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The Portable Guitarist—Hardware

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Read Time: 5 min

The my first tutorial, The Portable Guitarist—Using iOS as a Live Rig, I explained why an iOS-based live rig has many advantages. In this tutorial, I'll explain the core of the set-up: the hardware.

Before you start, you should consider the reason that you'll be using the device.

Consider Why You'll Be Using an iOS Device

Guitartists often use time-based apps like delays and reverbs. If, however, the device has insufficient memory, the sound will glitch and stutter terribly. Before choosing a device to use, bear this in mind: the more processing power and memory you can get, the better. 

Therefore, when looking at the specifications of a preferred device (which you can find on the relevant product page of the Apple website), pay attention to:

  • Which generation of processor is onboard, the more recent, the better
  • How much memory the device has: be aware that when a 16GB memory is quoted, the reality is nearer 12GB due to system requirements

Don’t spend everything on the device. It may be the centre of your sound set-up, but there’ll be peripherals to buy, so budget accordingly.

For further savings, check out the Refurbished section of the Apple Store. Not only are items cheaper, but they’ll be as-new, and come with a 1-year Apple warranty.

An iPad Is the Sensible Choice

Personally, I favour the iPad. If nothing else, a bigger screen is easier to see on a darkened stage (even if iPhones seem to get bigger with each iteration). Plus, on-screen adjustments are easier; no-one wants to hear you accidentally engaging your death metal tone during a sensitive ballad.

Then there’s battery life; having used both an iPad and iPhone live, the battery life of an iPhone can plummet alarmingly. True, if it’s fully charged to start with, you’re unlikely to play long enough to drain it down, and a break between sets lets you recharge it. However, I’d rather focus on my performance than the battery icon.

Remember to check the Apple store for refurbished iPads.

Don't Dismiss the iPhone or iPod Touch

Screen size and battery life aside, the iPhone and iPod Touch suffer little in specification; currently, the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and iPod Touch all share the same processor as the iPad mini 4, and are all available up to 64GB. The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus offer improved processor and a maximum of 128GB memory.

It can also be cheaper; Apple currently charges £159 for the 16GB iPod Touch. If you can afford it, the top-of-the-range 128GB is £329; compare this to the iPhone 6S at £539, and the iPad Air 2 at £559.

So they can be cheaper, and they’re certainly even more portable. They generally run the same apps as the iPad, certainly the guitar-centric ones, and accept the same interfaces.


There are generally two types of interface: 

  1. headphone socket, and 
  2. dock 

Headphone Socket

These were the original iOS interface, and the iRig by IK Multimedia is probably the most famous. Beautifully straightforward, and attractively cheap, it was a trailblazer. 

In 2015 it was superseded by the iRig2, which is a little bigger, and has more features such as input gain control. Crucially, it’s still cheap; the iRig2 costs under £30. The original iRig is still available, and I’ve found it for as little as £15 new.

However, this wonderful cheapness comes at a price: noise. Lots and lots of noise.

The headphone socket is supposed to be for output, so introducing an input signal in such close proximity creates hiss, and can lead to feedback.

The Ampkit Link from Peavey tried to address this by being battery-powered, and it certainly meant a higher signal level could be achieved before feedback occurred. But it didn’t cure it, so guitarists relied heavily on noise gates

A better solution is that of a dock interface.

Dock Interfaces

Unlike the headphone socket, the dock doesn’t rely on just three connections, so input and output signals can be kept separate, significantly cleaning up the sound. It also frees the headphone socket to do what it was designed to do.

Of the models on the market, and ignoring those of a desktop nature, my choice is the Jam from Apogee. It’s extremely compact, and requires no external power source. 

Other features include the integral gain control which means it can also be used with certain microphones. It is compatible with both iOS and Mac for live performance and home recording. It also still serves the 30-pin format of older devices, alongside that of current, Lightning-equipped ones.

Quality of sound is what matters, and the Jam’s 24-bit, 48kHz digital converters don’t disappoint. If that isn’t good enough for you, there’s a 96kHz version.

All of this sonic goodness does come at a higher price, however; a 48kHz Jam is typically over £70, and the 96Khz is over £100. If you want to go slightly cheaper, check out the SonicPort from Line 6.

Hands Free

Using iOS live has meant having one's hands more on a screen than perhaps many guitarists would like; this becomes increasingly applicable if you use lots of different sounds.

Bluetooth-based foot controllers, however, exploit the fact that many apps accept MIDI commands. Consequently, switching pedals onscreen becomes no different to that of kicking old-school stompboxes on and off.

As for what’s available, the iRig BlueBoard from IK Multimedia has lots to recommend it; four backlit footpads, expression pedal inputs, fits in a gig bag, and works with most iDevices, as well as Mac.

If plastic seems flimsy, check out the all-metal BT-4 from Positive Grid; more expensive, but more robust.


In looking at the core of a live set-up, I have shown you that

  • An iPad is a preferable option
  • An iPhone or iPod Touch are be cheaper and aren’t necessarily a poorer choice
  • Go for the highest specification you can afford
  • Apple Refurbished models can save you money
  • A dock interface is the only serious choice for sound quality
  • A Bluetooth foot controller brings familiar analogue functionality

In the next tutorial, I’ll show you how to mount and connect equipment effectively for a live environment.

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