We don’t cover too many consumer apps or products in the “commodity” space. Companies like Supercell or Holvi basically require users to hear about their product through advertising or a friend. No one is searching for “Social warrior themed game” in the app store, or googling for “new type of banking system” when looking to open up an account.

People are, however, just searching blindly for a basic guitar tuning app when they need one, and it just so happens the top downloaded iOS guitar tuner and third most downloaded Android tuner is coming right out of Helsinki – a product called GuitarTuna by Ovelin, the producer of much deeper guitar apps, WildChords and GuitarBots.

That blind searching is how I found out about Guitar Tuna. My cousin got a guitar over Christmas and we needed to get that ax in tune so we could rock out to some crunchy jams. I plugged in “guitar tuner” into the app store, selected the first one, saw the Ovelin guys were behind it, and said, “Huh. I know these guys.” That Christmas was Guitar Tuna’s most downloaded day ever, but the Ovelin guys are humble about it, despite Guitar Tuna having 2.4 million total downloads on iOS and 1.1 million on Android.

“It was a product we didn’t want to build in the first place,” says Chris Thür, CEO of Ovelin tells us.

The story goes that Ovelin’s first product was WildChords, the guitar teaching iPad app where users have to pluck the correct strings or strum chords on their guitar to get animals to follow their character, much like the fairy tale, the Pied Piper.

The app was targeted towards beginners, so they needed to include a guitar tuning functionality that was simple for absolute beginners to use. “The first time you tune a guitar, it’s not easy to do unless you have a friend to say ‘no, you do it like this,'” says Thür.

Surveying the landscape, most of the guitar tuning apps mimic the cheap pieces of plastic and LED lights that people have been tuning guitars with since god knows when. The problem is that these products basically just tell you that you’re too high, too low, or right on tune. They give you little to no context of how far away you are from getting that e-string right on the money. Some smartphone tuner apps take this concept to a weird extreme, with pro features that let you know exactly what numerical frequency your string is in – but it’s not making life any easier for beginners or experienced users to efficiently tune their guitar

Ovelin’s strategy was to turn a guitar tuner into a histogram; picture like a constantly rolling seismic graph of an earthquake, for instance, showing where the string you’re tuning is the baseline. Ovelin put that functionality into WildChords and got good feedback from users. The problem is that users should grow out of WildChords – if the app is doing everything right, you don’t need to learn basic chords anymore. Back in when iPad 1 and 2 were out, there wasn’t much storage space on users’ devices, and WildChords users were saying they really loved the tuner but they didn’t want 150mb of WildChords songs on their iPad just for a tuner.

So they spun out the new free app, called Guitar Tuna, and it got a slow start, but eventually picked up. “If ours shows up it looks cool, it’s friendly, and it’s a good deal,” says Thür. Today the app gets 15 to 20,000 downloads a day. In the weekends it’s a little bit more.

“Game developers would die for retention like this. When you stop playing guitar is when you quit using the app,” says Thür.

Getting the essentials right
Part of their rise to the top of the ranking and download list is that they’re doing their core functionality right. Tuna employs Ovelin’s noise cancelation tech, so people can tune in a noisy room, it has a simple user interface, and they don’t throw popup ads in people’s face.

Rather than loading the app up with third party advertisements, they’re advertising their main product, Guitar Bots, through the app in a non-confrontational way. The app also monetizes somewhat by allowing users to purchase different tuning standards and a Ukelele tuning pack. These are converting moderately, as most people just stick to standard tuning.

But they’ll likely start converting users to Guitar Bots better with their next update, which is already out on Android and coming soon to iOS. With it they’re including mini games, like being challenged to play chords just when you see the chord letter. Another mini game plays the sound of a chord, and asks users to choose whether the chord they heard was a D or a G, for example.

“It adds another layer to the basic tuner,” says Mikko Kaipainen, co-founder and COO of Ovelin. “People don’t know there are things like this out there. It teaches you can play guitar related games.”

In this minigames section, users will be able to download more premium advanced skills. Also in this minigames section Guitar Tuna will be linking to download Guitar Bots, which should get users curious about what more tips and tricks GuitarBots can teach them.

The company has some news coming out soon for GuitarBots, which we’ll be staying on top of. But if you need a Guitar tuner, just throw “Guitar tuner” into the app store. You’ll find it.