I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately but I kinda like it. For some reason, I can’t slack off for too long or I start getting… I don’t know… jittery or some shit. As such, I’ve really stepped up my “take care of myself” and “get shit done” games. I’ve also really gotten back into playing guitar AND building/fixing guitars. I fixed my favorite guitar and, oddly, started feeling nostalgic for some music gaming. I’m excited to get back into the world of Dance Central whenever my copy of Dance Central 3 actually shows up. Oh, right… turns out I didn’t actually pre-order that. I forgot to hit the “complete order” button and walked about and didn’t realize that I had done until I sat back down at my computer the day of release, so… kinda fucked that up. Oh well, what the fuck ever. It’s a video game. I can wait.
Anyway, back to the guitarrings and vidya gaims. Earlier this year (this year? Yeah? Is that right?) I picked up a video game that let’s me dick around on a guitar while continuing to chase a virtual carrot on a stick. Rocksmith. I feel like I may have talked about this already so I won’t really get that into it. Here’s what I’ll say, for guitar players, it’s pretty damn cool. But people ask me if I think it can teach guitar or if I think it’s making me better at guitar. Up until now I have basically just said, “I already knew how to play, so I don’t know” or “No, pro’lly not”. More or less, I have felt that the intricacies of playing the instrument were either never really explained or just not exposed in a way that a beginner could really digest. I didn’t feel like any of the songs were really challenging me. That’s not to say that I’m a fucking awesome guitarist. Far from it, in fact. Just that I have been able to make it past the minimum score requirements and I perform the songs that I get jazzed for pretty damn well. I might say that it has been teaching me individual songs, but I haven’t really tested this out. It wouldn’t be a hard test, I have just preferred to get back to my pisspoor music writing then see if I could play a song on that game by memory. Maybe I’ll give that a test soon.
But here’s the reason I’m talking about it today. The past couple days with this game have really been different. I have hit a song or two that have really challenged me. More specifically, I feel like these songs are challenging how I play. This has been absolutely key for me. My ability to play music and even write music is severally limited by the range of my technical proficiency. Sure, some of this proficiency is due to large periods of lack of practice or play. Some is lack of playing outside of my comfort zone. But most is about the music that I was into while I was learning. I was into Heavy Metal and The Blues, and that’s about it. The metal and blues that I wanted to play wasn’t terribly complex, and even those songs that actually were difficult were all within the same range. Frets 3 – 12 on Low E, A, and D. Sometimes Drop D. If I was in the high three strings, it was probably because I was doing chords or was just dicking around. There are whole, huge sections of that fret board that I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with. Worse yet, I have trouble moving up and down the fretboard with the kind of skill needed to play the kind of music that I want to play now. I can, sorta, “shred”. Though I can’t shred very well, and even then only in a limited zone. I have been talking about making an album, mostly jokingly though not always. If I want to cover the songs that I want to cover and play the songs that I have written in order to actually make this album, I will absolutely need to increase my skill level. I desperately need a better handle on overall fret locations and hand-location-awareness. I’d call it hand-eye-coordination, but the eyes don’t really have dick to do with it when I’m actually playing. In short, I need to be able to know that I’m on the 13th fret on the B string without looking down and that I need to move left four and up one for the next note. I have that awareness on some parts of the fretboard, but not the whole damned thing.
Thankfully, I don’t have a problem with timing. Odd as it may seem, it does seem appropriate to state, “I gots the rhythm”. That’s really all that’s keeping me afloat as I dick around with Rocksmith. That and, another thing I’ve discovered about myself, I can actually comprehend pitch. There was a while there that I thought I was somewhat tone-def. I think that might have been a slightly crazy thought, but I do think that I have no idea of what my voice sounds like. This is especially funny to me considering how much time I have had to spend listening to myself for that show we do, 3 Guys Walk Into a Bar. But what the fuck ever. Here’s the takeaway because I’m not sure I’ve done a decent job of describing it – I’m starting to think that this game actually is teaching me some guitar technique and it actually is improving how I play. But if you’ve been thinking of picking it up, consider first that I might be a unique case. I was pretty familiar with the guitar to begin with, I’ve just got some holes in my technique and skill.
