Guitarism by rhism – music app review

Download from iTunes App Storeguitarism logo 2While I play a number of instruments ‘a bit’ (piano, drums, bass, tin whistle, etc.) the only one I’d not be totally embarrassed to actually stick on my CV would be guitar, upon which, on a good day, I can get up a half-decent head of steam. Which means, of course, that while I’m also a bit of a sucker for virtual guitar instruments as music apps that can be played on my iPhone or iPad, for the app to crank my handle (as a guitar player), it has to be able to offer me something useful over and above the novelty level.

The iTunes App Store has a number of ‘virtual’ guitar apps on its shelves and, frankly, some of them are… well… not really very good. Indeed, some of the better offerings I’ve come across are built into apps that are not dedicated guitar simulations at all; they just happen to have guitar as one of a suite of sounds. Garageband’s Smart Guitar and a couple of the guitar presets in ThumbJam spring to mind here.

A week or so ago, I was introduced to another virtual guitar app – Guitarism by rhism – and, because I’m always hopeful of finding that perfect acoustic guitar app for those times when I don’t happen to have my Taylor handy, I gave it a spin (or strum, as the case may be). And I’m glad I did because, while I don’t think Guitarism will get my rather nice acoustic guitar on to eBay just yet, the app is actually quite neat.

On tour

The Guitarism playing interface - two thumbs required!

The Guitarism playing interface – two thumbs required!

The basic principle of Guitarism is simple; the playing interface consists of two areas, one where you strum the strings (or tap to play individual strings) and one where you select the chord to be played. Essentially, this means playing is a two-thumb operation and this actually works best on the more compact iPhone screen rather than larger iPad (although it does work there also, either in x1 or x2 mode).

So, one thumb (or finger) strums the strings and you just change the chord by moving your other thumb to a different chord box. While the strumming technique does require a little bit of practice, if you start slowly, it is actually quite easy to get some fairly convincing results. This is helped by what seems like a very respectable sample and/or sound modelling base within the app. If you get the technique sorted, it does sound like a very nice steel strung acoustic.

The small arrow (located bottom right) is a slider control so you can access some of the apps settings (a slider so that you don’t accidently tap it while strumming away).  The options here allow you to pick the key (and this changes the selection of chords in the chord panel so you get the six main chords for your chosen key) but they also include a number of other interesting options.

The app offers a number of options to customise how it can be played.

The app offers a number of options to customise how it can be played.

For example, the ‘chords’ option allows you to change one of the default chords to something else (perhaps something more exotic). There are plenty of choices here so it is easy to customise the main set of chords you wish to work with. As we will see in a minute, actually, you have 18 chords to work with at any one time – and you can customise any of these and save your custom set for later recall if required.

The ‘pitch’ option allows you to change the default pitch of the guitar. You can shift the default tuning up or down by 5 semitones and this is useful if you just want to make things easier for a singer but don’t want to change the chord labels themselves.  This works well enough but it did get me wondering whether rhism might add some alternate tunings for the app. This would be neat as typical chord voicings change when using certain open’ tunings; it would be great to have that option.

Top Performer

A further option in the menu is ‘techniques’. Once you have the baics down, this is well worth exploring. The first three options are available in the base app; fret muting, titled chords and hammer-on/pull-off. A fourth option – smart strings – is available as an in app purchase. Fret muting allows you to simulate muting the guitar by lifting off your fretting hand and, when switched on, you simply lift your thumb off the chord box and you get a muted version of the chord. This does take some getting used to, but once you do, it becomes possible to add some extra expression to your playing.

The performance options are well worth getting to grips with.

The performance options are well worth getting to grips with.

The ‘tilted chords’ option provides access to the additional chords mentioned above. Tilt the phone towards the soundhole and you get six additional chords, tilt it the other way and a further size appear. The labels on the chord buttons change to reflect the tilting. Again, it takes some getting used to, but it really does open up some extra options when performing. A further option here is the ‘hammer-on/pull-off’ setting. With this on, if you strum and then quickly tilt, the playing simulates hammering-on (or pulling off) to the equivalent tilted chord. More practice required but is quickly becomes second nature and, while it can generate some things that you probably couldn’t actually do on a real guitar, it can sound very effective. The ‘smart strings’ option – which is available as an in-app purchase – gets the app to automatically sense whether you are strumming or picking and adjusts the distance between the strings to suit.

