Guitar-player apps put fun in your strum

Oct 6, 2009
Music

A generation ago, guitar players considered it a near miracle that they could call their answering machines from the road, bang out a few bars of a song idea, and have the recording preserved on tape until they arrived home. These days, iPhones can do things guitar players would’ve considered the stuff of a sci-fi […]

A generation ago, guitar players considered it a near miracle that they could call their answering machines from the road, bang out a few bars of a song idea, and have the recording preserved on tape until they arrived home.

These days, iPhones can do things guitar players would’ve considered the stuff of a sci-fi rock opera just a year ago. Much to my delight, for example, I need never worry about forgetting my guitar tuner again, as several reliable tuner apps exist for iPhones. So do host of other delightful devices we’ll survey here.

Essential strumming tools

Cleartune – Chromatic Tuner ($3.99) represents the Holy Grail for absent-minded guitarists. I tried Cleartune at a recent gig and it tuned my acoustic guitar flawlessly, thanks to an easy-to-read tuner wheel. Cleartune uses the iPhone’s microphone, so background noise will mess with it some. You can change calibrations from standard A440, or transpose keys.  

For the cost of a cheapo lead cable, guitarists can download a must-have arsenal of helpful devices thanks to Guitar Toolkit ($9.99). The app includes a tuner (not as nice as Cleartune’s, but accurate), scale charts that play the notes as you touch them, and a metronome. Every scale you’d ever want to learn is in here, from Hungarian Gypsy to Auxiliary Diminished.  

Strumming and fretting an iPhone with PocketGuitar (99 cents) makes me feel line one of those ’80s dudes who wore keyboards like guitars. The polyphony on Pocket Guitar sounds fuzzy, but I found it fun to have the tuning for a ukulele, for example, at my fingertips. Built-in delay and distortion can be fine-tuned, a nice plus. 

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Make new music

As with the real thing, you’ll have to practice quite a bit to get the hang of the free Steel Guitar. But bend and twist your iPhone just right and sure enough, you’ll hear some sweet pedal steel bending. Choose from 6-string lap steep, or various 8- and 10-string modes … or crank up the delay and distortion to go psychobilly. Yee hah!

With 132 instrument tunings (and more on the way, no doubt), FretBoard ($5.99) can help an ambitious guitarist decode any stringed instrument from lutes to bouzoukis. The built-in tutorial is required reading before you dive in, but well worth the time. I was delighted to find, for example, Curtis Mayfield tuning among the guitar choices here.

Every guitar player loves effects pedals, and iShred Guitar + Effects ($4.99) comes with eight you can turn on and off; switch guitar tones and strum your favorite songs in autoharp fashion (with depressed keys giving you the chords). You can also play and record your own songs; I see lots of potential running iShred through an amp and fooling my musician friends. 

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Lou Carlozo

Former Chicago Tribune DVD columnist, current music critic at Christian Century, paid blogger/columnist for AOL's WalletPop and True/Slant ... but most important, a proud owner of an iPhone 3Gs and one of the first in Chicago to own a duo-core MacBook Pro laptop. Flash back 30 years; my first computer ever in 1979: an Apple II.

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