Hands-on review: Shadow E-tuner - true onboard tuning for guitars with humbuckers

(Brian Johnston | Posted 2011-09-17)

Hands-on review: Shadow E-tuner - true onboard tuning for guitars with humbuckers

I have been messing around with instruments, mostly with the electric guitar,for the past 30+ years. Initially, tuning a guitar required that I do it by ear, since personal computers did not exist to access sound bites, nor did guitar tuners for that fact! I may not have been tuned properly, but that each string merely was in tune with the other. Eventually I purchased an E tuning fork, and once the bottom string was tuned I could proceed with the remainder. And then into my twenties I bought an electronic tuner that required me to plug into the small unit and then I proceeded to tune each string while I watched a frequency-sensitive needle waiver back and forth between flat and sharp until pointing directly straight to the heavens.

Times have changed. Today, tuning devices are extremely diverse, from rack-mount units to the more common pedals (that take up room on oneís pedal board) that range from large LED indicators to strobes that can be spotted easily one-hundred feet away. Shadow Electronics took the tuner concept one step further by eliminating pedal board clutter or having to be near a rack-mount system by engineering a unique chromatic tuner that replaces a basic humbucker pickup ring whose function is accessible at the touch of a finger. Built-in tuners have been around for some time, but on acoustic guitars... never rarely has this been done for an electric guitar.

The E-Tuner, with a +/- 2 cent accuracy, is very sensitive chromatic tuner (you can tune without plugging it into anything) that has a frequency range of 66Hz to 3322Hz (C to Ab), which makes it ideal for drop tuning to a low C and is ideal for any tuning combination, whether standard, open, etc.

The top edge of the pickup-up ring/E-Tuner has a series of small LED lights that range from A to G#; each note is defined by a blue light that aluminates above the note. Thus, if you strike the E string and it is, in fact, an E (whether flat, sharp or dead on) its blue light will show. At the left corner at that top edge of the pickup ring are three separate and tiny LEDs (in effect, three little squares stacked on one another). The Ďin tuneí square is the middle and will shine green when tuning is spot on.

The sharp and flat indicators are on top and bottom respectively, and they shine orange Ė very straight forward and visually obvious, even in the darkest of venues. What makes this tuning device so accurate or superior to other tuning technologies is that machinehead tuning accuracy can be affected by vibrations throughout the guitar, thus causing interference when dialing in to an exact pitch. The E-Tuner has a direct connection to the volume potentiometer, which means an interference-free connection to the sound source and a more accurate tuning response. Its direct access to the electronics means it does not affect the pickupís sound. As important to those who take pride in their guitars, the E-Tuner does not require alteration to the guitar (no woodworking as it merely replaces the original pickup ring; and you can restore the guitar to its original state later on if desired).

Shadow Electronics is well aware of the different styles of guitar builds, and so they developed three distinct models: 1) for curved top guitars; 2) for flat top guitars; and 3) for tremolo-style guitars. I had the third type of E-Tuner affixed to a custom made guitar through Casper Guitar Technologies, and it works incredibly well. This guitar has a very low profile and the E-Tuner is only a few millimetres high, thus making it an ideal fit without being an encumbrance to the guitar design or to my playing. As well, it is so subtle in its design that a person would not even know it is a built-in tuner even when itís on (the lights are on the upper edge of the ring, visible only to the player).

The E-Tuner also comes with a battery (located in a protective shell and accessible behind the rear plate where the electronics are housed) that is good for 2000 tunings at one-minute each. However, the E-Tuner works so well and response is so quick that I can tune my guitar within 30-seconds... and so maybe Iíll get 4000 tunings! The E-Tuner is such a nice custom touch to a guitar, and at such a reasonable price, that eventually every top-of-the-line humbucking axe may be fitted with one. Certainly custom-made instruments should sport the E-Tuner as a basic feature since it increases the value and prestige of an expensive instrument.

Pluses: Fast and easy to use without added hardware and without plugging the guitar into anything; more responsive and accurate than other tuning methods; comes in cream or black and in three different styles depending on how low set the strings are to the guitarís body/pickups; requires no modification to your guitar; does not affect the sound of your guitar; comes with a 5-year warranty; very affordable at a price equal to or less than floor pedal models; no frustration in locating your tuner or having to turn on extra gear to tune at the last minute.

Minuses: Only available for humbucker-type pickups; requires some wiring/soldering work and is operational only on the guitar onto which it is mounted.

The SHaow E-tuner has a street price of 49.90 Euro.

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