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Squier Stratocaster Guitar and Rock Band Controller Review

Squier Stratocaster Guitar and Rock Band Controller Review

An Experienced Guitarist’s Perspective
If you’re approaching Squier Stratocaster Guitar and Controller as a guitarist looking to have some fun playing Rock Band with the family, you may be disappointed. One tester noted that the polymer fretboard “feels like nails on a chalkboard” when using finger vibrato—which brings us to one of the biggest negatives from a guitarist’s perspective. Because of the way the game operates, any vibrato or bending registers as a wrong note. For an experienced guitarist, it can be difficult to separate what you already know from what the game says you’re supposed to be doing, particularly if you’re a player who plays by ear. On easier levels of difficulty, notes are often omitted and it’s difficult to fight the urge to fill them in based on what you hear. On more difficult settings, what appears on the screen may not jive with the part that you already know, resulting in missed notes, poor scores, and frustration knowing that you can’t follow a game at the same level you can actually play a song.

A Teacher’s Perspective

As a learning tool, the combination of the Strat and Rock Band 3’s Pro Mode is undoubtedly the best option out there for learning guitar through a video game. The mechanics of the game develop dexterity and to acclimate new players to playing strings. It serves as a rudimentary introduction to guitar, though there is an inherent limit to the learning. Techniques like bending, vibrato, and tapping aren’t covered, so at a certain point a student would either stall in technique or graduate to real lessons.

Our guitar teaching tester saw particular potential in the guitar if additional games were released to encourage honing your technique beyond learning the songs included in Rock Band 3. As it stands, someone who is interested in picking up guitar for the first time may be better served taking actual lessons to develop their technique. “Is it better than getting a real guitar and teaching yourself? No,” noted our guitar teacher tester. However, if someone is more psyched about playing a game than playing guitar, this is an excellent transition into learning.

A Beginner Guitarist and Gamer’s Perspective
Perhaps the group most interested in the Squier Stratocaster Guitar and Controller is players—particularly younger ones—who already play both the video games and some guitar. In a culture of instant gratification, the game delivers in ways that books and lessons can’t. It has built-in motivators to keep players on task with training modes for technique and for sections of songs. Each training section runs in an unending loop as you try to score 100 percent to move onto the next portion. This appealed to our tester, who said, “I liked that the game has training that keeps making you do certain notes until you get them down.” Needless to say, getting a 13-year-old to appreciate practice is an impressive feat—made possible in this case part by the gratification of a “perfect score” that’s so ingrained into video gamers.

Learning songs on the guitar was one of our young tester’s favorite parts of the combination, but he also recognized that it can be more difficult at times than learning from TAB books. While you can incessantly loop sections of songs, the loops are predetermined and zeroing in on a particularly difficult part of the section is impossible. Still, the tester loved the guitar and experience— and didn’t want to give it back.

A Gamer’s Perspective
The category of people who would stand to benefit most from the Squier are gamers who have maxed out their abilities on the games, but don’t have the interest or motivation to start guitar lessons on their own. Our strictly gaming testers found the guitar and game combination intriguing, difficult, and motivating. If you’re just starting out, learning how to navigate the fretboard and strings through the tutorials is a somewhat lengthy process, but our testers reported that time flew by when playing it. The tutorials lead smoothly to the next without ever jumping up to a difficulty level that caused them to abandon the cause, and each ends with a song to keep the gaming aspect intact. “Playing all the way through the first song was awesome,” noted one tester. “The tips of my fingers were sore, but I felt like I really accomplished something.”

Guitar Hero
and Rock Band experts expecting to be able to jump right in will encounter difficulty— testers who had done well on Expert and Hard on the regular game found themselves struggling through the Easy level in Pro Mode with the Squier. It’s a fitting evolution for the player that has mastered the game. It fulfills the next challenge, and opens another seemingly limitless world of game play (particularly with downloadable Pro Mode songs—not cheap at $2.99 a pop), while imparting a real feeling of accomplishment. Even testers with no existing desire to play guitar were inclined to think about it as a more desirable pursuit—and that is what it’s all about.

The Verdict
Guitar games have been controversial to guitarists since they first hit the market. And all along people have been asking for the link that will turn gamers into guitarists. The Squier by Fender Stratocaster Guitar and Controller with Rock Band 3 might well be that link. It’s not perfect.

Occasionally the strums aren’t picked up by the game, and guitarists accustomed to higher quality instruments might have some reservations about the construction. And the game alone isn’t going to make anyone shred like Yngwie. However, it certainly feels like the beginning of something. Perhaps some years down the road when learning guitar this way is commonplace, this instrument will have marked a critical stepping-off point.

Though it’s easy to consider the notion of learning guitar motivated by gaming success less than pure and noble, stop and think of why you started playing. Was it for the art? Or was it to get girls? While it would be nice if every pre-teen girl and boy with a passion for music picked up the guitar and practiced day in and day out, today’s reality—riddled with distractions like texting and Twitter—demands something more motivating, and the music scene isn’t always enough. There are fewer Beatles, Jimis, or Eddie Van Halens leading kids to guitar like the pied piper. If it takes a game for the next Eddie or Slash to pick up a guitar in this day and age, so be it. At least now there’s a tangible, affordable, and appealing link to push them to the next level.

Buy if...
you or someone you know is serious about taking guitar gaming to a new level and starting a real guitar journey.
Skip if...
you’re an experienced guitarist looking to have some fun—try Rock Band’s drums or vocals instead!

MSRP $280 - Squier by Fender -
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