You’re looking at the Roadie, a $100, rechargeable automatic guitar and bass tuner that syncs with your phone. Automatic tuner you say? Yep. Why do something yourself when a robot can do it for you, right? The thing is, silicon-powered gadgets aren’t guaranteed to offer any real advantages over manual labor. And when it comes to automatic guitar tuners, the crevasse separating helpful and clunky is incredibly thin.
So, is the Roadie practical? Is it useful? As a string winder, the answer is yes. As a tuner, the answer is also yes, but only in a small variety of circumstances.
How it works
Like the only other worthwhile automatic tuner I know of (the TronicalTune), the Roadie’s selling point is that it allows guitarists to quickly switch between virtually limitless tunings; several standard options are available, as well as custom alternate tunings. What’s different about the Roadie, however, is that it’s a hand-held device you can fit in your pocket. By using your smartphone’s microphone (there’s also an eighth-inch to quarter-inch adapter for plugging directly into an electric guitar), it listens for your strings’ pitch and proceeds to tune them accordingly.
"The app also includes a software tuner—and it’s better than any other app-based tuner I’ve ever used."
All the device’s features are controlled within the free Roadie app, which you’ll sync to your phone via Bluetooth. From there you can pull up and create custom tunings, build profiles for each of your instruments, calibrate tunings, and wind or unwind your strings. Ironically enough, the app also includes a software tuner—and it’s better than any other app-based tuner I’ve ever used.
Once you select a specific tuning, you can choose to tune each string individual or have the app cycle through them in order. Plucking each string will initiate the motorized winders and the tuning will commence. Once a particular string is finished, the Roadie will beep to notify you that it’s ready to move on.
The Roadie is simple to use. Tuning is quick, and most importantly, very accurate. (You’ll need to calibrate string settings for your instrument at first, but that takes less than two minutes.) But above else, changing strings with the Roadie is a wonderful experience—it’s a great winder.
Like all tuners, the Roadie is a gadget that will wind up living in your guitar case—that’s what happened with me, anyway. Would I use it in a show? No. Would I whip it out at band practice? Probably not. This is a tool best suited for amateur guitarists and singer/songwriters who wanna experiment with many different tunings. And the reason I’ve come to this conclusion is because the Roadie has a reliance on your smartphone.
What the Roadie does, it does well: It’s a super useful string winder and it will absolutely tune your guitar.
Most guitarists know how to relative-tune by ear. Others have clip-ons, or portable chromatic tuners. Those devices don’t require Bluetooth pairing, or your smartphone at all, which lands the Roadie in the niche situations I previously mentioned.
Think about it: Most people (read: regular people, not prodigies) won’t need to use five different tunings during a set. An even more obvious argument is the fact that any decent guitarist has a tuner in somewhere in his signal chain already, so why would he/she want to pull a phone out, insert an adapter, plug the guitar in, and make a slight tweak to a couple of strings. It doesn’t make sense.
On the flip side, what the Roadie does, it does well: It’s a super useful string winder and it will absolutely tune your guitar. And if you’ve got $100 to spend on an accessory / songwriting tool, go for it.