September 5, 2009

New Features of the Guitar Hero 5 Guitar

The Schecter-alike fake plastic axe introduced with Guitar Hero: World Tour was (and is!) one of my favorite fake plastic guitars, ever.

The Guitar Hero 5 guitar looks nearly identical to its older sibling — and it is identical in shape and size — but there are some key differences if you look closely.

(warning: I have received direct reports that the Guitar Hero 5 guitar package in Europe does not include the new, updated guitar model, but instead substitutes the same old World Tour guitar. If you’re in Europe, double check before buying!)


Obviously, the faceplates are different. The GH5 faceplate offers a faux metallic red with white pickguard. It looks OK in static photos, but it does not look very good in person, in my opinion — it’s trying a bit too hard to be something it clearly isn’t. Plus, I have made my own real metallic faceplates and they look a zillion times cooler than this cheesy photoshop printing effect.

But that’s purely cosmetic, an issue of taste and preference, and anyway the faceplates are designed to be easily swapped out. Let’s move on to the real differences.

For one thing, the pegs on the headstock are now chrome!


I used a silver sharpie to achieve a similar chroming effect on my other guitars, but it doesn’t look nearly as good as the factory chrome effect. A nice detail touch.

The strumbar, star power button, and navigation control are all rubberized now. This is hard to show in photos, but immediately obvious when you handle the guitar. Notice how the area around the strumbar is very shiny while the strum itself is flat and matte — it’s rubberized!


Allow me to explain using the Xbox 360 controller as a point of reference: the old strumbar was hard smooth plastic like the controller triggers; the new strumber is rubberized plastic like the analog sticks.

The touchpad has gone from analog to digital, and now features embossed marks at each end and in the middle, so you can more easily “feel” where you are on the touchpad. The colored dots on top of the neck (cleverly printed on both side for lefties or righties) are also new, and way more logical than printing the colors on the surface of the touchpad where you can’t even seen them while playing!


While the jury’s still out on the overall usefulness of the touchpad in the big scheme of things, these changes definitely make it easier and more effective to use than the older model.

Beyond that, the guitar fret buttons look and feel unchanged. They are identical.

There is, however, one major change that isn’t visible from the outside — the internals of the strum have changed in a big way for the Guitar Hero 5 guitar.

The World Tour guitar had sophisticated leaf-switch activation, with two springs physically attached to the strum to provide centering force and resistance.


The Guitar Hero 5 guitar, on the other hand, has reverted to the classic, and much simpler, Les Paul switch mechanism. No springs, no fancy leaf switches, back to simple plastic digital switches exactly as in the GH3 Les Paul.


(The above photo is from a Les Paul, because I forgot to take photos when I disassembled my GH5 guitar. Anyway, the GH5 switches are identical in shape, size and function except they are two physical parts instead of one.)

This is probably the most dramatic change to the GH5 guitar, and definitely changes the “feel” of the strum. How you react to this will depend how you feel about the Les Paul strum action versus the GH:WT guitar strum action. After spending some time with both models, I slightly prefer the smoother, frictionless action of the fancy spring-tensioned GH:WT strum — but I can see why people might want a basic digital switch strum, too.

Anyway, that’s probably way more detail than you ever needed. I can’t believe you even read this far!

At any rate, now you’re equipped to go forth and decide on the fake plastic guitar that best fits your play style.

August 21, 2009

Rock Band and Guitar Hero Guitar Straps

In Adding a Custom Guitar Strap I mentioned one of the easiest and most effective guitar “mods” is to buy an aftermarket guitar strap.

Most fake plastic rockers don’t know this, but the Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitars will accept standard issue guitar straps. The strap pegs are almost the same size and position as a real guitar. You can walk into any guitar store, pick out a custom guitar strap, and use it on your fake plastic guitar.

So, you can get tons of real, aftermarket guitar straps; I’m partial to the Dunlop Lucky 13 series pictured here. There are sometimes issues with the pegs fitting odd straps, but for the most part any guitar strap “just works” on a fake plastic guitar — and they’re often much more comfortable than the cheap default straps, too!

But let’s take a look at the “official” guitar straps for Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The Guitar Hero store has offered 2″ custom guitar straps for a while. I’ve owned two of these, and they’re not bad. A little flimsy, and somewhat short for my tastes, but a solid upgrade from the default strap for five bucks. My favorite is the “flying cassette”, which was the loading theme for the classic Guitar Hero II.


