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Hands-On With Pro Guitar in Rock Band 3


Rock Band 3 Pro GuitarRock Band 3′s Pro mode is hard. Really, really hard. This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who were following along on The Twitters last week, where I mused upon brand-new horizons of difficulty introduced in Pro Guitar — compared to even the hardest five-button songs in any previous game. This is a whole new challenge, and in a sense a whole new game.

But let me back up.

THE SQUIER
I walked into the stark white meeting room in MTV Games’ booth on Tuesday afternoon, hoping to get a moment to pick up at least one of the two new guitars launching alongside Rock Band 3. I knew the appointment was specifically for hands-on time, but I figured they’d hustle me through keyboard and guitar, and I’d at most get to pound out a couple licks on the seriously buttontastic Mustang controller.

Instead, senior designer Sylvain Dubrofsky pretty much just handed over the stringed Squier the minute I walked into the room, and let me go to town.

Rock Band 3 Squier ControllerLet me tell you about the Squier. First of all, it looks and feels like a real guitar in pretty much every way. Obviously there are some extra buttons on the body; without buttons on the neck, it became necessary to add face buttons to the body of the guitar itself, which are nicely unobtrusive. But aside from that, there’s really only one thing that felt noticeably different to me from holding a real guitar: The neck seems a tad bit on the thick side. I assume this is to accommodate whatever kind of voodoo electronics lurk beneath the surface to detect finger placement. It made the neck feel more like the thick construction of a Les Paul than what you’d normally expect from a Strat, if that means anything to you.

But on to the important thing: How well does the game detect input via the Squier? The answer: really, really well. Press down on the strings and slide your hand up the neck and the game instantly responds, showing the position of your fingers on the neck and in relation to each other.

But perhaps not the way you’d think.

THE GAMEPLAY
Which brings us to how Pro mode actually plays. Going in, I was expecting the game to simply throw a line of numbers at you; as with tablature, I assumed it would be up to the player to learn over time to recognize what, say, 320033 means. (That’d be a G chord, if you’re curious.) Instead, the game does something a little less immediately obvious but potentially more intuitive — which I realize sounds like a contradiction, but bear with me.

What Rock Band 3 does with chords is show you a shape, almost a waveform, which roughly corresponds to where your fingers go. There’s a number attached, which indicates where your lowest finger (that is, the one closest to the headstock) goes, and then the rest of the “wave” shows the rough relation of your other fingers to it.

But because this information needs to be delivered quickly along a note highway, it’s not a direct one-to-one relationship — you’re not seeing chord “charts” that you might be familiar with from songbooks and such. That means it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to know exactly where to put your fingers the very first time you see the diagram. That’s why I say it’s less immediately obvious.

However, since Harmonix has reduced complex chord information down to a simple shape, once you learn the meaning of that shape it becomes pretty instantly recognizable. For example, even after playing just one song, I recognize that this:

Rock Band 3 Barre Chord…is a barre chord. In this case, the index finger is on the third fret of the second string, and the next three strings are fretted at the fifth fret. Compare to this:

Rock Band 3 E Chord…which shows most of an open E. In this case, the index finger is on the first fret of the fourth string, and the two lower strings are fretted at the second fret. Notice how the angle next to the “1″ is shallower, signifying that the fingers are closer together: The distance is just a single fret (1 to 2) as opposed to two frets (3 to 5) in the top example.

This may sound unbearably complex, especially if you’ve never picked up a real guitar, but trust me: After seeing it in action and trying it for yourself, it makes perfect sense. As you learn more songs, you’ll learn to recognize the shapes of more chords, and eventually it could become as simple as seeing, say, a Red-Green-Blue chord or HOPO — you’ll learn the “language,” your muscles will learn the movement, your fingers will learn the placement. Will it take more time and work? Oh hell yes. But the system seems to make sense, based on my play time.

One other note about gameplay: I wasn’t able to locate screens illustrating this, but periodically you’ll see a section of the note highway shaded a light blue: This signifies arpeggio sections, where you hold down the last fretted chord and strum individual strings within it. Again — sounds much more complex than it is; basically it’s a sustained chord with extra picking going on.

THE MUSTANG
So let me wrap back around to the hardware. After playing through “I Love Rock n’ Roll” on Pro Hard on the Squier (and scoring 55 percent, ouch), I was asked if I wanted to check out the Mustang as well. As reluctant as I was to put down the “real” guitar, I had to see how the two compared.

