Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Rock... not really

Way back in January when I preordered my You Rock guitar, apparently I listed my work address rather than home, because at the time we were having trouble getting Fedex to deliver to the house, and I didn't know what kind of shipping they'd be using. It's been a long time, so I'd forgotten all about that. I knew from tracking that it was due to arrive yesterday, but I was still surprised when someone walked up to my desk and handed me my guitar.

It gave me the opportunity to try playing with it a little during lunch, then some more at home in the evening. Some initial impressions:
  • The sound is great. The 25 pre-loaded guitar sounds all sound like real guitars, not synthetics. In essence, it's like a guitar with all the pedals built in. (I imagine it wouldn't satisfy The Edge, but maybe he would like playing around with pre-loading his sonic sculptures into the other 74 sound slots!)
  • The 50 synth sounds are gimmicky but cool. It's neat playing a guitar and having banjo, church organ, harmonica, or choral voices coming out! Not sure what you'd really use that for, though.
  • The feel of the strings is as genuinely guitar-like as you could ask for (a far, far sight better than the Mad Catz one that I saw in that Rock Band 3 video, where it looks literally like an array of plastic buttons).
  • I only fiddled a little bit with the preset melody stuff, but it seems like a good tool for practicing jamming. You can also jam along with the output from your MP3 player or other sound source, which is pretty cool.
  • The idea of being able to switch to any of dozens of tunings instantly is amazing. When I tried to learn guitar before, I always thought there was some great possibilities in some of the tunings, especially open tunings, but it was never worth the trouble of retuning my guitar -- since tuning was always so hard for me (being tone-deaf and all). Being literally one button-tap away from open-E makes that so much more viable.
  • It comes with a sheet of entirely corny stickers. While the plain black of the guitar does seem to want some adornment, I can't imagine wanting to put one of those hideous purple splotches on it!
  • The directions are a bit cluttered with all the other languages. There's a "quick start" bit, but it's on the inside of a huge fold-out. So you have to get past about six pages worth of stuff showing you what pentatonic scales are and how tabulature format is read before you learn where to put the batteries and how to turn on the guitar.
  • Looks like the GameFlex cartridge (not yet included, they're shipping later, I hope soon since my cheapie FrontMan guitar isn't working with the current PS3 firmware and Rock Band 2) is going to make it wireless via a USB port dongle, which is a shame. (My drums are wireless via a USB dongle, as do the FrontMan guitars, so the front of my PS3 has a little cable salad hanging off it which is kind of ugly.) I was hoping for Bluetooth.
  • I remember very, very little of the chords and stuff I knew long ago when I tried to learn to play guitar. Good old D and G chords came right back, but others at best made me say 'that seems familiar' and I don't remember any actual song bits apart from a few really easy things, like the beginning of "And You And I", and the bass line from "Dazed and Confused". Not that surprising after so many years, I suppose.
  • Different guitar sound options don't just change what the strings sound like, but also change how the neck responds. In some, the notes die almost immediately when you finger, so you can't do a lot of hammer-on stuff; in others, plucking is entirely unnecessary.
  • They make a big deal of the mode where even if you play badly it corrects you automatically, but a quick glance at the materials didn't even hint at where that comes in. When I have more time (i.e., at home) I'll learn about that, but since they advertised it so heavily, they ought to make it more prominent.
  • But what I have seen of it seems pretty cool. For instance, you can select a preset track to play along with, and then have it razz you when you play the wrong note -- any note but the correct one comes out as a scratchy noise. So it's literally helping you learn a song. Given that you can download songs onto the guitar from your PC (and it looks like if you have the right software you can even prepare the songs yourself to download), this could be an amazing tool for learning and teaching guitar.
  • The lack of a headstock does make the guitar look odd, but in a "high tech" way (I remember seeing similar things on guitars played by new wave bands in the 80s!), not in a "hey, that guitar's deformed" way. So I don't know how to feel about them selling dummy headstocks, complete with non-functional tuning keys. The vaguely-Telecaster-shaped body is a vestigial remnant of the body of an electric guitar which is itself a vestigial remnant of the acoustic chamber of an acoustic guitar, but it's also functional in that it provides a place for your hands, for the controls, for the electronics. But a hollow, dummy headstock just seems too superficial.
  • I have just purchased a used guitar amp on eBay for <$25 shipped. Just the sort of thing eBay is perfect for. I also found a cable that can play it through my home theater system, but not very well, partially because it's taking headphone-level output into speaker-level inputs (so I have to crank everything so far up to make it audible that it's distorted), and partly because the cable itself is dodgy. I might pick up (or make) a proper 1/4"-to-RCA cable eventually.

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