The Rock Band straps are a bit more understated, as befitting its art style:


They can be had on Amazon:

I haven’t personally used the official Rock Band straps, but they get positive Amazon reviews and cost about $9.

August 20, 2009

Too Many Fake Plastic Rock Accessories?

I spend a lot of time on this blog documenting my fake plastic rock obsession, and that includes a lot of what can charitably be called “accessories”:

But I am unashamed! If loving fake plastic rock is wrong, I don’t wanna be right! Also, I can stop any time I want. I just don’t want to, man!

How do you know when you’ve taken this accessorizing too far? This brief but hilarious Weebl animation tells the sordid tale. (do click through to watch!)


But where do you draw the line? What’s next after adding vocalists and drummers to the mix?


Where does it all go from here? Does it get crazy realistic?


I don’t know either, but I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be awesome.

June 17, 2009

Fixing The Guitar Hero World Tour Guitar Strum

Although the Guitar Hero World Tour Guitar is my current fake plastic axe of choice, there have been some issues with it. Besides the analog touchpad, which can be effectively ignored (and even disabled completely within the Guitar Hero: World Tour game options), the main problem people had with the GHWTar is that the strumbar tends to malfunction. That is, you’ll see double-strumming (over-strumming) or failing to register up or down strums.

Well, it finally happened to me — my own GHWTar began double strumming intermittently! Fortunately, there is a fix, as long documented on the ScoreHero forums by superGOAT.

Some guitar batches have faulty strum switches, so let’s replace these stock switches …


… with Radio Shack SPDT submini level switch model #275-016. They are $2.99 each.


You’ll need these items to perform the fix:

  1. Two (2) #275-016 Radio Shack replacement switches
  2. T-10 Torx screwdriver
  3. Small philips screwdriver
  4. Soldering iron
  5. Pliers

Unscrew the body of the guitar, crack open the body shell, and locate the strumboard. It’s held in by 4 screws, so unscrew those and pull it off. Then desolder the existing switches from the three contact points on the strumboard — six in all — and resolder the new switches in.


The new switches are exactly the same size and shape as the old ones, so it is a perfect drop-in replacement.

I just performed this surgery on my two GHWTars, and it’s pretty easy. The hardest part, honestly, is desoldering the existing switches. I recommend using a pair of pliers to grab the switch on the narrow ends from the bottom. The pliers will hold the strum plate in place while you solder from the top with your other hand. Wiggle the strumboard up and away as you heat up the solder. Yes, it does help to have a “third hand” here; I braced the pliers against my stomach instead.

I did not need to use any new solder. Simply loosening the solder and wiggle-pulling the switches out left more than enough solder in place to secure the new switches.

If you need more detail, Josh Straub has an awesome walkthrough of the strum replacement procedure from start to finish. In fact, Josh has some really excellent walkthroughs of a bunch of useful fake plastic instrument mods, and I highly recommend checking them all out. Please note these are all specific to the Guitar Hero: World Tour Guitar, though:

  1. Loose whammy repair guide
  2. Broken whammy repair guide
  3. Strum bar tightening guide

And for the Guitar Hero: World Tour drum kit

  1. Drum sensitivity repair guide (but you should request your free, official MIDI tuning kit from Red Octane, first!)
  2. Fix collapsing drum kit stand legs

Although I don’t play Guitar Hero: World Tour much for reasons I’ve described before, I still dabble every now and then, and I like to use the real 6-input GH:WT drums for GH:WT drum charts because of the weird 5-input Rock Band drum mapping. That collapsing drum legs fix is exactly what I was looking for. My GH:WT drumkit lists to the left like a drunken sailor after every song.. looks like I’ll be headed to the hardware store tomorrow to pick up a cotter pin!

June 15, 2009

MadCatz Premium Guitars

Remember the Mad Catz Precision Bass?

Well, its wireless (and significantly improved) cousin has arrived in three different colors for $89.99. The first one had some definite issues (most troubling were reports of poor strumbar accuracy), so perhaps this second iteration will be the one that’s worth getting.


