You've got that right. I'm one of those annoying guys who "used to be in a band". The truth is I'm more of a bungling amateur guitarist, but I can still appreciate really kick-ass gear. Recently, I stumbled upon Guitar Rig 4 (for the Mac and PC). I was blown away.
First a side story... What I really wanted to get was IK Multimedia's Amplitude for the iPad/iPhone, an app that turns your iDevice into an amp for your guitar, complete with effects. So I dusted off my old Ibanez electric guitar and prepared to get this app.
The free version gives you two free effects. You can buy more, or you can just get the full version.
The thing is, you need to get IK Multimedia's iRig adaptor to allow your axe to work with your iPad. (If you're clever with wires, you can actually do it with off-the-shelf wires, but Handyman's selection proved to be wanting.) Without iRig, I was forced to search for a solution on my Mac. I found Guitar Rig 4 instead.
All it takes to connect your guitar to your laptop or desktop is a far more common adaptor -- a 1/4 inch mono to 3.5mm stereo jack. Handyman had lots of these. Native Instrument's Guitar Rig 4 itself isn't cheap at $80, but there is a trial version available. It's worth every penny if you ask me.
Here's how it works (from bottom to top in the picture):
• The green cable outputs audio to my speakers, or to my headphones.
• The gold cable is my guitar, which plugs into the black adaptor, which plugs into the mic.
• The dongle connects to my monitor.
• The other cables are just to my hub, my external HDs, the router, and power.
Now I've known that you can play your guitar on Garage Band for a while now, but Guitar Rig 4 takes it all to a whole new level. With the software you get to select from 15 amps and just about every kind of effects pedal you can think of plus some you've never heard of -- crunch, flanger, phaser, delay, wah, you name it.
To make things easier, they've made 250 presets. So if you want to sound like Hendrix, or Kurt Cobain, you just have to hunt down their preset. The presets alone are worth the price of entry if you're a guitar nut, otherwise $80 is pricey.
At the end of the day, guitar amps and effects are all about tone. Don't expect to get a lot of that, especially if your desktop speakers are cheap, but otherwise, it really sounds quite decent. As a practice setup, it's the bomb.
If you're looking for more, Native Instruments sells some accessories to squeeze out more from your Mac or PC. Guitar Rig Kontrol is a stomp box with a wah pedal. Makes sense because you can't reach for your mouse in the middle of a performance. Guitar Rig Mobile improves your tone by upgrading your audio output to 24-bit/192 kHz. If you're picky about tone, this'll sort you out.
I've barely scratched the surface of what this software can do. Now back to my axe!