Rock Band 3 Mustang ControllerThe verdict: surprisingly well. There’s definitely a dramatic gap of realism between the Mustang and the Squier, but it was surprisingly easy to finger even complex chords on the Mustang — and I was relieved to discover that chord changes seemed no harder. (Given the many-button configuration of the Mustang, I thought it might be easy to get hung up on intervening buttons, but transitions felt pretty smooth.)

As a sort of field test, I played through the same song again on the Mustang. This time I scored a 60 percent, which I suspect is due more to fast-growing familiarity with the chord shapes than to any material difference between the guitars. All in all, it felt quite solid. It wasn’t the best “fake” guitar I saw at the show, but…well, more on that later this week.

Questions? I’m sure I’ve left something out but I didn’t want to get too technical here. (I see you all rolling your eyes. Shut up.)


60 Comments

  1. Sage says:

    Thanks for this post! This is the first well-laid-out explanation of Pro Guitar’s interface that I’ve seen anywhere. Really looking forward to picking up a Squier on day 1!

  2. Whizzer says:

    This is exactly what I wanted from E3. Excellent article. I’m definitely picking up the Squire now. Not too technical, on the spot on how it works. Thanks!

  3. Michael Prachar says:

    No Whammy on The Squier eh? Permanent change or pre-production guitar abnormality?

  4. Joe Rybicki says:

    I kept getting odd looks and evasive answers when I asked about the whammy. I suspect that whammy will not appear on these models, but that there’s something similar in the game they’re not willing to talk about yet. Whammy has a legitimate in-game use, so I’ve gotta think they’ll replace it with something. I would say string bending, but you can’t do that on the Mustang, and that also doesn’t have a whammy…so your guess is as good as mine at this point.

  5. Kirksplosion says:

    Having never taken my first guitar lesson, that seems hopelessly complex to me. Heh, not that I expected learning how to play guitar to be a walk in the park. Can’t imagine going straight to Pro Hard as you did (I’m assuming you’ve had at least some experience with a guitar). Will be Pro Easy for me at first, I’m sure. Either way, I’m still very much looking forward to getting my hands on the Squier. Very excite!

  6. I was VERY curious as to how they were going to pull off chords, but this seems somewhat intuitive. Glad to see someone going IN DEPTH with these new peripherals.

  7. Really interesting article, Joe, much appreciated. Although I confess I didn’t really understand the fretting stuff as I’m not a guitarist (yet!). But this is just the sort of content I’ve been dying to read more about following the big E3 reveals of real guitar interfacing.

    I’m not yet clear on how it all links up to the Xbox? You’ve got the face buttons and a D-pad so I assume the Squier has got Xbox controller innards in there somewhere? Wired via USB is what I’m sure I’ve read about somewhere, but maybe I’m getting confused with the MIDI interface box. So, more details/clarity on how the MIDI i/f box, the keyboards, etc all hook in with respect to wires and wireless, would be of great interest.

    I’d also really like to see more videos of folks rocking out with the Squier to RB Pro mode.

    Oh, and while we know the Mustang and Squier will operate as bass controllers, thoughts on the Squier as a Bass guitar would be interesting. Mr Pope of Harmonix commented on the Giant Bombcast recently:

    Stringed bass support in Pro mode but *no* dedicated bass controller;
    “We don’t have a bass peripheral at this point.”

    “HOURS of tutorials and training modes that will teach you the basics of
    playing guitar.” Emphasis on Hours!

    Thanks, Joe, highly enjoyable web-site!

  8. Astroburn says:

    Thanks for the recap Joe. I have a Strat and I understand what you are talking about with the feeling of the neck. Shouldnt be a problem. With regards to the chords – are all the chords barre chords? or will they actually want to see the chords fingered accordingly (like your G chord example).

    And any talk about how much the Squire will cost? I mean, you can get a Mexi Strat for 300 bucks. I hope this isnt near that much…

  9. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Astroburn, Oh no, it’s much more than barre chords. At Expert it really is all the real chords. They demoed “Power of Love” for me on Expert, and there are a ton of surprisingly complex chords in the verses there. Lots of jazz-style stuff. Really tough-looking!

