Matt Gibson (gothick_matt) wrote,
Matt Gibson

Review: Planet Waves SOS Guitar Tuner

I know there's a few guitarists on my flist, so I figured I'd use that as an excuse to practice my reviewing skills.

Product: Planet Waves SOS Guitar Tuner

I ordered some guitar strings over the web the other day1, and saw the offer "...with Free SOS Tuner" on the strings I was going to buy anyway. Bonus!

I wasn't paying much attention when I ordered because I was in a hurry, so what arrived with my strings (and very quickly, too, thank you StringsDirect) was a pleasant and intriguing surprise.

It was this:

SOS Tuner Front
The SOS Tuner from Planet Waves.

In size, it's like a stack of plectra1, and it's a really neat idea. The SOS stands for Strobe on String. Unlike normal guitar tuners, which have a microphone for acoustic guitars, or a jack input for electrics, this gadget has a couple of LEDs which strobe, out of phase, at the frequency that the guitar string you're tuning is meant to vibrate at.

First, you turn the dial on the back of the tuner to the string you want to tune. Then, you use it like a plectrum, plucking the string with that black bit that projects out below the LEDs. Then you hold the tuner so its lights are shining on the string. If the string isn't exactly in tune, then the two pools of light that shine on the string bob up and down out of sync with each other. You tune up or down. If the bobbing gets faster, you're going in the wrong direction. Once the lights stop moving, the string's in tune.

I got used to using it fast, and it seems very accurate (I checked it by ear and using my normal chromatic tuner.) The manual claims it's "Extremely accurate to +/- 0.4 cents!" and I can't see why it wouldn't be, unless its internal frequency generator drifts.

And it's both funky, and presumably very cheap to produce, if they can give it away with a five-pack of guitar strings, battery included.


  • Absolutely tiny compared to a standard tuner

  • Tunes electric guitars without needing to plug them in

  • Tunes acoustic guitars even if you've got music on in the background, because it doesn't use a microphone

  • Small enough to fit in the ticket pocket on your jeans. Twice over

  • Just plain cool

  • Accurate: claims to be 5x more accurate than ordinary tuners


  • You need to tell it which string you want to tune before you tune it. All but the most basic microphone-based tuners figure out which string you're trying to tune for themselves these days

  • Fiddly with electric guitars with micro-tuners, as you'd normally tune those with the same hand you'd hold this tuner with, making it awkward to shine on the string

  • Non-chromatic: will only tune to standard EADGBE tuning

  • Relatively expensive for its size at £9.99 retail, as I found after a quick web search


This is going to be my tuner of choice for a while, at least. Once the novelty value wears off I may go back to my auto-seeking chromatic tuner, because I normally tune in a quiet environment and it's easier when you don't need to tell the tuner which string you're tuning. I can see myself taking this along with me when I hoick my guitar around to a friend's house, though, as I won't even notice carrying it.

At £9.99 -- a retail price I found after a quick web search -- the gadgeteer in me might have bought it anyway, because it's very funky, but it seems a little pricy for the tiny, light, cheap-plasticky experience of the thing. But if you happen to buy D'Addario strings in five-packs anyway, now is definitely a good time to buy them and pick one of these little fellas up for nothing.

SOS Tuner In Use

1Yes, the plural of plectrum is plectra. Honest.

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