Using GarageBand on the iPad To Channel Your Inner Hendrix

A few months ago I wrote about three iPad guitar amps, but now there’s an official option from Apple(s aapl). Darrell covered the new iPad GarageBand Smart Instruments, so I’m going to talk about plugging a real one in. How does this software amp compare to existing options? Read on to find out.

Plugging In

Apple recommends the Apogee JAM ($99) for plugging your guitar into the iPad, but I use the iRig ($39, and also conveniently for sale at most Best Buys (s bby)). In addition to being cheaper, I like that the iRig leaves my dock connector free so I can charge my iPad while playing. I then either use headphones or a set of nice PC speakers as my “amp.” I also use the Griffin A-frame stand on my desk to prop it up at a nice viewing angle. I then jack in my ’62 Reissue Strat in and let loose.

Once you’re plugged in, launch GarageBand on the iPad and choose Guitar Amp from the Instruments window.

Cranking It Up

By default, you’ll be using the Clean Combo amp on app launch. To change amps, just click on the button labeled Clean Combo to bring up the available preset amps. There are four tabs: Clean, Crunchy, Distorted, and Processed. Since I’m a rock/metal player I spent a lot of time in the Distorted tab and my favorite option under that tab was Woodstock Fuzz.

You can also customize the sound by either adjusting the controls on the amp head, or add effects by clicking on the Stompbox icon in the upper right hand corner. This brings up a small pedalboard, and if you click on the empty pedal spot you can add more pedals. I found a nice variety of pedals: a couple different distortion effects, a chorus, flanger, compression, echo, and a phase tripper.

Overall, I found the amps to sound pretty good on their own. The metal ones did have some feedback, but adjusting the Noise Gate fixed that problem. Click on the Guitar Cable icon to adjust noise gate and whether you can hear the amp while you play. One area I think GarageBand really shines is the variety and quality of the built-in sounds; unlike other amp apps, I didn’t really have to futz around with it too much to get a good sound. The clean sounds were crystal clear, and the distortion amps had a decent amount of sustain.

One area I think GarageBand fails at is is managing your presets; apps like AmpliTube let you have one-tap access to all your presets. Switching tabs to juggle between a clean, dirty, and metal tone can be cumbersome. However, I found a neat trick to organize your favorite and custom-created sounds. Once you have a sound you like (even if it’s just a built-in one), hit Save in the amp selection window. This will put the sound in a tab labeled Custom, making it very easy to choose between your favorites.


So, is GarageBand a worthwhile tool for the practicing guitar or bass player? Definitely. I wouldn’t want to gig with it, but it’s perfect for practicing without annoying the neighbors. What I love is just how much you get for $4.99. While apps like Amplitube and iShred have free or low cost versions to get you going, to really customize your sound you’re going to need to make in-app purchases for amps and effects. With GarageBand, every amp or pedal I would want is already included.

I think GarageBand is a good tool for serious musicians who want to hone their craft. Little things like using drum loops to play along with and an easy-to-use multitrack recording interface add a ton of value to the app. While I wouldn’t want to record an entire album on it, I think it’d be great for doing some light recording when inspiration strikes in a rehearsal studio, or wherever you happen to find yourself with your gear.