September 7, 2009

Mad Catz Wireless Fender Stratocaster Review

Remember that Mad Catz full-size Stratocaster guitar controller? I couldn’t resist its siren call. I am now the embarrassedproud owner of my very own sunburst fake Stratocaster.

The first thing you need to know about the Mad Catz Rock Band Wireless Fender Stratocaster Replica is that IT IS ENORMOUS. It is made from an authentic Stratocaster body, so it is truly a 100% full size guitar. Those other guitars you thought were “authentically sized”? Not even close! See for yourself:

mad-catz-strat-size-comparison

That’s the Mad Catz Wireless Fender Stratocaster Replica next to the previously reviewed Logitech Wireless Guitar and the classic GH3 Les Paul guitar controller. (I didn’t show the GH5 / GH4 guitar, but it’d be a bit larger than the Les Paul.)

The Mad Catz Strat isn’t just full size, but full weight, too. It tips the scales at over 7 pounds with strap.

OK, yes, it’s huge and expensive, but it is also a thing of great beauty.

mad-catz-strat-full

It even comes with a Fender strap (the same one that’s included with the much cheaper Wireless Bass, but who’s counting.)

mad-catz-strat-body

Everything here is authentic — all metal bits and real knobs throughout. There’s even a connection port for the overdrive pedal (the guitar includes the necessary 1/4″ step-down adapter.)

All the standard Rock Band 2 guitar features are present and accounted for, including the effect switch. The strum is of the clicky variety, with the premium Mad Catz “2.5 million cycle” switches.

mad-catz-strat-body-solo-buttons

Flipping it over to the back, we can see the battery compartment (takes 3 AAs, included) and a back cutout. I was initially a little perturbed by the frankenstein-like patchwork on the back of the guitar, but even a real Strat has a similar (albeit smaller) back cutout, as you can see in this picture.

mad-catz-strat-body-back

The headstock, like the body, is from a real Strat guitar, so of course it includes real metal tuning pegs.

mad-catz-strat-headstock

mad-catz-strat-tuning-back

The only part of the guitar that’s plastic is the fretboard; the back of the neck is wood, but the front face is plastic. This is a Rock Band guitar, so the buttons (both solo and normal) are of the standard flat Rock Band variety.

mad-catz-strat-fret-buttons-close

mad-catz-strat-buttons

If you’re concerned about the strategic use of plastic in the fretboard, don’t be. It looks fantastic, and the faux wood effect with metal detailing is first rate. In fact, one of the things I didn’t like about the Logitech Wireless guitar was the odd (and visually jarring) melding of real wood and plastic in its fretboard. The Mad Catz Strat neatly sidesteps this problem by making the fretboard one seamless length of cleverly detailed plastic. The fret buttons themselves feel identical to those of any official Rock Band 2 guitar, with the same action, stop edges and tiny embossed finger position dots.

OK, so we’ve established that this is a guitar so handsome that it utterly blurs the line between fake plastic guitar and real guitar. But how does it play?

The first thing you need to decide is whether you prefer your fret buttons flat (Rock Band style) or embossed/raised (Guitar Hero style). If you love or hate a particular button style, this guitar, despite its awesomeness, will not change your mind. Yes, the “premium” strum mechanism is a bit stiffer and perhaps a bit clickier than a stock RB2 guitar, but it’s a Rock Band guitar through and through. It plays pretty much identically to any other Rock Band style guitar, except it’s substantially larger and heavier. So how much you like it will depend on how you feel about flat fret buttons.

Beyond that, this guitar is large. Did I mention that it’s large? Yes it is VERY LARGE! And HEAVY! I thought I was a fake plastic guitar tough guy, having played with my own custom weighted guitars, and the 6 pound Logitech Wireless guitar with no problems at all. But after playing my first 10 song set with the Mad Catz Strat, my shoulder was killing me. And that’s with a nice aftermarket guitar strap!

If you want a truly full size guitar, be prepared to pay the price in training in your body and shoulders to handle it. Given the size of the neck, you may also need to stretch to reach the fret buttons a bit more than you’re used to. It’s not a deal-breaker (for me at least), but it does take some time to get used to it. And that goes double if you’re a smaller guitarist!

The only real difficulty I had when playing with the Mad Catz strat is with the whammy bar. I guess this is an artifact of the real guitar component locations, but it’s ridiculously easy to hit the back and start knob with the whammy, and it takes some conscious planning to use the whammy without hitting any knobs. The whammy also hangs down much more freely than I’m used to with my other guitars, so it has to be wrangled a bit in use. Don’t get me wrong, overall the whammy works great, but you will have to adapt your whammy style to this particular guitar.

Is this guitar worth $299? If you absolutely love Rock Band style (flat face button) guitars, and you want an awesome looking and great playing full size axe, then absolutely. Well, assuming you’ve got $299 burning a hole in your pocket!

Stop making me want to buy this, Jeff! BTW, I would love to see a shot comparing ALL your different models of fake plastic guitars (and the fake wooden ones!) for comparison.

Jumpman
September 9, 2009 at 5:58 am

Any word if a PS3 version is going to be released and if so, when?

