Apr 11

Rock Band Pro Mustang Review

Green, Red, Yellow, Blue, Orange … sound familiar?

Remember the feeling of playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band for the first time? Remember how you didn’t care if you recognized the song you were playing? You just wanted to play and have fun. Move your skill level up on the ol’ 5-button axe and feel like a rock star for a while.

After a few years with Rock Band’s ever-expanding library of DLC and import options, some of us have fallen into the comfort zone of only playing the songs we like and know. Rather than learning and mastering new songs we may have just gotten a little lazy. A bit complacent.

Enter Pro Mode

Pro Mode is a whole new challenge on a completely different scale. It brings the excitement back. It makes you want to play the same song you’ve never heard before over and over again until you can ace it. No more worrying whether you actually know the next track in the setlist, but the attitude of “I don’t care what song I play, I just want to play and have fun doing it!” Funny thing is, you usually end up liking the songs and expanding your personal taste in music! Remember that feeling?

Do you play:

  • Rock Band Drums?
  • Rock Band Lead Guitar?
  • Rock Band Bass Guitar?
  • Rock Band Keyboard?

If you answered yes to any of those choices then Rock Band Pro Mode is for you!

It’s a Gateway Drug

Rock Band Pro Mode bridges the gap between plastic instruments and real instruments. Rock Band Pro note charts are nearly 100% comparable to the actual notes played by musicians. Harmonix claims that if you can conquer the Expert Pro tracks on your plastic instrument of choice, then you are prepared enough to play the song on a musical instrument. Rockstars, I couldn’t agree with them more!

If you can shred Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” on Pro Expert guitar or bass then you can recreate the guitar parts on a real electric. If you can master the Pro Drum charts on expert on Rush’s “Working Man” then you can beat the skins on a real drum kit. The Pro Keyboard Expert Pro charts are the notes that just your right hand plays, so that will only get you halfway to becoming a Piano Man (or woman)…but still, all of this is enough to impress your friends, and even learn some music theory along the way! Rock Band can now teach you how to play real instruments.

Rock Band’s pro mode is very thorough and will pay back what you put into it. It features the four standard difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert. The higher the difficulty level, the more notes you will have coming at you. There is an excellent tutorial mode built into the game, and every song in your library that is Pro instrument capable — and remember every song on the Rock Band 3 disc is Pro guitar and bass capable — features a training mode that breaks down main riffs or passages of the song for your learning pleasure. There is also the standard practice mode for practicing the whole song at once. One minor gripe here is that when learning sections of a song the game will only let you slow the passage down to about 60%. This makes it difficult when there are a ton of notes coming out you.

One possible alternative is to obtain song tablature for the song that you are learning. Guitar tablature is a numbering system that tells you what notes to depress on the fret board and what string to strike with your picking hand. This is essentially the musical notation that Pro mode utilizes, but with a few tweaks. Kids, don’t expect to pass these songs on the higher difficulties by sight reading. Just as when you are learning new music — memorization and practice, practice, practice develops that all important muscle memory! No joke about it, the learning curve for Rock Band Pro mode is steep.

Did I mention that real electric guitars have 6 strings and 21 frets? This gives us a possible 126 “buttons” that our left hand is responsible for and 6 strings that our right hand is accountable for.

From 5 Buttons to 12 Notes

There are 12 notes on a guitar, which is quite a jump from our old 5 button guitars.The majority of songs that Rock Band covers use guitars with “standard tuning”, which means the open strings are tuned to certain typical notes, and that’s the context of this lesson.

The guitar is a great instrument because it takes the same 12 notes and lets you play them on different frets on different strings. So, I can play a low sounding E note or a high sounding E note. They are the same note, but the octave has changed. Technically, I can play the same E note at different physical areas of the fretboard, but they will sound slightly different.

When holding the guitar in your lap you could play an E note by depressing the A string on the seventh fret, then strumming the A string. There you go, an E note. Or, you could depress the B string on the fifth fret and then pick the B string. Technically — an E note, audibly — a higher pitch E note than we first played with our fretting hand in a different position than the first note.

The guitar, in essence, repeats 12 notes over and over again … it’s just up to you where to play the notes. This is why there are so many “buttons” on a real guitar. Of course, when you’re playing Pro mode, you will need to hit the notes on the fretboard that Rock Band tells you to because they are the boss; I’m just trying to explain why we’re going from 5 to 126 buttons! But you will develop some musical knowledge and technique if you decide to take on the challenge that is Rock Band’s Pro mode.

The payoff can be extremely satisfying, but don’t expect to master an instrument that’s been around for centuries in a week.  Half of the fun is learning, and the other half is being able to play guitar to impress that hot chick at the party. But enough music theory, let’s play some video games!

