Your iPad can do quite a bit, but replacing a guitar seems like quite a stretch. There are a number of guitar apps out there, including the one found in Apple’s own GarageBand iOS app. Most though, deliver a thinner sound, that offers a digital acoustic, and that’s why new alternatives keep appearing. The latest entry is Pearl Guitar, and it comes from the makers of Futulele, the digital ukulele. What makes Pearl Guitar unique is that it’s fashioned after the 1979 Martin acoustic steel guitar in every way. The developers have proven their authentic sounds before, and they bill Pearl Guitar as “the most realistic, lush, organic and warm tone in digital”, and we’re here to put that claim to the test.
From the first time you strum the screen, you can hear the realism produced by this digital guitar, and it’s quite an auditory treat. It sounds exactly as you would expect, and responds to the exact movements of your fingers over the strings. Speaking of which, the controls couldn’t be more responsive whether you’re tapping on individual strings, or strumming across them all. The app includes a metronome, and conga drum as background tools to keep the time, and infuse a little extra depth into your guitar sessions. It’s worth noting that this is an acoustic guitar, and all that comes with it including simply strumming to find a tune that flows. Pearl Guitar isn’t quite an actual guitar, but it’s a darn good digital representation that you can play from the comfort of your iPad.
The app also includes true stereo output, the ability to record vocals through the mic, and offer full song recording and exporting support. When you’re strumming the guitar, you also notice the variable speed that the app can recognize, and it’s always such an intriguing feeling to hear the sounds that come from swiping your fingers across the screen. There are 16 different chords to switch between through a panel in the bottom right, and each one maintains the lush and warm sound that the app strives for. The only drawback in the acoustic quality, is that sounds can be very rigid when switching chords. The app as a whole is definitely feature rich, but some valuable features are on the other side of a $6.99 in-app purchase, and those features include MIDI support, a complete chord menu, and a database of over 1,000 chords. The extra option also includes real songs to play including Hotel California by The Eagles, Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, and Help by The Beatles. It’s disappointing to see that the full app is actually $10, and instead of the $3 purchase price of the app.
The main takeaway of Pearl Guitar is that it’s designed for those who know what they’re doing with a guitar, rather than for novices to pick up and play. You need to have chord knowledge to play anything that flows together, and especially even come close to the real songs. The app doesn’t even have a tutorial for beginners to learn the basics of playing the guitar, so many iOS users will end up just strumming randomly. It would be nice to see a Guitar Hero option to help guide you to understanding the chords based on actual tracks. Without those capabilities, there’s a very limited use case and audience. Also, that musical inclined audience may be disappointed by the sounds provided by the app. While they may seem deluxe and natural to the untrained ear, the app is designed for the trained ear, and the sounds might not measure up.
Pearl Guitar ($2.99, iPad) doesn’t have the inviting nature required for most iOS users, and doesn’t have the depth that more professional users demand making it one to skip.