January 01
software engr, young at heart. coding from early age. "digital brain" but with lots of feelings too. writing here mainly to publicize a few key issues, let off some steam, & for the feedback. plz write me comments, very much appreciated!! even on old posts!! helps me gauge reader interest/ reaction & steer direction of new posts. oh, and IMs often make my day & I usually reply. and long IM conversations are my favorite.

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JUNE 4, 2011 11:42PM

rock band 3 fender squier stratocaster ARRIVES! review/links

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hi all!! it was my btd about 1mo ago & I didnt buy myself anything. then the sig.other decided to go on a long 2mo vac to south america. yow!! so Im about 1.5 week into that and its a field day around here. Ive been splurging on all kinds of toys.

the 1st week I bought the Squier Fender Stratocaster Rock Band 3 guitar from Best Buy. what a fantastic guitar. my brother started playing when we were teenagers, and Ive always wanted to play guitar, but never got around to it. I could tell it was daunting. my brother played for a few years but only got to "still dinking around" proficiency.

so yeah, I havent been blowing hours of time here on open salon... doing my best to get a life out of cyberspace.... did ya miss me? [yeah I could tell you didnt even notice I was away, haha, cyberspace is like that....just a great flowing river....] the slow, unfixed site is annoying anyway.

as for the fender, Ive been banging around on it for about 1wk for several hours per day. its extremely cool, and this begins to fulfill a lifelong dream for me, but the guitar has a kind of dark side that one doesnt realize at first.

lets face it. the ubiquity of the guitar in modern music is misleading. the guitar is actually a pretty formidable instrument. as I learned some from my brother, its actually kind of painful when you 1st starting playing it. your hand cramps up in the unnatural positions that you put your fret hand, and you have to develop callouses on your fret fingers before they start hurting. the tips feel kind of strange and tingly at first, a little numb, and you lose some sensitivity. [wow, that reminds me, maybe its a little like sex haha]

so yeah there are zillions of music videos of highly proficient guitar players. the radio is also kind of misleading. songs are bountiful. we have decades, even more than a half-century of electric guitar music from hundreds upon hundreds of bands. [the acoustic guitar is an instrument that is close to a *millenium* old.] some of these songs are very simple and beginners can play them.

however, others are extremely sophisticated and require astonishing dexterity that can take years to learn. surprisingly, some are not even playable by experts!! to me, there is a good reason that legendary guitar players are in fact legends. the training they go through and the peak level of proficiency they attain is on the level of world class athletes.

eg stevie ray vaughan, jimi hendrix, eddie van halen, joe satriani etcetera. their virtuoso proficiency with the instrument is astonishing. they started playing young and it can take a lifetime to play like they do, and you can *really* hear it in some of the songs. music can be deceptive. you might listen to a cool song and not realize the intensity of the playing and fingering.

another thing about music that I am realizing is how *expensive* it is. I have been to guitar center a few times and a simple "cheap" [entry level] effects pedal is around a minimum of $100. best buy has a music center here in denver at Park Meadows, and they have other cool toys that are not as expensive. but guitar center is pretty elite. I took their catalog home just to browse thru. its very beautiful. I saw a ***$30K*** acoustic guitar in their catalog. insane. I think it was the most expensive item in the entire catalog.

the guitar is mostly a big fulfillment and Im mostly satisfied. a best buy saleman told me that various MIDI guitars cost over $1K so the fender is a bargain at $280.

* * *

now, for the "not-so-good" news. the one big issue that I ran into is a bummer, though. I read a lot of reviews online before I bought this guitar to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I wanted it a lot and it would have taken a *lot* to dissuade me. however, I work in the tech biz myself and I know 1sthand how "buggy" that 1st release products can be. they seem cool but it can take years for a company to work the kinks out of a new product. and this guitar certainly fits the bill.

the reviews dont mention the downsides too much. the one downside that is mentioned in multiple reviews is that its hard to bend notes [on the fretboard, there is no pickup bender], or they scratch a little when doing it, and that bending messes up the game. I could live with that.

however I see two key downsides to this guitar that havent been mentioned in many reviews. at least one issue is mentioned in the documentation and Im glad that fender is honest.

