Price paid: $ 19
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Ease of Use — 10
I started using the NS Micro Headstock Tuner without reading even the bullet point instructions on the package, and the control layout was completely intuitive. To clip it on the back of a Taylor 514CE's headstock, I simply clicked the little lever releasing the clamp to full extension, and then squeezed the whole unit with my thumb and forefinger to ratchet it back into a tight fitting clamp. The svelte Micro was practically hidden from observers. From my perspective, though, it sat nestled between the first string's tuning peg and the nut. I adjusted the Micro's head from side to side until I found a position where I could see it at all times. The "big" button turned on the brilliant, backlit display, which first indicated calibration at 440Hz (concert pitch), and then automatically and almost immediately detected which string I plucked when I struck the sixth one. The red display with vertical bars on the left side of the "E" clearly indicated being flat. As I tightened the tuning peg, the display turned yellow and with fewer vertical bars, finally the "E" turned green with a single vertical bar on each side. The same readouts appeared in reverse order when I went sharp. Easy enough. I had that string tuned within seconds, and so were the rest in very short order. I decided to try the Micro topside to check the view, so I turned it off, flipped it, and clipped it on between the sixth and fifth tuning pegs. When I turned the Micro back on, the display appeared to read, "Ohh," before it registered an "A" with the letter upside down. When I pushed the next button it flipped the display. Cool! I soon repositioned it back behind the headstock where it was discreet, because it was great to have such a clear, constant view of the readout without anyone else able to see my new cheat sheet. The left and right buttons are incremental calibration cursers with a range from 410 to 480Hz. I didn't have any exotic instruments or overseas trips planned, but if I did, such a broad calibration range would surely be handy. I did try the NS Micro Headstock Tuner on a couple of semi-hollowbody electric guitars, a Godin Montreal Premiere and Gibson ES-339, as well as a Fender Stratocaster and Fernandez electric bass. It helped me tune them all up just as easily. Holding down the rear button put the Micro in visual metronome mode. There was no sound, but the display alternated clearly between two adjacent box graphics with a "60" in the right corner indicating 60 beats per minute. I could use the right and left cursor buttons to either scroll or click incrementally to tempos ranging from a turtle-like 20 BPM to a hare's pace of 270 BPM. Apart from the obvious advantages of an inconspicuous, swift, accurate, affordable tuner, the visual metronome is an innovative feature. At first I was skeptical about actually incorporating a soundless metronome into my practice and gig routine, but ultimately I found it quite comfortable to sync to a visual cue precisely because it was so readily apparent. I'd never worried much about playing tunes at very specific tempos, but the über convenience of the Micro has encouraged me to do just that. I'm going to use the Micro to help dial in my groove and I will no longer leave it to drummers to chart out tempos. I've already used it to nail the tempos for much of my set list.
Sound — 9
As a headstock tuner, the NS Micro has no sound circuitry of its own, but it does have a really sensitive piezo sensor system that readily deciphers sound vibrations as musical notes. According to D'Addario, the Micro is even quicker than its popular forerunner, the NS Mini Headstock Tuner. The Micro's detection system was unfazed when I used it amid heavy amplification or background noise from a cranked-up television. Of course with tuners, the main sonic consideration is whether or not the strings end up accurately and quickly tuned. I found the NS Micro Tuner to be incredibly accurate without being annoyingly overwrought or making misleading note-recognition mistakes. By using a combination of stoplight-style color changes along with a few indicators, the Micro allowed me to get my tunings on terra firma rapidly. I tried a variety of tunings from standard to open G, open A, and open C. The NS Micro Tuner tackled them all equally well. Here's a big bonus. Since the Micro was always in ready view, I often found myself noticing the names of the notes I was playing. That came in handy running scales in regions of the neck where my own note recognition was, ahem, lacking, and it was a real eye-opener in open tunings. Whereas the entire fretboard was formerly a grey area in, say, open C, I suddenly found myself learning what notes were where on songs I'd been playing blindly for years. The NS Micro Tuner was able to identify tough harmonic notes played on a Fender Stratocaster and a Godin Montreal Premiere - even when I bent them up or down to a nearby note - wow! I admit to becoming obsessed with using the Micro for note identification and having to pry my eyes away at times. I've always used a stage style tuner that muted during tuning and went blank when I was actually playing. Moving forward, I'll use the Micro Tuner even when I've got a stage tuner in my signal chain.
Reliability & Durability — 10
The Micro is mostly plastic and it's got a swivel arm, so, of course, I made sure to be much more careful with it than a stompbox style tuner. The material feels flexible enough to withstand reasonable use. I'd have no reservations about simply leaving the NS Micro on my guitar all the time - even in the case. I'm not sure how long the battery will last, but the Micro automatically powers off after ten minutes to save battery life (I actually found myself wishing it would stay on), and the battery compartment is solidly secured.
Overall Impression — 9
When I heard that serial innovator Ned Steinberger collaborated on the design of D'Addario/Planet Waves' new NS Micro Headstock Tuner, I expected an impressive item. After all, Steinberger has revolutionary guitar and bass designs to his credit, and he'd already done a dandy job with the NS Mini Headstock Tuner. Ned's got another nice little notch on his resumé in the form of the NS Micro Headstock Tuner. Don't let its diminutive size fool you - the Micro Tuner is a big step forward in tuning technology.