Bill D.
September 11, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I’ve been drooling for what seems like nearly a year since I first saw a photo of this awesome ax. When I saw it was released I was on the phone in seconds with my order.

I’ve spent well over $300 buying and modifying Rockband controllers trying to get as close to a full size, full weight guitar controller. I ended with a 7 pound controller I was happy with but not satisfied. Now matter what I did it was always plastic with lead weights inside.

I have real guitars, too. I have quite a few and they hang on the wall becasue they are beautiful as well as functional. But I would never even CONSIDER hanging a Rockband Guitar controller on the wall with my real guitars. Until Now. This will be hung among the real guitars with pride.

This is how good this controller is; the only bad thing I can say about it is the strap that comes with it is lame. You’ll have to buy a real guitar strap and you may as well get a good one becausee as stated this thing is full weight and you’ll feel it until you get used to it.

5Twenty
September 13, 2009 at 4:59 pm

This would be a totally expensive experiment, but could you take the 360 parts out of this guitar and swap them out with the guts of a Rock Band PS3 plastic guitar?

Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

Bill D.
September 13, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Thank you.

Bill
September 16, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Honestly Jeff, you should spend less on a real guitar and teach yourself to be genuinely awesome and not have to pretend. The feeling of doing it for real is definitely worth it.

Dillon
September 17, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Any further impressions after having it for a week+?

Jumpman

Jumpman
September 18, 2009 at 6:29 am

$300 for a guitar-turned-exclusive game controller? amazing…

Stan Smith
September 27, 2009 at 8:24 pm

> Any further impressions after having it for a week+?

The guide button is a little annoying to use, as is the directional pad, but these are very minor things. Beyond that, these two things:

1) This guitar performs like a RB2 guitar, straight up, so that should determine most of whether you like it or not.

2) It is hard to understate just how large and heavy this guitar is. It’s not for the weak of constitution or those with short hands and small fingers!

It is a beautiful device, but on the whole I think I prefer the Logitech guitar because it’s Guitar Hero button style, and it is a bit more reasonably sized while still feeling authentic.

Jeff Atwood
October 2, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Jeff, I saw this and thought of you:

http://geekcentralstation.blogspot.com/2009/02/scarf-hero.html

A guitar hero scarf!

Alex Andronov
October 3, 2009 at 4:09 am

Video Game \Deal of the Day\ on Amazon.com today for $104!

Rhett
January 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Sold, great deal. Candy apple red metallic.

Todd
January 28, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Thought I’d add a couple of observations. I’ve purchased both the MadCatz Wooden Fender replica (in Metallic Cherry), and the Logitech (only available in Orange) for the 360. I’ve had about 6 weeks with the logitech, and 2 more weeks on the MadCatz.

Both of these pieces are stunning in person and each plays very differently. The MadCatz is truly a full-size Fender, and weighs nearly 7 pounds. The logitech is heavy as well, but not as heavy or as long as the MadCatz. Strum bars are very differnent on each model: the logitech is silent and long; the Madcatz has a firm, quiet “click”. Same goes for the fret buttons. The Madcatz buttons are smooth, easily engage at any place on the button, and always register, even with slight pressure.

The logitech buttons aren’t as easy to engage, and from side angles, I found myself pressing the button (with the side of my finger during slides from the “upper” position for example) and occasionaly the button didn’t register. This got a bit annoying actually. On this basis, I found myself preferring the MadCatz unit.

The real test is how do these models play? For background, I’m a good but not great RB guitarist. I can finish all songs on hard, and about 80% of them on expert at present. I’ve gold-starred a few easy songs, and some passages are just tough. As an experiment, I took a passage that’s always been hard for me – the solo section in Molly Hatchet’s Flirting with Disaster. I’ve never completed this before without overdrive.

On my stock GH3 controller, I just struggled with this section. On the logitech, I found I could make it through the solo, but just barely with use of overdrive. I felt like either my strums or button hit just weren’t all registering during the fast, rolling hammerons in this section.

Finally, I’ve tried this on the Madcatz. The difference is night and day. I easily cleared the solo and the song without overdrive. 5 stars on expert, a new record for me. I found the fast fretwork was just so much easier, I could get the rhythm in my hammerons very easily on these buttons. Further, the “click” strum bar seemed more precise in the many fast sections from this and other songs.

All-in-all, my preference is pretty strongly for the Madcatz Wooden Strat. It feels great, is heavy, and long. My scores have noticeably improved with this over the Logitech unit I had been using. Prior to the Madcatz, the Logitech was my favorite, but having played the Madcatz, the few shortcoming in the Logitech (slightly imprecise strum bar; mushy buttons which lack hard engagement at some funny angles) become more apparent.

I found the Madcatz online for $200, and the Logitech at buy.com for $99 including free shipping! This later price is a killer deal, well worth the investment. Either of these are dramatic improvements over the plastic units, IMHO.

YMMV,

J

Jose
March 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Could I ask for pictures of Les Paul from Guitar Hero III? Just as the cables are soldered to the center of the plate (the one with LEDs)

THX!

Detroi
November 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm

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