(a) there is this thing called a "string mute" that is used while playing the game. this prevents the entire strings from vibrating, it raises between the pluck point and the neck. using this increases game accuracy but you cant hear the guitar tones exactly & hook it up to an amp!! [you just get lame "plink" noises] ugh!! now, I give them credit, this is in the FAQ. it states that you will miss notes in the game if you dont use the string mute.

but the other is a big GOTCHA that they dont mention and I had to dig up a reference on the internet just to make sure I didnt get a bad guitar. I was very close to returning the guitar to see if I could fix the iissue.

(b) there is a low volume/noise "clicking" that can be heard through an amplifier when the MIDI guitar is turned on. this is *independent* of the MadCatz midi interface. its like a metronome!! also if you hit game buttons on the guitar, it causes more clicking.

now, I was using some very sensitive amps in a custom setup. it was a lot of fun to build these setups from scratch and Im going to write another post about them. I did notice that if I hooked it up to a different amp, namely a marshall micro amp, it took away most of the clicking and put it more in the background. but it was quite noticeable with two other very sensitive amps.

fender does NOT say anything about this issue in their small manual that comes with the guitar.

so, I did some research. I havent found a statement of this problem on the Fender web site anywhere, or in their forums. it might be in their forums somewhere, I find it hard to search there. but I did find a reference on the rock band site. Ive included the link below.

so, its a known issue with the guitar. of course Im happy that I dont have to return the guitar, but Im definitely very disappointed in this *glaring* design flaw of the instrument. this is *not* something I would expect of a professional instrument. the tragedy is that I suspect it couldnt be that hard for the design to be slighly modified to prevent the clicking issue, I would guess. how hard can it be? theres got to be other MIDI guitars that dont have this issue, right?

I suspect what happened could be something like the following. possibly, different parts of the Fender company were involved with this guitar, say two different teams or departments. one was to build the midi electronics, and the other was to build the guitar pickup electronics. the two worked somewhat independently and got the best design possible. however when they *integrated* it, the MIDI electronics interfered with the guitar pickup electronics.

maybe if this was discovered late in the design process, it was too late to fix it. it was almost certainly a known issue, how could the product go through testing without them finding it? we are talking about one of the most highest quality electric guitar mfgs on the planet. but, I dont think they do any midi guitars, do they?

so, there are companies that do MIDI electronics, and companies that do very nice guitar constructions, but the two are vastly different design areas and to combine them into one instrument, its not surprising at all that this happened.

in the thread, you see people talking about how the guitar can basically be used as a MIDI instrument without an amplifier, or with an amplifier but not using the MIDI connection, but not really so much both at the same time. one respondent said that was the basic story they got in email from a Fender rep.

@#%& darn it. that is exactly what I was visualizing as I bought this instrument. I wanted to hear those clean, crisp, pure, noise-free guitar tones *while Im playing the game*. and it took me a little research to figure out how to pull that out with an amplifier setup [more on that later]. which makes me wonder, how many people are returning the guitar because of this issue? maybe they dont know that its actually a known part of the design.

and Fender says *nothing* about this anywhere. I guess with them its sort of like, see no noise, speak no noise, hear no noise!!! Im disappointed and frankly, a bit angry, because Im sure *someone* at Fender *had* to know about this issue and decided to say nothing. I hate to say this because I think fender guitars are legendary, but the cold hard truth is-- that is not a decision of full integrity.

ok, so maybe Im getting a little too passionate about this. there are worse things in the world than noisy electric guitars. but thats the thing-- musicians are *passionate* about the quality of their devices, and thats part of the reason Fender is such a long-lived company-- because they generally understand that concept and even *adhere* to it.

at the minimum, I think they tripped up here. partly because of the noise, partly because of the nondisclosure.

I have to read the fender site a little more & do some more research. but heres one other issue to be aware of mentioned in the posts that I noticed also.

(c) some of the guitars have "dead" pickups right out of the box.

this didnt happen to me, but be forewarned.

the last issue I would mention is that they give virtually no info or warnings on how to replace the strings on the guitar. this is a somewhat sensitive, precision operation in some ways and Im sure that some people who dont know how to do it might damage the guitar if they arent careful. Im not even going to attempt it until I get some good videos I think.

