First Glance: Rock Band 3 Wireless Fender Mustang Pro Guitar Controller

I finally got to spend some time with my new Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar controller last night. While it is certainly not a real guitar, it translates surprisingly well – even for someone who actually plays guitar. 

There are a few little niggling differences. The strings are all the same width, which sometimes makes it hard to find the correct string with one’s strumming hand. The fret buttons are also all identically-shaped (the string-shaped buttons don’t get narrower as they decend), which causes similar left-hand confusion. Lastly, unlike a real guitar, your fret hand can’t feel which strings are vibrating, which also removes a point of orientation.

One other difference from for-reals guitar slinging is that the game uses its own unique notation to display your finger and chord position.  For those more familiar with tablature though, this isn’t such a stretch.  The notation is relatively clear, and admittedly easier to sight-read during a play session.

Still, most of my fumbling is likely due to the fact that I haven’t played much at all for, say, 1.5 decades.  Regardless, I quickly plowed through many sets of lessons, and was already able to learn two songs on Pro Hard difficulty in one evening.   (One step up – Pro Expert difficulty – would be playing the song note-for-note, and I think I could probably have managed Expert on the two tunes I learned as well.)

Pretend-guitar confusion aside, Mad Catz has done a fine job constructing this controller.  Previous to slapping down my plastic, I had been worried about the build quality, but this is actually a fairly sturdy contraption.  For those of you on the fence, I think the unit will be sufficiently durable if treated well.

It’s pretty obvious that there aren’t many folks using the Pro Guitar feature yet, as I’m already in the top 25% of the global leaderboard.  Trust me – I’m not a top-25-percentile kinda guitar player. 

In all, this is a very, very damn fun way to learn some new songs, and a way more fulfilling way to play Rock Band for my dollar.  I’m extremely excited to get my hands on the real RB3 Fender Squier Strat, which ships in early March.

Note that Rock Band 3 also features similar trainers for bass guitar, keyboard, and drums.  There are extensive how-to-play lesson sets for each instrument, plus three coaching sessions for every Pro-enabled song (a list which includes all 83 songs on the RB3 disc and most DLC going forward).   Harmonix actually worked with the Berklee College of Music to develop all the teaching and training scenarios, and the quality shows.

While it may sound like there’s not much tutorial content per my earlier comments, keep in mind that I played guitar for 15 years (before taking a hiatus when Zack was born), and was able to breeze through a lot of it.  You literally could learn to play an instrument using this game.  I keep finding myself saying this, but we really do live in the future, kids!

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