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There are tons of faux guitar apps on iPad, and frankly, most of them aren’t worth the pixels they occupy on your screen, especially if you happen to own and play the real thing. While it’s still not what we'd call the Holy Grail, Pearl Guitar shows some real promise, especially for anyone who has been completely underwhelmed by previous offerings.
Pearl Guitar is based on samples recorded from a 1979 Martin acoustic dreadnought guitar, and if you’ve ever spent any time around guitar slingers, you’ll know that Martin instruments are widely considered to be the best production guitars on the planet. The 76MB of samples are then sent through Amidio’s proprietary software processing, which aims to introduce some entropy into the equation – and it reveals itself in lots of different ways. Move your iPad around while playing and you’ll hear subtle background sounds of the wood of the guitar being knocked around a little. As you tap on the chord buttons, you’ll get the string buzzing sound that happens when you move your fingers around a real fretboard. There are areas on the screen for muting strings and thumping your guitar top, and it all comes together to sound highly realistic and totally playable.
In order to really appreciate what Pearl Guitar sounds like, we strongly recommend decent headphones or playing through external speakers, where you can hear just how stellar the samples are, as well as the really nice stereo field the app projects. It’s warm, well-rounded, and sparkly enough to be musically useful. The action of the strings as you strum is really quite good – possibly the best we’ve yet run across on any iOS guitar app – and things like fingerpicking are made totally possible by the sensitivity of the virtual strings. Be sure to select the “tap strings” option in the preferences, however; it defaults to being off, which we found drastically reduces overall playability.
There's a section of the screen called the SoloBoard, where you can effectively play the strings at the first handful of frets (for simple flourishes and connecting notes between chords), but we found the pitch bend implementation here to have noticeable digital aliasing. It's luckily the only place in the app that we ran into this gremlin. Also, it’s software, so where’s the left-handed southpaw mode? The basic version of the app costs $2.99 and only includes a small sampling of chords, while a $6.99 in-app purchase unlocks the vast chord database. It'd probably be a lot more appealing to pull in users with the base version for free and keep the expanded version at seven bucks, but the current pricing model doesn't significantly dampen the enjoyment.
The bottom line. We wouldn’t ditch our Taylor or Martin guitars just yet, but we feel comfortable crowning Pearl Guitar as the current leader of iOS acoustic guitar apps.
iPad running iOS 6.0 or later
Nice overall stereo sound. Lots of chords in the full version (in-app purchase required). Excellent string response. Audiobus compatible.
No left-handed mode. Base version is a bit too limited.