iOS Electric Guitar & Bass Software Guide
We just recently launched a new Pop Punk sample pack in collaboration with the endlessly talented multi-instrumentalist and touring musician Jamie Mallender and we asked if he wanted to share a bit of his process on what iOS and desktop tools he uses the most.
This article will serve as a helpful guide and starting point for new musicians and producers to understand the basics of producing music and working with samples.
Plus Jamie even outlines which types of amps will work best for specific genre types. We hope you enjoy!
The 2 Kinds of App to Consider
Guitar amps and FX can be purchased as separate items and chained together in a host application - a virtual recreation of the way you would wire up real world equipment.
Also available are apps I will refer to as guitar suites. These apps provide you with a range of pedals, amps and cabinets etc. so that you can build up your whole signal chain within the app. In essence, a guitar suite provides you with the whole ecosystem.
Personally, I find both essential. When I’m teaching guitar and bass, learning a new song or jamming out ideas, I enjoy the convenience of a guitar suite. When I’m recording, I like to build up a chain of separates. But there is a crossover too, more on this later.
AUV3 vs IAA
Inter-App Audio is the old protocol for sending audio or MIDI between apps. An IAA connection is limited to just one instance of an app and whilst IAA is still usable at the moment, we have no way of knowing how long it will survive. It is possible that at some point an iOS version will come along that will bring an end to it and in truth, it never was the most stable of connections.
The new protocol is AUV3, which allows a host app like a DAW to host multiple instances of an app. So, if you purchase an AUV3 app and want to use it for every guitar and bass track in your song you can do so. This means that you can work on each sound continuously throughout the mixing stage of your track before finally committing at mixdown.
Although there are IAA only apps that sound fantastic, I haven’t included any in this list because they are not “current” in my view and certainly not future proof.
Guitar + Bass Suites
ToneStack Pro: Yonac’s guitar suite is everything a guitar suite should be. Experiment with the inexpensive download of the basic version and if it’s to your liking, unlock an extensive array of pedals, amps and cabinets by purchasing the “Pot of Gold,” in-app purchase.
In stand-alone mode it has an 8-track recorder and a tape deck for playing along to tracks. The graphics are pleasing to the eye and are cleverly designed to let you know just which classic piece of gear everything is modeled on.
Experiment with your signal chain by dragging and dropping gear into your signal path or simply swiping things out of your chain. No adjusting dials with an annoying box to the side here, just put your fingertip on the control you want to adjust and dial in that tone.
You will find something here for every single style of music too, for both guitar and bass.
Stark: In contrast to ToneStack Pro, Stark has its own simple and unique interface with pleasing but simple graphics which in no way bow to skeuomorphism.
What I love about this is that when I’m dialing in a tone with Stark, I have no preconceived idea of what the rig should sound like, and this has led to the discovery of some very interesting tones.
The simple graphics belie the immense versatility this app has to offer. You will find great tones for pop, country, blues, psychedelic, indie and alternative rock on both bass and guitar.
It will also give you angry tones for hard rock and metal but in all honesty, there are other apps that cover these genres better. Starks stand out feature is its room ambiance module, an area Klevgrand excel in. My only slight issue is it doesn’t have an in-built tuner.
Mammoth: Aurora DSP were the first company to make a professional quality bass app for iOS. Although the app is clearly aimed at heavier music, it is possible to use Mammoth for cleaner tones as well.
However, with its dual signal processing, three kinds of drive, cabinet selection, slamming compression, IR loader and secret sauce Mammoth control, this app is the daddy of the dirty, angry bass thing. For all things rock, punk, metal and death.
Rhino: Essentially, Rhino is Mammoth’s guitar-based partner in crime. Like Mammoth, you can dial a tone into it to suit pretty much any genre, but the marketing makes it appear very much a metal app and that certainly where it is a heavy hitter.
The lack of skeuomorphism keeps the extensive array of controls on one page and stellar tones at your fingertips.
Top tip - if you need that metal rhythm tone that will chop right through a dense mix like a razor, this is the heavyweight champion on iOS.
20th Anniversary: This app presents you with an amp face, cabinet selection and a range of pedals in a simple, clear, one page design. It isn’t the most feature rich app and it is anything but complex but for some users, that is exactly what they love about it. It is good at things a lot of guitar apps aren’t.
