Monday, November 29, 2010

New (to me) gadget: Peterson StroboClip

Sometimes reading online forums can be a costly thing. A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on FleamarketMusic Forums about a clip-on tuner made by Peterson. I had never heard of this company before and it was the first time I've heard of the term "strobe tuner". I've bought a few clip-on tuners over the years, sometimes buying one for no reason other than to try out something different from what I already have. I think I've bought 2-3 different kinds, but I've always like the Intelli IMT-500 (and later the Oahu branded version where they tightened up the buttons so they don't rattle) the best. It had the best form factor and was pretty quick and easy to use. So after reading about the Peterson StroboClip, I guess I got a case of the TAS (Tuner acquisition syndrome) and did some research online about this tuner. It turns out the StroboClip is a relatively new product and boasts several features that typical chromatic tuners lack. The biggest selling point is that it has superior accuracy, capable of being accurate within 0.1 cent. That's pretty good considering on most clip-on tuners, the resolution of the display is usually much lower than that (the Intelli IMT-500 has ticks spaced 5 cents apart on it's scale). Another selling point is that Peterson has this thing called "Sweeteners" where it gets you to tune your instrument to instrument specific "offsets" so that it sounds better. I tried reading the reasoning behind the Sweeteners and could not really understand it. If you're interested, check the Peterson website. Anyway, there are over 30 Sweeteners on the StroboClip, including one for the ukulele. That pretty much sold me on the tuner. Now, the StroboClip has a street price of $70, so it is way more expensive than any clip-on tuners I've every purchased. But I figured it probably would be worth it for the superior accuracy, so I pulled the trigger on it.

The StroboClip arrived today. It came in the above pictured square tin can with the tuner situated inside on a form fitted piece of foam. It came with a sheet with instructions in several languages. Since I had already read a lot about this tuner before its arrival, I skipped the instructions and immediately put it to work. The way the strobe tuner works is that when you play a note, a checkered field will scroll around above the note display on the tuner screen. The field will scroll to the left or right to denote whether your note is flat or sharp. For example, if you're playing the C note, and the checkered field scrolls to the left, it means you're flat, the degree of which is denoted by how fast it is scrolling in that direction. Likewise, if you're sharp, it will scroll to the right. When you get it to be perfectly in tune, the scrolling should stop. In practice, getting it to stop completely might be pretty difficult, since it is accurate to within 0.1 cent. It took only a few tries to get the scrolling field to more or less "freeze", so while it is different, I didn't think it was too difficult to use. There is a "sustain" mode that's designed for use with instruments that has fast decay, such as a ukulele, and it worked well for me. I set the tuner to the "ukulele Sweetener" and tuned the uke in this mode. It didn't seem to be much different than the standard tuning mode. The G-string might have been tuned a tick down, but I'm not sure. My ears aren't sharp enough to pickup the difference it made, but maybe in the long run I will. Who knows. The ukes I tuned using this tuner all sound very much in tune, and checked out with my other Intelli/Oahu tuners, as expected.

Before I conclude this post, let me go over the construction of this unit a little bit. The casing of the tuner is made of aluminum with a rather coarse brushed texture. The sides of the main casing is silver colored plastic as well as everything else, which includes the stem and the clip. Being made out of mostly aluminum and plastic, it feels light enough and the casing should prove to be durable. I do wish the stem connecting the casing to the clip is also made of aluminum though. It may end up being durable enough, but it certainly looks like it could be beefier. I would have preferred the casing to be plastic and the stem to be metal. Come to think of it, it would have been fine with me if the tuner came in a cardboard box and the tin used to make the tin can is used to make that stem. The casing is well articulated and you should be able to find a good viewing angle while its clipped onto any headstock. Overall I don't think the construction is cheap or anything, even for its high price, but I guess I get a little nervous when the bigger part between two interconnected parts is the one that's metal while the smaller one is plastic. To me it's safer if it's the other way around. But it does feel relatively sturdy now, so hopefully it will last. Before receiving it I read many comments saying that they wished it was black instead of silver. I would tend to agree that a black tuner clipped onto a headstock looks better, but having it clipped to my ukes in person, I think the silver looks pretty good. This is just a personal opinion though.

So the big question is, is this thing worth $70? For the vast majority of recreational ukulele players, I'd say it is not worth it because you can get a ukulele tuned accurately enough using a $15 clip-on chromatic tuner. However, if you have great ears and want the most accurate clip-on tuner available, this is probably the best choice. It has a lot of features for a clip-on, and it is very accurate. Compared to a normal strobe tuner, $70 is actually pretty cheap. As for me, while I certainly don't need this type of accuracy, I think it's nice to know that my uke is close to being perfectly tuned and while I can't really tell how the "Sweetener" function impacts the sound, perhaps someday down the road I can. For these reasons, I'm pretty happy with this purchase. Again, I can't say I would recommend this tuner to most people, but if you know what you're getting into and have the money to burn, it's not a bad addition to your collection of ukulele related gadgets.

Back of the tuner:

StroboClip in action, tuning the C-string:

Showing the amber colored backlight:

1 comment:

Plainsong said...

I don't like the sweetener on every uke I've tried thus far. It just sounds dissonant, like their idea of what a uke should sound like is cheap.

But without the sweetener and the sustain on, yup, it is so very honest. I have a Kala with some intonation issues and I always thought it was my ears because my other tuners don't pick up on it. The Peterson does.

I like being able to really dial it in, because I'm still not as good at tuning strings by ear as I am a wind instrument. I don't know why that is.

But if I were jamming at a pub, I'd take one of the cheaper tuners. No one would hear the difference, and I wouldn't cry so much if it walked away by accident.

Which uke should I bring on my next trip to Oahu???

What's the maximum you'd spend on a ukulele case for your best uke?

If you could steal one of my ukes, which one would it be???

How curly do you like your koa? (preferably on a uke)

What's the maximum number of ukes a perfectly sane person should have???

Poll: How often do you play the ukulele???

Poll: Which guitar company's approach to ukes do you prefer???

Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

Poll: The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is: