October 16, 2010

The Ultimate Rock Band 3 Setup

Rock Band 3 drops in a little over a week!

I recently had the opportunity to outfit the ultimate(-ish) Rock Band 3 setup at our NYC home office, where we had almost nothing in place except a large plasma TV. So here’s my picks for the Ultimate Rock Band 3 Setup. Fair warning: I may have gone, uh, a little crazy.


There are so many great fake plastic guitar choices now that it basically comes down to personal preference. Guitar Hero 3, 4, 5, and 6 all have unique guitars — having tried them all, I personally think the GH5 guitar is the best of the series. The Guitar Hero style Logitech wireless guitar is excellent as well (and down to about $90 which makes it a killer bargain).

If you prefer the Rock Band style of guitar, that works too. Just be sure to avoid the first RB1 stratocaster at all costs — it had a lot of issues. There are some new RB3 guitars in Blue and Cherry Red which are safe bets, as they have the latest revisions of the guitar hardware. And if you’re OK with the bass-only styling, the Mad Catz Wireless Bass is of comparable quality. There are also some new wireless Fender telecasters in very pretty light blue and gunmetal gray.

For our setup, I elected to go with the wooden Mad Catz Wireless Fender Stratocaster

… in both sunburst and candy apple metallic red, naturally, because I needed two guitars for the band!

These aren’t for everyone because they are truly full size and quite heavy. But they play great, look impressive as hell, and are things of real beauty — which was my overriding goal.

And don’t forget a nice custom guitar strap. All guitars that I know of, real or fake, are compatible with regular guitar straps. They’re not just cooler looking, they’re also more comfortable.

(I don’t think we’ll get into Pro Guitar in the NYC office, but if you will — check out the Fender Mustang Pro Guitar shipping any day now, or wait until 2011 when the honest-to-god-real-guitar will be available in the form of the Fender Squier Strat.)


I favor the Rock Band 3 pro drumkit as a proven choice. It includes the new pro cymbals, which are a marked improvement over the RB2 cymbals, and the drumkit hardware has been progressively refined through three full versions now.

Now, if drumming is “your thing”, or if you need ultimate durability, you could also go with the new Ion Drum Rocker Pro, of course. (Make sure it’s the pro version so it’s fully compatible with everything Rock Band 3 offers, and is the latest and greatest kit). Or, get the new MIDI adapter and use whatever electronic drums you like!

A comfortable, easily adjustable Drum Throne is the difference between a terrible drumming experience and a great one. The more people you plan to play with, the more important this is. I chose the NR Nitro Gas Lift Drum Throne. Easy adjustability is critical in a party / group environment, and having a simple hydraulic height adjust is as easy as it gets. It ain’t cheap, but man — will it be comfortable and fit anyone!

As for drum sticks, I’ve previously recommended the Zildjan anti-vibration sticks, and they are still a great choice. But the plugs on the hollow ends where you hold the sticks tend to come out in play. This time, I went with Vic Firth Drumsticks in 5A nylon tips with rubber dipped grips.

The grips are more important than you might think. If you drum a lot, you will want to wear gloves to prevent your hands from getting blisters — especially if you have girly, sensitive programmer hands like I do. With the rubber grips, maybe that’s not necessary? I’m not sure but I am willing to give it a shot.


Well, duh, the only keyboard we could possibly need is the official Rock Band 3 keyboard — since it is the big new instrument in this release, and everything!

You’ll notice that Harmonix has gone to great pains to never let us see this being played as a keytar. :) Not that there’s anything wrong with keytars, of course, but we should probably invest in the official keyboard stand, so we too can look as cool as possible while tickling the ivories!

It’s also possible to use your own keyboard if you get the MIDI adapter as well.


Ah, the vocalist. Or should I say vocalists? Remember that Rock Band 3, like Green Day and Beatles Rock Bands before it, supports three part harmonies. So you can have up to 3 singers in your band now. While three wired USB mics will work — they’re all pretty much the same — we want to go wireless if possible.

If you are on a PS3 then try the SingStar Bundle, though I don’t see any wireless options. And there’s always the Logitech wireless mic which works on any platform. But, honestly, the standard Xbox 360 wireless mic is the easiest option. While you can buy the mic standalone, it’s generally cheaper to buy it in the two microphone pack bundle with the original Lips game — only $25 on Amazon at the time I am writing this.

Assuming you have at least one wired mic somewhere, you’re good to go for those sweet, sweet 3 vocalist harmonies. If your bands tend to be of the “play guitar or drums and sing at the same time” type, then you also need a microphone stand. The Mad Catz universal microphone stand isn’t fancy (and if you play drums and sing you will need a much fancier boom mic), but it works fine and does come with one absolutely crucial bit of kit — a clip to attach your Xbox 360, PS3, or Wii controller to the stand! The next time a vocalist is trying to remember where the heck they set their controller down between songs and holding up the proceedings, imagine if you could say “it’s right there in front of you!”

Vocalists need a tambourine and cowbell, too, for those sections of songs which require them. Hitting the microphone with your hand works too, but c’mon — that’s not rock! You need a cowbell. And not just any cowbell. You need the NO RULES HEAVY METAL COWBELL with a BRUTAL CUTTING TONE. And, well, a tambourine. And a cowbell beater. Duh.

If you’re crazy like me then you go on to build electronic cowbells and tambourines for the ultimate vocalist battlestation. But the items above should suffice.

Sound System

Unless you can turn it up to 11, it isn’t rock. And no the built in speakers on that plasma TV do not count. We need a sound system that can support a huge rock sound without being too complex or too large to stow — and without breaking the bank.

The Logitech Z-5500 THX-Certified 5.1 Digital Surround Sound Speaker System is what I use in my very own boom boom room and it’s fantastic.

It has a built in mini-receiver “brain” — with remote control — that handles whatever input you throw at it by just plugging stuff in. And it lets you switch between multiple digital analog and analog sound sources at will. With the integrated subwoofer and 5 quality speakers, you get awesome, THX certified surround sound worthy of the world’s greatest fake rock bands.

Stage Effects

I know what you’re thinking. Even more Rock Band 3 stuff? How much more could there be? Hey man, I didn’t call this list ultimate for nothing! You read this far, now shut up and keep reading because it’s about to get awesome up in here.

First, the classic Xbox 360 Rock Band Stage Kit. It is confirmed supported in Rock Band 3, and has LED effects, a strobe, and fogger that are all synchronized with the game itself — it’s fed off the low-level track data.

As I noted in my review, there is a downside: it takes a controller slot because that’s how it syncs the strobe, led, and fogger with the actual song track data. And that controller ends up on the LED pod, which is never in a convenient place. This is a bit more traumatic than it used to be, because in Rock Band 3 vocalists can go into “controllerless” mode to let the bass, guitar, drums, and keyboardist play (count ’em — four controllers). Using the stage kit means you can’t do that. It is still an amazing bit of kit, but it’s probably no longer a good idea if you plan on having guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and a vocalist in your band.

The lighting effects that feed off an ambient microphone are more flexible, though they cannot sync nearly as well with the music as the stage kit can.

The Hexolights are an inexpensive way to dip your toes into microphone based stage lighting.

They’re pretty basic — they have a sound threshold dial, and a speed dial. But you’d also be surprised how decent a microphone based light show can do, because rock music tends to have some very distinct and loud patterns for it to key off of.

If you want to get fancier and more sophisticated, then you get into real DJ stage lights. The variety here is endless, as are the price tags! I went with the basic American DJ LED Color Changing Light Bar, and recorded this video of it in action. It’s still keying off ambient sound, remember.

This guy has about 50 different microphone-activated modes out of the box, and they’re all good. See my full review for more detail.

I’m not saying you need all this stuff. Of course you don’t.

But if you want to rock out in a style truly befitting the almost-here awesomeness of Rock Band 3 … then, you know what to do. :)

Good sir I’m glad to hear that the stage kits will work for 3 but I don’t understand why you do not use a USB hub which could be purchased at Walmart for $15 or less even if you are using one of the older model 360s you would be able to plug all said instruments in have a port for the wireless connector and have a port for the stage kit I believe the older 360s could actually support up to 6 local players and I’d see no reason why rock band 3 would not support that feature (I cannot confirm this on the newer 360s because I myself have not had the pleasure of owning one)

October 17, 2010 at 10:08 pm

tony, yes, you can have lots of USB devices, but there is a four CONTROLLER limit — microphones aren’t controllers.

But the Stage Kit is a controller, so…

“Up to four controllers are able to connect to Xbox 360”

Jeff Atwood
October 18, 2010 at 1:03 am

Hey Jeff,

I hope all is well with you and family. things are going well my end. I moved on from Vertigo earlier in the year.

I cannot wait for the launch of rock band 3. I am still into the drums, my 5 year old boy is looking forward to the keyboard.

