Second screen help for six stringers
Guitarists are pretty fortunate these days. Aside from the unbelievable number of toys and tools on offer to augment their rigs, they are also the musicians who benefit most from the rise in popularity of smartphone and tablet devices. There are apps available now to do anything from helping tune your guitar, to recording, through to effects pedals and full blown recording apps for guitarists of all levels. All available from a device which you (more than likely) have close to hand anyway.
What’s perhaps missing is a bit of quality control. Because even a cursory look around the app stores can completely bewilder; hundreds of apps all doing largely the same sorts of things. Hopefully we can help. Here’s our list of the best apps for guitarists.
If your guitar journey is just beginning, then your smartphone or tablet can be a great tool for helping you get to grips with your instrument. Aside from Youtube, with its bombardment of guitar videos, there are some pretty decent apps available to help you. Our favourite is an app called Yousician, which is available on both phones and tablets. Yousician offers hundreds of curated lessons on everything from the most basic techniques through to more challenging tricks and skills. The clever part is how it shows you on screen what to play, and then listens through the device’s microphone to give instant feedback on whether or not you’re succeeding. There are some free lessons to start you off, along with paid versions for specific areas of learning.
Often however, learners want to play the songs they know from the artists they love. Guitar tabs are readily available online, but it’s often quite messy trying to find a decent version of a specific song. Ultimate Guitar’s tab and chords app is a fantastic resource as it brings together tabs from thousands of artists into one place, and each tab has ratings from people who have tried it out. The premium version also has a great feature whereby it plays a MIDI version of the tab, allowing you to slow it down in order to get your head around any tricky bits. Well worth a look.
One of the most crucial elements of playing guitar is ensuring your instrument is properly in tune. There are tonnes of guitar tuners available on the app stores, although quality and usability levels are quite erratic. We’ve chosen the three we feel are the most consistent.
Pretty much any guitarist’s pedal board is going to have a BOSS tuning pedal on there. The industry standard BOSS TU-2 & BOSS TU-3 models adorn both professional and beginner pedal boards thanks to their ease of use, reliability and of course their extremely accurate tuning capabilities. However, carrying around a BOSS tuner pedal is not always practical, so thankfully the creative geniuses at BOSS have created a smartphone app in homage of the industry standard TU-3 pedal tuner. It’s basically the same pedal, just on your phone or tablet. It uses the microphone of your device and can offer seriously accurate tuning for guitar, bass, and other instruments like violin, cello, brass, etc. It’s also completely free to download! Check out the BOSS Tuner app.
For a paid app, TC Electronic’s Polytune App is spot on. It’s not expensive, and offers the same experience as the company’s hugely respected Polytune pedals. Using your phone or tablet’s microphone, it can pick up on whether you’re playing single strings or multiple strings at the same time. It is responsive and easy to use, and offers different settings for downtuned or bass guitars.
Guitar Tuna is another decent app, with a free version which will suit many people’s needs. The basic version helps you tune your guitar efficiently, and offers a nice training section to help your ear learn the various pitches. Upgrade to the full version and you gain access to a metronome and other instruments too. It’s produced by the same people as Yousician, so there’s a real quality feel about this app.
One of the most exciting developments regarding apps is the ability to plug your guitar into your phone or tablet and use it as a fully fledged pedal board. Technology eh? And while it’ll never fully take the place of a dedicated guitar pedal collection, it has found favour with people who travel and need portability or a quick and easy way to try things out.
Two of the biggest names in amp simulation are correct and present too. Amplitube, which has pioneered computer based effects sims for years, offers a superb app which mirrors its PC based cousins. It offers a huge selection of high quality amp and effect models, based on some of the biggest names around. The app also features an inbuilt recording studio and drum machine, so you can build entire tracks from the same place. It works seamlessly with the IK Multimedia iRig interfaces and will allow you to create professional recordings via a tablet or smartphone. It’s an entire suite of amps and effects at your fingertips.
For the more adventurous among us, Positive Grid’s excellent BIAS app allows users to really dig into the heart and soul of an amplifier. You’re able to change almost every individual characteristic of an amp, from power and pre-amp valves through to transformers. Everything can be tinkered with here.
There are a few genuinely solid attempts to offer musicians portable recording studios from within their smartphone or tablet device. Perhaps best known is Garageband, which is available on phones and tablets. Garageband is simple enough that anyone can learn on it, yet offers a surprising level of depth when it comes to the different amps, effects and editing options. Also from Apple is their Musical Memos app which is a stripped down, simple way to put down basic musical ideas which you can revisit later.
For the more advanced user, Auria Pro is a full featured DAW, and can be used to capture the entire recording process with a huge amount of professional sheen. It also offers MIDI, sequencing, automation and a selection of built-in effects and tools.
Check out a complete range of smartphone and tablet audio interfaces over at the Dawsons website.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.