  10. Masem says:

    I am curious if you know what is going on with the open teardrop-shape on the bass chart (Top image, left side). Is that a true open bass string?

  11. Grant says:

    Are you kidding me? Where’s the um… PLASTIC Axes? I’m already used to plastic axes and don’t want to play real guitar.

    Keyboard’s cool, though.

    What are they doing for drums?

  12. Grant says:

    @Masem Could be a whammy point, or sustain.

  13. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Masem, I think that might be a slide. Like, hit a higher note, slide down the neck, and then hit that next open note.

  14. Kyle says:

    Excellent. A report on how it all works and feels is exactly the information I was looking for.

    Did you get to play Pro bass though? I’m an amateur bass player – but I’m worried it will be awkward playing bass on these instruments the spacing of the frets and strings on a bass is much wider than that on a guitar. It’d be great to get your thoughts on this, Joe.

  15. Kevin K says:

    @Kyle I’m in a similar position (amateur bass player, finger style) and I’m worried that trying to play the bass parts with a regular guitar is just gonna be annoying/frustrating/worthless for real bass player (especially one who plays exclusively with their fingers) .

    I know it’s insane and unlikely, but I really wish they would release an actual pro bass.

    I’d be interested to hear how it works out though.

  16. Ryan says:

    Read all the ‘replies’ and noone asked, what happens when the strings break? Is it made to use a pick? Those are two of my top questions. Sounds like a big step in the right direction, Kinect could make this a more precise and educational experience. Priced right and everyone would be in.

  17. @Ryan. I take it you mean the string/button Mustang? Must admit I’d been curious about that. I assume the plastic uncaps some terminals. Either way I have decided that I’ll be getting the keyboard, MIDI interface box for my e-drums and the real guitar, the Squire. I’m going to bypass the Mustang entirely I suspect.

  18. Kyle says:

    Hmm, on the idea of replacing broken strings – especially on the Mustang, I wonder if it would be possible to replace the strings with thicker bass strings.

    Anyway, I’m sure all these details will be revealed in the coming months.

  19. Kirksplosion says:

    You can definitely replace the strings on the Mustang. You can detach a section of the guitar, I believe, and put some new strings in. I know I saw a video of it online, but I’ve seen so many at this point, I have no idea where it was. And, yes, I think using a pick with the Mustang is perfectly viable.

    I fully expect there to be a bass controller down the line, at least one like the Mustang with all the buttons. Whether we’ll get a real stringed one may depend heavily on how well the Squier sells. You can chalk me up for one Squier sell!

  20. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Ryan, I haven’t seen the video Kirksplosion is talking about, but I’d imagine there has to be some way to replace broken strings on the Mustang. That said, they’re not real guitar strings — they’re a type of nylon or plastic — so breaking may not be an issue.

    But yeah, you’re definitely playing with a pick. The strings are looser than on a normal guitar, but playing with a pick feels surprisingly natural.

    @Tufty, Sorry I missed your earlier comment — the guitars are both wireless, with the innards of each system’s controller on-board. The MIDI box is connected via USB; and you’ll need a MIDI cable to connect a real keyboard or MIDI drum set to it. But that and the mic should be the only wired devices.

    @Kyle and Kevin: Harmonix isn’t talking about a bass controller; in fact, they pointed out that some bassists use five- or six-string basses, so they’re saying you do need all six strings. But I asked a Mad Catz rep and he said something to the effect of, “We’re going to see how the Squier and Mustang do before making that decision.” As a bassist myself I would LOVE to see a properly proportioned bass controller. Harmonix told me the game will already detect whether you’re using the Squier or the Mustang and adjust the charts accordingly…I’d love to see that same functionality for bass. Like, if you’re using a four-”string” controller, it transposes any higher or lower notes. To me, it’s a lot more important to get people familiar with the proportions of a real bass than it is to be note-perfect for those rare songs with five- or six-string bass parts.

  21. Kyle says:

    Yeah, I do love that they’re at least giving the bass some love by using the fifth and six strings. I actually heard about that on the latest episode Harmonix podcast where Sylvain Dubrofsky, one of the gameplay designers gives a lot of great details about the Pro mode and guitars.
    http://www.rockband.com/zine/episode019

    Frig, Dream Theatre’s Panic Attack just got harder! But can you imagine if they released a real six string bass that worked for Rock Band?! *drools*

    So Joe, did you play any bass songs during your playtest? (It’s great to see the writers here so helpful and keen to answer people replies. I can see this place being a really useful resource for me.)