Mustang vs Squier

There are two Pro guitar controllers available for Rock Band at this time: The Fender Mustang and the Fender Squier. There is a review on the horizon for the Fender Squier, but we’re going to focus on the Mustang for now.

Now, the Squier is a real guitar in every sense of the word. That is, the Squier is fully functioning electric guitar with Rock Band guts. You can plug it into your favorite guitar amplifier, turn the volume up, and keep your neighbors up all night, or fire up your video game console and take your video game band on tour to Europe. Sweet! The Squier controller is for you rockstars that will spare no expense in creating the most realistic Rock Band experience! The flagship guitar of Pro mode!

The Mustang, on the other hand, is a plastic replica guitar with faux strings and an all-button fretboard. It’s close to being a full size electric and much lighter. After hearing about the Squier you may be wondering what this plastic axe has to offer, but if you don’t want to spend the money, or prefer more of a “Lite” Pro mode experience, this guitar satisfies. It’s less than 1/3 the price of the Squier, and it’s a good barometer of how much you will enjoy Pro mode. If you enjoy playing on the Mustang, then chances are you will eventually move up to the Squier controller. And if you hate it, or find it too challenging to realistically make any progress … well, you just saved 250 bucks compared to starting with the Squier.

Playing The Mustang

The Mustang features all of your regular face buttons for navigating menus depending on what console your guitar is for, and also features a midi port — which I have never used, but can function as a midi guitar controller with the proper equipment. The Mustang is wireless and runs on 3 AA batteries, comes with a guitar strap and two guitar picks.

Remember when we said that guitars generally have 126 “buttons”? Well, the Mustang has 102. The Mustang has 17 frets and 6 strings. This isn’t as many frets as the Squier, but provides every bit as much of the Pro experience as the Squier does.

The “touch-sensitive” fretboard provides visual cues in relation to what buttons you press in real time. This helps in not having to take your eyes off the screen to look down at your finger placement too often. When you press down on any of the buttons on the fretboard the corresponding fret number will show up at the bottom of the note highway. It’s the same as pressing down the green or red button on the standard controllers before it’s actually time to play the note- you can see where fretting hand is by noodling around on the buttons in between charted notes. You won’t be penalized for this unless you strike one of the strings.

The 6 strings on the guitar run only the length of the strumming area which is around five inches. The strings themselves have a good responsive feel to them, but don’t feel strung as tightly as a real guitar does. For some they may have too much of a “rubber band” feel to them, though I think they are more than satisfactory in providing physical feedback as well as a sizeable area to strum.

Sliding up and down the fretboard isn’t as smooth as sliding around on real strings on an electric guitar, but the buttons do not require a lot of pressure to depress and I found I could still get around rather quickly.

So long 5 button Plastic Rock

The Fender Mustang body style isn’t very appealing to me, and overall the entire guitar isn’t visually impressive, but the real bread and butter is pairing this guitar with Rock Band Pro mode. It may not be the prettiest, but the Mustang just works. The buttons respond fantastically, and the only times I missed incredible amounts of notes and failed songs was due to my own silly mistakes, not the hardware.

The Mustang delivers in every single way as a gateway controller into the Pro world of Rock Band. The only fault I can find with it is the fact it has only 17 frets. For songs that have guitar notes that would go higher than the 17th fret on a real world guitar, the Rock Band engine detects the Mustang controller and modifies note placement to account for the lack of frets 18 through 22. This won’t affect the majority of players and if you happen to conquer the solos in Crazy Train or The Beast and the Harlot on the Mustang, when you transition to the Squier controller or other full size electric guitar, some of the notes you’ve memorized may not be technically correct. Again, this isn’t even close to being a dealbreaker.

If you haven’t tried Rock Band Pro mode then now is the time! Rediscover the feeling of mastering a new controller and interface by advancing from 5 button rock to the 107+ buttons and real guitar hand positions of Rock Band Pro. The transportation is here for your journey: The Fender Mustang!

Apr 3

The Ultimate Portable Rock Band 3 Setup

I can’t believe it’s been almost six months since Rock Band 3 was released! You may remember just before it came out, I built what I called the Ultimate Rock Band 3 Setup.

But what if you want to take your Rock Band 3 show on the road? That’s right, it’s time to build the ultimate (almost) no compromises portable Rock Band 3 setup — so you can deploy a full Rock Band 3 band setup whenever and wherever you want to jam.


First things first: you’ll need a way to display Rock Band 3 suitable for 7 person band, plus an audience. I’m talking BIG SCREEN here. Fortunately, portable LED projectors have come a long, long way.

This little Acer K11 portable LED projector is under $400 and will project an image at 90 inches diagonal.

