New gear time in Got A Ukulele towers, and here is my review of the Peterson Stroboclip tuner.
As I say regularly, a clip on tuner is really a must have for a ukulele player these days. I know a lot of purists will say that players should learn to tune by ear, and I would agree that is a good skill to develop, but clip ons now are cheap small and so convenient, then why not. I've reviewed some other tuners on Got A Ukulele before, but have wanted a Peterson strobe tuner for some time now, and bit the bullet.
So what IS a strobe tuner? Well, it's basically a clip on tuner that works in the same way as any other, but the way it provides you with a visual representation of when the string is in tune is displayed differently to any other tuner. Most tuners use either red and green lights, or perhaps an LCD needle, such as on the Snark. Simple really, when the needle points at 12 o clock and turns green, the string is in tune. The thing is with those tuners though, is that the accuracy is limited by the way the reading is displayed. As such, most clip on tuners are only accurate to about 1-2 percentage points. A strobe tuner uses a different way of displaying the readout which means it is proven to be accurate to about 1/10th of one percent of accuracy - quite a leap.
In short, it works on an old analogue technology that you may have seen used around the edge of a record player platter - the little black boxes. Using strobe theory, by spinning that strobe pattern, when the record player is spinning at exactly 33rpm (or 45rpm) the boxes stop being a moving blur and appear to stand still. The Stroboclip uses the same visual pattern on it's display screen. Basically, when a string is plucked slightly flat, the black boxes move to the left of the screen, and when sharp, they scroll right. When the string is 'dead on' the boxes don't move at all. No needle or LCD readout can provide that level of accuracy. That accuracy comes at a price however. Whilst I said above that clip on tuners are cheap enough for anyone to buy one - the Peterson comes in at an eye watering £60. Yes, SIXTY.
The Peterson arrives in a plush (but overkill) metal tin box. I say overkill as surely it will end up in the ukulele case on it's own. The design is nice, and the body of the tuner is finished in full metal. Why oh why then, did they choose to attach such a nice looking and feeling tuner body to a cheap plastic clip. The clips on the Snark and other tuners are as good as this, if not better. This is an expensive tuner, but the clip feels loose and cheap to me. Sure it clips on fine, and it's easy to adjust the display to a variety of positions, but I think the clip is a letdown.
The screen is large, and backlit, using LCD black on grey. I must say, that whilst the strobe boxes are extremely clear to see, the same cannot be said for the other display elements, such as the mode you are in. The Snark is certainly easier to see in poor light. Still it's functional. Along the top of the tuner are three buttons - basically a central mode button, and a plus and minus button either side for changing settings in the menus - and there are a LOT of settings. Power is switched on by a tiny, fiddly on off switch, which could be much improved. As well as the usual offerings on some tuners, such as the ability to re-tune the device to another source (such as a piano), the Stroboclip comes with a massive list of preset instruments (28 in fact) for it to work with. It's a chromatic tuner, so picks up the notes it hears, but setting it up for a particular instrument gets it bang on the money quickly. Want to tune your Oud or Sitar? Those are in here. Other settings include a drop capo setting for tuning with a capo, but the clever stuff comes in the next two settings.
Firstly, there is a Sustain setting. If you have ever had an issue with a clip on tuner of the note decaying before the tuner can work it out, you will find this a real boon. With Sustain mode on, it holds on to the note plucked, and continues to give you a display of the note long after it has stopped ringing. This is of less importance tuning a guitar or violin, but on a uke or uke banjo, the sustain of the instrument is naturally shorter. I found this setting to be excellent.
The next setting is something that I think is dividing opinions - the 'sweetened tunings'. Peterson have recognised that tuning an instrument is not a 100% exact science. Sure you know your soprano uke is tuned to GCEA, but actually, the real mathematics of tuning mean that by adjusting these tunings (and I am talking tiny fractions of percentages), you can provide a warmer more harmonic sound. For each of the instrument settings on the tuner, there is the ability to switch on the 'Sweetened version'. More on my opinion on that below.
So how is the tuner to use? Well aside from that fiddly on off button and cheap feeling clip, I tuned my Kanile'a Tenor with my Snark as accurate as I could get it. On with the Stroboclip. One string was bang on, but all of the others needed some adjustment until the display had each string dead on. I then put the Snark back on and it was still reading exactly in tune. That in itself showed that there was more tuning to be done beyond the Snark. I repeated the process with my Koaloha Soprano - that was more of a fiddly job because it employs friction tuners - with this level of accuracy, you need to make only microscopic changes, and this took a bit more effort, but again, the Peterson tuned the instrument more finely. But did it make a difference in sound. I would say yes, on both of those instruments, when bang in tune, they seemed to ring and sing more than before. Was that just an aural illusion? Time will tell and your mileage will vary! Certainly when using the tuner on a cheaper instrument I found very little difference, so I would suggest that this is a tuner for a more professional instrument.
And what about those sweetened settings? Will this jury is still out, and I suspect it may stay that way. I liked the sweetened tuning on my Kanile'a but actually disliked it on the Koaloha - work that out! I would say however, that I used it on my Taylor 6 string guitar in sweetened mode and it sounded absolutely lovely so perhaps there is something in this. Another observation I have yet to put into practice, is how a sweetened tuned uke will sound playing with others tuned regularly - will it make mine sound out of tune?
So there you have it - does it work? Yes, very well, but with some design issues. It's not a tuner for every player, not least because of the price, but also because I think it would be total overkill on anything but a higher end instrument (and at the end of the day, this is a higher end tuner). The clip, the buttons and the display are all a bit of a let down - they work, but could be improved in my opinion. And finally though - does anyone need that supreme accuracy? Well, that depends on your outlook. Certainly before recording something special, you might want to give this a whirl, and I can see this being extremely helpful for checking intonation to a high degree of accuracy all over the neck. I'd say, if you want to splash the cash, give it a whirl - it certainly works.
Nice casing to the tuner
Sweetened tunings may appeal to some
Sustain feature is outstanding
Cheap clip mounting
Display could be improved