  22. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Kyle, No I didn’t — I would have liked to but my time was very limited. I will say that I have a feeling the Mustang might be slightly better suited to playing bass. Being a bit looser and smoother, the strings had slightly more of a “bass-y” feel to me.

    Glad you’re enjoying the site! I’m also very pleased to see other commenters being so helpful.

  23. Kirksplosion says:

    @ Joe Glad to help when I actually have some info. I’ll look for that video when I get a chance, but as I said, I’ve been devouring details about this game since it was announced, so specifics are a bit muddled.

    Speaking of, you’re running a great site, and I appreciate the updates. We’ve been getting general info from the bigger gaming blogs out there, but this detailed stuff is exactly what the hardcore fans are looking for. Keep it up!

    Looking at those two screenshots of the chords, I can clearly see a visible difference in the elevation, but when it’s scrolling at you so fast, is it not difficult to differentiate? Also, you called the Mustang buttons “strings” above. Was it easy to slide your fingers up and down the buttons like you would with strings?

  24. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Kirksplosion, if you’re referring to this: “Being a bit looser and smoother, the strings had slightly more of a “bass-y” feel to me.” — I was referring to the strumming strings there. Sorry, shoulda been more clear. Since the string module on the body has strings that are a bit springier and plastickier than real strings, they remind me more of a bass, and would probably be a bit better for proper two-finger bass playing than real guitar strings.

    But to answer your direct question, yeah, it was easier than I thought to slide around the Mustang neck. It seems like you’d get hung up on buttons, but something about the size or width or spacing between them doesn’t seem to make this a problem, at least not for me. But then, I have fairly large fingertips…

  25. Sylvain says:

    Nice writeup – best one I’ve seen so far about pro guitar :)

  26. Grant says:

    May I ask what they’re doing for drums?

  27. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Sylvain, That is serious praise. Thank you.

    @Grant, You can get details about the drums here.

  28. Grant says:

    Will the cymbals be packaged with the bundle?

    Will there be a bundle that you can buy with the plastic guitar, but still includes the keyboard, drums, and microphone?

  29. Kirksplosion says:

    @ Joe Ah, gotcha. That’s my misunderstanding about the strings.

    So, what about my question pertaining to the pro gameplay: Looking at those two screenshots of the chords, I can clearly see a visible difference in the elevation, but when it’s scrolling at you so fast, is it not difficult to differentiate?

  30. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Grant, I’m not sure there will be a bundle with drums or guitar this time around. I’ll have more from my meeting with Mad Catz later this week, but the fellow I talked to said retailers aren’t really keen on big boxes right now. So it’s likely stuff’ll be sold separately, except for the keyboard bundle. I’d imagine they’ll do a package with just drums and cymbals, though.

    @Kirksplosion, Whoops, missed that one, sorry. The song I played only had barre chords, so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect it won’t be much of a problem. Notice how the chords are different heights, and have a brighter line in the middle that helps emphasize the difference in height. I think after a bit of time it’ll be pretty obvious what shape means what, even when they’re sort of similar.

  31. Kirksplosion says:

    Great to know. Is the white line that the blue bar sits on the strings that you need to strum?

    Thanks for answering this barrage of questions!

  32. Grant says:

    Thanks!

  33. GS_Dan says:

    Thanks for the write up, very helpful :)

  34. Mike Norrish says:

    Hi Joe :) Thanks for the brilliant articles… I’ve started sending my users here regularly now :)

    Quick technical question: Did you happen to notice if the strings on either the Squier or the Mustang have any sort of ability to sense velocity?

    I’m sort of wondering if that’s why the Whammy’s seemingly been sacrificed, actually… DirectInput can only address six axes on a single device, so if they’ve got a velocity axis for each string then I can see how they’d run out… IF they’ve implemented velocity, that is :) Does the tilt sensor (also an axis) still function the same way?

    Working furiously to bring Mustang MIDI to the masses (or at least the masses that don’t have MIDI ports ^-^)

  35. Zaphod42 says:

    Joe, this is in regard to your reply further up saying:

    “the guitars are both wireless, with the innards of each system’s controller on-board. The MIDI box is connected via USB; and you’ll need a MIDI cable to connect a real keyboard or MIDI drum set to it. But that and the mic should be the only wired devices.”

