Review: The You Rock Guitar

The You Rock Guitar is, without a doubt, one of the most hyped peripherals to ever grace the music video game genre. With the promise of not only the most realistic Guitar Hero/Rock Band controller of all-time, but a fully-functional digital guitar as well, fans of both real and fake instruments have been incredibly curious since it was announced.

In an exclusive interview I conducted while with Examiner.com earlier this year, Inspired Instruments CEO Kevin Kent spoke very highly of his and Inspired Instruments’ President, Cliff Elion’s creation. He claimed the guitar would essentially change the face of the music game genre.

The guitar, which retails right around the $200 mark, is unique in the sense that it is able to connect to nearly any device and play music. Players can connect the device to PC’s, Macs, iPods, iPhones, and even just plug their earbuds directly into the headphone port and rock out completely untethered. This is great for people who either can’t afford an amp, or don’t feel like being stuck to the confines of their cable.

Kent truly believes that this guitar, along with it’s revolutionary You Rock Mode will be able to effectively bridge the gap between plastic rockers and real rockers and help lessen the learning curve, which is generally the reason that new players end up dropping the instrument.

“The You Rock Mode is a way that someone with little or no competency on playing a guitar can play it and learn those primary melodies, chords, and scales that are a prerequisite to playing rock and roll music,” said Kent in our previous interview with him. “Because our neck is disconnected from our strings on the right-hand side, we can block out or map out the fretboard. People ask us, ‘what’s the game component of the You Rock Guitar?’ It’s not so much a game component as it is a fun component. One thing I know from gamers (of Guitar Hero and Rock Band), is that they see it as a migration, but not a competition. When you’re playing Guitar Hero, now you’re playing alongside the master tracks, so you sound great! We wanted to be able to give that experience in our $200 jamming mobile guitar.”

So does the You Rock Guitar live up to the hype, or does it fall by the wayside as a failed experiment in the music game genre? Read on to see if Inspired Instruments has effectively changed the game.

Presentation

The first thing you’ll notice about the You Rock Guitar is that it’s packaged like a typical Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller. That is, in a fairly small box that is full of bright colors and a list of features. There’s even a nice little handle to assist in carrying the box in case you don’t want to purchase the carrying case for the guitar.

Packaged within the box is the guitar itself, a strap for the guitar, three You Rock Guitar branded guitar picks, two cables (one that connects the guitar to a USB port and one that connects it to an amp or standard recording device) and documentation such as an instruction manual and a poster that assists new players in playing chords and notes on the fret.

Upon opening the box, you’ll note that the the equipment is efficiently packaged and very securely tied down. It really takes a good bit of effort to get the guitar removed from the box, but we’d much rather it be that way than loosely thrown into the box.

Once you have the guitar out, the next step is to attach the neck, as you do with Guitar Hero guitars nowadays. You’ll notice that the guitar’s body is pretty small when compared to most real guitars. The body feels very solid and definitely doesn’t feel awkward to hold like some of the earlier Guitar Hero controllers felt.

The You Rock Guitar is certainly lighter than the standard wooden-body guitar, but definitely heavier than a standard guitar controller. As far as looks go, it falls right in the middle, not looking an incredible amount like a video game controller, but at the same time, differentiating itself from standard guitars.

The body is small with a good feel to it. The small, black body features a small 5.5″ section that has steel strings to give the guitar even more of a “real guitar” feel. While this is definitely commonplace in the world of MIDI guitars, it’s an entirely new concept in the world of game controllers (which we’re now seeing adapted for games like Power Gig: Rise of the Sixstring and Rock Band 3).

The face of the body features a whammy bar on a slider (much like is seen on a typical game controller), a volume knob, a joystick that can be used to select items in game menus or to add a wah-like effect, and two buttons that either select what effect you want to use or act as pause and select, depending on which mode you’re playing in.

The body also features the control panel, which is comprised of several buttons. One pair sets whether the guitar will be playing music or attempting to sync with a video game console. The other buttons are for use with using the guitar as a musical instrument. The buttons assist in setting the tuning, the play mode, whether you want to have “Tap Mode” (meaning you don’t have to strum) enabled, and whether you want to play in You Rock mode (which we’ll get into later). The control panel also has a display screen that tells you what effect you are using. With around 100 effects built into the guitar right out of the box, this screen will become your best friend if you hope to make the best use of it’s full repertoire.

The remaining buttons allow the user to select MIDI mode, or to elect to jam alongside one of several well-known riffs. Players can even record their own licks and play along with them later using these buttons.