There are a few other options available from the Settings button on the main menu screen. Here you can switch to ‘lefty’ mode, switch on stereo mode (this is on by default) and turn on/off the ‘finger’ sounds. This is on by default but is actually quite cool; as you slide your thumb from one chord box to another, the app adds a little but of ‘finger on strings’ squeak and this adds a touch of realism. Of course, if you just want pristine guitar sounds, then you can switch this off.

The main menu has a settings button - just tap and you get access to a few other options including a 'lefty' mode.

The main menu has a settings button – just tap and you get access to a few other options including a ‘lefty’ mode.

As I’ve commented several times above, new users should expect to invest a little bit of time getting to grips with these various performance options. However, Guitarism does return this investment and you can son get some respectable sounds out of it. Indeed, the more you play, the better things get and it is possible to believe the claim made on the rhism website that you can learn to play the app without having to look at the iPhone. And if you want to see (hear?) Guitarism in action, then check out the video at the end of this review.

Sounding out

While this is all a lot of fun, if you are going to put these various playing options to use for something other than just live performance, you need to be able to get the sounds out of Guitarism and into other apps. This can be done in a number of ways. First, the main menu provides access to a recording option. This allows you to record a performance and this can then be exported with the included AudioCopy support or via iTunes file sharing. While I got this to work absolutely fine, this was the one section of the app that could perhaps have done with a little more explanation via some in-app instructions. Perhaps something for a future update?

Guitarism includes support for Audiobus - and it seems to work very well.

Guitarism includes support for Audiobus – and it seems to work very well.

However, rather more interesting is the fact that Guitarism now also includes support for Audiobus. You can place the app in the Audiobus ‘input’ slot and this allows you to pass your performance into your favourite DAW app. This also worked a treat and I had no problem linking Guitarism to Multitrack DAW via Audiobus on my iPhone. What added considerably to the fun was inserting JamUp Pro XT into the Audiobus effect slot so I could add some delay – or even some overdrive and a simulated marshall stack – to my acoustic guitar performance. I managed to while a way a very enjoyable hour with this combination – a lot of fun :-)

In summary

The attractiveness of this app is not that it is stuffed full of features or that it is based upon the most sophisticated of multi-layered samples (although the sound itself is actually very good). What makes the app useful is that, with a modicum of practice, it is actually quite playable. Sure, if you try to play high-tempo strumming, that can take a lot of work to get right and any mistakes you make can easily reveal the ‘not a real guitar’ nature of what Guitarism generates. But, for medium and low tempo strumming, you can create some remarkably convincing performances. And, in the rather neat additional tilt and mute features, you have plenty of performance options, all of which are relatively easy  to learn.

Nope, I’m not going to sell my Taylor acoustic and replace it with Guitarism but, when I’m out and about without my guitar and need something to knock a few chords out on, Guitarism is well worth pulling my iPhone out of my pocket for. It might not be the ‘perfect’ guitar app that us guitar players are keeping are eyes peeled for (at least, not yet) but it is a lot of fun and remarkably playable. And at £1.49 (or the equivalent $/€ price), it’s unlikely to break anyone’s bank. Well worth checking out :-)


for readers in North America
for readers in Europe

Updates

April 11th 2013; Rhism have released a free v.3 update to Guitarism. This includes a rather nice visual revamp and some improvements to the already excellent playing interface. In particular, there are now buttons to access the sets of additional chords on the iPad version so you don’t have to tilt the device to access them.

May 22nd 2013; Rhism have now released v.3.1 of Guitarism. Aside from a few fixes, the key now feature is the addition of a further in-app purchase called triple play. This allows you to send MIDI output to up to three other instrument apps from Guitarism so that they will play along with your virtual guitar performance. You could, therefore, get a bas and synth pad (for example) to accompany you as you strum through your chord progression; very neat if you like to busk with your iPhone or iPad :-)

For a quick tour of the Guitarism interface and some audio examples, then check out the video :-)

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    Comments

    1. Col Benton says:

      Hi
      I downloaded this on 19/10/14 however it won’t install to my ipad, says I’m running an old version. I have 7.1.2 so it’s not that old. Seems a bit rough if I have to have ios 8 to run it, considering how recent it is and the problems it has had. The app’s website has no facility to contact the developer to query this.
      Col

    2. I picked this up as part of SoundCamp and while I really have no idea how to play gutar I like how it sounds and it’s simple operation.

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