Using your iPad for live music performance; a starter kit for the performing iOS guitar (or bass) player

female guitar player live jw 2Let’s imagine you are interested in the idea of using your iPad for live music performance. As a guitar or bass player, what might that involve? Let’s take the term ‘performing’ here in its broadest sense; any guitar of bass playing musician who wants to use the iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch) as a sound source. The ‘performance’ itself might simply be during personal practice or, for the more adventurous, in a live performance in front of paying punters.

The first of these is perhaps a less demanding and less difficult ambition while the second, even with the pretty stellar reliability of iOS, requires a somewhat more robust (fail safe?) approach (as well as a certain amount of courage) if you are going to build what is essentially a piece of consumer electronics – albeit a very high quality piece of consumer electronics – into your live rig.

Apps for guitarists

JamUp Pro...

JamUp Pro…

In terms of apps, the main item on the list would be a guitar amp simulation app. There are a number of these available but, if you want a starting point, then I don’t think you can go too far wrong with Mobile POD (although you need to own a Line 6 Sonic Port to use this one), BIASAmplitube, AmpKit+ or JamUp Pro. All of these are stand-alone apps and, while you can’t demo the full versions, there are free versions available of some of these with cut-down feature sets, so you can get a taste at least.



That said, given the price of most apps – even the relatively expensive ones – you are more likely to have to steal your kids pocket money than to sell an elderly relative to invest; buying all a couple and living with them for a while is not out of the question. A number of these have in-app-purchases available so, once you have decided which app works best for you, you can expand your virtual equipment collection if required. That said, the combination of BIAS and JamUp Pro – both from Positive Grid – actually allow you to build as many virtual amp models as you could possibly imagine.

or AmpKit+...  all three are excellent iOS guitar amp sims and provide support for both guitar and bass players.

or AmpKit+… all three are excellent iOS guitar amp sims and provide support for both guitar and bass players.

Bass players are perhaps less well served by all the guitar amp simulator apps but most of the popular ones include a token bass amp/cab combination or two. There are also in-app purchases (IAP) that can be explored and these also include some additional bass amp possibilities. For example, Amplitube has an Ampeg B-15R model available as an IAP. BIAS, however, includes some bass amps to serve as starting points and, as that app is really an ‘amp design’ tool, you can work from there.

The Guitar Toolkit music app - brilliant selection of tools for strummers and pluckers.

The Guitar Toolkit music app – brilliant selection of tools for strummers and pluckers.

The other app for guitarists that would come highly recommended would be Guitar Toolkit. While this could just as easily slot into the ‘musical education’ category, in a performance context, it is probably worth the entry price on the basis of just its tuner. However, the metronome is also a very useful practice aid and the arpeggio and chord libraries are excellent if you need to look up an alternative voicing. And as both of these sections also support alternative tunings (plus bass, mandolin, banjo and ukulele and different string counts), this really is a bit of a guitar player’s Swiss army knife.

Guitarism - ideal for iDevice-based busking :-)

Guitarism – ideal for iDevice-based busking :-)

These two apps – a guitar amp sim and a ‘toolkit’ – might be all you really need to get started. However, there are a few other guitarist-friendly apps you might add to your collection just for the fun of it. For example, while there is no substitute for the real thing, an app like Guitarism – a virtual acoustic guitar instrument – is a lot of fun to knock out a few chords on when all

you have available is your iPhone or iPod Touch. It takes no time at all to learn how to use and, considering how ridiculously cheap it is, it sounds pretty impressive. And if you fancy the same sort of playability but with a ukulele, then give Futulele is a spin as well.

The other gig-friendly tool that can come in useful is something to organise your set list and chord charts. There are a number of ways you might approach this on your iPad but, if you want a dedicated app for it then SongSheet would be worth checking out. If you are using one of the guitar amp sims as your sound source you will have to think about how practical it is to flip between your amp sim and your set list/chord charts but this is a great way to keep ourself organised, particularly if your band does a lot of covers and you need the occasional reminder of what chords go where :-)

Audio interface

The other major item required in our guitarist/bassist starter kit is some sort of audio interface. This is required to get your guitar’s signal into your iDevice in the first place so it can be processed by your choice of guitar amp sim and then to get that processed signal out of your iDevice, either via headphones or to an external speaker set up (and perhaps to a PA system if you are using your iDevice in a live performance context).