Outside of the body, fans of real guitar and guitar controllers alike will be caught off-guard by the sleek fretboard, which features neither buttons nor real strings. Instead, the fretboard consists of a multi-touch sensor that detects where your fingers are placed for accurate note playing.

In order to give players a feel of playing the real guitar that this device is set to emulate, Inspired Instruments went ahead and added raised artificial”strings” along the fretboard to help players feel as though they are, in fact, playing a real guitar. The only other real defining aspect of this guitar, which may really send players for a loop, is the fact that there is no headstock. This is due to the fact that it’s completely useless without the need for the guitar to be tuned. If you really want the guitar to look more “normal”, however, different style headstocks will eventually be available for purchase by way of the You Rock Guitar website.

As we all know, however, it doesn’t matter how sleek and sexy a device looks. What it all boils down to is the functionality and how well the instrument works at performing it’s intended tasks. Read on to find out the You Rock Guitar scored in a full-on performance test.

Guitar Functionality

Despite the marketing of the You Rock Guitar as a game controller, there is no doubt that this device is a musical instrument first. Not only does the guitar have numerous guitar features built in, but it does the vast majority of them very well.

From the first strum of the 5.5″ string section, you’ll notice that two things. First, the steel strings, which are strung just slightly looser than a standard electric guitar would be tuned, feel responsive and overall very strong. At first, you might be a little cautious about strumming as hard as you might on an actual guitar, but soon enough you’ll realize that the quality of the instrument lends itself so that after several hours of responsible play, the only signs that the guitar has even been played will be a huge collection of fingerprints and smudges on the shiny black body and a few marks on the strings where the pick has slightly scraped off the finish.

The second thing most players will notice upon the first few strums will be the ease of use of the fretboard. Unlike the nylon strings that are generally on an electric guitar or metal strings that are on many acoustic guitars, this fretboard will not hurt your fingers at all. They won’t rough up the finger tips if you try to slide and they won’t even force your fingers to callus up. This is a huge perk for those hoping to learn the instrument without the pain associated with new fingers on an actual fretboard, but may make it tough to actually transition to more standard guitars down the road.

The fretboard itself is very responsive, almost to the point that it’s too responsive. The touch pad that is below the faux-strings is very solid and will pick up nearly any finger placement that you can throw at it. The only issue that was encountered during extended play sessions was that many times the fretboard would play one note by accident as the hand is transitioning to another chord or note. It certainly wasn’t a huge issue, but it happened more than one time.

Hammer-ons and pull-offs might be a little too sensitive and temperamental as well. When playing something easy, such as “Ode to Joy”, some notes might double-play due to the fact that the instrument does not recognize whether you are meaning to play the note or you are simply transitioning your hand to the next note to strum shortly after. Again, nothing enormous, but enough of an issue to warrant being mentioned.

As mentioned earlier, the guitar comes stock with about 100 unique sounds ranging from a great acoustic effect to heavily distorted electric leads to even a few synth effects, but even cooler than that is all that you can do with the guitar if you plug it into a computer. Since the guitar puts out a MIDI signal, the effect can be easily manipulated into whatever sound is available on the computer. Garage Band on Macs comes to mind immediately and it serves as easily the best and most simplistic piece of software to be used with this device. Since you can’t get Garage Band on PC, however, you might have to get a little more creative. There are several types of MIDI software on the internet available for purchase, but some of them can be a little pricey. It might be best to just stick with the stock effects, and if you need more, to buy them from the official You Rock Guitar effects site once that launches.

If you get sick of strumming and just kind of want to nail some hammer-ons and pull-offs in rapid succession, then “Tap” mode will certainly tickle your fancy. In this mode, you can bring out your inner Eddie Van Halen and tap as long as you’d like without strumming. It’s insanely fun and could definitely serve as an effective learning tool in terms of hand placement and technique for those to want to learn to tap on standard guitars as well.

The feature that the company has really been advertising a lot has been the guitar’s “You Rock” mode, which is potentially the most useful tool for those looking to learn to play guitar. The You Rock mode disables all of the notes except those that are in a particular key. This feature will greatly benefit those that don’t know how to play scales and want to learn the beginnings of laying down a nice guitar solo. The only thing that could really improve this feature is to have the fretboard feature lights that show you exactly where to play (as some keyboards and other MIDI guitars have done) in order to give a little more guidance. Luckily, there is no shortage of information on this subject online and in the enclosed documents with the guitar.

Players are even able to play alongside several famous tracks, which the company avoids getting sued by the labels and artists by claiming that the riffs are used throughout the history of rock. In addition to that, they named the songs slightly off of the original name. In another cool add-on to this feature, players can also record themselves playing and then loop that so that they might play lead over their own created riffs.