It would be great to meet up for a session or two sometime in the near future :)


Liam Molloy
October 18, 2010 at 9:15 am

Thanks for laying out all the gear! Makes me look forward to RB3 all the more.

October 18, 2010 at 9:58 am

I picked up the drum kit and Lips for the mics from here, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time. Hope you get some decent Amazon referral cash. :)

Brian Arnold
October 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Regarding the Logitech sound system, how responsive is it? As in, does it introduce any noticeable lag into the setup? My main concern would be in things like drum fills, since otherwise the in-game calibration should be able to take care of it.

Also, be aware that there are reports that the stage kit does not work with RB3, even though Dan Teasdale (lead developer at Harmonix at the time) said it would:


October 19, 2010 at 12:29 pm

@ricecake I haven’t heard any lag, and when I calibrate I don’t get any weird values, it’s at most like 20ms.

That is a bummer about the stage kit but I’m waiting until the final release before we conclude it doesn’t work.. I hope it does!

Jeff Atwood
October 20, 2010 at 8:25 am

@Jeff Thanks for the info! Regarding the stage kit, I also agree we should wait until final release to see if it really works or not. Personally, I can’t use one since I am on PS3, but I hope it works for those who do have it.

October 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm

well it is confirmed the Stage kit will only act as a controller, and it appears that it was never supposed to work.

Joe J
October 29, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Yes, here is more info with a link to an official statement:


November 2, 2010 at 7:17 am

Is it possible to add a DOUBLE BASS PEDAL to the Rock Band 3 drums? Would that work with Guitar Hero: Metallica?

November 7, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Great article but unless I was doing it all wrong it is not possible to use two wirless mics and one usb mic for all instruments mode because the wirless mics have to pair with the 360 and once you have the keys, bass, drums and guitar all connected there is no way to use the wirless mics. It sucks because in order to have 7 people play you have to use three wired mics. And either a usb hub or a fancy new 360 with extra usb ports. Bummer.

November 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm

My main beef with the RB3 lack of support for STAGE KIT is what else can I use? I think those Hexolights are good. I’ve looked at American DJ site before but… some of that stuff is dangerous, hot enough to cook an egg on, and often needs to be hanged from the ceiling, is heavy, and you’d want to hang it up anyway b/c they’re so hot and dangerous.

Anybody have any other solutions for a setup using lights/fog?

December 26, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Err, the latest post is from October 2010. Is this forum still alive?

January 23, 2011 at 5:31 am

Not sure, but the latest update released today adds in support for the stage kit again.

January 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm

This website is great. Is it still running? Here’s hoping all is well at fakeplasticrock!

February 9, 2011 at 3:27 am

I’m new to this site, I like it so far, and I wasn’t sure where to exactly post this comment but I have a problem with my rock band that i wanted to discuss, and surely find an answer on this website (which may be very helpful to me in the future)

I have a Yamaha DTXplorer electronic drum kit, and the new Mad Catz Rock Band 3 Midi Adapter, and a few games such as Rock Band 2 (have yet to buy RB3) and my favorite Guitar hero Warriors of Rock. Anyway, my yamaha and midi work perfectly fine with my warriors of rock, but seem to be problematic with my RB2. I have the RB1 song import, and plenty of downloaded content for my RB2, and my old generation 1 rock band drums have been destroyed by so much playing (and 4 pedals lol) so i wanted to be able to play all those wonderful drum songs on a lovely and godly new yamaha kit. PROBLEM IS, the notes don’t fully register when i hit them. they constantly over hit, the pedal works fine but in a song, will bring double hits sometimes. when you bring the drums to the drum trainer and through the freestyle playing, the drums register on the game perfectly, and flawlessly. when playing a song however, problems occur, and playing effectively is impossible, and is even a problem when playing the easiest songs. Changing the sensitivity on the Wheel on the midi adapter, and calibrating the drums on the tv haven’t changed much to help my problem. i continue to only play guitar hero as there are no problems there, but fixing my rock band problem would bring so much joy to my playing. Any help at all? anything would be great, thank you!

April 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm

@Tim I was going to say calibration problem, but if it is fine in the trainer, that’s odd. I suggest upgrading to Rock Band 3 (it’s only $19 now) to see if the problem persists. I doubt many will be sticking with RB2 for much longer, so you will have more people to ask if it still happens.

Jeff Atwood
May 16, 2011 at 12:38 am

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