By Mike Riley on Thu, 02/03/2011
I love playing guitar, whether for people at parties or in the quiet solitude of my home. I also enjoy learning new pieces, whether from traditional sheet music or from the wide range of guitar tabs available on the Internet (most of which are not that good). Yet after years of playing, I still occasionally come across a weird chord that I haven't played in ages. Like many students of the instrument, I learned a majority of chords from Mel Bay guitar chord books. The drawback of these books is that there is no sound accompanying the strum, so it is hit or miss whether your fret fingering is correct. However, with the release of portable music apps like Agile Partners' GuitarToolkit, chord formation and sound are no longer a mystery.
GuitarToolkit is more than just a collection of 500,000 chords that can be displayed and strummed for stringed instruments ranging from 6 and 12-string guitar, 4/5/6-string bass, banjo, bass and mandolin, but also includes a number of helpful utilities that emphasize the Toolkit portion of the application's name. For example, GuitarToolkit includes an accurate chromatic tuner with settings for free-form and lock-in to help perfectly tune guitar strings. Note that iPod Touch owners will need to use a headset with a built-in microphone, since older-gen iPod Touch's don't have a built-in mic. iPhone and iPad users fortunately due have a mic built-in, so those iOS devices can be used as a tuner without any additional hardware requirements. Another helpful feature is GuitarToolkit's built-in metronome that beats out perfect timing. The metronome can be set either via strict beats per minute time signatures or by simply tapping out the beat, helpful when listening to music on your speakers/headphones or in your head.
Speaking of iPad, GuitarToolkit runs equally well on that larger display device as it does on older generation iPod Touches and iPhones. Even so, the developer has told me that an iPad-optimized addition is "in the works", but has yet to commit to a delivery date. In the meantime, iPad owners won't be disappointed in what GuitarToolkit currently delivers.
One of the most helpful features I found with the program is its support for alternate/open tunings. Artists like Al Petteway have a number of their compositions set in DADGBD or CACGAD. Thanks to GuitarToolkit, I now know that the first open tuning shape is called a Double Drop D. The CACGAD wasn't in GuitarToolkit's presets, but adding it was a snap, as were other custom tunings. Once the tunings are configured, they can be flagged as favorites to find and tune with them quickly. This was incredibly efficient, especially when tunings that are really unique, such as those used by amazingly talented German guitarist Ralf Illenberger.
About the only feature lacking from the app that would give it a perfect rating from me is the ability o control iTunes and adjust the playback speed of music, so that particularly challenging guitar licks can be disected. While such a feature request could be deemed to be outside the scope of what Agile Partners set out to offer, it nevertheless is a feature that would be icing on the cake. In the meantime, I will have to continue to use my desktop computer and my own batch of custom apps to provide this functionality (though these are still far better than what budding guitarists had to do back in the hey-day of the 1970's, manually spinning 33 1/3 vinyl records and mentally adjust the pitch to figure out notes and chords being played). However, even without this topping, GuitarToolkit is an obvious choice for any guitarist, hobbyist or professional, looking for a comprehensive chord library, metronome and chromatic tuner available anywhere they take their iOS devices. GuitarToolkit is a winner.
Developer: Agile Partners
Rating: 4/5 stars