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The Portable Guitarist—Special Effects

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In this series of tutorials, on The Portable Guitarist, I’ve considered using iOS as the complete solution for the sound-creating needs of guitarists.

If you’re happy using a REAL guitar amp, however, you might think that excludes you from using iOS. Not necessarily so.

Old School, New School

The idea of pairing the analogue technology of valves with the digital of iOS may, at first, seem a little odd. That said, people have plugged digital multi-FX boards (Zoom, Boss, and the like) into valve amps for years now.

The great advantages of iOS are that it’s easier to demo new additions to your set-up, more portable than most pedalboard and definitely cheaper per effect. 

Plus, as you’ll see, you can try out things not normally available to guitarists.

Plug and Play

I’ve established that you can plug an iPad into an amp. If you want to learn more on how to physically achieve this, please read the earlier tutorial The Portable Guitarist—Amps, Cable and Connectors.

Where to Go

Just as with their real-world equivalents, you have to consider what effects you’re using. This will determine whether you connect to the front-end of your amp or go via the effects loop—assuming the amp has one. 

Again, refer to the earlier tutorial The Portable Guitarist—Amps, Cable and Connectors for help with this.

The following are some great apps you may wish to consider. All prices are correct at time of writing.

AudioReverb by VirSyn

AudioReverb, by VirSin, £6.99 on the Apple App Store.

What sets this reverb app apart is not just the diversity of sounds you get, but the quality.

This is thanks to the usage of impulse responses from actual physical spaces, as opposed to constructed simulations. You can choose from seven different types of reverb, each with its own set of patches. 

There’s an impressive amount of tailoring achievable, but if you just want to dive in, there' a 118 presets to get you started.

I used this app once to recreate the epic sound of Pink Floyd’s ‘Sorrow’, of which you can find a video on my YouTube channel. Contrast this to the original, which required a Big Muff pedal, a Fender Concert amp, a Quad PA system, and the LA Sports Arena.

Crystalline by Holderness Media

Crystalline by Holderness Media, £4.99 on the Apple App Store.

As with AudioReverb, this is a fabulously well-appointed and expressive delay app; it can be as subtle or as crazy as you want it to be. 

Its creators have genuinely considered live usage by providing a Perform Mode, giving you the most crucial controls across four XY pads. 

Continuing this theme, it responds to both MIDI and Bluetooth commands. It also works in stereo, so if you’ve got a suitable rig, you can produce some truly epic sounds

Tonestack by Yonac Inc., £9.99

Tonestack by Yonac, £9.99 on the Apple App Store.

I covered this previously in The Portable Guitarist - Amped-Up Apps. However, I’m mentioning it here again because of a feature that few other apps like it have; you can turn off the amp and cab simulations, leaving just the effects. This means you’ve access to all kinds to pedals, which can then be arranged just like a traditional hardware pedalboard. Based on or inspired by real world equipment, you can choose from 101 separate effects, so there should be something for everyone. Tonestack also supports Inter-App Audio (IAA). Speaking of which…

Inter-App Audio, £free

Not a standalone app in it’s own right, it’s a feature that a number of apps support, and a very handy one at that. It allows audio and/or MIDI to be sent between applications. 

Apps are either Nodes or Hosts:

  • a Node is an app that sends information, and 
  • a Host is an app that receives information 

Ensure you know which is which. In simple terms, for our purposes, you can insert one app into the signal chain of another.

Taking some of the apps described here, you could use Tonestack for the amp and cab tones then use an instance of IAA to introduce, for example, a plate reverb via AudioReverb.

Audiobus by Audiobus Pty Ltd

Audiobus by Audiobus Pty Ltd, £4.99 on the Apple App Store.


When iPads and apps were new, apps could only be used singly; you couldn’t apply effects from one app to another. This all changed in 2012 when Audiobus was introduced.

Audiobus is, at its simplest, a pipeline, feeding your signal from Input to Output via an Effects slot. What makes this different from IAA is that the latest version allows multiple instances of apps in each slot. Furthermore, Audiobus is supported by over 750 apps. This gives you access to apps and effects that can’t be found in any guitar-centric apps. It’s incredibly useful, and definitely worth having.

Loopy HD by A Tasty Pixel

Loopy HD by A Tasty Pixel, £3.99 on the Apple App Store.

Looping’s really grown in the past decade and is ideal for the solo artist, who wants to create a big sound, or the single guitarist in a band who wants a rhythm part to underpin lead work.

Loopy HD is the most well-known app, helped in no small part by American chat show host Jimmy Fallon using it regularly on his show. 

Loopy HD is packed with features, yet isn’t difficult to get started with. You can have up to 12 different loops going at once, represented on screen by glowing circles. You can set the loop length, and recording is activated when you start playing. Each loop can be adjusted for volume and panning. 

You can import and export loops, control the app via MIDI, and it’ll even synchronise to drum/beat apps running on your iPad. It’s also Audiobus-compatible, so you could feed effects into it. 

Even if you’ve no intention of using it live, it’s a great practice tool.

Other Apps

Of course, there are a whole host of other apps available, and I encourage you to try as many as possible.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, I’ve covered the following:

  • Having iOS in your set-up is no different from any other equipment a guitarist may use
  • More portable
  • It’s more cost-effective than traditional hardware
  • Allows access to non-traditional effects
  • There’s a greater range of choice
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