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N-Tune Guitar Tuner
Onboard True-Bypass Chromatic Tuner
Published in PM April 2008
Reviews : Guitar: Accessories
A number of guitars, especially acoustics, now include onboard tuners as standard, but retrofitable systems have always seemed a little compromised, in comparison. Could this be the model that changes that perception?
Nowadays we take our tuning pretty much for granted. However it is worth bearing in mind that the equal temperament tuning that characterises the music of much of the modern world was only defined mathematically in 1911, and the tuning reference of A as 440Hz was finally adopted as the international standard in 1939.
In the days before the plethora of hand-held electronic tuners that are around today, the most common hand-held tuning reference for guitarists was a set of pitch pipes, a tuning fork and a pair of ears. All this changed in 1975 when the Japanese multinational musical instrument company Korg introduced the WT-10, which was the first compact, battery-powered tuner and featured a needle-dial display that, for the first time in history, enabled anyone (including non-instrumentalists) to tune to an accuracy of around one cent within seconds.
Since then Korg, and many other manufacturers, have developed and refined that early breakthrough, and literally millions of hand-held tuners have been sold worldwide. However the success of the portable, hand-held devices hasn't stopped companies from trying to persuade us to fit a tuner permanently somewhere on our instruments. There have been various offerings of stick-on tuners for acoustics and tuners built into scratchplates for electrics and, with a launch at Winter NAMM 2008, Zero Crossing Inc of Seattle, USA, follow fearlessly down that path with their debut product, the N-Tune Onboard True-Bypass Chromatic Tuner for the electric guitar.
What Do You Get?
In the box you'll find a circular, microprocessor-equipped, LED-carrying PCB with a separate, disc-shaped plastic cover, both of which sit under the volume control knob on your Fender- or Gibson-type guitar. These are held in place by the supplied push-pull volume pot (250kΩ for the Fender version, 500kΩ for the Gibson one) that replaces your existing one and that mutes your guitar's output when the N-Tune is active. Additionally, there's a battery holder and the inevitable 9V PP3 terminal clip, which is attached to the wiring harness that ties everything together.
Fitting it into your guitar is not that difficult providing that you've got next to you a soldering iron, solder, a solder sucker, a pair of pliers, a Philips-head screwdriver for the scratchplate screws and a box spanner for the pot nut (and you know how to use them). If you haven't, and/or don't, please, please, please get the N-Tune installed by a competent person. For example, any TV repairman can do it if you haven't got a guitar tech or your local music shop can't handle the installation for you. Finally, however it's done, the installer should observe electrostatic discharge precautions, so do make sure that you've got a correctly grounded ESD wrist strap to hand before you begin.
The N-Tune is easiest to install on a Gibson-type guitar, such as a Les Paul or SG, as that allows rear access to the control cavity. On a Fender it involves more significant disassembly, with the strings and scratchplate needing to come off. Since I'd quite fancied fitting one to my 1982 Tokai Strat-a-like I'd opted for the Fender version to review but, once I'd read the instructions, I rather wished that I'd decided that it was just the thing for my Gibson LP Junior!
What Do You Do?
Read the enclosed comprehensive instruction manual and then read it again for good measure. Then, once you've got the strings and scratchplate off your Strat, or you've gained access to the control cavity of you own guitar or bass, make sure that you know what all the wires that are soldered to your volume pot do, make a note of where they come from and go to and via which connections. Ensure that you can identify the Input wire that's bringing signal from the pickup selector switch to the volume pot, the Output wire to the jack socket and the Ground wire(s) that will be connected to the pot casing and one terminal. If you're not in familiar territory, it's worth labelling them up, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, call that repairman.
