Hands-On Review:Sabine AX-3000 Tuner

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Guitar-grabber, Note-grabber

By Daniel Vincennes


Sabine AX-3000 Tuner

If you’re like me, there’s nothing you can’t do with your guitar once it’s in tune. That doesn’t sound like it’s asking too much but, sometimes, just getting in tune is a major effort. If your guitar doesn’t have a built-in tuner (and most don’t), you can always tune by ear—if you have a good ear and are patient. But what if you want to play in tune with other guitars or other instruments? And what if you’re in a noisy room? What if you don’t have electricity? Let me tell you why you’ll like the Sabine AX-3000 tuner so much. It’s small, it’s battery-powered and simple to operate; and it quickly helps you tune your guitar. It mounts (or "grabs" as Sabine describes it) onto your instrument and uses a built-in contact mic to directly grab the vibrations from each note as it is played so you can tune without interference from a noisy environment. It easily attaches to any number of stringed instruments and removing it does not harm the instrument’s finish or leave any marks.


Small enough for you?


The AX-3000 comes from the folks at Sabine Incorporated (pronounced Suh-BEAN), down in gator country near Gainesville, Florida. They have an excellent track record in designing and developing tuners. In 1986, they produced their first tuner, the ST-1000. By 1990 it was one of the best-selling chromatic tuners in the United States. The AX-3000 is probably the smallest tuner you would want—about the size of a half-inch-thick business card. The size of the AX-3000 comes in quite handy. It fits easily into any shirt or pants pocket so you’ll always have your tuner ready to go in any situation. It weighs one-and-a-quarter ounces with the (supplied) three-volt lithium coin-cell battery. The AX-3000 can be mounted on any stringed instrument using its MagnaPad, which has a new material that feels a little like plastic and a little like rubber. It uses attraction, not adhesion to grab onto the instrument like a magnet. When you’re done tuning, the AX-3000’s MagnaPad releases with a slight twist without harming the finish on your guitar. The AX-3000 is stored in the clear plastic DomeHome that keeps the MagnaPad from getting soiled.


Flashy performance


The best place to mount the AX-3000 on your guitar is usually on the soundboard near the fingerboard, although you may want to experiment, especially with other stringed instruments. Press the P button on top of the tuner and you’re ready to go. The IndiColor display has a single row of LEDs: seven note indicators for A through G and five sharp/flat dot indicators. When you pluck a string, the InTouch contact mic picks up the vibrations through the guitar’s body and magnifies the signal. The LED note indicator closest to the correct pitch lights up. If your note is flat, it flashes yellow. If you are sharp, it flashes red. The faster the flash, the more you are sharp or flat. When you get closer to proper pitch the LED flashing slows down. And when the LED goes green, the note is in tune. The AX-3000 is calibrated for even-tempered tuning at the standard A=440Hz. The tuning accuracy is about one cent sharp or flat. The button marked C on top lets you recalibrate to a fixed pitch instrument such as a piano that may not be tuned to standard. The AX-3000’s tuning range is five octaves (A1 to A6), which means you can tune all kinds of stringed instruments: five-string bass, violin, dulcimer, mandolin, and—the real challenge—the 12-string guitar. To save battery life, the tuner will shut down automatically after two minutes, but this function can be manually overridden. As a grace note, in the operating guide Sabine provides a clear explanation of even-tempered tuning and excellent advice on how to best tune your instrument.


Tuner test


A friend of mine teaches a guitar class for children every weekend at the local community center. I volunteered to be the guitar tech and bring along the AX-3000 so we could get everyone in tune more quickly before young attention spans became taxed. Come Saturday morning, there were nine children with smiling, eager faces sitting on metal folding chairs arranged in a semicircle waiting for me to tune them into one pleasant-sounding 54-string guitar. I was confronted with an interesting variety of acoustic guitars in all shapes and sizes. At least they all qualified as guitars. That is, they had six strings, were made of wood, and could be tuned.


At first, I was afraid that tuning nine guitars being wielded by children would end up with me being like the vaudeville plate-spinners that used to show up on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights years ago. I imagined getting the last guitar tuned and then having to start over because the guitars I began with were already out of tune. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I was able to quickly and confidently tune each guitar with the AX-3000 in less than a minute. The general chaos of eight other children rehearsing or practicing on their guitars did not interfere with my tuning because the AX-3000’s contact mic was not picking up their guitars (or voices). In about 10 minutes the class was ready to go. With a count-in from the teacher, the class proudly and boldly strummed where few classes have strummed before: a big fat C chord resonated throughout the community center quickly followed by a chorus of ooohs. Yes, the sound of nine well-tuned guitars feels really good.


Go anywhere, tune any string


The Sabine AX-3000 tuner is a great little tuner that goes anywhere with you. It mounts on just about any stringed instrument for fast, easy tuning even in a noisy environment. If you’re a working musician, student or teacher, you should grab onto the AX-3000 tuner.


Features & Specs:

  • Chromatic with automatic note sensing
  • Mounts easily on any stringed instrument
  • Removes easily without leaving any marks
  • Built-in InTouch contact mic quickly grabs and holds notes
  • 12 LEDs indicate notes A through G plus sharps and flats
  • Scale: even-tempered, 12 notes per octave
  • Accuracy: ±1 cent
  • Tuning range: 5 octaves (A1 to A6)
  • Tunes any stringed instrument
  • Battery: One CR2430 lithium coin-cell 3V (included)
  • Battery life: approx. 1,500 tunings or one year
  • Limited 2-year warranty
  • Dimensions: 3-3/10"W x 4/10"H x 1-8/10"D
  • Weight: 1-1/4 oz. with battery