Summary: Despite its name, PitchLab is much more than a guitar tuner; it is simply the best tuning app/device I have ever seen for historical performance practice keyboards and plucked/bowed strings – ever!!!

Pros

Real strobe with multiple display options
Customizable interface for guitars, lutes, and bowed strings
Keyboard interface for tone generator
Split-screen capability
Large list of historical temperaments
…and much much more.

Cons

Haven’t found any yet.

Platforms: PitchLab Guitar Tuner is available for iOS, Android, and Windows tablets/phones.

Note: the basic PitchLab app is free, but all the really cool stuff is only enabled with in-app purchases. I recommend the “Unlock Everything” option which can be had for the astoundingly low price of only $2.99/2,60€. For Android/Windows, you must buy the PitchLab Guitar Tuner Pro version.

The details

PitchLab is a fantastic app: incredibly capable, very flexible, accurate and easy to use. It has so many good things about it that it is hard to know where to begin. It is the first low-cost app with a real strobe, and after having used it for only a few days, I can already see that it will change the way I tune. Using this app, one can combine the best of both worlds, the incredible accuracy and low latency of the human ear with the visual display of a beautifully designed multi-harmonic strobe.

The strobe

strobe1 strobe2 strobe3 strobe4

PitchLab’s strobe is amazing! It has two different harmonic content options, one showing the first six harmonics of the note being tuned, the other showing the note and five octaves above it (note: the screen shots here above are from an earlier version which only showed the first five harmonics). Each mode has two display options, either a traditional set of spinning wheels or a much more intuitive series of sine waves. Both display modes indicate not only the phase relationships of the harmonics, but also their relative amplitudes, the spinning wheels by the intensity of the colors, the sine waves by the amplitude. Thus you can actually see which harmonics are strong, weak, or missing altogether, and any inharmonicity is indicated by contrary motion or isolated drift.

The interfaces

kybrd

For tuning keyboards, PitchLab has the most intuitive interface possible: a keyboard! To generate any tone, you simply play the key you are tuning. In the polyphonic mode, you can even play chords so that you can hear how any given harmony might sound in an unfamiliar temperament before going to the trouble of tuning your instrument. Four different wave forms are available, and the totally useless sine wave is absent.

lute1 lute2

For guitarists, lutenists, and bowed string players, PitchLab has a number of built-in interfaces for its innovative tuning display. Whatever instrument is selected, PitchLab shows each string as a line with the name of the note. The corresponding line for the note you are tuning automatically lights up when you get within half a semitone; thereafter, if it is too low, the line bends downward, when too high, it bends upward. Additionally, a spinning wheel strobe-like indicator appears when you are close to help get it perfect. Best of all, you can custom design your own interface for any number of strings up to 12, defining the note sounded by each string. So if you want both Dalza scordaturas for your 6-course Renaissance lute, or if you play 7-string viol, just program it in and it’s ready to call up at a moment’s notice. Here above, for example, is an interface I programmed for a d-minor tuning of a 12-course Baroque lute.

Split screen display

One of the most amazing things about PitchLab is that you can divide the screen into two panels, combining any two of the various functions. For tuning any kind of keyboard instrument, I recommend putting the strobe on one side and the keyboard interface on the other:

split

This allows you to listen to the generated tone through earphones and tune the instrument to it by ear while PitchLab simultaneously listens to the instrument and gives you visual feedback. This creates a totally new type of tuning methodology which I call Visually-Assisted Aural Tuning. Tuning aurally means that your ear is the final arbiter for “in-tune”, which is especially important in the low tenor and bass regions where the presence of inharmonicity can mean that there is no objectively “correct” tuning. For higher notes, the strobe really helps in getting that last bit of perfection; by watching for slow drift in the upper harmonics, you always know which direction to go when giving the tuning pin that final tiny nudge. For novice tuners who are learning how to hear, I have no doubt it will be of inestimable value. For the experienced tuner, it is both fascinating and fun to literally see as well as hear what is going on inside the tone of the instrument while you tune, especially with those inevitable occasional funky notes which every instrument has.

The temperaments

I first found out about PitchLab when the author, Karl Morton, contacted me to ask if he could use some of the temperament data from Just Say Do. Little did I know that he would incorporate everything I have been ranting about for years, as well as ALL of the temperaments given here! Fantastic!! The app also lets you program any temperament you like through an easy-to-use interface. When programming a custom temperament, you can either start from a blank page or you can open any of the default temperaments and start from there, changing the values to suit your needs. Needless to say, this also allows you to see the structure of any default temperament. All temperaments have an historically-correct constant C format.

temps1 temps2

Reference pitch is both note-definable and variable in Hertz. Temperament structure can be transposed to any note. A calibration mode listens to any externally-generated note (i.e. an oboe, trumpet, cornetto, etc) and calculates the pitch so that the app can be set to any external reference.

pitch

Summary

This is a truly amazing app which is so far ahead of the crowd that it simply has no competition. It is ideal for any historic performance orchestra/chamber group, as all the instrumentalists – keyboards, lutes, and bowed strings – can tune their strings or pipes using the same app at the same pitch level from the same reference note in the same temperament, but each with their own custom-designed intuitive interface. This is a real game-changer! I simply can’t recommend it enough!!

Note: all reviews of all apps are kept up-to-date, that is, whenever a new version of the app appears, I check to see if any major changes, either positive or negative, have been made. Since iOS apps are automatically updated, it is safe to assume that at any moment the review refers to the most recent version. The same holds true for the iOS version. Currently, I have an iPhone 4 and an iPad mini retina. Latest update: 23 August 2014