Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yup, I got ahold of the new Rock Band 3 Midi Guitar

Much needed change of topic!

OK, so I have a lot of time on my hands.  I've been riding the rock band/guitar hero thing since the first versions, and recently my wife scored me the new Mustang controller and Rock Band 3.   She was able to get the controller for regular retail price at Walmart online, the day it hit.  We got Rock Band 3 and the keyboard at midnight on launch day. OK, I'm a fan.

See, around here all four of us play this together, often playing with our other relatives on the internet or even throwing LAN parties.  This counts as "family game night", and it's a lot of fun.  (Especially with the Rock Band 2 fog machine/light show which is NOT compatible with Rock Band 3.  Grrrrrr.)

My virtual player "Rod Standing" and his band "Gynamite" currently have 350 million worldwide fans!  I just got out of Betty Ford, and I'm writing a book about my celebrity sex addiction. (lol)


Now this guitar thing.  With the original 5 button controller this was definitely a game, though it's obvious the dudes working out the fingerings took time to make things somewhat authentic.  The fingerings are all pretty rational, you are just always on the same 5 fret playspace.

With the new guitar things are much different.  This is a full-on guitar MIDI controller with rubber buttons providing frets up to the 17th, on a Mustang scaled instrument.  And, it's a full MIDI controller (as is the new keyboard controller.)  There isn't any documentation but I plugged it into my Roland GS and it transmits on the Roland standard, that is- each string is a different MIDI channel.  The four game control buttons function as patch up/down buttons and octave transpose.

So how's it play?  Great!  Sort of.  Nah, not really.  Here are some upsides/downsides:


  • Well it's real"ish".  
  • It's definitely possible to move from the controller to a real guitar once you've played things down in "expert."
  • It's fun.
  • I placed at like #9 globally on "Hey Man, Nice Shot" (bass) by Filter in expert.  Good for convincing kids that you are a badass. (the song rocks, but it's one string y'all)
  • Good for staying hip, because without Rock Band I wouldn't have known who the hell Filter was.  It's cool to stay up with the younger crowd (lol)- I actually found out that I like Queens of the Stone Age, Muse and many others.
  • With guidance this could be a really, really effective tool for guitar education.
  • You can plug it into a synth.
  • True for all versions of this technology:  if you come across a song you really, really like- they've nicely given you access to all the original "soloed" performances in the "practice room."  To make a long story short I now have full, and very real Rush accompaniment in Sonar when I want to jam out "Freewill" or "YYZ."  I love hearing the naked tracks from people like Geddy Lee, or the amazing guitar tones of Pete Townsend.  You name it, you can now solo all of the performances.  Playing with the five button (traditional) controller, you get a good handle on rhythm, and you can chew into complex solo phrasings with a lot of detail.  
  • They also recently released a MIDI interface for Rock Band, which they claim allows the use of Roland-ish guitar controllers and MIDI drum kits.  Walmart accidentally sent me the PS3 version so I can't report on how this all works--my Roland equipped axe is ready to test.  Too bad the inner plastic rings on the $60 Rock Band 3 DVD cracked,  too bad my last working XBox 360 red-ringed.  (Have 2 other busted ones.  They get a work out around here.)  So, when I have a desire to throw more money at my XBox, I'll let y'all know how using real world instruments works out.
Less Than Positives
  • OK, so we have a strange, short scale, rubber guitar.  Position markers would have been cool.  I added them with a Sharpie.  My fingers turned black (lol.)  I did discover that with the power of the force you can, indeed, lunge from the first fret to the 15th in the space of a sixteenth note without taking your eyes from the TV.  You just gotta believe.  
  • It's "real" all right, which means that this game started reminding me of being in a bar band, and I was wondering when I'd get paid.  You actually do have to learn the songs and practice them to pull them off in expert mode.  Is this fun?  I'm not really sure. Sometimes. I didn't really want to spend any of my life learning "The Beautiful People" by Marilyn Manson--even though it only took 30 seconds.  On the other hand, going for the "hail mary" and playing the bass to "Roundabout" in expert is about as fun as you can imagine.  I have no intention of ever trying to nail down the Dio "Moldy Diver" solo on this rubber guitar, I do have a little bit of a life!
  • Solos.  Sorry, this just flat out sucks.  There is no string bending with rubber buttons.  I've found that when a string is bent in a solo they either notate (and make you fret) the note at pitch (2 frets higher) which wreaks havoc with my ear and with the fingering- or they notate it in place and ignore the bend.  Neither way works for me at all.  The solo to "I Love Rock and Roll" shouldn't really trip you up with the fingering.  Bass, though, works GREAT, and I wish this thing had four strings.  I try to imagine I'm playing a tic tac.
  • Precision.  Wow.  I thought I had taken some anal guitar courses in my time.  This thing will track, but if you've developed any bad habits at all-- a finger dragging a string, or a less than pristine note in a chord voicing, you're screwed.  I crawled through all of the tutorials and they were laughably easy with a guitar in your hand, and an exercise in patience with the controller.
  • The lessons.  There is a little tutorial that claims to teach you how to play the guitar.  To satisfy the tutorial you get as far as walking bass and modal scales, all without any teaching.  They're just fingerings.  An experienced player will look at a run and say "OK, B dorian" but a kid won't.  My son was ultra excited about this thing, then looked at it in disbelief, then went back to singing.  
To sum up, I think these games are a lot of fun- and they can really get kids into music.  To make this thing work as a learning platform tho, the lesson material and the technology need some more work.  

If I ever get my XBox back, my XBox live tag is "Uh HowHowHow" (lol.)  Maybe I'll see y'all online.


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