10 Useful iPhone Apps Every Guitarist Should Have

Guitars and new technology go together like almond butter and blackberry preserves. It's one of the great things about this particular niche. Vintage gear and philosophies will always be held in the highest regard, but there's always room for modern advancement. The new doesn't replace the old--they live alongside one another in perfect harmony.

Case in point? The rise of smartphones, and the role they play in everyday musicianship. You can do almost everything with an iPhone now, and guitarists everywhere are reaping the benefits. If you're a guitar player with an iPhone, you owe it to yourself to give these awesome apps a try. They're all really cheap (under $10), a lot of them are free (usually with in-app purchases), and you're bound to find at least a few that will prove themselves invaluable.

The Ultimate Guitar Tab app gives you access to a huge database of user-created guitar tablature
The Ultimate Guitar Tab app gives you access to a huge database of user-created guitar tablature

Ultimate Guitar Tabs

As a website, Ultimate Guitar is one of the best ways to get your hands on user-created guitar tablature. It's probably the biggest tablature archive currently running, and thanks to a handy rating system, they make it easy to filter out the great tabs from the worthless ones.

The Ultimate Guitar App provides easy access to this humongous archive, but makes the whole ordeal far more intuitive and more easily accessible--you won't always be in front of a computer, but I'm willing to bet you'll have your iPhone with you on hand at all times. It's also quite a bit faster than the website, so you'll be pulling up tabs for your favorite songs in no time at all.

The Ultimate Guitar App isn't free, but at $2.99, it's well worth every penny. They also offer a slew of in-app purchases, including the excellent Tab Pro option ($4.99), which opens access to a MIDI-based Guitar Pro-esque tab files.


Songsterr

If text based guitar tablature isn't your thing, you may want to give Songsterr a whirl. Like Ultimate Guitar, it features a large archive of user-created guitar tabs, but focuses solely on fully fleshed out, MIDI-driven musical staff/tablature hybrid. It's the Ultimate Guitar Tab Pro option without any of the fluff.

Songsterr is available for free, but you'll need a subscription ($4.99 a month) to unlock all of its core features (slowing tempo, isolating guitar parts, etc). In the long run, it's a little pricier than Ultimate Guitar's Tab Pro, but the tabs you'll find here are arguably of higher quality. I use both, and usually find Songterr to be the better of the two when it comes to Guitar Pro-ish stuff.

Songsterr features a large database of high quality user-created tabs
Songsterr features a large database of high quality user-created tabs
Guitar Tuna is a fantastic tuning app that works with guitar, bass, and ukulele.
Guitar Tuna is a fantastic tuning app that works with guitar, bass, and ukulele.

Guitar Tuna

There is no shortage of guitar tuning tools in the App Store, but Guitar Tuna is probably the best of the bunch. It features a clean, easy to use interface, and, most importantly, an accurate tuner that works with guitar, bass, and ukulele. The built-in metronome, guitar chord library, and ear-training games act as an added (and awesome) bonus.

Guitar Tuna is available for free, with a few in-app purchases (focused mainly on alternate tunings) that you probably won't ever need. As it stands, the free version is amazingly useful, and could potentially save you from having to purchase a standalone tuning device.



Jamplay's iOS app is chock full of incredibly useful tools and videos.
Jamplay's iOS app is chock full of incredibly useful tools and videos.

JamPlay App

The good folks over at JamPlay are known for their massive selection of guitar instruction video lessons, and their iPhone app is one of the best kept "secrets" on the App Store. Unlike their dedicated website, it's completely free--a JamPlay Subscription is not required--and it's chock full of rock n' rollin' goodness. Along with over 100 high-quality instruction videos, this app also features:

  • A chord library
  • A scale library
  • A lick & riff library
  • An exercise library
  • A metronome
  • A tuner
  • Tons on "JamTrack" backing tracks sorted by scale and key

...and did I mention that it's free? Absolutely amazing.

If I have to knock the JamPlay app for something, well, it's not very pretty. Like the dedicated JamPlay website, it looks and feels rather antiquated. Considering how much awesomeness lies within it, though, this visual oversight is easily forgiven.

The free version of ChordBank gives you access to major, minor, sixth, and minor sixth chord variations.
The free version of ChordBank gives you access to major, minor, sixth, and minor sixth chord variations.

ChordBank

ChordBank does exactly what its name suggests--it acts as a database for chord shapes. This alone isn't very special--there are a lot of apps that feature chord libraries. Where ChordBank excels, however, is in the visual department. It's a very fast app, and it shows you exactly which fingers to use and where to place them on a vertical guitar fretboard. If you need to know how to play a chord quickly, then this is probably a great app to try.

ChordBank is free, but it's going to cost you $3.99 to unlock all the chord variations. The free version will show you how to play major, minor, sixth, and minor sixth chords (oddly enough, not seventh). Either way, it's a small price to pay for the convenience of having practically every single chord variation right on hand.



Combining a metronome with a basic timer is a simple, yet incredibly effective, idea.
Combining a metronome with a basic timer is a simple, yet incredibly effective, idea.

Metronome/MetroTimer

Every guitarist should have a metronome. Every single one of them. You are no exception. If you don't have one, then you need to get one. Trust me, the world will love you more for it.