The iRig HD - great for personal practice but also capable in a live setting.

The iRig HD – great for personal practice but also capable in a live setting.

You could, of course, use an audio interface that is designed for multitrack recording duties but I’ll save a discussion on this type of device for the ‘recording’ starter kit as there are more obvious solutions if you are just interested in performance type applications. A number of companies make dedicated guitar interfaces for iOS and one of these would be a more tailored solution if you just want to plug in and rock out.

The most popular of these would be things like the IK Multimedia iRig and the Peavey/Agile Partners AmpKit LiNK, although there are a number of others. The original versions of these two devices were fairly budget offerings and, while they got the job done in a very cost-effective fashion, the audio quality was not of the highest standard. While this didn’t really detract from the actual guitar tones, it did mean care was needed to avoid background noise – hiss and hum – invading your listening pleasure, particularly when using heavily overdriven, hi-gain style sounds.

The Peavey/Agile Partners LiNK HD is also an excellent choice.

The Peavey/Agile Partners LiNK HD is also an excellent choice.

Both of these companies now have ‘HD’ versions of these products available and, while these are considerably more expensive that the original models, there is also a significant improvement in the audio quality as a result of better audio components and better shielding. In short, if you are serious about your guitar tone – and in particular if you think you might ever consider actually plugging in your iOS amp rig in front of a real audience – then this step up in quality is well worth the investment. Having reviewed both these HD units (here and here), I’d be happy to use either of them. The other excellent option is the Line 6 Sonic Port, with the bonus that that gets you the Mobile POD app for free.

The GuitarJack 2 looks very cool and produces very good audio quality,

The GuitarJack 2 looks very cool and produces very good audio quality,

Sonama Wireworks also make the GuitarJack 2 that, while more expensive again, does look somewhat cooler than the more functional AmpKit LiNK HD, Sonic Port or iRig HD.

Additional hardware

If your ‘performance’ application is just private practice, the items outlines above – plus your Apple earbuds – will be all you need to get started. However, if you are taking things to the next level and want to use your iDevice for rehearsal or performance, they there are some additional things you ought to consider.

First, you need to ensure that you maximize the audio quality you can obtain. Aside from using the best audio interface you can afford, this also means investing in some decent cables to get audio into your iDevice and the audio coming out. If you are just starting out, then there is no need to get really retentive about this; just avoid buying anything really cheap and nasty.

When it comes to the audio out cables, keep the cable runs as short as possible to your amp/PA and, if possible, avoid using multiple cables patched together or jack adapters (for example, for conversion of a mini-jack into a ¼” jack); the fewer connections, the less chance for either additional signal degradation or for something to become disconnected just as you launch into your killer solo.

IK Multimedia's iKlip stands provide a simple solution for keeping your iDevice out of harms way at rehearsal or a gig.

IK Multimedia’s iKlip stands provide a simple solution for keeping your iDevice out of harms way at rehearsal or a gig.

The other thing to consider is keeping your iDevice safe from either accidental damage or theft. However, unless you use a single guitar tone for every song you play, it also needs to be easily accessible so you can switch settings between songs. While you can construct something from scratch that meets these needs, something like IK Multimedia’s iKlip 2 (there are versions for iPad, iPad Mini and iPhone users) provides an inexpensive (c. £25 – £30 in the UK) custom solution, allowing you to easily attach your iPad to a mic stand. It means it is easily accessible, held securely and, for security, quickly slides in and out of the holder as you come on/off stage. It can work in either landscape or portrait mode and the only downside is that it doesn’t accommodate any other protective cover you might use with your iPad. Otherwise, this is a very neat solution.

Most gigging guitar players have a collection of favourite stomp boxes they use live. Of course, there is nothing to stop you using these in exactly the same way as you would with a conventional amp (although take care with gain settings; unlike a good valve amp, overloading the audio input to your iDevice will not produce a nice outcome).

However, all the guitar amp modeling apps mentioned earlier include a range of virtual stomp box effects and, if you want to fully embrace the experience, then using these would be the way to go. The interfaces of all of these apps allow you to switch pedals on/off with the touch of a finger. In some instances, this might be fine but, as guitar players, the reason footpedals were invented in the first place is that, quite often, your fingers are otherwise engaged!