* * *

so, overall, Fender, I say to you guys-- this is a nice guitar and Im basically happy with the technology and performance so far. it does what I want and I know $280 is not a lot for an electric guitar. the quality seems good overall. but, you need to acknowledge the MIDI clicking issue and make this guitar so that it works *really well* no matter how you use it. Im saying, it shouldnt require me to put on string mute just to play the game. cuz geez, that seems sort of like wearing a raincoat in a shower.

this is a tricky product for Fender. there is not a large audience for this product, possibly, because of its "straddling" nature. it might be way too expensive, difficult, and timeconsuming for casual gamers. and it might not be good enough for professional guitarists. we will see what happens in the market. Im very hopeful that it sells well enough that fender continues to improve it and/or other companies come out with alternatives.

my 1st improvement to the guitar is that I would like to see the frets *light up* with embedded LEDs to show where to put your fingers. its very difficult to switch from watching the screen to watching the guitar to figure out where to place ones fingers. and as a beginner its very difficult to learn the fingering without looking at your fingers.

I think beginners should definitely watch their fingers for the feedback. a LED fretboard would be an amazing improvement. its so obvious, compelling, & natural. but, alas, based on the realities of product development and marketing, I bet such a guitar might be years away.

actually, Im exaggerating. such a *guitar* does exist but Ive seen very few people talk about it, its apparently very obscure. during my last copious research expedition, I turned up a link below to the ~$500 FretLight guitar, which actually does have LED lighted frets. I haven heard of any plans by this company to integrate it with Rock Band professional edition, but it seems like a real no-brainer to me.... 

but still, alas, I do think that the integration with RockBand for the FretLight guitar or any other LED-based guitar could be a long ways away. part of the problem is that as far as I know, the Midi interface in general is mainly instrument-to-console and the LED design would require elaborate console-to-instrument communication to signal the LEDs.

overall, though, you can see a potentially significant or even revolutionary possibility here for advanced technology changing the way that beginners learn guitar. it will never be made *easy* but the very steep learning curve could possibly be significantly attenuated. key to the process of learning, I have always believed and seen supported by evidence, is *feedback*. the faster and more direct the better.

seeing the fret that you are fingering light up on the RockBand screen is good feedback, seeing LEDs on a guitar is even better. my fantasy product would maybe even change colors of the LEDs from two states signifying "press this fret" and "fret press confirmed".

so, hope to hear from some other axe-wielders and will more later on the amplifier setup. Im including many links to the numerous reviews of the guitar, the rockband thread on the MIDI noise/clicking issue, and an earlier anticipatory post of mine on the subject from mid last year when it was 1st announced. 


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Happy belated birthday! Thanks for another insightful, thorough post - I shall tell my boyfriend about this - he's getting more into guitars after becoming pretty good at Guitar Hero! Of course, as you point out, the guitar is actually a tough instrument.... Continued luck and enjoyment!
hey AS .. which game is your bf playing? yeah on this latest shopping spree I went out & got some guitar hero gear also. I had guitar hero III but I couldnt play it because its one of the earlier games that didnt support integration with the Rock Band guitar. I must say I really am glad I started on Rock Band because I think the guitar feels better and their song selection is better [online store etc], but I finally went into Guitar Hero to get certain great songs I really like that are not available in Rock Band. eg rolling stones, santana, heart, eagles. also, a neat thing about Guitar Hero III is that its very close to the $8k arcade standup version-- the characters and the songs are very similar. I play the $8k standup version regularly and its an expensive habit with songs costing $1 each and the "premium" songs [the ones I like] $2/play. I can easily blow $20 on the arcade game in less than an hour.... its also amazing that I bought a pre-owned copy of GHIII for only $5 at Gamestop. wow. also, I forgot to note in the article, despite being released not much more than a half year ago, RBIII is already down to only $20 in stores. amazing. the best buy salesman speculated their sales werent as great as they hoped and they dropped the price to increase sales.
This is a really in depth review of a product vz you should chose the title carefully so that people doing Google search's with an interest in buying the product will have ready access to this. You would not catch me dead playing guitar hero yet I read your review from beginning to end because it was laid out professionally and easily understood. Nice work!
My brother had a Les Paul: he loved it; it was stolen along with his Vox amplifier. We would jam all night together: I had a Hammond B3. Many, many years ago.