There are few things lonelier than a bass player without a band. Guitar players can strum around a campfire, keyboard players are always sliding onto piano benches to entertain at parties (and what’s not to love about an instrument that doubles as a resting place for your drink?) And drummers -- well, drummers look at anything as a potential instrument: table tops, desks, steering wheels, people’s heads -- you name it. But no one wants to hear a bass player solo -- heck, not even bass players.
One is the Loneliest Number
When I was young, I got around this dilemma by lugging my practice amp up from the basement and putting my beloved copy of Music Minus One on the turntable. For those of you too young to remember, Music Minus One was a series of albums in which a whole band played fully orchestrated arrangements. A whole band, that is, “minus one” instrument: yours. The chart for your instrument was included in the album jacket -- you learned your part, tuned up your instrument (not necessarily in that order) and played along with the band. It was remarkably fulfilling and a great way to build your chops.
Today, the solution is even more elegant -- and a lot less labor intensive. Sonoma Wire Works, a company well known and well respected as one that “gets” musicians, has come up with the Guitar Jack Model 2 -- an improved version of its hardware adapter that lets you play your bass or guitar (along with a microphone if you so desire) through your iOS device.
Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?
The Guitar Jack Model 2 itself is drop-dead gorgeous. The industrial design is impeccable and the build quality is first rate (Sonoma proudly points out that not only is the Guitar Jack assembled in the USA, its parts are sourced there too.) The hardware doesn't scream quality -- that would be crass. It whispers it in soft, come-hither tones. Yes, friends, it's downright sexy.
The all-metal case gives Guitar Jack a nice heft -- not quite as heavy as a paperweight, but substantial enough to let you know it'll be just fine tossed in a gig bag or guitar case. (It'll even fit in your pocket if you're so inclined.) You'll still want to use the included cloth drawstring bag, though -- you're bound to grow fond enough of your Guitar Jack that you wouldn't want to see its polished metal surface get scratched.
Guitar Jack's beauty isn't merely skin deep, either.
She Blinded Me With Science
Unlike previous generation interfaces that cleverly used your iPad or iPhone's headphone jack, the Guitar Jack Model 2 takes full advantage of your device's dock port to deliver a true 24-bit digital signal (as long as the app being used supports it; 16-bit otherwise), which lifts the Guitar Jack from rehearsal quality to full-fledged recording tool status. Owners of newer devices with Lightning ports will need to use a 30-pin dock port adapter, which -- if you don't already own one -- effectively adds to the cost of the unit. This requirement made me realize why Sonoma recommends using an extension cable to Guitar Jack Model 2 regardless of whether you need an adapter or not; a cable allows you to lay the Guitar Jack flat while propping the iPad up with a stand for easier handling and viewing. A new model called Guitar Jack 2 USB was recently introduced, and works with Macs and Windows PCs in addition to iOS devices.
Guitar Jack Model 2 has a 1/4 inch jack to accommodate your guitar or bass, as well as a 1/8 inch jack on its other side to allow input from a microphone simultaneously. It has another 1/8 inch jack for headphones so you can listen to your input directly, rather than through your iOS device (which can be laggy.)
After being accustomed to interfaces that rely on the iPad's headphone jack, we were absolutely blown away by the quality of sound delivered by Guitar Jack Model 2. Using a good set of headphones, the sound rivaled a full bass rig/studio setup. Noise was virtually non-existent and the sound was pristine and full. I could actually see myself using Guitar Jack Model 2 and my iPad in a gig setting -- something I'd always scoffed at with analog devices like IK Multimedia's iRig. (Note: IK Multimedia has released the iRig HD, which also delivers a true digital signal -- look for a review soon.)
I Got Everything I Need - Almost
To complete your iPad-as-amplifier setup, you'll need software. Guitar Jack Model 2 works with a companion app called GuitarTone (US$2.99), which is serviceable but limited. For an extra $10 you can unlock the app's recording function, which upgrades your rig to a full-fledged mixer. Fortunately, Guitar Jack Model 2 also works with other apps, including Apple's GarageBand and my current personal favorite, IK Multimedia's AmpliTube. Like GuitarTone, AmpliTube comes in free and paid versions, and adds the ability to buy additional amps and stomp boxes via on-app purchases. What separates AmpliTube over GuitarTone for me, though, is the ability to easily import songs from your iTunes library so you can play along with them, which goes a long way to recreating that Music Minus One experience.
If you balk at Guitar Jack Model 2's $130 price tag and decide to settle on a lower price unit that uses your iOS device's headphone jack, more power to you. Just be sure you never find out what you're missing. With Guitar Jack's high-quality digital signal and pristine, ultra clear sound, your old device will never sound good enough again.