So obviously, the You Rock Guitar excels as a musical instrument. The major question that remains is “does it live up to the hype as a video game controller?”

Game Functionality

One of the main selling points, and the reason that the You Rock Guitar has earned so much publicity, is the fact that the guitar doubles as a Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. There are a few problems with it’s execution, however.

First of all, you will need to purchase a separate GameFlex cartridge for the guitar for each console you hope to use it with. The Wii has it’s own and the PS3’s USB-based Game-Flex cartridge can also be used to wireless connect to the PC. The 500-pound gorilla in the room, however, is that the compatibility hasn’t quite been worked out for the Xbox 360, which is the most popular console being used by music gamers. Even though it is likely due to Microsoft’s strict standards for wireless technology (remember, Guitar Hero 2 and Rock Band equipment were completely wired) this could potentially be a huge hit to the sales of the You Rock Guitar.

Once you get the proper equipment, all you need to do is insert the GameFlex cartridge into the bottom slot of the You Rock Guitar and sync it to your system. Each GameFlex cartridge comes with detailed instructions on how to sync the guitar to the system, so it will not be an issue.

Once you fire up the game, be sure you calibrate lag, because it did have some different results when calibrated within the in-game menu. Once calibrated, you’ll be able to select your song and get ready to rock.

Upon starting up your first song, you’ll likely be very frustrated at what you cannot do compared to what you can normally do with a controller you’re used to. If you’ve ever switched from Guitar Hero controllers to Rock Band controllers (or vise-versa), you know that some lag in skills exists due to the minute differences in the controllers.

Those differences are much more well-defined with the You Rock Guitar. Not only has a strum-bar been replaced by strings, but buttons have been replaced by frets. This makes it near impossible at first to remember where your hands are positioned during songs. You’ll even catch yourself looking down at your hands in between notes and chords to verify your position. More times than not, in the beginning, you’ll find yourself getting lost on the fretboard.

As with any controller, you will eventually begin to get the hang of it. You’ll learn exactly where your hands should be to play each note, but you will likely continue getting lost on the fretboard more than you would on a buttoned controller. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that there is no differentiation between where the controller part begins and ends, which is probably for the best since it would likely hinder the play of the guitar in “Music” mode.

Another issue that occasionally pokes it’s head up is the fact that the string will sometimes not strum properly, causing the player to miss the note. While it is a rare occurrence, it is certainly an issue at times that can pile on top of the fact that the controller is unfamiliar.

On the positive side, the guitar definitely will assist players in learning to strum strings rather than a strum bar, as there definitely is a difference. There are also solo buttons, which enables the guitar not only to utilize the Rock Band solo feature, but will also help players learn to transition their hands if they ever choose to make the leap to a real guitar.

All in all, the guitar is not the most amazing Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller, but it is functional and it will certainly look a lot cooler than playing any of the plastic guitars that came with the other music games. Check out the overall evaluation in the final part of the review.

Closing Thoughts

Nearly any way you look at the You Rock Guitar, you can see that it’s an incredible value. Whether you want a new guitar to jam on or one to learn how to play on, this device is able to be had for about the price of a middle of the road beginner guitar.

The real hidden value is that you can plug the You Rock Guitar directly into any computer and, with the right software, record great quality tracks. In fact, the only way that this guitar can be viewed as anything but a value is if you look at it as only a video game controller.

When looking at the You Rock Guitar, do not look at it as a game controller and digital guitar as it is advertised. Instead, look at it as a fully functional, digital guitar that is rich in features and happens to have the added bonus that you can use the guitar to play games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

If you’re looking for a new guitar and don’t care if it’s a standard guitar or not, you would definitely do yourself right to check out the You Rock Guitar, especially since it can also act as a Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller. Just don’t expect it to fully replace your current plastic axe of choice anytime soon.

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5 Responses to Review: The You Rock Guitar

  1. Chilli says:

    US only release or worldwide (Australia)?

  2. PSPCOW says:

    Damn that Strat with RB parts looks AWESOME!
    On topic: what I wanted to know is if this was a good game controller, as I have no interest of playing a real instrument. Guess I’ll have to wait for the real RB3 strat….but I still want the fake, full sized strat……………………………………………………………..strat

    I wonder why this guitar was heavily advertised as a Guitar Hero/Rock Band controller if it does so many other things better. The GH people is not the people they should target the most. For a stringer guitar, it looks even tinnier than the upcoming Power Gig guitar.

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