Hands-On Review:Peterson VS-1 Virtual Strobe Tuner

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You can tune a guitar...
By Michael K. Dennison

As a guitar player, I've never been one for tuners. They're so imprecise that despite all the work it takes to line up the needle or light the middle LED, your chords still don't ring true. So I've always relied on my ears and what I refer to as relative tuning: I'll tune my E strings to a piano then tweak the rest until all the basic chords sound in tune. Good for me, but every time I tune is a slightly different approximation. Furthermore, it makes it hard to tune guitars for other people. Everyone holds a guitar differently, placing different tensions on the neck and strings that slightly alter the tuning. And with one exception that's the way it's been for me for the last 30 years. Until today!

Peterson VS-1 Virtual Strobe Tuner
A box of blue
The FedEx guy dropped a small package on my studio doorstep yesterday containing Peterson VS-1, a device that-I'll warn you right up front-has completely changed my tune when it comes to tuners!

About the size of a paperback novel, the VS-1 is a virtual strobe tuner that offers a quantum leap in affordable tuning accuracy! It's solidly built - three jacks on the right side let you plug in an instrument (or the optional TP-1 clip-on tuning pickup that's ideal for tuning in noisy locations), pass the signal through to your amp, and connect the included AC adapter. Two buttons down the left front face let you select and edit the various modes. Also on the face are a small mic grille, a good-sized knob in the center that serves as a parameter selector, and the on-off switch that does just what you would expect. The whole thing is wrapped in a rugged blue boot that will protect it from all but the most egregious abuse.

The business end of the unit is the 128 x 64 pixel green LCD screen that dominates the face of the VS-1. It's bold and bright (with an on/off function to save battery life) and is easily readable from across the room!

Strobe lights
I plugged in my Strat and toggled the Menu button until the display read TMPR:EQU, then used the knob to select TMPR:GTR, Peterson's proprietary guitar tuning mode and then played the low E on my guitar. The display read E2 while the strobe bands scrolled quickly upwards, indicating that the note was sharp. As I tuned down my E string the strobes slowed, then began scrolling downward. Now I was flat! As I continued tuning the guitar, I could see physics in action  - as I struck the note, the strobes would scroll upwards, settle into a steady state, and then start scrolling downwards as the note decayed. What I was seeing was what LED/needle tuners cannot begin to display-very minute changes in the pitch happening in real time! Regular tuners are saddled with low resolution displays-anywhere from +/- two to four cents (1/100th of a semitone) off true pitch. The Peterson tuner is as accurate as 1/1000th of a semitone-a HUGE leap in accuracy!

I finished tuning and gave my guitar the acid test-C, E, G, A, D, and F chords in the first position. Usually, one family (A, D, and E) might ring harmoniously, while another family (C, F, and G) hurts the ears. But not this time! Every chord I played, from C major to E7 to Bb dim+5, rang true and flowed easily from one chord to the next. Amazed at the results, I grabbed all my guitars-acoustic, electric, and bass (yes, there's a special bass mode!)-and made sure they were all equally well tempered. I don't know what Peterson's magic formula is, but it works wonders!

But wait...
The VS-1 is also useful for setting up the intonation of your guitar with the kind of accuracy usually reserved for expensive guitar techs. That alone could save you the price of the VS-1! The manual covers the procedure thoroughly, and as a bonus you discover the definition of "flageolet"!

Music does not live on guitars alone, so I pulled out my trusty, rusty trumpet to see how it would fare in the harsh light of extreme accuracy. I used the edit button on the VS-1 once again, and since the trumpet is a transposing instrument, I dialed in the key of Bb. When I played a G on the trumpet (concert F), the display read G4 and the strobe bars whizzed by-I was extremely sharp! I adjusted the tuning slide and played C5-still sharp. Then I realized it was me, not the trumpet, that was sharp! I relaxed a bit and before long was getting most of the notes correctly pitched. A tuner of this caliber can be extremely useful as a practice tool!

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned there was one exception in my otherwise unfavorable experience with tuners. That exception was a Peterson StroboTuner! Now, with advances in technology, the high quality of strobe tuning is available for every budget. Up to this point my studio has relied on my ears for all tuning needs. After today, my tuning needs will be met by the Peterson VS-1 and my studio will be better for it!


  • Accurate to 1/000 of a semitone
  • Smooth, instantaneous tuning response
  • Exclusive Virtual Strobe technology
  • Auto or manual note selection
  • Exclusive tempered guitar tuning
  • Transposes to any key
  • Large, easily readable display
  • Stores default settings
  • Generates 9-octave range of reference tones
  • Powered by 3 AA batteries or included AC adapter
  • Built-in mic for acoustic instruments
  • Rubber boot for support and protection
  • Temperaments: Equal, Pythagorean, Just Major, Quarter Comma Mean Tone, Kirnberger III, Werckmeister III, Young, Kellner, and the unique GTR Temperament
  • Backlit display
  • 1/4" input and thru jacks
  • Visual frequency range: 32Hz (C1) to 6272Hz (G8)
  • Audible frequency range: 16Hz (C0) to 7902Hz (B8)
  • Size: 4-1/3"W x 7-1/2"H x 2-1/3"D
  • Weight: 1-1/2 lbs