In December this year I heard about Rocksmith 2014. Sounded good, but then I found it was Mac-compatible and it got upgraded to must-have. Steam got it installed with no fuss, an eBay seller provided the cable and it was ready to go. The cable is essential – Rocksmith will not work with other guitar-USB adapters, though GarageBand can get a low signal from the Rocksmith cable. There’s the famous Ubisoft DRM, I guess.
The voice of Rocksmith sounds like you would expect given a voice actor and a brief to sound like a Rock Dude (searched, but can’t find his name). He guides you through the intro sequence, asks you to identify the headstock and to calibrate the level coming from your guitar. Once that is done you can get right into “Learn a Song”, though new players can use the lessons, from basics like “holding a pick” up to stuff I have yet to learn. From the start, little tasks keep popping up to keep you moving along (same as starting a new World of Warcraft toon) and if you just stick to one song it will remind you to try something else, or do a lesson or play a game.
Small annoyance: “Log in to UPLAY” pops up every time you switch users and I don’t want an account with them. That means hitting ESC twice each time and when you play alternate songs with someone else, switching users each time, that’s a lot of ESC. I play without logging in and I might miss out on an “exclusive” song but the are plenty left.
I’ve spent almost all my time in Learn a Song with brief Guitarcade sessions. The games are OK but I don’t much care for the 8-bit look even though it’s what I grew up on. I did some lessons and liked the interaction – you try out the idea about halfway through most lessons, then you get a practise track. You can repeat the practise track until you get 100% accuracy or until you quit out.
The repeating is what really makes this system work. As you start on a new song it starts out very easy and your rating is 0%. As you hit each note the system detects that you’re doing OK and makes things harder for you, adding notes or switching simple note for chords or adding variations like bends or mutes. Each time you finish the song you get graded on accuracy and difficulty and your song score goes up if you have done well enough.
My Blitzkrieg Bop is at 108%, so there’s some strange math going on there. What this shows is that you don’t have to be perfect to get to 100% because even with that 108% I know I’m not playing perfectly. Losing My Religion is at about 70%. Detection is accurate though, in the R.E.M. track there are parts switching quickly from an Em chord to an F# note and it will get me evry time if I miss, same with the mandolin sections. Rocksmith is tough but fair and will definitely make you play better if you put in the time. If those songs sound too easy check out the songlist, if there are no challenges left then my hat is off to you.
Riff repeat is a great feature to stretch out any part of the (or the whole) song without altering the pitch so you can get tricky sections down without feeling like it is impossible. You still play in strict time, you just get to vary that time. And I feel this is another huge Rocksmith advantage when you are learning – the tempo is the tempo and if you miss, you miss. With tab you can learn a song incorrectly because you always take just a bit longer to get your fingers in position on hard parts. Who has the discipline to practise with a metronome?
I play a lot with my son who is ten and has been having weekly lessons for a year. While the songs he is learning are nothing like what he does in lessons the overall guitar experience (string and note positioning, finger strength and stretch etc.) have obvious benefits. I can’t think of this as a game is that it’s something that’s just fun, it is one of those rare things that is in no way bad to do and it’s still a lot of fun.
Now we’re on summer holiday for a few weeks and the thought of leaving Rocksmith behind wasn’t a happy one. With budget airline tickets carrying a guitar wasn’t an option even if the risk of damage was acceptable. Why not buy another guitar! I read a couple of reviews saying that the included guitar was OK so decided to give it a shot. Of course there were people who said it was garbage but you can take any kind of guitar and someone will hate it.
This is the main point of the post, so you can decide whether you want this guitar or not. I couldn’t find much information about it before committing to buy so I hope this helps you.
A bit of background is in order. You’ll want to know whether I am at all qualified to have an opinion on this which is fair enough. I’ve had guitars for about twenty years, acoustic and electric. Currently I have a Chapman ML-1, a Korean Epiphone Les Paul from around 1997, a Heritage “Class of 59″ (similar to model H 157 in Korina, an Ed Roman special – opinions vary!), a Maton EM100 and a Maton EML6. They range from OK to excellent; the point is not to brag but to show my frame of reference for writing about the included guitar in the Rocksmith package. I’ve built a Tele-style guitar with a Stew-Mac neck also, and done a lot of minor repairs so am familiar with how these things are put together.
