument and play a note. Unlike needle or LED tuners, the StroboClip uses a rotating light bar “wheel” that moves left for flat, right for sharp. The faster the rotation, the further out of tune you are. For those not used to this type of display, it may take a few tries to judge when you’re in tune, but the process is fairly intuitive. Peterson wisely explains in the owner’s manual that the display may never truly stop moving because of the sustain and decay characteristics of notes. However, accuracy is such that most users should be able to tune to extremely close tolerances quite easily. Petersen suggests that for instruments normally played with a pick, tuning be done by plucking the string with a thumb or finger.

The StroboClip comes factory set to A=440Hz, but it can be adjusted from A=400 to A=490. Auto power off puts the tuner to sleep three minutes after the last not is detected. The unit has a large, rubber-padded clip that attaches easily to a headstock, bridge or even the bell or a brass or woodwind instrument. The display area rotates for easy viewing in playing position.

However, although the StroboClip works well for all instruments, it’s being touted as the best strobe tuner for instruments that have rapid decay times. Here’s why: the StroboClip includes a Sustain mode, which when activated through a Menu pushbutton captures and retains the initial pitch generated by plucking, even after the notes dies away. That’s a handy feature for as banjo, ukulele or mandolin, a fact that quickly became apparent when we tried the StroboClip with a five-string banjo and a mandolin. Tuning was much faster than when we tried the same instruments with a needle-type tuner, and players remarked that the instrument seemed better in tune everywhere on the fingerboard.

Accuracy of 0.1 cent in a tuner this small is a great thing, but the thing that really sets the StroboClip apart is the inclusion of 28 “Sweetener” presets that give it the ability to compensate for Eastern temperament and alternate temperaments that allow tuning to be accurate across the entire range of several instruments, not all of which are considered “standard” – sitar, oud and bagpipes, for example. Guitarists will love the drop and capoed tuning presets, and country music players should appreciate special sweetened tunings for Dobros and lap steels. Twelve-string players will certainly have use for having two sets of tunings for their instruments, one for the standard six strings, one for octave strings. Sweetened presets are:

EQU: Standard chromatic tuning suitable for regular or alternate tunings
GTR: Peterson Exclusive Sweetened™ tuning for guitar
ACU: Peterson Sweetened tuning for acoustic guitar in standard tuning. Compensates for Capo use or heavy playing style.
BAS: Peterson Sweetened tuning for bass guitar when playing with acoustic piano.
12S: Peterson Sweetened tuning for 12 String guitars; for the 6 standard strings.
12U: Peterson Sweetened tuning for 12 String guitars; for the 6 higher octave strings.
DAD: Peterson Sweetened tuning for acoustic guitar in modal DADGAD tuning.
BFE: Tuning offsets for Electric Guitars equipped with the Buzz Feiten Tuning System®*.
BFA: Tuning offsets for Acoustic Guitars equipped with the Buzz Feiten Tuning System®.
BFB: Tuning offsets for Electric Bass Guitars equipped with the Buzz Feiten Tuning System®.
DBO: Pure tuning for open A, D and G tunings for Dobro®/Resonator guitars.
DBH: Half-Tempered tuning for Open A, D and G tunings for Dobro/Resonator guitars.
BJO: Sweetened tuning for 5 String Banjo
LA6: A6 settings for acoustic Lap Steel.
LC6: C6 settings for acoustic lap steel guitar.
UKE: Ukulele (String deflection offsets).
MAN: Sweetened tuning for Mandolin.
VLN: Perfect 5ths for 4 and 5 String violin. VIOLA: Perfect 5ths for viola.
CELLO: Perfect 5ths for cello.
HRN: Brass & Woodwind
SIT: Sitar (pure intervals).
GHB: Great Highland Bagpipes. Tempered Scale for chanter & drones.
LUT: Lute & Viols (1/6th Comma Meantone).
UIL: Uilleann Pipes (pure intervals).
OUD: Oud (pure intervals).
RAS: Optimized Peterson settings for Maqam Rast.
SUZ: Optimized Peterson settings for Maqam Suznak.
NAI: Optimized Peterson settings for Maqam Nairuz.

Being a bassist, I appreciated the preset that helped me tune for playing with an acoustic pianos, which typically are “stretched tuned” and can present headaches for accompanying players.

The bottom line

With a street price of less than $70, the Peterson StroboClip offers musicians of any level access to a highly accurate, portable and adaptable strobe tuner, the first multi-temperament clip-on tuner available. Rugged yet lightweight, the StroboClip also comes with its own metal carrying case, although I suspect most players will simply put it in a case pocket. In our testing, the StroboClip did a first-class job of tuning instruments that previously gave us headaches – mandolin and banjo among them. For a multi-instrumentalist, the StroboClip is a godsend.

For more information, visit www.petersontuners.com.

Dave Molter is Managing Editor of MusicGearReview. He has been playing bass professionally for 45 years.

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