Some guitar amp sim apps (for example, Amplitube and JamUp Pro) support MIDI control. So, if you have a means of hooking up a MIDI pedal board to your iPad (I’ll discuss MIDI interfaces in more detail in the keyboard player starter kit and recording starter kit articles) you could, therefore, get foot control over your virtual stomp boxes. The one issue you might face with this is that connecting a MIDI interface might require the iDevice’s docking connecter – and that might already be in use for your audio interface – unless you use a more ‘recording’ orientated interface that combines audio and MIDI support, then doh!

IK Multimedia also have the soon to be launched iRig BlueBoard.

IK Multimedia also have the soon to be launched iRig BlueBoard.

However, at the time of writing, IK Multimedia are about to launch their iRig BlueBoard. This is a wireless, four button, MIDI controller designed specifically for use with the iDevice. It also features expansion jacks so you can connect up additional MIDI controllers such as expression pedals for controlling volume or a wahwah effect. The wireless connection is via Bluetooth and, as soon as I can get hold of a review unit, I’ll put it too the test [Now done, you can read the review here…  but also look out for the upcoming BT- series floorboards from Positive Grid]. The suggested selling price is US$79.

I have the power

Perhaps the other practical consideration in this iDevice guitar/bass performance rig is power – or rather suffering from a lack of it. If your docking connector is fully occupied with your audio interface, then you cannot easily charge your iDevice at the same time. And while the battery life of an iPhone or iPad is generally very good, processor intensive applications such as amp modeling will chew through it fast enough. If you are just playing a short(ish) set this will not be a problem but do experiment and see just how long you can go before power becomes an issue.

The other option is, of course, to carry a second iDevice with you. If budget is not a factor, then this would obviously be a good idea anyway (rather like the band having a spare amp or two) in case of a technical problem.

That’s all folks

band live graphicSo, there you have it – a starter kit for the potential iOS guitar (or bass) player – and at its most basic for personal practice, it just involves a couple of key apps and the best dedicated guitar I/O interface that your budget will stretch to.

If you want to join the pioneers taking their iDevices out gigging, then there are additional items to consider but it can most certainly be done. Whether your audience (or your band mates) think your iPad rig is cooler than a Marshall stack is another matter…. :-)

And if you are already taking your iDevice out live and have some tips or advice for others based upon your experience, then please do share them below….

JamUp Pro XT - Positive Grid LLCJamUp Pro is available from the iTunes App Store.
AmpKit+ - Agile PartnersAmpKit+ by Agile Partners is available from the iTunes App Store.
AmpliTube for iPad - IK MultimediaAmplitube for iPad is available from the iTunes App Store.
GuitarToolkit - Agile PartnersGuitar Toolkit is available from the iTunes App Store.
guitarism - pocket acoustic guitar - Rhism LLCGuitarism is available from the iTunes App Store.
Futulele - Amidio Inc.Futulele by Amidio Inc. is available from the iTunes App Store.
SongSheet - iSharpSongSheet is available from the iTunes App Store.

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    1. Hi,
      This is a really useful site – just what I am looking for in terms of getting all the info I need to make the first step into using my iPad for live performances.

      I am about to go into the studio next week so I will be in a good position to give it a 100% test drive.

      If there are any current live users out there I would love to hear from you.


    2. Have you had any experience with the alesis io doc or its sequel the io mix pro? This seems to cover a the above bases and add other functionalities like video out. It’s got all the inputs and outputs (including midi and combo xlr/1/4″ jacks)

      • Hi Andy,

        only briefly with the I/O Dock…. In many ways, it is an ideal starting point for iPad-based recording given the range of connectivity. Given the price point, I don’t think it would compete in terms of audio quality with a more mainstream audio/MIDI interface that might cost just a little more (this is not a criticism as such – just an acknowledgment that Alesis have built it to a particular price point perhaps with more of a start-up user in mind). My main reservation is with the ‘docking’ approach in general and that this locks you in to a particular generation of docking connector type…. Personally, I’d prefer the freedom (and extra clutter) of a cable link (that can be easily changed for different iDevices) rather than a docking port… but that’s very much a personal call….

        Not sure if that helps?


      • I have an Alesis ioDock and love it. The drawback for portability is that it needs to be plugged in for power (there is no battery). You’re limited to 30pin iPad devices on the original ioDock if you want to dock your tablet, but the benefit here is that you can use it and charge your iPad at the same time. In my home studio I connect the ioDock to my computer via USB and it becomes an additional MIDI interface for my computer as well (you can use the MIDI interface to pass data through the dock from your MIDI controller to your PC even when the iPad is not in the Dock).