    Rock Band had a quick Q&A session on their facebook page on Monday, and at some point they explained the Squier in these words:
    “The keyboard, Fender Mustang Guitar controller, and Fender Squier Guitar controller are midi compatible. The Fender Squier will connect to your console via the Mad Catz Pro midi adapter.
    Monday at 10:06pm”

    Honestly, I like the fact that it looks like the Squier won’t be console specific. That means that you can later change your console without losing the guitar, or you could play at your friend’s house that has a different console. Now I’m only starting to get worried about the amount of USB ports (only 2 on the Wii…)

  36. Dark Archon says:

    @Zaphod:
    You can always use a USB Hub for your Wii instruments. There’s only 2 USB ports on the PS3 and that’s never been a problem.

  37. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    Fantastic article Joe! This is exactly what I wanted to see coming out of E3. I want meaty details on pro guitar. :)

    @Zaphod42, are you sure about the Squier going through the MIDI box? It clearly has an Xbox guide button on it, and it can interface with the console to show you what frets you’re holding down before you strum them. It can’t possibly be sending generic MIDI data just for holding down the frets… I think somebody on the Facebook page might be slightly confused.

  38. Grant says:

    I keep looking on Amazon for Rock Band 3 drums, no results. To get all the instruments, I would get the keyboard (+ game), but so far they haven’t announced any of those “updated regular instruments” they were talking about.

  39. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Dorkmaster Flek, I checked with Harmonix and the Squier does in fact require the MIDI box! I’m surprised and a little disappointed it won’t be wireless. Not a big deal, certainly, just a little surprising.

    They won’t say whether the MIDI box will be packed in with the Squier, but I have to assume it will be.

    @Grant, Working on a post now that will answer some of your questions!

  40. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    It does?! Well, that’s good in that it means you should theoretically be able to use any real electric guitar with a MIDI pickup. But how the heck does the RB Squier specifically show you what frets you’re holding down in the game? Can it possibly use MIDI data for that too?

    Also, this doesn’t mean it’s platform agnostic at all. It has to have a guide button, d-pad and face buttons for navigating the menus and such, and that stuff is console-specific. Didn’t the one on display at E3 have that? And if that’s the case, doesn’t that interfere with using the MIDI box, which will also be recognized as a “controller”? Oy vey, this is confusing…

    EDIT: Actually I’m just looking at whatever pics I can find of the Squier, and I see a d-pad and presumably start and select/back buttons, but no guide button…does that possibly use MIDI info too? They’re being pretty crafty if that’s the case…

  41. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Dorkmaster, the MIDI box has all the controller stuff on it: Guide button for 360, PS button for PS3, etc. I assume that operates like a wired controller.

    As for how the Squier shows frets without strumming…I…have no idea. Perhaps just fretting a string sends the note through, but at a velocity of zero unless you’re strumming at the same time? Just a stab in the dark there.

  42. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Mike Norrish, Sorry, just realized I’d missed your question! I did not notice anything about velocity data, but then the game didn’t seem to have any interface for it. They were keen on making it a workable MIDI device, though, so I’d have to assume they have at least some velocity-sensing ability.

    Alas, I don’t think I ever did well enough in Pro mode to ever need to engage Overdrive, so I can’t tell you about the tilt.

  43. Mike Norrish says:

    @Joe, Thanks man, guess I’ll have to see on the day

    @Dorkmaster, I’ve got a theory as to how it senses the notes before they’re strummed, although it could be complete rubbish… The closeup shots of the neck of the Squier look like there are some copper bands on the fret nuts – could be that they’re passing a mild current through the strings. Not sure how that’d work with regards to bending notes though… The contacts didn’t look very wide.

    I really need to see one of these up close ^-^

    Interesting that it requires the MIDI box… There are definitely control signals in the MIDI spec that could be mapped to the required game controller widgets. If that’s what the Squier is doing, then it just got a bit cooler for doing actual MIDI work with :)

  44. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    @Mike, Yes the neck clearly has electronics in it to detect when you press down on the frets. I believe they explicitly stated that. What I’m wondering is how this data is actually transmitted to the game, if it’s going through the MIDI box. I assumed the Squier was detected as an actually controller itself.

