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Summary:

It wasn’t consciously a New Year’s resolution, but shortly after Christmas after years of tripping over my guitar cases, I decided it was time to start playing again. Luckily, there’s a healthy stock of iPad amp apps to help me get back on the horse.

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It wasn’t consciously a New Year’s resolution, but shortly after Christmas after years of tripping over my guitar cases, I decided it was time to get back in the game. While I have three guitars I love, my amp gear was either anemic or overpowered. I have a small practice amp I’ve never been happy with, and my stage rig. The cats don’t really seem to care for the loud amps.

So, after watching Apple’s “iPad is Electric” commercial I decided to take a look at amp apps for the iPad. Three in particular caught my eye: Amplitube, PocketAmp, and iShred.

Hooking Up

First you need a way to hook your guitar into your iOS device. You can either make a cable yourself, get one from Griffin, or use the iRig. I chose the iRig and it’s a fairly simple adapter. You have a female guitar cable input on one end, a male headphone jack that plugs into your iOS device, and a female headphone connector for connecting headphones or a set of speakers. It may not suit the needs of perfectionists, but for the general user, it fits the bill.

The Apps

Amplitube (Free/$19.99): While the $20 price tag is a big turn off, I found the free version to be perfectly fine for the average practicing musician: the paid version gives you more presets and the ability play songs from your iTunes library. The free and paid versions both have in-app purchases for more pedals. Amplitube does have a lot of in-app purchases, even if you purchase the paid version, which may seem greedy. To me, it seems more like an effort to offer very specific levels of customizability. One of the things I liked most about this app was that for relatively little money, I could tailor my playing experience the way I wanted it.

There’s in-app recording (single track is free, multi-track is an additional $15), but I’m just as happy pumping the feed into Garageband. That’s because the sounds I got from this app were fantastic. I could get a nice warm clean tone and also a heavy metal scream. You get three pedals (delay, noise gate, and distortion) with the free app. Those combined with the ability to save presets let me build a nice library of sounds. Additional pedals are $2.99.

PocketAmp (Free/$4.99). This is the perfect app if you just want to  jam with a minimum of fuss.The free version comes with two presets (Clean and Rock) and both sound decent. You also have a few sliders to customize the sound. For $4.99, the paid version is almost a no-brainer. You get more presets (Clean, Blues, Rock, Metal) and a handful of effects (Chorus, Flanger, Rotary, Tremolo). Both versions lets you play along to your iTunes library on your iOS device. The app lacks the customization you’ll find in Amplitube, but you get more than your five bucks worth of sound. PocketAmp is also a universal app, so it works on both iPhone/iPod touch and iPad. The one big problem I have is likely to be minor for most: PocketAmp is portrait-only on the iPad, and I prefer a landscape orientation.

iShred (Free/in-app purchases): While it got decent reviews, I had a hard time getting good sound out of this app. Even with the in-app purchase of the “Screamer” distortion pedal, the sound came off as weak. It gets points for being both a universal app and having free iTunes play-along, but loses just as many for having a weak overall tone. That said, if you’ve got physical effects pedals you love the sound of, and just want a free amp app to practice over songs, this might be a good choice. I was much happier with even the free PocketAmp app.

Final Thoughts

If you want fully-customizable sound, and don’t mind paying a little extra for in-app purchases, my favorite of the bunch is Amplitube, even using just the free version. I probably spent about $8 on a few extra effects and amps and really love the sounds I got from it. For the more budget-conscious that have a higher need for iTunes playback than I did, PocketAmp is a great value; even the stock presets sound great.

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