Here’s some more buying advice – the guitar that comes in the game + guitar bundle ain’t bad. But I don’t think it’s $200 good. It might be exquisite quality wood. I might have top-notch pickups and machine heads. I don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s an Epiphone Les Paul Jr. which, is totally a good guitar, but you can also pick one up for around $100. Hell, I picked up my non-“Junior” Epiphone Les Paul for about $150 and it came with a case, some extra strings, some picks, a small practice amp, and some cables. Now… the extras those bundles come with tend to suck, but they are also totally sound (heh) and sturdy. My very first cable practice amp still work today, even though I picked them up about 15 years ago. Run and tell THAT, homeboy. Epiphone is Gibson’s “factory guitar” sub-company. Their guitars are on par, usually, with the cheap-to-mid Fender guitars. Fender’s are pretty fuckin’ good. Even their shit-box-entry division “Squier” doesn’t sell an actually shitty guitar. Squiers are pretty decent guitars, and you can pick up one of those off of Craigslist for a sweaty copy of “Shaved”. I’m partial to Gibsons, but you shouldn’t go investing your money into a Gibson until you’re sure you’re into it. Epiphones, cheap Fenders, Squier, and Ibenez’s are the way to go. Look for an inexpensive bundle from one of these companies or, frankly, any of the established guitar makers. They all put out good shit. Here’s what I think you should get – A decent Squier. It doesn’t need to be the one that I’ve linked to, but a nice, sturdy Squier Strat or Epiphone Les Paul Special (not Junior). These guitars will absolutely help you learn technique and skill. They will test you. They will not mask your shitty playing. They are inexpensive but they are not “cheap”. I still have the Epiphone Les Paul Special that I bought in High School, and it is still my favorite guitar. There is a caveat to that, but it’s one that I’m happy about sharing – these guitars are infinitely upgradable. You can drop-in-drop-out pickups, similar bridges, toggles, pots, and machine heads. They’re cheap enough that, if you haven’t become emotionally attached, you can drill, route, and cut if you need to in order to do another mod. You can swap pre-made necks or otherwise parts and it will be cheap and easy because, much like popular car models, there are a shit-load of aftermarket parts that are either universal or specifically made for these extremely popular guitar models. My original Les Paul Special now boasts two high-end humbuckers, some specialized wiring, and some pretty alright machine heads. The original wood it was made with might not have the greatest tone ever, but I usually play with distortion anyway, and usually quite a bit of it. Tone is often a moot point for me.
But tone is important for you to understand. Each guitar is different. There aren’t a lot of variations from guitar to guitar in a “factory model”. Most Fender or Squier Strats and Epiphone Les Paul’s are going to sound exactly the same. But a Les Paul will sound different than a Strat and both will sound different than a GRG120BDX. Furthermore, each model has features. Want a tremolo? Otherwise known as a “Whammy Bar”? Don’t get a Les Paul. Get a Strat or an SG. Maybe you want just one pickup, maybe you’re partial to humbuckers, maybe you think singles sound better, maybe you’re into five-way toggles, blah blah blah. You can really get into minutia. But if you’re just looking to hit the ground running, pick up Rocksmith and that Squier I mentioned above. Get to gettin’.
tl;dr – Rocksmith is a lot better than I initially thought, I fixed a guitar, and if you’re thinking of guitaring, just pick up a cheap-assed Squier.
One last piece of consumer advice… the song roster is pretty decent and the DLC songs are pretty good but… man, there really needs to be a lot more. I completely understand why there wouldn’t be, but fuck… that’s what this game needs more than anything. More songs.
OH! – I almost forgot. There is a DLC expansion pack for Bass Guitar. It’s fucking brilliant! Maybe a little pricey, but if you think about it, it’s pretty worth it. Also, my first Bass guitar only cost me about $120 buck. It’s a sturdy Ibanez with so-so hardware from “okay” wood that came with a practice amp, case, etc. It’s pretty alright. And I do feel that I’m learning shit playing the Bass on Rocksmith. I don’t know why I capitalized “Bass Guitar” but I’m too lazy to go back and change it, so fuck yourself if you feel like complaining about it.