    Clearly this must be doable, because the Mustang is actually a controller, is it not? It has face buttons and everything on it, from the pictures, and those 102 buttons are picked up by the game the same as the Squier itself to show your hand position.

    Joe’s theory about sending a MIDI note with a velocity of 0 is interesting. That may indeed be the case…

  45. Mike Norrish says:

    @Dorkmaster, Ah, I see what you’re getting at – sorry, I misunderstood the question :)

    Yeah, it’s a puzzler, isn’t it? The velocity 0 idea seems viable… Unless they’re doing something really funky with CC’s… I don’t think there are enough individual controls defined in the MIDI spec (check it out here: http://home.roadrunner.com/~jgglatt/tech/midispec.htm) to cover each individual button being held as a seperate command. I suppose they could be making use of slider CCs, with the value corresponding to a fret on a string… You’d only need six sliders, and there are plenty available. It seems like a bit of a stretch though…

    The only problem with the velocity 0 idea is that it could cause problems when using the Squier for non-game MIDI… Not serious problems, but still potentially irritating. You’d have to go over your MIDI tracks after recording and clear all the extra NoteOns out of them…. I can think of a few VST Plugins that aren’t sensitive to velocity that would just trigger the notes straight away, too.

  46. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    @Mike, Yes I was thinking exactly that about the velocity 0 idea. They specifically touted the keyboard and the Mustang if I’m not mistaken as having MIDI out so you could use them for recording. But I don’t recall them mentioning the same about the Squier. It’s possible this is because it isn’t totally useful for that purpose due to the velocity 0 idea. Mind you, they haven’t mentioned too much about the Squier at all. Perhaps they just haven’t finalized it yet.

    Actually, now that I think more about it, I don’t know if the velocity 0 idea even makes the most sense. It seems like a much better idea to just use different MIDI commands with the same note. I’m not extremely familiar with the MIDI spec, but my understanding is that there are tons of different commands besides note-on and note-off.

  47. Mike Norrish says:

    @Dorkmaster, It’s going to be fun finding out :)

    One complication I didn’t cotton on to before with the velocity 0 idea is that a lot of MIDI implementations treat a NoteOn with 0 velocity as a synonym for NoteOff… There are tons of MIDI commands indeed, but I think only a couple of them (aftertouch, for example) affect individual notes… It’s a viable option though. I’ll have to have a proper grovel over the spec when I get home from work…

    Hehe… The Harmonix guys are probably reading this and laughing their heads off at us… lol

  48. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    @Mike, Yes I imagine they’re having a good laugh at our expense. :) I thought going through the MIDI box with the Squier sounded odd, but actually it seems to make more sense as I think about it more.

    The Squier is being made by Fender themselves, not MadCatz. Now Madcatz is familiar with making controllers for different consoles, so they have no problem with making the Mustang as an actual game controller. Fender, on the other hand, has no idea about the different console input specs, and probably doesn’t care. They probably said “Look, we don’t care about this game controller crap. We know MIDI; let’s just use that.” Of course, Harmonix says “We really need the fingering information from the neck.” so Fender probably responds “Okay, we’ll just use MIDI commands for that too.”

  49. Eric Music Guy says:

    Hey Joe, great article! I’ve spent a couple of days looking through the net for something more detailed regarding Rock Band 3, and you have certainly given so much great info here. Two thumbs up!
    A few questions:
    Aside from playing the guitars on RB3, were you able to try the midi capability into a sequencer/host on a pc or mac? Or did Harmonix/Fender/MadCatz at least show this aspect of the guitars actually being played through a sequencer, at the show? Do you know how well it tracks or if there is any latency with different programs? On the Squire, can we tap, bend, vibrato, hammer-on, play harmonics, etc, when played through an amp or computer?
    I’ve been looking at the “You Rock Guitar” that’s out there. I’m not sure if you tried it, but how would this compare to the RB3 Squire. I’m definitely excited about the midi possibilities of both guitars, and I’m willing to wait for the Squire which gives a better body and representation of an actual guitar. Of course, the price of the Squire will depend on that decision. Which do you think has a more natural guitar feel between them when played and can possibly track midi data in a sequencer with less latency and more accuracy? And as for the strings on the Squire, can they be replaced with any strings?
    Thanks for all the info thus far.