All the user reviews on Amazon and Newegg for it are stellar, and it has the two key inputs we need: VGA and HDMI. It’ll happily scale whatever input you send to it down to a solid native DVD-ish resolution of 858 x 600.

Now, you are assuming that there will be a flat, white wall in a semi-dark room for this to work — or even better, a projector screen. And remember it’s only 200 lumens, a far cry from full size projectors which dump out 1700+ lumens. But this is as portable as we can realistically get without hauling an actual full size projector around!


Now that we have video, what about sound? You can’t have a rock concert without concert-worthy sound. We need some tough, self-powered portable speakers built for the road. I found two great options, both are about $70.

Altec Lansing Stage-Gig Amplified Speaker

Polk Audio Hitmaster Stage Monitor Loudspeaker

There’s an excellent YouTube comparison of the two speakers, but the short version is that the Polk has superior and louder sound, but the Altec Lansing is better for stereo use. And since I can’t imagine a rock concert without at least stereo sound, I opted for a pair of the Stage-Gigs. I just can’t compromise on stereo. However, if you want to go for a simpler, single speaker travel setup, the Hitmaster is definitely the way to go.


There’s no getting around it; we need band equipment to rock. I don’t think you can cut corners here in the name of portability, other than opting for fully wireless instruments.

Now, you might prefer the Guitar Hero III Les Paul guitars as they are the smallest modern wireless guitars. But honestly I don’t think the size difference is that big compared to a standard Rock Band Stratocaster. So whatever you have on hand should suffice for guitar and bass (unless it’s the crazy full-size wooden replicas in cherry red or sunburst; leave those things at home, man!) There are “gig bags” that can carry two game-sized guitars, too. I have at least two left over from my Guitar Hero days.

As for drums, I’d stick to the standard full size 4-pad arrangement and drop the add-on cymbals for better portability. This, you’ll need a carry bag for. So either scrounge something up, or splurge for the official Rock Band drums gig bag. A bit spendy at $40, though.

Taking a drum throne would be … excessive … so be prepared to make do with whatever chairs you can scrounge up at the venue.

The wireless microphones (be sure to bring three for harmonies!) and wireless keyboard are more compact and easier to stash.


Oh yeah, we need a console to run Rock Band 3, don’t we? And at least one controller! I favor the Xbox 360 slim because it historically has the best options for rhythm games like the Stage Kit and native wireless microphones.

But you should pick the console where you have purchased DLC, so you can take it on tour with you. Even on the Xbox, where I can swap the hard drive, it’s almost better to take the actual machine I bought the DLC on, otherwise I will have to log in via the internet to my Xbox Live account to enable the content. So do be aware of any DRM issues for your downloaded songs, like if you need internet access at the venue for your swapped DLC hard drive to work!

In order to output to our projector through VGA out (and our speakers through RCA out), you’ll need the Xbox 360 HD VGA Audio/Video cable. The generic version is a mere $5.50, and works fine for me.

It’s a 6 foot VGA cable so the Xbox will need to be fairly close to the projector. Bear in mind you will almost certainly need some RCA splitters and extension cables to get your speaker(s) positioned correctly — but these are easily obtained at your local Radio Shack.


Don’t forget to bring the Rock Band 3 game disc, of course! Wow, that’d be embarrassing to forget that little detail, eh?

Batteries! Either meticulously check all the instruments to ensure they have fresh AA batteries, or have extra AA batteries on hand. Otherwise those wireless instruments will be transformed into useless hunks of plastic.

Also, you might want to carry a power strip to plug everything in and give you a bit of an extension cord to power outlets. At a minimum you’ll have the projector, the console, and the speaker(s). I favor the “smart” autoswitching power strips that turn everything on or off based on the power of the primary outlet, like the Smart Strip SCG3.

So let’s list everything we’re taking on tour with us:

  1. Console + power brick, a/v connector, and wireless controller
  2. Travel projector + power brick
  3. Stage speaker (1 or 2), plus RCA extension cables
  4. Wireless guitars (2)
  5. Wireless drums (no cymbals)
  6. Wireless keyboard
  7. Wireless microphones (3)
  8. Power strip
  9. AA batteries (lots)
  10. Rock Band 3 game disc

Yeah, it’s a sizable amount of stuff. But it’s completely self contained. All you need at the target venue is a dark-ish room of sufficient size with a wall to project on, and some power outlets. You can now deploy the full, concentrated power of Rock Band 3 whenever and wherever you like!

Mar 14

Experienced Guitarist Reviews Fender Squier Pro Guitar Controller

For those still on the fence, here’s a great review by an experienced guitarist from the band Rose of Jericho that goes into detail on the Fender Squier, both as a game guitar and as a real guitar.

