Tuning Your Guitar on the Edge, with the Korg Rimpitch

Share

When your grandparents were in their prime, tuning guitars with the tuning fork and the pitch pipe, the advent of transistors, solid-state circuit boards, and chips allowed manufacturers to develop and design revolutionary new guitar tuners that did most of the work for you—their onboard microphones picked up and processed the plucked notes, and displayed flat, sharp, or in-tune notes on a small LCD screen, sometimes indicated by a digital “needle” gauge. Korg, the electronics company known for quality and pinpoint-accurate tuning devices, has always been at the forefront of developing this technology. 

Edging Out the Onboard Microphone

I still have an old Korg CA-30 chromatic guitar tuner with an onboard mic, from the early 1990s—and it works perfectly. But in the last dozen years, many digital guitar tuner designers have abandoned the onboard mic, as well as the form factor that you had to balance on your knee to tune up the old six-string. The mic was replaced with a piezo pickup that senses the vibration of the strings and recognizes the note, thus helping you tune your guitar to pitch. On one hand, this development was terrific for guitarists who play in an ensemble situation, because the tuner senses only the vibration of your instrument’s strings and is not affected by your band mates’ instruments. The only stipulation presented by the piezo-equipped digital tuner with no onboard mic is that the tuner has to maintain physical contact with the guitar but still allow the player’s hands to be free.

The logical solution was to design and manufacture a digital tuner that clips on to some part of the guitar, and the peg head seemed to be the most logical spot—the strings vibrate all the way up the neck, and the pitch of each string can be sensed by the piezo pickup from that location. What followed in the wake of this design innovation was a multi-manufacturer market absolutely flooded with digital clip-on tuners of every shape and size, with LED or LCD readouts in a rainbow of colors and various battery-power options—recently, one company even released a tuner with a rechargeable onboard lithium-ion battery. Some of these tuners respond slowly, others give you a readout in a nanosecond or less. The choices available to the acoustic guitarist are dizzying.

New and Improved?

In an effort to break away from the clip-on tuner pack and develop the technology further, Korg recently introduced the Rimpitch, a digital acoustic guitar tuner that hangs gently on the treble rim of your guitar’s sound hole, rather than being clipped to the peg head. The possibilities for speed and accuracy of a tuner in this location are very promising—the tuner is now attached to the soundboard of the guitar, and not all the way up north on the peg head. One would think this would allow the tuner to sense the vibration of the plucked string much more immediately, since it rests against the part of the guitar that turns the energy of the strings into sound.

Although still not perfect, the Rimpitch did perform admirably in the tests to which I subjected it, once I was able to conquer some of its anomalous peculiarities. The tuner is packaged with a battery that’s included “For Verifying Operation,” according to the operating manual. I was not able to divine the true meaning of this phrase. Does it mean the battery has a shorter run time than the store-bought alternative and won’t last as long as a freshly purchased battery? Is it just powerful enough to demo the tuner and then... expire?

Assault on Batteries

To ensure peak operation of the tuner, I decided to go out and purchase a fresh battery, even though the test battery is included. This precipitated my learning about the unusual battery size that the Rimpitch depends on for power—a CR1620. Two chain drugstores and three local hardware stores later, I found one. This is not your everyday, garden-variety CR2032; it’s a 3V lithium button battery that’s smaller and, as I discovered, more difficult to find in a retail outlet. Installing the battery might present a bit of a challenge for a thick-fingered guitarist, though. There is a tiny—really tiny—slightly recessed release button you need to press to open the battery-compartment hatch. I was able to press it down with only a finger, no small tools necessary. Once you’ve gotten the battery compartment open, placing the battery, positive terminal up, is a cinch. Lower and then slide the cover in, it will snap shut, and you’re ready to rock—or roll.

Surfing the Rim

To use the Rimpitch at maximum efficiency, one needs to mount it gingerly on the treble-side rim of the sound hole of an acoustic guitar. It will not fit in the F-hole of an arch-top guitar, so, sorry, jazz musicians. Installation would have been much simpler if there were a small handle or tab the user could grip between two fingers; on my first attempt, I dropped the device into the sound hole and then tried to extricate it without banging it around inside the guitar body. My second attempt, during which I held the ends between the fingers of my left hand and reached under the strings with my right hand to guide the tuner down onto the rim, yielded much more satisfactory results. One needs to develop proper technique for this operation. The two rubberized hang brackets on the Rimpitch held the tuner in place securely, with no sliding around, and the rubber protected the soundboard from scratches.

