Music app review – Guitar Toolkit

Download from iTunes App StoreIf you are a guitar-playing iPhone, iPod or iPad user, then you really should check out the GuitarToolkit music app from Agile Partners Technologies. Agile are the folks behind the excellent AmpKit+ guitar amp simulation app that is designed to partner Peavey’s AmpKit Link guitar interface hardware for the iDevice range. Guitar Toolkit is not an alternative amp/effects simulator (although I’ll come back to this point a little later) but rather a collection of useful guitar-orientated tools that almost any guitar player ought to find useful. There are four key elements of the toolkit in the main app; a tuner, a scale finder, a metronome and a chord finder, so let’s deal with these in turn. Incidentally, while the app is a universal one (one purchase serves all your iDevices, the screen layout is very slightly different in some minor details layout when used on the iPad. For simplicity, all the screenshots shown here are from an iPhone but the basic functionality is identical on the iPad.

The Tuner Tool
Guitar Toolkit’s tuner is easy to use and, when you select the appropriate page tab from the bottom of the iPhone/iPod screen, a visual representation of a needle-based guitar tuner appears. As soon as the tuner detects a sound (either via the iDevice microphone or, if you have an electric guitar hooked up via something like the iRig or AmpKit Link guitar interfaces), then the needle swings into action letting you know the pitch of the note you are currently playing (single notes at a time please). The display also shows you the exact frequency (in Hz) and the number of cents +/- the nearest whole tone pitch.

The Tuner Tool works a treat

Providing the iDevice is getting a healthy audio signal and there is not a lot of distracting background noise to confuse to tuner), it does an excellent job. So much so, that my trusty old battery-operated tuner is now relegated to storage; I’ve always got my iPhone with me and this app does the job just as well. As a basic tuner can cost as much (or more) than the Guitar Toolkit app, the app is probably worth the price of admission for the tuner alone. However, that is not all that is in this particular toolkit.

The Scale Tool

The Scale Tool – more scales than a car full of Monitor lizards!

Depending upon the type of guitar player that you are, the scale finder part of the toolkit might be something that you use a lot or something that you ignore. Essentially, it allows you view the note positions on the fretboard for almost any scale in any key. As shown in the screenshot, the upper portion of the display shows the fretboard and the notes for the currently selected scale. You can tap on any fret/string combination to hear the pitch of the note so, it you wish to, you can play through the notes in the scale on your iDevice to hear how it sounds before moving to your guitar to try it out. Swiping vertically on the screen allows you to scroll up or down the fretboard to see the same scale notes in different positions on the neck. Usefully, the display identified the scale root notes (shown by the letter R) and the scale intervals from the root note of all the other notes in the scale so if you need to know that the note you are playing is, in the current scale context, a flattened 7th, the app makes that clear.

Picking a scale to display is very easy.

The current key and scale type is displayed on a large button beneath the fretboard towards the bottom of the display. If you tap this button, you move to a further screen for selecting the scale type and root. There are a huge range of options here, from common scale types and blues scales, modal and classical scales and even World and Asian scale types available. In short, enough scales types and possibilities to keep even the most geeky of music theory fans happy. However, there is still more as tapping on the Scales button at the top of this page switches you to ‘arpeggios’ mode which allows you to see the construction of arpeggiated chords on the fretboard instead – very neat and very useful. And it doesn’t stop there because if you tap on the small magnifying glass icon to the right of the fretboard display, this provides you with the opportunity to tap a two or three notes on the fretboard and, for the current root note the app will find any scales or arpeggios (depending upon the mode you are in) that contain those notes. If you do like to get technical with your playing, this is an amazing tool and a very good learning aid.

The Metronome Tool
In comparison to the scale tool, the metronome tool is pretty straightforward. The large red button in the centre is used to start and stop the metronome and shows the currently selected tempo in beat per minute (bpm). Once started, the metronome gives both visual feedback to the player and makes a nice satisfying (and, thankfully, not annoying) click. The only downside I’ve found (unless I’ve missed something) is that the click seems to is fixed in 4/4 time (there is a slightly different click to mark the first beat of the bar) and, if you are going to use it to practice your timing against, then a few other time bases would be useful.

The Metronome Tool – no excuse not to practice your timing now.

You can set the tempo in two ways. Underneath the red button is a horizontal strip where you can swipe left or right to raise or lower the tempo. This is very easy to use and you can make quite precise adjustments (although only in whole units – you can’t set a tempo of 125.5 bpm for example as you might in your favourite piece of DAW software). Above the red button is the tempo tap pad and, as its name suggests, if you tap in this area, the app detects the tempo of your taping and adjusts the metronome to match – great if you have been strumming along and then what the metronome to match your playing.

The Chord Tool

The Chord Tool – more chords than a 1970s trouser museum.

While the scale tool might appeal to the more technically minded guitar player, the chord tool will be equally useful to the guitar star and the absolute novice. Its operation shares some features of the scale tool. The current chord is displayed on the fretboard and its names displayed on a button at the base of the screen. Tapping on the button allows you to select which chord you wish to display and in which position on the fretboard.

If you swipe across the fretboard display, the app plays the chord for you so you can hear what the chord ought to sound like – useful if you are learning a new chord. The fretboard display also suggests fingering for each chord – again, useful if you are learning a new shape. Finally, as with the scale tool, the magnifying glass button clears the fretboard and allows you to select two or more notes from which the app will identify any chords that include those notes. This is useful if you have ‘invented’ a new chord shape and simply want to know if it is a real chord.

And There’s More

Guitar Toolkit isn’t just for 6 string guitars.

If the tools described above were all you got for your money, the Guitar Toolkit would still be a steal. However, it has one further trick up its sleeve. While everything I’ve described (and shown through the screenshots) is based upon the app working with a six string guitar in standard tuning, the app can also deal with a range of other strung instruments and a wide range of alternate tunings. This functionality is accessed via the ‘6 string’ tab located bottom-right (although the label on this tab changes to reflect the instrument you have currently selected – for example, a banjo) and a further menu allows you to gone on to select the instrument type, the tuning, whether you are using a capo (and what fret it is on) and, for all those lefties out there, whether you are playing left-handed.

Whatever tuning you want, Guitar Toolkit can cope.

The range of instruments supported is excellent – 7 string guitars, 12 string guitars, basses (of various string numbers), banjo, mandolin and ukulele. The range of tunings is even more comprehensive. However, the really impressive thing here is that the scale and chord tool automatically then adjust for the instrument type (including its number of strings), tuning, capo and left-right handed playing. If you need to know how to play a Dm chord on a 7 string guitar in open D tuning while playing left-handed, then you can find out. Equally, if you want to teach yourself a few ukulele chords (like I did when I bought myself one a few months back), this is an excellent basic reference tool.

If you like the standard features of the app, there is also an ‘in app’ add on that can be purchased. This adds a number of extra features such as some amp modelling (based upon the sounds available in Agile’s AmpKit app), a chord sheet option and a drum machine mode for the metronome.

I think the Guitar Toolkit app is one of those essential app purchases that any level of guitar player ought to have on their iDevice. And even though it is a few £/$/€ rather than a few p/c/p, it is still an absolute bargain given what it can do. I use the tuner every single day but I always know where to go when I need to check a chord or scale, particularly if I’m using a non-standard tuning. Equally, it has been a great resource for my novice ukulele playing.

If you just buy one guitar-based toolkit app for your iDevice, Agile’s Guitar Toolkit really ought to be it. Brilliant – just buy it!

Guitar Toolkit

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