Left to Right: Cleartune’s Chromatic Tuner, The FourTrack recording app from Sonoma Wire Works,
Ninebuzz Software’s Guitar Jam Tracks—Acoustic Blues, Massimo Biolcati’s iReal Book.
Without a doubt, we guitar
players like our toys, no
matter what size they come in.
But the smallest one with the
biggest punch is my iPhone.
With its built-in software and
a few cheap apps, the iPhone
helps me tune up, rehearse,
record and create. With literally
hundreds of guitar-related
apps available, how do you find
the cool ones? One solution
is to identify which apps have
worked well for others. With
that in mind, here are six apps
that enhance my workflow.
The $3.99 Cleartune
accurate. You can set it to
display a simple note wheel that
measures pitch with ±1 cent
(1/100th of a half-step) accuracy.
Jamming with harmonica or
playing in a baroque ensemble?
No problem: You can recalibrate
A4 to something other
than 440 Hz and make your
adjustments in 0.1 Hz increments.
Other features include
automatic or manual note
selection and a tone-generating
Pitch Pipe mode.
I simply set Chromatic
Tuner to automatic pitch selection
and tune up while watching
the note wheel. It works
like a charm. The app’s super-sensitive
pitch detection allows
me to place my iPhone in front
of me on a desk or music stand
and tune up from anywhere
nearby. It will even let me tune
up my electrics when they’re
unplugged. I can’t recommend
this app enough.
Sonoma Wire Works FourTrack
is slightly “expensive”
at $9.99. (Imagine—we
think that’s expensive!) But you
get 16-bit/44.1 kHz recording
and an onscreen 4-channel
mixer. Just like an old Tascam
Portastudio 144, you can bounce
down to open up tracks for more
overdubs. FourTrack has a compressor
and 4-band parametric
EQ, panning and faders—and
has the ability to import audio
tracks. The latest version (4.0.2)
offers the GuitarJack control
panel, which allows you
to record using the optional
GuitarJack audio interface that
sports 1/4" and 1/8" inputs.
To use this app, you need to
have headphones and a mic. (I
simply use my headset mic.) It’s
basically GEP (Good Enough
Productions) to get the chords
down and then overdub a melody
or solo idea. But if you want,
you can take it much further
and do some decent recording.
I’ve written a lot of songs with
the help of this useful “toy.”
It’s fun to practice with
Guitar Jam Tracks—Acoustic
, a $1.99 app from
Ninebuzz Software. Just pick
a major or minor key and play
along to the progression. The
tempos are fixed and the sound
is just mediocre, but I use it to
practice phrasing and solo ideas.
There is a section that displays
scales (such as the A minor
pentatonic for the selected key
of A minor), which you can
view while trying out new ideas.
The company has other apps
too, such as Humbucker Blues,
Rock, Reggae, and Bass.
Another excellent value at
$9.99 is the iReal Book
app features over 900 songs
that display neatly on your
phone. You can transpose each
song into any key and you can
even have the app play along!
Currently, there are 24 styles
(12 jazz, five pop, and seven
Latin), and each song can
be played in any key at your
chosen tempo in any of the
24 styles. You can create editable
playlists (perfect for gigs)
and edit existing charts. It’s a
real blast to call up a tune, and
play along to the piano, bass,
and drums. As the song moves
along, a small grey area follows
the chart, showing you exactly
what measure is playing. It’s a
crazy-good way to learn tunes
I use the free AOL Radio
app for inspiration. It’s like
having satellite radio in your
phone. The app offers a bunch
of cool genres, ranging from
“New Indie” and “New Alt”
to classical, jazz/blues, metal,
and rock. One of my favorites
is under the Rock tab, and
it’s called Rock Instrumentals.
There’s no shortage of amazing
guitar playing, and it’s sure to
get you psyched to plug in. The
app also displays the name of
the artist and album as the tune
plays. The only bummer is that
it has commercials, but I just
switch over to the All Metallica
station when that happens.
The Voice Memos
built into the iPhone software,
and I get more use out of it
than almost anything else on my
phone. It’s simple: A small red
record button, a VU meter, and
a speaker icon sit below a large
display of a microphone. Hit the
red button and start recording
using the internal mic. It’s my
“idea catcher,’” and when I have a
progression or a lick I don’t want
to forget, I immediately record it.
You can label an idea (for example,
“country lick in G minor”)
and listen back by hitting the
speaker button. I also use it when
co-writing or rehearsing a tune.
The recording quality is good
enough for referencing and the
share button allows you to immediately
send that audio file back
to your co-writer via email. I’ve
got a big catalog of song ideas
and guitar licks in my phone that
I revisit quite often. These are
ideas that would certainly have
escaped me in the old “Oh, I’ll
remember that one” days.
Overall, I can’t recommend
an iPhone enough for guitarists.
And now, with prices of older
models coming way down ($49
with a contract for some AT&T
3GS models), you can think
of it as an affordable music-making
engineer and mixer who
has worked with artists
ranging from Al Di
Meola to David Bowie.
A life-long guitarist, he’s
also the author of Pro Tools Surround
and composes for the
likes of Fox NFL, Discovery Channel,
Nickelodeon, and HBO.