Based upon the critically acclaimed Mad Catz Fender Precision Bass, the all-new model arrives on Xbox 360 as Mad Catz’s first licensed wireless accessory for the Xbox 360. Connecting directly to the console without a need for a USB dongle, the internal technology is the same as that used in Microsoft® controllers. The new model features a host of new innovations designed to further enhance game play. The premium Fret Buttons have been redesigned to allow for quieter operation and now feature a quick recoil action for faster game play. The Mad Catz Split Strum Bar has been further refined to replicate both the up and down fret bar movements, essentially allowing for faster strumming than ever before. As before, both the Fret Buttons and updated Split Strum Bar have been stress tested and playtested to ensure that it is possible to achieve 100% in ’Expert Mode’ should the player’s abilities be up to the challenge! With a choice of White, ’Hot Rod Red’ and ’Sea Foam Green’ colors, gamers can now choose a Bass to match their style. .

Mad Catz is also, like Logitech, getting into the ultra premium wooden guitar replica business. At $299, their stratocaster replica ain’t cheap, but I must admit the metallic candy apple red version (not pictured) is mighty tempting.


A precise wooden replica of the legendary Fender Stratocaster and a world first on Xbox 360, the Wireless Wooden Fender Stratocaster Guitar controller from Mad Catz brings gamers closer to the authentic guitar experience. Produced in conjunction with Fender, the replica Stratocaster is fashioned from the same premium wood and fittings used in the genuine guitar and is manufactured at the Fender factory to ensure identical sizing, authentic design and premium finish. Finished in a choice of ‘Three-Tone Sunburst’ or Metallic ‘Candy Apple Red’ designs, the Replica Stratocaster features stunning looks and will become a must-have for any true Rock Band connoisseur. Connecting directly to the console without a need for a USB dongle, the internal technology is the same as that used in Microsoft® controllers. The replica Stratocaster sports the same hardware as a real Stratocaster, including real tuning keys, bridge, tremolo, dials and ¼ inch amp jack. Playtested and compatible with Rock Band and Rock Band 2 as well as other rhythm and music titles, the Wireless Wooden Fender Stratocaster Replica Guitar will be highly sought after by fans and collectors alike.

Update: got $299 burning a hole in your pocket? This guitar is now available for sale.

Getting out of the ultra-premium price realm and back to something resembling reality, they will also introduce $99 premium woodenplastic Telecasters. These look remarkably nice for the price — and are also wireless.



A startling replica of the iconic Fender Telecaster, the Player’s Edition guitar delivers the must-have look and cutting edge technology for every style conscious Rock Band enthusiast. Connecting directly to the console without a need for a USB dongle, the internal technology is the same as that used in Microsoft controllers. Sporting a stunning road-worn ,distressed finish and strap, and available in either ’Sunburst’ or ’Butterscotch’ designs, the Telecaster Player’s Edition features premium ultra fast action Fret Buttons allowing gamers to play at expert speeds with ease. Overdrive activation has been simplified and can now be accessed by using the unique ’Touch Sense Button’ which effortlessly responds to the players touch and removes the need to tilt the guitar. The Mad Catz new premium Strum Bar allows gamers to shred notes like never before while the all-new Bigsby® Whammy Plate allows gamers to bend notes in style!

It’s not commonly known, but all Rock Band Stratocaster guitars have a port for pedal-based overdrive activation. Just check the side of your strat; it’s there. It even works with spare Rock Band drum kick pedals, if you add an extension cord! I’ve heard rumors that you can use a regular guitar sustain pedal with adapter, as well. But if you want an off-the-shelf, authentic looking solution, Mad Catz has you covered with their Electro-Harmonix Overdrive Pedal for $29.99.


Designed exclusively for Rock Band 2, the Electro-Harmonix Overdrive Pedal quickly connects to the Rock Band 2 official guitar, the Mad Catz Wireless Wooden Fender Stratocaster Replica or the Mad Catz Wireless Fender Precision Bass Guitar via a 10’ cable. It allows gamers to simply push the pedal’s soft Activation Switch to enter Overdrive during game play, removing the need to tilt the guitar and potentially miss notes or lose focus. Realistically styled, the Overdrive Pedal is fashioned from tough durable metal and provides an authentic way to rock out like the pros!

All this stuff is supposed to become available sometime in September, around the release of The Beatles: Rock Band.

I have mixed feelings about premium and ultra-premium fake plastic guitars.

For one thing, they’re expensive, obviously. But here’s the real problem: if they’re different enough from the default controllers, there’s a risk that you might get used to “your” guitar and have problems playing on standard setups.

Personally, I think you might be better off buying the regular fake plastic guitars (the still-excellent GH3 Les Paul is dirt cheap these days) and learning to mod them a bit for superior performance; scroll to the bottom of this post for my key fake plastic guitar mod recommendations.

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