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Music

The Portable Guitarist—Amped-Up Apps

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

If you’ve followed this series, so far, you’ll have the hardware, interface, cabling and mounting you need to perform live with an iPad. All that’s left is to create your sounds, and for that, you need apps.

Items Of Note

Whilst each developer’s app is distinctive, some aspects are universal, so bear in mind the following:

  • Connect the interface before opening the app. If you don’t, the app assumes you’re using the built-in mic, and feedback will occur. Similarly…
  • Ensure the output (such as the headphone socket) is connected (to headphones, powered monitors, etc) before you open the app. If not, feedback awaits
  • Ensure in the app’s Settings that it’s recognised the input and output routes you’ll be using; if not, you’ll be greeted by either the sound of silence or screeching feedback
  • If there’s no sound, check your device’s volume; it seems obvious, but it can still catch you out
  • Before performing, enable Airplane Mode; a device searching for Wi-Fi will consume more battery life, plus you don’t want incoming emails and messages as you’re playing. Furthermore, the carrier signal can be broadcast through the speakers, a sound the audience won’t enjoy

For Consideration

Looking first at popular guitar-centric apps, I'll consider criteria such as whether it sounds good and how easy it is to use live.

I’m speaking from my own experiences of using these apps; I encourage you to form your own opinions. All prices are correct at the time of writing.

Amplitube by IK Multimedia (£14.99)

A big name; indeed, for many guitarists, it’s their first experience of iOS-based guitar sounds.

A diverse app, which includes a number of collections in association with big guitar brands, such as Fender, and Orange, or names, like Slash, and Jimi Hendrix. These are available via In-App Purchases, or IAP, which are almost all over £10 each. 

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. 

Despite claiming it uses the same technology as the desktop version, it simply doesn’t sound real enough; fine for practice and recording, but it won’t fool anyone at a gig.

The User Interface, or UI, is big and colourful, but necessitates having more than one screen to access all the functions; you’ll find yourself lost in a world of pop-up menus and swiping. 

Avoid.

Mobile POD by Line 6 (£14.99)

Line 6 were trailblazers in digital modelling, yet were late with an iOS version of their popular POD Farm software. 

On the face of it, there’s lots to like, with a huge range of amp models and presets to enjoy; of the latter, there are thousands to choose from. The only cost is the app itself, so there’s no further costs with IAPs.

It, however, feels like Line 6 has lost ground, as the once innovative tones now sound rather dated. 

The UI is simple enough, which is good, but far from beautiful; indeed, whilst most developers make each emulation look like their real-world equivalent (which can help identify them), Line 6 has done away with that, and it’s not for the better. 

Again, avoid.

Ampkit+ by Agile Partners (£14.99)

Originally developed for Peavey’s Ampkit Link interface, it has four amps and cabs, plus a selection of pedals and mics. These can be expanded to over 50 amps and pedals, plus 150 presets, for a £29.99 IAP. 

Whilst there’s an understandably heavy slant towards Peavey, other manufacturers are featured. The app recognises most interfaces, can perform recordings, and has export/sharing features to, among others, SoundCloud and Dropbox.

The UI is pleasant and easy, if a little cramped. The presets are a suitable starting point, and, crucially, the tones are good enough to gig with. 

Definitely worth considering.

Tonestack by Yonac Inc (£7.99)

At nearly half the price of other apps, it comes with six amps and cabs, plus 21 FX, the ability to run dual signal paths, plus Inter-App Audio (IAA) hosting, allowing you to place other apps in its signal chain. 

Uniquely, in my experience, it allows you to turn the amp model off, so you could use it just as an FX unit, This is very handy. There’s also a Live Mode, which is a pedalboard for switching patches, just like a hardware multi FX unit.

Against it are the expensive IAP purchases; the Motherload expansions are £64.99. They do, however, give you a huge range of amps, cabs, and FX, that can be assembled in any way you choose.

Crucially, it’s one of the most realistic-sounding apps available, and should be better known. 

Strongly recommended.

BIAS FX by Positive Grid (£7.99)

BIAS FX is unique in the sense that it has connected off-shoot apps that feed into it, allowing you to build custom amps and pedals that can be used in BIAS FX. You don’t need these to use BIAS FX, as it comes with 12 amps and 25 FX but this concept offers a staggering degree of personalisation.

Beyond that is the Tonecloud where artists and the public can upload set-ups that other users can download for free ...although their functionality depends on you having all of the required models.

As per Tonestack, there are also dual signal chains, IAA, and a live mode. IAP are reasonably priced at a few pounds each.

The UI is detailed, but not in a distracting way and is both logical and easy to use.

I’d put this alongside Tonestack for great live tones, especially if you incorporate a ToneMatch amp model where a physical amp has been modelled. 

Again, strongly recommended.

Conclusion

There's  many more apps than those mentioned here and I urge you to try as many as you can. 

Whilst doing so, think about the following:

  • Ensure both inputs and outputs are connected before opening the app
  • Check the app recognises the signal path you’re employing
  • Enable Airplane Mode
  • Check the volume
  • Choose an app that’s easy to use, visually appealing and, most importantly, sounds great
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