Monday, May 20, 2013

TC Electronic Polytune Chromatic Tuner Review


It seems like I write about a new electronic tuner every month, and it is no surprise as there are metric ton of these things out there nowadays, and you know what? They are all pretty good! It took a long time, but my trusty Boss tuner pedal was finally supplanted by the mighty Peterson Stomp Classic. Today we are looking at the latest challenger that was plugged into my board: the TC Electronic Polytune. This thing brings a lot to the table…

I have used plenty of TC Electronic equipment over the years, and it has been universally good stuff. They have been around since 1976, and I really like the tone of their amplifiers and effect pedals. Their products are solid and reliable, and are a definitely a good value. The Polytune is no exception.

The tuner is compact, measuring 3 by 5 by 1¾ inches, and it weighs in at a solid 10 ounces -- it is certainly a compact package. It seems sturdy, and I think it will survive drop test nicely. It runs on a 9-volt battery (that requires a screwdriver to access) or an AC adapter that is not included. It draws around 50mA. If you run it on the AC adapter there is a 9-volt out so you can use it to power other pedals. Do people use stuff like this? I don’t…

The Polytune has a ¼-inch input and output jack on either side and NO built-in microphone. Boo! On the back are the power jacks, and a small USB port that is apparently something they use at the factory. So it is not some kind of cool output or portal for installing new presets. Interesting.

The only control is the bypass stomp switch, and this unit is equipped with true bypass, which is a godsend. I would not consider a tuner pedal without this feature. The display has oodles of tiny mutli-colored LEDs with the standard configuration of red for out of tune and green for in tune. It is super easy to see in all light conditions because TC Electronic included an ambient light sensor so it can adjust to how much light is available. This is nice as it is not too blinding on dark stages, and you can still see it in daylight. Of course, the glare direct sunlight is still kind of a pain.

The specs of this unit look ok on paper, with accuracy of about 0.5 cent, and A 440Hz is adjustable from 335Hz to 4550Hz. As far as I can tell, the Polytune delivers on these promises.

So far, none of this stuff is terribly unusual, but TC Electronic has provided a neat twist. The Polytune has a logic called “MonoPoly” that allows the tuner to discern if you played one string or all of them. If you played one string it will go into the usual chromatic mode, but if you play all of the strings it will go into polyphonic mode and you check the intonation of all of your strings at the same time. Really – it will display all six and tell you which ones are in tune, flat, or sharp.

Initially this might seem like a gimmick, but it is truly awesome and a huge time saver, particularly if you are on stage getting ready for the next song in your acoustic coffee house set.

Does this polyphonic feature work on all guitars and basses? I do not know, but it works on all of mine. Electric guitars (Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, Explorer), active basses (Sadowsky, Marcus Miller, Stingray), passive basses (Precision and Jazz), and my acoustics with pickups (Takemine and Martin). All of them worked fine, though I must add in the disclaimer that I use normal tunings. If you use alternate or drop tunings (from E-flat down to B) the Polytune is supposed to work, but I cannot personally vouch for it. The same goes for 5-string basses – I just do not have one lying around right now.

By the way, the polyphonic mode seems to work better when using a pick on both guitars and basses. See what you think…

So, the polyphonic modes is a great tool for quickly checking to see where the guitar is, tuning wise, but I still prefer to fine tune each string individually in the regular chromatic mode. Since it automatically switches modes based on what the user is doing, this is not a big deal.

There are two different display options, too. There is a conventional needle style, or a streaming mode which kind of replicates a strobotuner effect. I have tried both and each works fine, and both will hold notes for a good length of time. I have no preference for one display mode over the other, strangely enough.

By the way, when you select different modes or reference tones, this unit will memorize you settings after it powers off, so you do not have to set it up again every time you use it.

In actual day-today usage, the tuner works just fine, and It did not add noise to my signal chain when put in my effects loop. The Polytone will run for about 6 to 8 hours of continuous use on a good quality battery, which is in line with other tuner pedals I have tested.

The Polytune is very good, and if I needed a new tuner pedal in its price range, it would be one of my first choices, if only it had an internal microphone. But this is a moot point as I like the operation and features of my Peterson strobotuner better, so it is not going anywhere in the near future.

The TC Electronic Polytune pedal is priced competitively with the rest of the chromatic tuner market, carrying an MSRP of $149, and a street price of $99. This includes the tuner, a 9V battery and some 3M Velcro so you can attach it to your pedal board (a nice touch).

By the way, TC Electronic also has a Polytune app for the iPhone. I will have to give it a try and report back to you…


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