  50. Joe Rybicki says:

    Eric, I did not see any of the guitars attached to any external program via MIDI, but my understanding is that that’s how the Squier connects to the game — and that seemed very low-latency.

    The Squier is very much a real guitar — so anything you can do with a real guitar, you can do with the Squier. It’s pretty much just a regular guitar with some fancy-ass electronics under the fingerboard. And a bit of a thickish neck.

    About the You Rock — I definitely preferred it to the Mustang, but compared to the Squier there’s no contest. Like I said, the Squier is a real guitar — the You Rock has a nice feel, but it’s definitely an electronic device.

    You can see more impressions on both here!

  51. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    In case anybody is interested, there’s a new post from Harmonix on the official forums that confirms a few things about the Squier:

    http://www.rockband.com/forums/showthread.php?p=3908693&postcount=37

    1. The Squier does indeed use the MIDI box to connect to the console. We already knew this from your conversations with the reps at E3, but here’s official confirmation.

    2. The MIDI box can be switched between drums/keyboard/guitar mode. The “guitar” setting on the MIDI box is specifically for the Squier. It’s not compatible with other MIDI guitars. However…

    3. Other MIDI guitars could be made to be compatible, because it’s still using standard MIDI commands, just a special collection of them intended specifically for RB3. The Squier outputs the fret positions from the neck using standard SysEx commands. This basically confirms that the game doesn’t interpret the actual MIDI notes coming off the guitar when you strum, but simply which strings you are strumming and your current finger positions on the neck. The reasoning for all this is twofold. First, it gives you the left hand position feedback before you strum. Second, it’s faster to process which keeps lag at a minimum.

    This makes more sense than the velocity 0 idea, because it won’t interfere with MIDI recording by outputting actual notes when you touch the neck. My only question is whether they suppressed the actual note output when you strum to aide the processing time of the MIDI box. If so, perhaps there is a toggle on the guitar for “RB3 pro” MIDI mode and regular MIDI mode.

    Oh, and still no word on price or release date. :)

  52. Mike Norrish says:

    @Dorkmaster> It’s all SysEx, eh? Interesting… Very interesting :) I’ll definitely be running it through a MIDI monitor when it arrives, to see what it’s outputting… Same with the DirectInput signals. I plan to basically do the opposite of what the MIDI Box does – take the DirectInput signals that the MIDI Box produces for the Console, and convert them back to MIDI inside a VST Plugin so that they can be used as MIDI instruments by folks without a MIDI Port – similar to what my existing plugin (Armchair Guitarist) does, but on a grander scale.

  53. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    That’s pretty cool, Mike! I could see that being very useful for people that want to use the guitar for recording, but don’t have a MIDI port. But couldn’t you just get a MIDI to USB adaptor? I don’t know exactly how expensive those are, but I can’t imagine it’s much. Of course, you already have the 360 box for the Squier anyway, so this way you don’t have to buy anything else. :) Very nice of you!

  54. Mike Norrish says:

    Dorkmaster> Thanks man :) I’ve tried a couple of USB MIDI solutions – the one I use day to day is the FastTrack Pro from M-Audio, and that cost about NZ$400 (not sure of the exchange rate). It has virtually no latency, and is generally awesome, but not something you’d get unless you were planning to do serious work with it. At the other end of the spectrum, I have an el-cheapo USB MIDI dongle which cost me NZ$24 but has such poor latency as to be practically unusable. I think it depends entirely on how much you’re willing to pay… I’d like to eliminate the extra cost altogether if I can :) I’m actually stoked that the MIDI Box is wired… It means that XBox users won’t have to scramble to find the XBox Wireless dongle for the PC, which is sort of hard to get these days ^-^

  55. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    @Mike, That’s what I thought. If the latency is so bad on the cheap USB ones, will the RB box be any better? I guess it must be if it’s suitable for the game, as poor latency there would utterly destroy the game. But from what I understand, is the latency limited by the polling rate of the USB connection itself? I thought USB had some inherent latency limitations associated with it.

  56. Mike Norrish says:

    @Dorkmaster> I’ve never probed it to check, but I suspect the slower USB MIDI dongle may have been using USB 1.0. I can’t think of any other explanation for it being so slow, unless the device was driven by hamsters assembling the USB signals by hand ^-^ the M-Audio box – also – USB is extremely quick by comparison.

