Keeping ’em all in tune: Peterson 490 AutoStrobe tuner

AutoStrobe 490 Accuracy At The Speed of Light. | Peterson Strobe Tuners

I spend a lot of time buying, rehabbing and playing vintage keys.  For me, this device has really made that all the more enjoyable.

There’s tuning. And then there’s TUNING.  My Peterson AutoStrobe 490 allows amazingly quick and precise tuning of all my instruments.  (Okay, well, not the Hammond, which doesn’t need tuning.)  It has 1/10 cent accuracy, and using it is as easy as can be:  If the strobe disc spins to the right, the note is sharp. If it spins to the left, it’s flat.  When the disc stops, the note is perfectly tuned.

After using it on all my instruments, I can say that each now has a “sparkle” that wasn’t there before.  It can make the difference between having a very nice-sounding instrument and a great-sounding one.

(I’m sure there are some of you who can use a single tuning fork and tune a Steinway grand.  But for the rest of us who don’t have golden ears, this is a great tool.)

There are lots of decent electronic tuners and apps.  But part of the beauty of a mechanical strobe tuner is that it responds instantly.  I found that really useful in tuning a Rhodes. On a Rhodes, you get a certain pitch on the initial strike, and then the pitch often wanders.  The strobe tuner allows you to tune to either that initial strike, or to let the note ring out slightly and tune to that pitch.  Since I like to play with a lot of sustained notes, my preference is for the latter.  It’s quite easy to do.

It automatically recognizes the note you’re playing. It can “hear” the note either through a built-in mic, or you can plug your instrument into a 1/4″ input.  (And it has a 1/4″ output, which you can feed into an amp, so you can hear the notes as you tune them.)  Lots of other nice features, too.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of buying a vintage Peterson strobe tuner.  (Hey, vintage seemed the way to go for a vintage keys collection. And I thought it would save some money, too.) After a while, however, the vintage units need to be re-calibrated.  (Peterson recommends that you ship it to them in Illinois for them to do this.)  But the 490 is a current Peterson model that is self-calibrating. So it’s always spot-on.

They cost about $750 new, but I was able to find one on eBay for $200 (with a Peterson carrying case).  They seem to be quite common on eBay.  If you can find one for a reasonable price, it will be a lifetime tool, and a purchase you won’t regret. Highly recommended!

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