Best guitar effects apps for iPad and iPhone
Updated: Feb 23
In this article we will have a look at the best guitar effects apps for iPad and iPhone available. In this category we will consider exclusively apps dedicated to tone shaping of guitars connected to the iOS devices, such as amp simulators and multi-effects simulators.
Guitar players quite often travel and go mobile with their guitars. While portable and compact amp modellers with multi-effects are becoming more popular - read about Compact Amp Modeller with Effects for Guitar: HX Stomp and Gigboard here - with a simple interface such as the Apogee Jam Plus allow the player to utilise an iOS device and an app for tone shaping.
It is unlikely that these apps will achieve the same performance as a dedicated piece of hardware, as they are build around the limitations imposed by an iOS device: processing power, memory, operational system rules, latency. They can however sound impressive and enable a solution where all you need is the guitar, the interface and the iOS device with the app.
To be able to use these apps you will need a guitar interface for mobile such as the iRig.
The main features and characteristics to look for when searching for these apps are:
• Look and feel. Most are designed to look like a real guitar rig, with graphical representations of their amps and pedals and even the cables and controls. This gives the user the ability to interact with the rig on the fly like they would with a physical rig. In turn they can focus in there music. So usability is key here.
• Reputation or brand. Some developers have a reputation as they develop hardware counterpart or plugin versions of the app, so they are renowned in the professional audio industry. This will allow you to share presets with other versions of their software or allow for a simple learning curve if you are already familiar with them.
• Availability of amps and effects. While this will vary according to your needs and musical style, only few selected ones can use the original names of the amps (such as Marshall, Orange or Fender) and effects (like an Ibanez TubeScreamer) due to copyright. Most however will feature the classic amps under different names. An example is the classic Marshall JCM800 being called 'British Lead 800' in some of the apps.
• Price and pricing model. Some of these apps look cheap or are even free, but the trick is on what are the amps, cabinets, microphones and effects included. A significant number of them include the basics and then sell 'packages' with multiple effects and amps per style of music or something similar. It's worth checking the in-app purchases section under the app store and also the vendor website to see exactly what you get and what is the total cost of ownership for your dream effects package.
• Cloud back up system. Ideally aim for the ones which can save the patches in the cloud in case you have to alternate between the iPhone and iPad version of the app, or for backup purposes. Sometimes it takes a lot of tweaking to get to the ideal tone, and not being able to share that or move to a new device is a no-no. Bonus: some will feature online tone communities where you can download tones and patches already tweaked and shared by other users. These will normally already aim the musical style, band, album or even song that you want.
• Digital Signal Processing features, such as sound quality, latency and ability to run in the background. This is quite essential. Some apps will explicitly advertise latency and allow the user to change that if experiencing glitches or other undesirable audio artefacts. Most will allow you to switch to a background mode where which allows you to play with other apps (such as a youtube video for example).
• Guitar interfaces supported. Of course you want to pick an app that supports the interface you have or are about to purchase. As explained in this article the most popular interfaces like Apogee Jam, IRig or Sonic Port should work fine with most apps. The app description in the app store or their website should have that information. If you can't find it look for a youtube video with both as keywords, or drop me a line below.
• Interoperability with recording apps. This will allow you to use your app as an input to a recording app such as Garage Band. While third party options exist - AudioBus is a very popular one - iOS introduced a few years ago the Inter-App feature and most of these apps support that. If this feature is listed it then means you can add a track in garage band with audio coming straight from the app you're using, and the processed guitar sound coming from your app will be recorded. While Garage Band itself has some amp modelling and effects, this allows for a wider selection and quality as the dedicated apps we are covering in this article are generally better.
• Fringe benefits. Some apps will come with fringe benefits such as recording inside the app, loops, and so on. The only I found useful are tuner and metronome, but most of the others are not as rich as what you get if you use a dedicated app.
The Popular Ones
We will have a look at the most popular apps first, the ones that have been going on for years and have thousands of downloads and users.
Agile Partners AmpKit
This is one of the first I've used and I still think it's one of the best. It's simple, effective, and comes with lots of cool tones out of the box. Let's have a look at the main features:
• Look and Feel: cool app with realistic look and feel, with graphics depicting amps, cabinets, microphones and pedals. You can shuffle pedals around and before and after the amp like you would in a real rig, only using your finger or stylus, readjusting the signal path in a matter of seconds.
• Reputation and brand: the app is backed up by Peavey so it features classic Peavey amp selection. The amp is made by Agile Partners who have been around for a while and feature thousands of downloads. Not a fly by night success.
• Availability of amps and effects: Apart from Peavey it does include models for amps from other brands but you will have to search online or second guess what they are by their name, looks or sound.
• Price and pricing model: there are free and paid versions of the app. The free version comes with a basic set of amplifier and effects, whereas the paid one will give you a bundle that would allegedly cost you more if purchased separately. And of course you can buy gear as needed from within the app. Every now and then they launch promotions where you can buy ALL effects and amps for a reasonable price, so keep an eye out for that.
• Cloud back up system: it's not in your face but you can export your presets to share online and download to your other devices via a web server interface. There is also a community of musicians online who use this app and you can get some cool patches from there. Note: this app comes loaded with lots of presets (156) with cool names, but some will push you to buy the gear you don't have.
• Digital Signal Processing features: sounds absolutely great. I was gobsmacked when I heard it for the first time as it was my first iPad guitar app ever. Latency can be adjusted and it's quite low, and it runs fine in the background against all apps I've tried. The few glitches I've experienced were just after major iOS releases, but the developers were quick to fix them.
• Guitar interfaces supported: the vendor claims 'virtually all headset and dock guitar interfaces' for iPhone and iPad; I've tested with various flavours of iRig and Apogee Jam without an issue. I would definitely recommend tweaking the settings individually as noise floor and gain can vary quite a bit from one device to the next.
• Interoperability with recording apps: this app works well with inter-app audio and Audiobus so no major problems there, you can use this with Garage Band or similar and rock out to your recordings on the road. Again tweaking settings and making sure the recording app is not colouring the guitar tone as well is highly recommended.