MetroTimer (also known simply as Metronome) on the App Store is, like the name suggests, a metronome. But it's also a timer. Combine the two, and you've got one of the most useful practice tools available. It's important to have a well established guitar practice routine, and being able to keep timed exercises will allow you to organize it that much better.

You can download the Metronome/MetroTimer app for free on the App Store. A pro version for $2.99 unlocks odd time signatures and a few more doohickies, but the zero dollar option works great as well.

AmpliTube effectively turns your iPhone into a high quality pocket amplifier.
AmpliTube effectively turns your iPhone into a high quality pocket amplifier.

AmpliTube

Don't let the naysayers tell you otherwise--digital guitar modeling is awesome. Sure, it'll never replace the warmth and clarity of an expensive tube amplifier, but processed guitar sounds have come a long way since the turn of the 21st century. A lot of them sound great, some sound fantastic, and all of them are significantly cheaper than the alternative of actual, physical gear.

AmpliTube is a well known and widely used guitar modeling option, and having it available on the iPhone is nothing less than stellar. It's kind of like, no scratch that--it's exactly like having a high quality practice amp in your pocket. Throw in the fact that they offer a ton of officially licensed amps and effects at your disposal, and you've got a winner.

The only problem? There are tons of variations available on the App Store, which can be quite confusing. The actual AmpliTube app is $9.99, but a free (albeit stripped down version) is also available. There's also an AmpliTube Fender App (free version and paid $6.99 version), an AmpliTube Slash app ($6.99), an AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix App ($6.99)...and to make matters even that much more irritating, there's an AmpliTube LE version for $2.99! And they all feature in-app upgrades. What to do, what to do?!

My advice? Give the free version a whirl first. It's stripped down, but it's got all you need out of the box to get some pretty decent guitar sounds. On another note, you're also going to need to have an iOS guitar interface to use them. IK Multimedia (the developers of AmpliTube) offer the iRig HD, which works with the Lighting port on more recent iOS devices.

If you have an iPhone 4S or older, you're going to have to find one that supports the now-ancient 30-pin port. I have used the Focusrite iTrack Solo in the past, and it works, but it's pretty clunky (see: large). Older interfaces that use the headphone port are available, but I don't recommend them--they sound terrible.

Check out this video from the good people over at Sweetwater that demos the excellent AmpliTube Orange Amp app:

AmpKit is another popular, great sounding amp/effects simulator.
AmpKit is another popular, great sounding amp/effects simulator.

AmpKit

I usually steer people towards AmpliTube when it comes to guitar modeling on iOS, but they're not the only option available. AmpKit (developed by Peavey) is another popular guitar amp simulator, and some people swear by it. It's not hard to see why, either--AmpKit is pretty killer. Since it's made by Peavey, it features some pretty spot-on Peavey modeling, and it gives you the ability to purchase officially licensed effects by Rocktron (one of my personal favorite stomp box brands).

Like AmpliTube, AmpKit goes beyond it's proprietary models and attempts to emulate a wide variety of vintage and modern amplifiers. Most are not officially licensed by their original manufacturers, but they still sound pretty great.

AmpKit costs $9.99, but they offer a free, stripped down version that will work for most people. As with AmpliTube, you are given the option to purchase additional amps and effects within the app, and you're going to have to have an iOS ready guitar interface.

GarageBand

I couldn't list 10 essential iPhone apps for guitarists without mentioning GarageBand. It's just not possible. Why? Because GarageBand for iOS is simply awesome, even if it isn't solely based around the notion of playing guitar.

Beyond an incredibly intuitive DAW experience, GarageBand for iOS features built-in guitar modeling that you can use for recording, or simply for practicing. I like to use it to make customized backing tracks on the fly, though I have found myself creating several scratch demos on it by "accident." If you're interested in creating original music on your iPhone, GarageBand is a no-brainer.

GarageBand will run you $4.99, and it's money well spent. Trust me. If you have GarageBand and/or Logic Pro X on your Mac, it also allows you to transfer the files onto your computer for more advanced stuff.

GarageBand for iOS is the ultimate songwriting tool, with guitar amp modeling built right into it.
GarageBand for iOS is the ultimate songwriting tool, with guitar amp modeling built right into it.
Guitar Pro for iOS allows you to jot down riff ideas on the fly.
Guitar Pro for iOS allows you to jot down riff ideas on the fly.

Guitar Pro

The Windows/Mac version of Guitar Pro is well regarded as an essential application for guitarists. Its younger sibling, the iOS version, doesn't quite hit that mark, but it's still an incredibly useful app.

Guitar Pro for iOS ($7.99) is essentially a tab player, but unlike Ultimate Guitar's Tab Pro and Songsterr, it doesn't include a database. This means you'll have to manually upload Guitar Pro tablature files via a PC/Mac and iTunes in order to use them within this app. Is it an annoying process? Yeah, kind of--but it's not that bad.

Where the iOS version of Guitar Pro shines is in the "note taking" department. If you have a riff idea that you don't want to lose, this app allows you to jot it down in tablature form. It's a little slower to use than the "real" version of Guitar Pro, but it undoubtedly works.

Have you ever used your iOS device to record guitar?

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