If you’re looking for crystal clear clean tones, gorgeous ambient swells, divine modulations and delays that you can sync to tempo then look no further.
Purchase for pop, dance, experimental, shoegaze, ambient, psychedelic and funk. It will do rock and blues, but not as well as some of the other apps mentioned here.
Individual Purchases for Guitar
Nembrini: When Nembrini brought their guitar software to iOS they changed the game more significantly than any other developer ever has. There was nothing pro level, then suddenly there was Nembrini. They gave us several free high quality FX apps and began releasing their high-quality emulations of classic amps and FX.
I suggest you check out my favorites - the DC30 and the HiVolt 103 Custom for British punk, rock and blues, SoundMaster and Faceman for the Fender clean through dirty breakup tones for country, blues, funk, reggae etc, for the hard rock power of a Marshall there’s the MRH159 and MRH810 and for no holds barred Metal - grab the 8180.
Gain Stage Vintage Clean: I’ve never played through a software amp quite like this one. It provides six low gain tube models with a warmth and vintage tone to die for.
It has no bells and whistles other than extensive EQ but if you’re a serious tone hound, this is for you. This amp would be divine for a jazz head or old school blues man. It doesn’t really rock out but there is no sweeter guitar amp on iOS.
Lost In 70’s: With Nembrini stocking up the App Store with such an extensive range of high-quality amps, there’s not really a lot else worth mentioning. There just isn’t a lot of competition.
But Julien Faure of lost in 70’s has some very low-cost offerings you’re going to want to check out. For guitar, Tone Deluxe and Modern Deluxe are superb and versatile amps offering very British sounding crisp cleans through to hard rock crunch and Bull Deluxe is a powerhouse that will take care of all your hard rocking through to extreme metal requirements.
But the jewel in the crown here is Bass Deluxe. This is an extraordinarily good, twin channel versatile bass amp. It sounds great, comes with a selection of pedals and cabinets and will supply you with a solid tone for pretty much any kind of music. Seriously, if this amp were 20 times the price, I’d still be telling bass players to buy it. This app leads me nicely on to my next point.
BlackIce BetaGamma: Bass guitar is one of the most poorly provided for instruments on iOS. I’ve already written about three of the four free standing bass amps worth talking about.
I just spoke of Bass Deluxe, and I wrote about Mammoth. I already mentioned Faceman but what I did not tell you is that it also doubles as a warm, old school, vintage sounding bass amp.
The BlackIce BetaGamma though, is an emulation of one of the world’s finest bass amps and the software version is just as good. Being so rich in features, this amp will give you a killer tone for any style. I think it’s the best bass amp I’ve ever used.
- Magic Death Eye: For Guitar Compression
- Schlap: For Bass Compression
- Roxsyn: The Best Guitar/Bass Synth Ever
- Nembrini ClonMinotaur, 808, Black + The Boss: Overdrives for All Occasions
- FAC Chorus: Beautiful
- TD-21: Space Echo
- Eventide Spring Reverb: The Most Realistic I’ve Heard
- MixBox: A rack of pro quality FX not intended solely for things with strings but many of which sound stunning on guitar and bass. It’s a more significant outlay than most iOS music apps but when you calculate how many high-quality FX you get for the money, it’s a bargain. Use it as your pedal board in front of an amp and you will be glad you made the purchase.
Here is the crossover I often use that I mentioned earlier. Some guitar suites, like ToneStack Pro will allow you to deselect the amplifier.
Now don’t get me wrong, the amps in ToneStack sound great but the Nembrini amps have the edge. So, I put ToneStack first in my chain and use it for the tuner and pedals.
The board then goes into an amp and then I’ll throw a reverb into the chain which is usually Eventide Spring.
iOS Music is still in its infancy when compared to desktop recording. It is however the fastest growing sector of the home recording industry and will inevitably become a huge deal.
We don’t have the vast array of high-quality software available to desktop musicians yet, but do we have enough high-quality apps for a pro guitarist to record pro sessions with an iPad or iPhone? Yes, we do. But I look forward to more of the big names in music software turning their attention to the iPad. The future is bright.