How to Connect Your Guitar to Your iPad or iPhone

By Ryan C. Williams, Mike Levine

In order to take advantage of the great guitar-processing apps available for the iPad and iPhone, you need a way to get the signal from your guitar or bass into your iOS device. For that, you’ll need a dedicated guitar interface or a more fully featured audio interface that can handle not only guitar and bass connections but also microphones and sometimes even MIDI as well.

Two different types of guitar/bass interfaces are available on the market:

  • Digital interfaces, which connect through the dock port on your device

  • Analog interfaces, which connect through the headphone jack on your device

Going digital

Initially you could only find analog guitar interfaces for iOS, but the last couple of years have brought forth plenty of digital models. These offer better sound quality than the analog ones, because they convert your instrument signal into digital audio and keep it in the digital domain as it goes into your device. Conversely, analog interfaces bring the signal in through the analog headphone jack, and it doesn’t get digitized until it gets into your device.

These digital interfaces offer 24-bit audio resolution, which is the same resolution used in most professional computer recording software. The result is that your guitar or bass will sound the same going into an app as it does coming out of your guitar, and no noise will be added.

Some of the best-known interfaces of this type include:

  • Apogee Jam

  • Apogee Jam 96K

  • Griffin Guitar Connect Pro

  • IK Multimedia iRig HD

  • Line 6 Mobile In

  • Peavey AmpKit Link HD

  • Positive Grid’s JamUP Plug HD

  • Sonoma Wireworks GuitarJack Model 2

The only disadvantage to digital interfaces is their cost, which is typically in the $90 to $120 range, depending on the product.

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Connecting one of these interfaces to your device is easy: Just plug it in to the dock connector, plug your guitar or bass into its 1/4” input jack, and you’re ready to rock.

Note that some interfaces feature the older-style 30-pin connectors, which means if you have one of the newer generation of Lightning-equipped iOS devices, you’ll need one of Apple’s Lightning-to-30-pin adapters in order to connect it to your device. This adapter will set you back about $30, so figure that into your budget, or choose an interface such as IK Multimedia’s iRig HD, or Griffin’s Guitar Connect Pro, which supports both formats out of the box.

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If you plan on using both MIDI and audio in your live rig, make sure you buy an interface that supports both. You only have one data connector, after all— don’t make your devices fight for space!

The analog alternative

Analog instrument interfaces offer an inexpensive alternative to the digital products. Although analog audio isn’t as clean and pristine as digital audio, for a lot of applications, the difference won’t be particularly noticeable. Analog guitar interfaces tend to sell in the $20 range, for the most part, so if you’re willing to live with a signal that might be slightly noisy at times, you can save quite a bit.

These interfaces connect through your device’s headphone jack, using a kind of connector called TRRS, which is a special type of mini-plug that allows audio to travel both in and out of your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. This is important because not only do you want your guitar signal to go into your iOS device, you want to be able to hear it and any background tracks or other music you’re playing with it at the same time.

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If you’re wondering where you’ll be able to plug your headphones into, since the interface is connected to your headphone jack, there’s a simple answer. All of these analog interfaces have their own built-in headphone output jack, so you can listen to the audio coming out of your device at the same time as your guitar’s signal goes in through the iOS device’s headphone jack.

Because they’re 30-pin devices (a format that Apple has replaced), analog interfaces may not remain on the market all that much longer. But currently, these three were still available, all at reduced prices (under $30):

  • IK Multimedia iRig

  • Positive Grid JamUp Plug

  • Griffin Guitar Connect Pro