The guitar is the usual shape with the big “Junior MODEL” label on the headstock in the same style as all the Les Paul models and it is the usual Les Paul dimensions. Just to be sure you know what you have the truss rod cover has “Les Paul JUNIOR” on it.
Paint is a very glossy black and from the rounded edges on the headstock it looks to be a very thick coat of paint. Tuners are a generic Grover-style and they work well enough, no slop in the mechanism and they have the usual screw to tighten up. The nut is big and chunky and the slots are varying quality – some deep, some shallower but not too sloppy. I’ll be making and fitting another nut if I ever take this back home but the plan is to leave it here for the next visit. The “Made in China” sticker, QC, recycle sticker and serial number are found hereabouts.
The neck is a very similar profile to my other two LP shaped axes, nothing to complain about. Fret wire is nicely finished and well polished. Slots are cut and wire is trimmed so the edges are not visible from the side of the neck. Markers are simple pearly dots, small dots on the player’s side of the neck.
Heading down to the body itself the neck attachment is by bolt and big square plate, very Fender! There’s no angle relative to the body like most Gibson/Epi guitars with a set neck. The fretboard continues with a small gap over the body, overlapping the 3-ply pickguard, and is chopped off about one fret’s space away from the 22nd fret.
The pickup is an uncased humbucker and it is black and it works. Can’t say much more about it than that with no other guitars and no amps here to compare it to. The surround is cream plastic and it is really cheap and lightweight, chrome would look a lot nicer and it would be easy to replace – could have added a dollar to the build cost though.
The bridge is a one piece mounted on two large screws with intonation ridges cast into the top. The strings pass through the center of the bar and wrap over, the assembly is not unlike the regular LP tail piece except that there is no extra piece between this and the pickups. Because there is only one pickup there is no need for a switch or extra control knobs. Only two knobs decorate the front of the instrument in the familar transparent “speed knob” style. The top is flat and the Fender-like three-ply pickguard covers a large area.
In the first session with this guitar I noticed the action was really high. So much so that on the high strings I’d think I was about to hit the ‘e’ string and find the ‘B’ in the way. Without any tools I could not do much about it except screw the bridge down further until the ‘E’ just started to buzz, then back it off a little. It is playable but I think a new nut could help a lot.
Here’s the bottom line on the package including the guitar: this is incredible value. As above, it’s a good guitar for the money and if you are learning you absolutely do not need anything better. You get a lead which is not covered in fancy vintage woven cloth but it does work. You get a strap and two picks, which are nice if you have none but they are pretty much junk. Two Allen keys – no word of explanation, what’s a beginner to think they are for? Best to leave them out in a package like this. You get a Rocksmith cable, and you get a disc with the game. I needed an extra cable so my son and I can play together and I’ll sell the PS3 game disc alone, so the guitar probably cost around $160 Australian in the end, not bad at all. There are much worse guitars for that money.
I’m playing on a Mac, an i7 2013 11″ MacBook Air to be exact. Sometimes I play on a 27″ monitor and sometimes not. It will install and run on the Late 2009 Mac mini (2.26GHz, GeForce 9400M) but is not playable – video features can be turned to make it acceptable but too many notes aren’t detected, the old mini just can’t keep up. It is also available for PC, for PS3 and for XBox 360. I’m told by friends that have consoles that you cannot run PS3 games on a PS4 and you can’t run XBox 360 games on XBox One so if you just bought the latest console hopefully they will release a version for you.
This “game” is amazing and has done more for my playing in a month than years of downloading tabs and wasting money on gear I didn’t needed ever would have. The guitar is a testament to repeatable CNC manufacturing in volume and before you sneer at such a cheap instrument, try one out. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the package to anyone who wants to go a long way in guitar for relatively little money. Smart marketing too, I know one person who went out and spent $3000+ on a nice new Gibson a couple of weeks after buying Rocksmith. No doubt I’ll be spending money on DLC, even more when the Steam issue that stops you buying Rocksmith 1 DLC is fixed – they are compatible but right now Steam requires you to buy Rocksmith 1 before buying DLC for Rocksmith 2014. Now I’m going to go play it again.