As a guitarist, I’ve learned there are a few tools I consider to be essentials. They’re on me all the time. I’ve got the standards, like a pick in my wallet, even though the likelihood of me playing a stranger’s guitar is precisely 2% (and I already have fifty other spares in my guitar case). I’ve got a leather strap which feels great on my shoulder and never comes off my main electric guitar. And I’ve got my iPhone. With Agile Partners’ Guitar Toolkit app, I’ve got a great tuner on hand whenever I need it. The app’s loaded with tons of incredibly handy features, but let’s be honest: my main use is the for the insanely accurate tuner.
That’s why I was excited when Agile Partners got in touch with me to show off a preview of their newest Mac app. SteadyTune, as it’s been appropriately titled, is a multi-instrument tuner that lives in the menu bar of your Mac. How awesome is it? Read on to find out.
It’s in the Details
First of all, I need to say I have a predisposition against menu bar applications. I find menu bar apps are often cumbersome for a variety of reasons, but usually because I often forget what they are or what they do — a little symbol sometimes isn’t enough — or because they’re better served by a full-out app. Menu bars make the most sense with utilitarian apps like Dropbox, Swing, Droplr and Caffeine. Fantastical makes great use of the menu bar as well, simply because it’s got a drop-down menu that doesn’t necessitate a full app. Finally, although Tweetbot’s notification display is very handy, the app’s logo looks more like a poorly chosen “g.”
I say this so you understand my standards are very high for menu bar apps, and I like SteadyTune’s. The icon is an example of great design. When I look at it, I don’t think “What’s that?”. Instead, I see a tuning fork. I know it’s a tuner. It couldn’t be more obvious.
The tuner itself is exactly what I’d expect it to be. It’s easy enough to read, provides all of the necessary functionality within one screen and looks very Mac-like. I do wish the contrast was just a hair higher for legibility reasons.
The Tuner Itself
Anybody who’s ever made a tuner will tell you how difficult it is. Tuners are also a pain to use. I’ve got a very nice KORG tuner that still wavers at any given pitch. It’s not like it’s defective — great, steady tuners are unreasonably expensive and usually only owned by professionals. Common musicians or indie artists can’t afford them. I’ve used one nearly-perfect tuner in my day. It was a Korg DTR–2000, which were well over $100 at the time of their availability. The only reason I got to use it was because we booked recording time at a very classy, expensive studio, and it was part of their gear.
It’s been a while, so I can’t say if SteadyTune is as accurate as that rack-mounted Korg. But the SteadyTune is very… Well, steady. As the name implies, this tuner doesn’t get distracted and start wavering around like a hummingbird. It finds your pitch and displays it without second thought. Eventually, as your note tapers, so does the pitch. But it never vibrates, which is a huge compliment. That makes SteadyTune more useful than the Korg tuner in my gig bag.
Of course, the tuner in my gig bag is more useful than the SteadyTune when I’m out gigging. But for musicians recording some demos or, dare I say, professional studios running OS X, SteadyTune is a godsend. This is the sort of app that’s completely obvious, but can be really easily botched. Thankfully, Agile Partner’s didn’t botch it.
Setting Up Some Preferences
Of course, Agile Partners has been in the development game for a while. They know what they’re doing. With that in mind, they’ve allowed for some important — and easy to set up — preferences.
Within the app, you can choose from just about any stringed instrument that you’ll be tuning, or you can let the app auto-detect it. The All Instruments setting will even let you tune non-stringed instruments, like a trumpet or clarinet. Although I used to play trumpet, I don’t have one handy anymore and can’t verify the accuracy of the tuner with a non-stringed instrument.
When I chose guitar, I was able to choose my tuning — handy if you’d like to explore something new — and how many strings my instrument had. The app supports just about every imaginable setting in this regard.
The app’s Preferences pane allows you to set up a hotkey for the app, which I’ve found really handy. (Mine is Shift+Command+T, with T acting as a short-form for Tuner, if you’re wondering.) You can also select a microphone. Because I’m using a 15″ MacBook Pro, I’m able to choose if I want to use the right or left built-in mic. If you use a USB interface with support for an electric guitar, you can have SteadyTune use that as an input setting, which is going to be the de facto way to tune guitars for many professionals.
The app also automatically supports Retina displays, and it looks great on mine.
In a Word? Finally.
I can’t believe nobody’s done this before. It’s clever and as accurate as my gig bag tuner, not to mention the fact that the interface is rock solid and easy to navigate. I love that SteadyTune includes support for hotkeys, and I love that it takes careful care to make sure that its menu bar design is well-implemented and carefully thought out.
I have very few complaints. Outside of your personal favourite recording software, there are very few Mac apps for musicians that I think are must-haves. SteadyTune sits on the top of that list. For $4.99 on the App Store, you could spend a lot more money on a far less efficient and accurate tuner.
SteadyTune is at the top of my list of must-have Mac apps for musicians.9
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