January 23, 2009

Get a Real Guitar, Already!

There’s still an unfortunate amount of angst about fake plastic rock; it’s not unusual for me to hear various forms of “Get a Real Guitar, Already!” when I mention how much I enjoy it in a public place or online forum.

But here’s the ironic thing about that complaint: enjoying fake plastic rock sometimes does lead to people picking up real guitars. Guitar Center, who unashamedly sells the fake plastic instruments side-by-side with the real stuff, commissioned a survey that backs this assertion up with data:

  • Of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band players that do not currently play a musical instrument, two-thirds (67%) indicated that they are likely to begin playing a real instrument in the next two years.
  • Nearly three out of four (72%) musicians who play games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have spent more time playing their real instruments since they began playing these games.
  • Eight out of 10 (81%) of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band players that have been inspired to play an instrument because of the games would like to receive a musical instrument as a gift this winter holiday season.

And they have actual sales numbers, too:

Sales of gear for first-timers at Guitar Center has surged along with the peak in sales for Guitar Hero and Rock Band. In the holiday selling season in the last quarter of 2007, Guitar Center saw a 20.7% jump in comparable store sales for beginner-level electric guitar & amplifiers. This surge grew even stronger through the first nine months of 2008, when Guitar Center’s cumulative comparable store sales for the category increased 26.9%.

(this data was pulled from the now-defunct Guitar Center holiday website aRealGuitar.com, but the press release is mirrored over at GameDaily.)

Sure, not every fake plastic rocker scratches the itch to play real instruments. But the highly interactive nature of fake plastic rock is a heck of a lot more likely to encourage people to become musicians than, say, passively listening to albums on an iPod. As a commenter on my blog noted:

Btw, Alan has an interesting comment on users of Guitar Hero, however Guitar Hero has spawned a huge interest in people wanting to learn real guitar. Many of my guitar-teacher buddies are overwhelmed by the number of students they now have, mostly kids who got the guitar itch from the video game.

So the next time someone bugs you about this, remind them that a whole new generation of bands are now forming around kids who possibly wouldn’t have even begun as musicians at all — if they hadn’t picked up fake plastic instruments first.

Dana Robinson just reminded me there are guitar tab songbooks based on the songs in Rock Band and Guitar Hero, which make this transition even more painless. Perhaps these would make a nice gift for the budding young musician/gamer in your life?




I just remind people how stupid their argument is in the first place.

Chris Mayer
January 24, 2009 at 1:13 am

My favorite is when you’re playing and someone says “Uh, you guys do realize those aren’t real instruments?”

What the hell are they expecting at that point?

“What? Aw, Thanks man! I knew something was up was when had to get these at GameStop. And that they don’t really make sound unless the PlayStation is on.”
And then they are worshiped for all eternity solely because of their keen observation skills.

Guitar Hero got me to take up the real thing. I still play fake plastic rock games, but they provide two different feelings:

Fake Rock provides accessibility. Me, my friends and family can start jamming without lugging any equipment around, or worrying if Person A knows song B. It’s all there. Even alone, the scoring and competition gives me a tangible measure of progress. The music comes to me.

The Real Thing is more primal than that, the satisfaction of “I, and I alone did it.” when I finally learned a tough riff. I can put feeling into how I play, and can just mess around with the damn thing.

I’ve turned this into The Rhythm Bastard Experiment (check site), where I try to learn Fake Plastic Rock songs on a real guitar. One of those tab books would help a lot though, but NOOOO, I’m Cheap Bastard. Plus, it would be helpful.

I even did a write up on you:

TL;DR- Takin’ a field trip to Guitar Center.

Rhythm Bastard
January 25, 2009 at 11:06 pm

The people who use the “real guitar” argument are usually the ones giving each other bro fists in Call of Duty.

I generally counter with “Join the real Army.”

January 26, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Hey cool, I was going to mail you about those books. I picked up the Rock Band bass song book and its just awesome. I should make a note that there are two version of the Rock Band books: ones that come with a 8 songs and a play-along CD, and ones that come with 25 songs and no CD. Considering that you probably already own the game, the 25 song one is definitely the way to go.

I love playing both bass and Rock Band. The video games allow me and friends to play a song instantly without rehearsal and it means I can play instruments I can’t play (drums!) and songs outside my skill level.

January 31, 2009 at 6:58 am

I don’t know where to send tips, but here’s a Guitar Hero game for the NES (requires an emulator):

My Review here:

It’s good, but pretty hard and could use some music other than 80’s Pop.

Rhythm Bastard
February 4, 2009 at 1:43 pm


Sigh. More.

Strummer died in 2002, sparing him the despair, and humiliation, of seeing “Complete Control” turned into pure merchandise, a complete parody:

This is the perfect subversion of the Clash’s subversion, anarchy turned into routine, complete with a score-keeping mechanism. Now when Strummer screams “You’re my guitar hero!,” it’s an act of distancing rather an embrace. It’s also, bewilderingly, an act of advertising, the cynical come-on of a hawker. Strummer’s scream becomes a moment not of mutual liberation but of deep creepiness. The ironies are piled so high that the only way out is to ignore them, as Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones have learned to do so well.

Jeff Atwood
February 8, 2009 at 2:11 am

Eh… is it wrong to say I kinda get the (Rough Type) article?

While it did knock on Guitar Hero/Rock Band, the main point he was trying to make was that he felt The Clash “sold out”. It’s the same reason Jello Bifara and most artists stringent on licenscing have: When you license a song for a commercial product, the focus will be taken away from your song.

Granted, the tone seems kind of paranoid and against “the man”, and brings up the issue of of Marxism, saying that by buying Guitar Hero, we’re all consumerist zombies. Makes a couple good points, but he really ignores the bigger picture: what if it acts as an influence, whether to play the real guitar or REALLY get into the Clash. We all can’t be that pathetic and predictable, right?

Maybe he’s underestimating and I’m overestimating the average American intellect.


Rhythm Bastard
February 9, 2009 at 7:29 pm

I am one of these people. I played Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band (now 1 & 2). After playing GH3 for a while, I loved it, and thought “how hard could it really be to play real guitar?” I mean, every time I play GH3 it says “You Rock”….So, I went to Guitar Center and bought myself a starter acoustic guitar. I self taught for a while and then got an instructor. I play every day now, as I have been for a about a year now.

Do my GH3 skills translate to real guitar? No, not really. I wasn’t really so naive as to believe that. However, there is no question to me that someone that can play GH3/RockBand has the ability to learn to play a real guitar, up to some level. It DID inspire me to learn a new instrument and I have enjoyed it so far.

Action Jackson
February 24, 2009 at 1:09 pm

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