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iOS is the musician’s mobile platform of choice, thanks to the low-latency rock-solid foundations laid by Apple and an incredible number of apps and accessories. If you’re looking for iPhone and iPad apps to enhance the time you spend with your four, six or more-stringed friend, we’ve done your homework.
To get the most out of some of these, you will need an interface for your instrument – something cheap like the iRig (€29) or fancier like the “studio-quality” Apogee JAM ($99). For the rest, you need only time to sit down and strum away.
Evernote (free) & Ultimate-Guitar.com
Yes, I’m aware Evernote is a note-taking application. I’m also aware many others exist, but this happens to be my own go-to choice for storing guitar tabs. You could use any note-taking app, but it’s nice to have the option of storing tabs in plaintext, something Evernote allows you to do if you’re a bit of a neat-freak.
Ultimate-Guitar is arguably the best resource on the entire web for guitar tabs, having survived after so many sites have fallen to controversial “copyright” claims to the song interpretations found therein. They do have their own app (Ultimate Guitar Tabs, free [No longer available]) but it requires a subscription, costing a few dollars per month for content you can access for free online.
While the interface isn’t ideal, copying tabs from Ultimate-Guitar and pasting them into Evernote allows you to quickly recall them whenever you like, tag them, and store them neatly in a notebook or stack. Evernote also has the benefit of preserving formatting, so everything should appear as normal regardless of which device you access it on.
Most beginners are told by their teachers to go out and buy a chord book, but for less than the price of most chord books you can now have an application that’s arguably ten times better. Chord! is a $5 app aimed at players of any skill level who value quick access to a huge range of chords. The app doesn’t actually rely on a database, but instead works out all the different possible fingerings for a chord based on your input.
The fun doesn’t stop there, as Chords! is also a great way of learning or brushing up on scales, which it presents on a guitar neck for at-a-glance reference as well as sounding the notes themselves. The worst thing about Chords! is that it’s currently iPhone-only, but the developer has revealed an iPad version is in active development and will be released as a free update – so what are you waiting for?
This one is also available for Android.
I once paid £30 for a dedicated guitar tuner, way before the days of smartphones (or Windows XP, for that matter). These days you can pick up a fully functioning tuner with more bells and whistles on it for a fraction of that price, and ClearTune is probably the best of the bunch. The app has been spotted in use by the likes of The Black Keys and Rosanne Cash, and provides a wheel interface and fine-tuning meter that promises to accurately tune most instruments – all for $4.
ClearTune can be used to tune bass guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, violins, pianos, brass instruments and pretty much anything that can hold a tone. If you really don’t want to pay but need to tune your guitar to standard tuning, Guitar Tuna (free) is another option – but it’s bogged down by in-app purchases that aren’t really worth it when you can pay $4, once.
AudioBus is quite possibly the biggest advancement in mobile music making ever. In essence, it’s a big box of virtual cables that allows you to take audio from one source (your microphone, guitar or another application) route it through another app (like an effects processor) and then output to either a recording application or speaker and line output (ideal for performing live). Most effect processors and recording apps worth their asking price will support AudioBus, and like a pedal board it’s a collection you can build up over time.
The latest version of AudioBus introduces a brand new interface for routing (via an in-app purchase), groups that allow you to save and recall past setups and a tasty new interface. Once you’ve got to grips with AudioBus, check out the range of supported apps you’ll be spending your money on.
Coming in both free and paid flavours, AmpKit is arguably the best virtual guitar amplifier and effect studio available and provides one-tap access to an expandable range of classic sounds. The free version comes with a limited one amp setup, a couple of cabinets, two virtual mics, a noise gate and an overdrive pedal. The paid version offers roughly twice the value as upgrading the free version using in-app purchases, with four amps, seven channels and 10 pedals.
The app supports AudioBus as an input, processor and output device, allows for up to 32 pedals per setup provided you hardware can handle it and has a huge range of expansions available (for a price).
BIAS! Amps ($14.99) / BIAS for iPhone ($12.99)
Positive Grid are probably best known for JamUp XT, an effects processor like AmpKit that allows you to route a clean signal through your iPad and bend it with various pedals and modules. Their latest app, BIAS, is a bit like that except it takes amplifier modelling to the next level, providing access to 36 classic amp models all of which you can access for a one-time price (that’s right, no in-app purchases).
The best bit is that these are incredibly customisable, allowing you to change preamps, tone stacks, power amps, transformers, cabinets, tubes and even the placement of the virtual mic. You can basically “get round the back” of the amp and start changing aspects as you see fit, in essence providing an almost limitless number of custom amps. You can even customise your creations cosmetically, which does nothing for the sound but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
Loopy is a live looper that allows you to create music by recording and looping your voice, an instrument or other iOS music-making apps. The technique is used by artists like Reggie Watts to great effect, though the applications here are endless. AudioBus support means you can use it with a massive range of apps, allowing you mix live instruments, vocal elements and synths or drum machines into the mix.
The app provides a startling amount of functionality in-use. Merge tracks on the fly, reverse recordings, cut in and out of loops, use a MIDI-compliant footpedal as a trigger, overdub and even import other loops and sounds that automatically fit to the beat. This is a beast of an app, with plenty of functionality hiding under the belt once you’ve played with it, though it works best with a guitar interface and headphones.
Sick of acoustic covers and jamming by yourself, sans-accompaniment? Thankfully FunkBox is capable of satisfying your percussive needs, emulating classic drum machines of days gone by and offering you the chance to create your own. The app comes pre-loaded with 36 rhythm patterns and 14 drum machines, featuring faithful representations of classics like the 808, 909 and MRK-2.
You can import ormix and match your own samples to create completely new drum machines, create your own patterns and sync other apps and external hardware thanks to MIDI support. But you don’t have to overthink it – the app comes ready to rock, and has been used live on stage by artists like Glen Tilbrook (Squeeze) and in the studio by the likes of Gorillaz.
Check out our iOS drum machine round-up for even more.
GarageBand & More
It should go without saying that this is just a small sample of the apps on offer, but these are excellent examples of their kind and each provides good value for money. There were a few apps that didn’t quite make the list, including Apple’s own GarageBand (free) which provides a decent selection of virtual amps and effects after you’ve upgraded via in-app purchase. You should probably already have this installed, though limited in its application it provides a great platform for recording, practicing and collaborating with others.
Multitrack DAW ($9.99) is a simple digital audio workstation for sketching ideas on the go – it won’t necessarily win awards for features, but it’s on the AudioBus and won’t limit you by technical ability. Moog Filtatron ($5.99) is a lovely little filter app, though limited in its use as an effects processor it can be fun tweaking the various oscillators and modulators to come up with weird and wonderful Moog-like sounds. JamUp ($12.99, free version available) is another effects processor not dissimilar to AmpKit.
I could keep going forever – but I wont, instead I’ll turn the tables a bit: what’s your favourite iOS app to use with your guitar, and why? Share your thoughts, creations and SoundCloud in the comments below.