    I can say for sure that polling a current-gen guitar controller through DirectInput takes less than 1/48th of a second, even over wireless, since that’s how often Armchair Guitarist polls, and it still has plenty of time left over for all the other operations it has to do before the next poll takes place :)

    MIDI doesn’t require very high bandwidth (having been around since the 80s, when “high bandwidth” meant “faster than sending the data packets by carrier pidgeon” ;)) – a NoteOn can be sent in as little as two bytes, if status run-on is implemented. I’ll have to wait and see what form the SysEx messages will take, but it’s difficult to imagine them being very bandwidth intensive – I did some experimentation last night with mocking up SysEx messages that can address three states (held, triggered, released) on a 6*22 + 15 button device (6 strings x 22 frets, plus nine buttons (ABXY, DPad and Guide Button) and six string triggers), and the bare minimum requirement is very bare indeed :)

  57. Dortamur says:

    Has there been any discussion on how RB3 will handle Pro Guitar parts with different guitar tunings? I wouldn’t imagine it would be vital to the Mustang, but if you wanted to play the real deal on the Squier, either you’d have to change fingering to get the right notes, or retune one or more strings. Some songs are impossible to play in the original pitch (since the low E can be tuned to go lower).

    It’d be neat if songs with non-standard tunings had a built-in guitar tuner function for the Squier before the song started…

  58. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    @Dortamur, Because the pro guitar gameplay is judged based on what actual frets you’re pressing and they don’t actually decode the real MIDI note being played (because it’s too slow, according to HMX) the actual tuning of the guitar doesn’t make any difference for the game itself. Because of this, songs with alternate tunings are charted for that tuning, as if the guitar was actually tuned properly.

    If you learn a song in RB in drop D tuning, for example, and you want to play it outside of the game, all you have to do is tune the guitar correctly. You’ve already learned it the “correct” way, i.e. the way it was originally played. If you’re playing it in the game, then you don’t have to keep retuning the guitar every time you change songs, which is convenient.

  59. Dortamur says:

    @Dorkmaster Flek,
    Thanks. I guess the musician in me, albeit badly neglected, is balking at the thought of playing a guitar out of tune, even if the game doesn’t care and you can’t hear it. ^_^

    Still, it would be useful if RB3 showed clearly what the non-standard tuning for a song is. It would also help in avoiding possible confusion when the finger patterns of chords don’t match that of other songs, rather than leaving the player wondering why there’s a difference.

    I certainly don’t expect RB3 to make you retune between songs, but tuning support (as an option, or in a trainer mode) would aid in people making the transition from playing the Pro game, to plugging in an Amp for the real deal.

  60. Dorkmaster Flek says:

    @Dortamur, Indeed it would be useful for the game to show you the correct tuning for the song, if it’s non-standard. We still don’t know entirely how this all works, so it’s possible they do handle this. For example, we know that pro guitar shows you the chord name next to the shape during the song. You can see this is any of the screenshots released thus far. Theoretically, an alternate tuning would result in different shapes for the same chord names (or different chord names for the same shapes, however you want to say it). I think we can assume that if the charts are done for the alternate tuning, the chord names will reflect that in order to be accurate, but it begs the question you just asked. How is this information about the non-standard tuning of the song conveyed to the player, if at all? I would think (and hope) that Harmonix is smart enough to realize that this information needs to be conveyed to the user, especially if they are purporting to teach you actual skills by playing the game. On the other hand, perhaps they are assuming that if you want to play the song outside of the game, you’ll look up the needed tuning information yourself. I hope it’s the former, though.

    As for playing the guitar out of tune while you’re in the game itself, I think you won’t have to worry about this. If you take a look at the very picture at the top of this article that shows a close-up of the body of the Squier, you’ll notice a white plastic rectangular shape protruding from the body underneath the base of the strings, right by the pickup. I can’t recall exactly which site I read this on, but this is a spring-loaded mute which presses against the strings to mute them while you’re playing the game itself. When you turn the game off, you can press it down to let the strings ring out for normal playing through an amp. Or you could play through an amp while you play the game, if the guitar is tuned properly. They did this during the E3 press conference with The Hardest Button To Button. :)