        On the Alesis website they just announced the ioDock “II”.

    3. Hi John, today is the big day. I go into the studio tonight for my first full band rehearsal in 2 years. Before I had a delay, tube screamer, flanger, tuner, in a gig type box and associated leads and power inputs.
      Although I am taking that tonight as back up I fully intend to use my irig HD along with Amplitube.
      I have loosely demo’d this set up at home through my Fender hot rod deluxe (not sure if that’s the point with modelling products but it cost me over £500 so it’s staying, plus it looks good) and it sounded a LOT better than I imagined. I have used a line6 pod xt before but that was good for studio recording but live was a let down.
      I have a couple of reservations though, firstly you can only have 4 effects in line at any given preset and you can’t switch stomp boxes between apps ( amplitube to fender as an example even though its the same company ikmultimedia) so with that I will be including my tube screamer plus delay so I can fully experiment with my tone, although this seems a little against the reason of getting an iPad app but I will proceed with an open mind.
      So, until tomorrow!

      • Hi Michael…. thanks for the update…. good luck with the experiment :-) Keep me posted.

        best wishes,


    4. The overall impression from last night was a positive one. Everyone was amazed at the concept. And the reality did actually live up to the hope. Although (unsurprisingly) the amp models didn’t sound good through my hot rod but using the stomps worked well.
      Now, what next. I’m limited by only having 4 effects per user setting. So I need external cables and gear which I don’t want to include. Do I go for the Blueboard? Yea probably but not in this pay packet as I need a iklip to secure the iPad and make it accessible so that’s another 25 odd quid. Plus all the stomp add ins.
      All in all though the outlook is promising.

      • Hi Michael,
        glad it went well. The iKilp’s is a neat piece of kit… I’ve got one here for the iPad/mic stand combination and it is solid and easy to use (although it only holds the iPad – it can’t have a protective case around it while in the iKlip).

        I’m hoping to get a review unit of the iRig bluetooth foot pedal device as soon as it is released so I’ll do something on the blog for that when I can….

        Best wishes, John

        • How much was the iKlip John. Do you know when the Blueboard is available?

          • Hi Michael,

            I think they are currently going on Amazon at UK£25-30 depending upon which model you buy. I’ve quizzed my contact at IKMultimedia UK a couple of times about the Blueboard since it was announced but I’ve no solid information on availability. I would suspect ‘coming soon’ means exactly that though… and I’d expect (hope?) it to be available in weeks rather than months.

    5. John, you mention that when the dock connector is attached “you cannot easily charge your iDevice at the same time.” Is there a hard way to do it?

      I have been looking for a way to use a USB hub to connect devices to the iPad, without a computer, and charge the iPad at the same time. I have not found any such device. Do you know if this is possible?

      • Hi Tracy…. a couple of folks have mentioned to me that they have done it in some fashion but I’ve not see what amounts to a cost-effective solution. On the MIDI side it can be done if you can go the budget, however, using the iConnectMIDI stuff and their optional power supply…. but that obviously doesn’t help with an audio interface….

        Anyone else what to chip in? :-)


    6. Interesting Michael. You are to turn your iPad into a live guitar effects stomp-box-replacement. I am living quite vicariously through your exploits.

      This may be off-the-mark for this blog…but…what do you think of my intention to use an iPad docking device on the live performance stage as the audio source for bass & drum backing tracks?

      I am developing these bed tracks in ProTools on my desktop. Some tracks evolve by editing purchased midi bed tracks (which can be astonishingly cheesy, “Captain Frommage”) and some tracks I develop manually with midi drums and analog instruments. The intention is to use the resultant wav or mp3 tracks at high volume, high quality from the iPad (?)

      I am appealing to your experience using an iPad live in terms of capability and reliability.

      What do you think of the Alesis iO Dock II

      or the Focusrite iTrack Dock?
      What do you think of these psuedo-DAW software packages like, Steinberg’s Cubasis, Garage Band, ad infinitum…

      BTW: Michael? Want a thrill? Check out the Fishman Triple Play. I am romping all over keyboard patches using a guitar neck for $US400.00, super easy install…

      Here’s their forum:

      Thank you gentlemen!

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