OMGuitar for iPad, $2.99 by zCage

OMGuitar for iPad, $2.99 by zCage

Thinking back to when I first got my hands on an iPad I recall eagerly downloading the few Guitar instrument apps I had tried out on my iPod Touch ( late iPhone adopter here ... ). I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be. Don't get me wrong. A few of those apps designed for the small iPod/iPhone screens worked pretty well. But none felt like I was playing a guitar... and to be fair I wasn't! 

At some point I noticed a new app with an eye-catching icon called OMGuitar by a developer called Amidio. The screen shots looked awesome, all neon glowing and the GUI mimicked an entire guitar body. I was in. Right off the bat the app performed extremely well... a few gripes here and there of course ... but it had so many features for the five dollar ( I think ) asking price the most important of which was a 'feel',  a sense that 'with a bit of practice I might actually get good at playing this'. Note the word ... 'playing'.

I wrote to Amidio about a few bugs and requests for what I thought were fairly minor optimizations but nothing much resulted. To be fair there might have been one or two very minor updates, I can't remember. But nothing emerged to refine the playability of OMGuitar. Amidio went on to release a new guitar app called Pearl Guitar, but it too suffered the same fate, and to be honest I liked OMGuitar better.

Fast-forward to a few months ago and suddenly we find a bunch of Amidio's forgotten creations ( including OMGuitar, Futulele and MintIO  ) in the hands of a new developer called zCage. This is very good news.

zCage have systematically renewed all these apps, which had become almost unusable with the many updates to iOS, so that by and large they are now alive and well under iOS 8 and absolutely worthy of your consideration, OMGuitar in particular for a great fun and playable guitar experience. And the price? If you already own an original OMGuitar it's free! Just re download the app. Otherwise the $2.99 price is a bargain and I promise you won't miss that cup of coffee you would have bought. You'll be busy strumming up a storm on your iDevice.   

The Main OMGuitar Interface ... click to Dig In

The Main OMGuitar Interface ... click to Dig In

So what is it that makes OMGuitar a cut above the rest? Well let's start with the playability. The interface is fairly self explanatory. There is a chord pad which contains 12 chords selectable from a very respectable library ( see Digging In here ). The player touches a chord pad and strums the guitar strings above. Lo and behold OMGuitar produces an incredibly responsive sound ( no noticeable latency at all ) which actually changes in tone and level depending on how fast your strum action is. Further, tapping on a sting mimics finger picking nicely and an optional 'Note Bar' near the guitar's bridge ... see I'm even calling it a 'guitar'... allows notes to be sounded and bent by dragging the triggering finger. The pitch bend is nice too ... smooth and expressive. I really enjoy it!

That's the basics but not the end of the story by any stretch. Chord changes are smooth and natural and it doesn't matter if you slide your finger between pads or 'lift and tap', the sound is glitch free. There's also nice embellishments available such as two kinds of string muting. The obvious one is the Hand icon at the bottom left of the GUI, which when tapped mutes the guitar with a downward muted strum, like you might do and the end of a rousing chorus. Another option is to activate '2x Tap Mute' ( which should be called 2 finger tap mute' ) which more gently mutes the sound when the screen is tapped with a two finger gesture. Of course the guitar can sustain to silence ... although one of my criticisms has been that this happens just a beat too quickly on most of the guitar models. 

There's also an Auto - Strumming feature activated by holding down the 'A Arrow' at the top left of the interface and tapping a chord pad. The strum pattern can be selected from a list of over twenty choices in the settings. To my ears the velocity ( loudness ) of the strums is a bit too strident and lacks any dynamics. But the feature works well despite room for refinement ( perhaps a strum pattern editor or recorder?).

So once you've got the mechanics down then it's time to start exploring. OMGuitar offers eight Guitar types. Acoustic Dreadnought, Studio Nylon, Studio Steel, Les Paul Electric, Electric Telecaster ( with a Gibson SG Graphic ...oops ), Electric Archtop, Acoustic Jumbo and Acoustic Classic. Without effects they all sound good but not as refined or exciting as some more recent apps. I've played a lot of guitars and the sound doesn't really live up to the guitar model printed on the selector. Moving forward I think some sample updates might be in order. I'd be totally happy for them to be In App Purchases.... the only way for our guitar apps to improve is for a the developers to receive an income stream for work performed. 

On the up side each guitar type has a built in 3 Band EQ to tweak tone and a complete effects chain comprising of Distortion, Compressor, Reverb, Delay, Chorus, Flanger, Tremelo, Phaser, Wah Wah and a Vowel Filter. Activating these ( all at once if you want ! ) certainly brings the sound to life and will provide you with hours of tweaking fun. Each effect has a couple of adjustable parameters for varying your sound but not so many that it becomes a tyranny of choice. A nice touch is that the effects chain can be turned on/off with a little red button the bridge of the guitar while playing. Well done.

Anything else? You bet. OMGuitar supports MIDI In and Out, AudioBus2, has a small built in library of chord palettes for popular songs ( you can create and save your own ) and the ability to record a performance as audio, edit it and Share (email, DropBox) or Open it in another app. Check out Digging In to see more details.

So what's missing? I've already mentioned that I'd like slightly longer sustain built into the sounds and of course more guitar types. But at a more subtle level I'd vote for a way to Save Effects Chain settings, adding the ability to preview chords while assigning them to pads in the chord selector window, reducing the area of the 'two finger mute' to just include the scratch plate (right now it covers the strings too, so it can kick in if two fingers tap two strings while playing! ), being able to adjust the gaps between strings would be great, a button or two above the Chord Pads to activate preset transpose values  ( key changes)  ... and being able to play/loop an audio file recorded the app to jam against would be nice. 

Oh, and of course my biggest wish in all guitar instrument apps. I'd like to devote an area of the interface to playing solo notes within a scale to emulate passing notes and embellishments. But that's not an update ... it's a major upgrade. I'd love zCage to take up that challenge! 

All that could occupy zCage for quite a while! But seriously, I hope that they have resurrected OMGuitar with a view to taking it further. It's worth it!

It's exciting to see OMGuitar back in circulation. I don't think any single guitar instrument app covers more bases than OMG which makes it a must have app for guitar fans.

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