The On button faces up, as do the LEDs that represent each of the six strings. In terms of visual accommodation, it felt more comfortable to look down at these LEDs than to look all the way to the left, at the peg head, as one would do with a clip-on tuner. One can also determine which string is being plucked more easily because the picking hand is now in one’s line of sight.

The Light Show

Here’s how the Rimpitch works. You pluck the string and one of six red LEDs on the right-hand side of the panel will glow to indicate which string is being plucked, in case you couldn’t tell. Meanwhile, on the left-hand side of the panel, a yellow LED will glow for sharp (right of center) or flat (left of center) notes. If your note is in tune, a green, centered LED will glow and you won’t see either yellow LED. This should be a very satisfying experience, since the Rimpitch is fairly sensitive to changes in pitch and it is easy to over- or under-tune. Even the slightest turn of the tuning peg will register a difference. The speed with which the tuner registers the note is above average compared to many of the clip-on tuners I have tried or own, which is notable in this category of plastic-encased tuning technology. In a performance situation, this feature could mean the difference between staying connected and losing your audience. No one wants to sit there while you fumble around trying to get in tune, even if your stage patter is highly evolved.

Once I became accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of the tuner, I was able to get the test guitar in tune in a reasonable amount of time—perhaps even a few seconds faster than it would have taken with my favorite clip-on tuner. The LEDs responded as rapidly and accurately as I could have wanted or expected, and the resulting tuning was sweet and tempered. I strummed a chord and was quite satisfied with the result.

I’m Gonna Let it Shine

The LED panel of the Rimpitch is extremely easy for the guitarist to see, even in a dimly lit room. The LEDs are bright and color-coded, so you will know what’s being indicated. You can leave the tuner switched on for instant adjustments, or turn it off if you feel distracted by it. However, any possibility of stealth or fooling your audience into thinking you have perfect pitch can be ruled right out—the panel is tilted up enough so that when the tuner is on, the audience can see it, too. If you want some pretty lights to decorate the rim of your guitar’s sound hole while you’re on stage, this is the digital guitar tuner for you. Otherwise, turn it off once your guitar is in tune.

"Your clip-on digital guitar tuners, not to mention your A-440 tuning fork, may be ready for semi-retirement to your accessories drawer."

The Rimpitch is streamlined and lightweight, and did not seem to damp the vibrations of the guitar top, so there was no apparent or discernable change in tone or volume emanating from the guitar. The unit also mounts on the sound-hole edge quickly and easily, once you become accustomed to installing it. This places the Rimpitch at an advantage over the only other sound-hole tuner on the market—in the world, as of this writing—which is bulkier, heavier, and must be mounted (after removal of all the guitar strings) with adhesive-backed hook-and-loop fastener to the underside of the top, near the treble edge of the sound hole.

When it was time to remove the tuner, again, I missed the presence of a little handle of some sort, because I lifted it gently from underneath and proceeded to drop it into the sound hole. One can assume that after the novelty wears off and a guitarist becomes more familiar with handling the tuner, installing and removing it becomes a reflex action, at which point trying to retrieve it from inside the guitar is no longer a concern and any collective memories of frustration or embarrassment begin to fade.

For its accuracy, quick response, convenience, and streamlined design, this aspect of using the Rimpitch seems like a passing and minor inconvenience. This is an accurate, sensitive, quick-tuning device. Your clip-on digital guitar tuners, not to mention your A-440 tuning fork, may be ready for semi-retirement to your accessories drawer. But don’t throw them away quite yet—you may not be able to find a CR1620 battery at the last minute when you’re playing that small-town evening gig, and it’s always a good idea to keep a backup device handy.

Range E2 (82.41 Hz) to E7 (2,637.02 Hz)
Accuracy +/-1 cent
Reference Pitch 440 Hz
Power Supply 1 x CR1620 3V battery
Battery Life Approximately 8 hours continuous use (A4)
Installation 100mm (+/-3mm) circular sound hole diameter
Dimensions 2.7 x 2.2 x 3.4" (69 x 57 x 30mm)
Weight 1.1 oz (32 g)

Items discussed in article