All you've got to do now is to unsolder the wires from your old volume pot and, using the correct size of box spanner (or a nut driver if that's what you've got), remove it. Next, you fit the new push-pull pot in the old pot's place, making sure that there's at least 5.5mm of thread (the thickness of the cover disc and the pot nut) protruding through the scratch plate. Now solder the Ground connections to the chassis case terminal of the new pot, the Input wire to pin 5 of its switch and the Output wire to its middle wiper contact. If your Strat had any other wires, a treble bypass network or any other non-standard items attached to the old volume pot, then now's the time to solder them to the same terminals on the new pot. Hopefully at this point you can plug your Strat back in, turn the volume up and tap the pickups with a screwdriver to give you the reassurance that the pickups are all still working.
All being well, now you poke the PCB wires through the scratchplate, seat the PCB and the volume control more or less in position, clip the wiring harness together, plug in the PP3 and pull the volume knob up to activate the tuner. At this point the lights should flash, indicating that the N-Tune is working correctly, so you can now put your chosen colour of disc over the PCB. In the Fender kit you get four discs — parchment, cream, white and black — and the Gibson kit has black and cream only. Make sure that the PCB lights are lined up correctly with the apertures in the cover, fit the pot nut finger tight, orient the whole thing so that the disc's display is where you'll be able to see it when the guitar is on a strap or your knee, and tighten up the pot nut (not too tight). Now all that's left is to Velcro the battery holder somewhere sensible inside your guitar, put the battery in it, make sure that none of the wires are fouling anything important, refit the scratchplate, restring the guitar, pull out the volume knob to activate the tuner and get tuning. While you're tuning you can make sure that the display orientation is correct and, once you're happy, refit the volume knob in the correct position.
Now, any time you want to check your tuning, all you have to do is to pull up the knob, your guitar will mute and the N-Tune will activate. When you pluck a string on your guitar, it automatically detects the note and the LEDs light to indicate whether that note is sharp, flat, or in tune. As you adjust the string, the sharp/flat LEDs flash faster as you get closer to perfect tune at which point the LED for that note stops blinking and turns solid green. In use it works very well indeed, grabbing the note fast and holding it well as you tune. As the push-pull switch takes the N-Tune entirely out of circuit when not in use, the tuner doesn't have any effect whatsoever on your guitar's tone.
The N-Tune does exactly what it says on the box, and it works as well as any other tuner I've ever used. Playing around with non-standard tunings — dropped-D, dropped-C, semitone down etc — didn't give the N-Tune any problems, and I can't fault its performance in any way. If you've got any wiring/soldering skills, it's very easy to fit and you can't easily get the fitting wrong, so from that point of view there are no problems.
The lack of an ability to change its tuning reference from A440 may be an issue for some players who have to play with non-standard pitch instruments or out-of-concert pianos but, by and large, for the vast majority of us, it should fulfil all our tuning needs.
The only barrier that the N-Tune has to cross is price. At £65 a pop it isn't cheap, and I personally can't see me fitting it to my several electric guitars, if only because my Line 6 PODs and TC G-Force, plus a few other rack goodies in my cupboards, all have built-in tuners. However, if you've only one guitar and no tuner, it's a very convenient way of having one around whenever you need it.
According to their website, we can expect to see N-Tune tuners being fitted as an OEM item on several guitar brands and that, to me, is its natural role. If next time I get around to buying a new guitar it's got an N-Tune fitted, I'll be perfectly happy to see it there. 0
Published in PM April 2008
N-Tune Onboard True-Bypass Chromatic Tuner £65
This latest attempt to persuade guitarists and bassists to retrofit an onboard tuner to their chosen instrument works very well indeed, is relatively easy to install and represents an interesting, high-technology attempt to crack a difficult market niche. On its own it's perhaps a bit of a luxury, but expect to see it being fitted to new guitars from several brands, where it'll no doubt have considerable success.
+44 (0)1726 874184
Note Range 27Hz to 3.52kHz (A0-A7)
Accuracy +/- 2 cents
Battery Life Approx 600 tunings
Power 9 volt PP3 battery
Tuner Disc Diameter 30.25mm (1.35"), Height 3.05mm (0.12")
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