The time-wasting guitar tuner

I like to dabble in “the musics” every now and then, and played guitar for a number of years before I became…lazy. Well, that, and the fact that my friend with whom I played with in a band, moved far away. I’m a self-taught guitar player, and learned on some old acoustic my friend had when we lived together in the college dorms. Along with this acoustic guitar, he had one of those old, cheap analog guitar tuners, with the needle that swung back and forth erratically when you plucked a string. Honestly? I hated using it because it took so long to get the guitar in tune. These days, we have modern tuners with digital LCD color displays that tune guitars quickly and accurately. But who wants that? We’re lucky that a designer thought “Hey, let’s make a modern, less functional version of that really terrible analog guitar tuner!”

“What the hell is that??” It’s a guitar tuner, can’t you tell? Designer Hans Kim wanted to create a more “emotional and interactive” experience than standard guitar tuners. Let me explain how it’s supposed to work.

That pointy part can be thought of as the “needle” of the tuner. The round base rotates either left or right, depending on whether the note played is flat or sharp; when the needle is pointed straight up, 90 degrees to the base, then tuning is correct.

In order to tune each string on the guitar, you must use the dial on the face of the tuner to select the note of each string. I suspect the use scenario to be as follows:

  • Set tuner to low E
  • Pluck guitar string
  • Watch this thing wobble back and forth, as you try to get the string in tune
  • Get frustrated as the thing won’t stop wobbling back and forth, and you can’t tell if it’s pointed straight up
  • Realize you have 5 more strings to go

Who has the patience for this? Not guitar players. Here’s the thing: people don’t like tuning. Why? Because it takes away from the playing part of “playing guitar.” Many tuners out there have been designed with two goals in mind: ease of use and accuracy. For instance, my friend has one of these headstock tuners from Planet Waves.

It works amazingly well! You clip it to your headstock, it automatically knows the pitch of the string, and the display glows red if it’s not in tune, and green when it is. Just watch this handy dandy demo video!


Quick and easy, wouldn’t you say? And that’s the point. Hans Kim designed a guitar tuner to create a more interactive and emotional experience. I’m all about creating experiences in design, but a designer must understand what kind of experience users want to have. The reason people tune guitars is so that, when they play guitar, they are not playing out of tune. The operative word in all this is “play.” No musician wants to have an enhanced emotional interaction with a guitar tuner. No musician wants to spend his or her time messing with a tuner more than they have to. If anything, they just want the tuner to work quickly, so they can get back to the real activity: playing. Is it whimsical to watch this needle rotate back and forth on its base? It sure is. Does the fact that one needs to dial in each and every note on the tuner, and watch this needle wobble back and forth, aid in getting the user back to playing as quickly as possible? No, it doesn’t. I’m not even going to delve into how this could work from an engineering standpoint, because the idea of this “guitar tuning experience” is flawed from the very beginning.

via Yanko Design