I own two Squiers, plus the Mustang. I’m not ready to review them quite yet, but I have messed around with the Squier enough to verify that it performs as advertised in every way. That is, it’s a totally credible pro guitar game controller … and when plugged into an amplifier, it’s a respectable real guitar, too!

This is hands down the best review I’ve read so far of the Squier. If you enjoyed it as much as I did, check out the author’s band, Rose of Jericho.

Mar 7

Fender Wooden Stratocaster Replica Review

Fine.  Be a plastic rock star with your little plastic guitar. That’s cool with me. But some of us need a little more than that.

Sure we’ve all played the Rock Band 1 & 2 plastic Stratocaster. With one of those slung around our necks we looked like some rock n roll giant who had equipped the comically undersized, plastic guitar after looting a small child’s bedroom. We stood there, shredding our favorite Rock Band songs with a child’s toy. Don’t shred too hard — the strum bar may begin to fail! Don’t throw your guitar across the room after failing Freebird again (guilty as charged, senor) — it may snap in two!

I didn’t know Rock and Roll had rules

The average lifespan, from my experience, of a standard Rock Band controller is about 5 months. I’m not even talking about smashing the guitar, or even mistreating it outside of normal usage. I’m talking about the “Trust Factor”. This is simply how much my trust will fluctuate for my Rock Band Strat between the moment I unbox it and 3-5 months down the road when I’m missing notes I’m not supposed to be missing. The Trust Factor is jeopardized because of one glaring issue: quality. After normal wear and tear the Rock Band Strats hardware will start to fail ever so slightly until it has reached unacceptable levels of..um..well, “fail”, and at this time we just buy a new one.

The decline in the Trust Factor is a product of strum bar misses or double strums, fret buttons not registering (or requiring more than modest use of force to press them down in order for the game to register), whammy bar breakage- internally or externally, and star power tilt sensor failure. This is in no way the fault of Rock Band or companies that produce these peripherals. I mean, if they made an everlasting guitar, they wouldn’t make nearly as much money because we wouldn’t ever have to buy a replacement guitar! We need something more reliable than a plastic axe that that will take a nosedive in the trust department twice a year. Would you buy a car that would degenerate over an incredibly short period of time until it was practically undrivable? Of course not! So whether it’s a $60 investment, or a $35,000 investment, we all want our expectations to be met.

I’m all for giving away money every 5 months, but …

Frankly, the Rock Band Stratocaster has not met my expectations. Aside from the quality issues we covered it just feels like a toy in my hands. Rock Band is all about having fun and pretending to be a Rock star. Ultimately, Rock Band itself is just a big toy -granted, but with so much cool Rock Band stuff on the market right now you can come close to making it one heck of a simulation! If you already own (or want to own) the Rock Band Stage Kit or Rock Band Ion Drum Set then you consider Rock Band more than just a toy and have already began moving down the “Rock Simulation” path. Welcome!

A guitar you won’t have to constantly replace

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the Wireless Mad Catz Fender Wooden Replica Stratocaster. Yes, a wooden Rock Band Guitar! The only plastic on this guitar is the pickguard. This fully sized replica of an authentic Fender Stratocaster weighs in at about 7 pounds and is the absolute Cadillac of 5 button Rock Band guitars. Per this excerpt of the product description from Mad Catz:

The guitar neck sports a high-resolution ‘Rosewood’ finish decal, concealing two sets of premium Fret Buttons. The premium Fret Buttons and Strum Bar deliver quiet operation and reliable game play, and have been extensively play tested to ensure that it is possible to achieve a 100% score in ‘Expert Mode’ should the players ability be up to the challenge.

Jeff already reviewed the Sunburst model, but this one is metallic candy apple red. And this guitar, my friends, is built to last. Long after you are inducted into the Rock Band Hall of Fame this guitar will still be functioning the way it was always supposed to. Straight out of the box the Red Candy Apple finish on the guitar was absolutely glowing.  Holding the guitar in your hands you can really feel the weight of instrument. A Fender Stratocaster built for the world of Rock Band! Real tuning pegs on the headstock, 10 low-profile fret buttons in their traditional Rock Band locations, a Guitar Hero style strum bar that gives the convincing “click” feels solid as a rock, 5-way effects switch, the Back and Start buttons disguised as a Stratocasters volume and tone knobs, an authentic metal bridge complete with real string saddles and traditional Fender tremolo system, and an output jack.

If you saw this guitar from far away you would think it was a real electric guitar without strings. Actually, that’s exactly what it is! Take all the guts out and replace with the Xbox electronics, take the strings off, and add a strum bar. BOOM! Now you’ve got yourself a Rock Band guitar you deserve! Every detail just screams quality. This guitar is made to last. It’s made so that you can play your ass off and not have to worry about how it will perform the next time you pick it up. I mean, if you’re not smashing TVs with it or crushing a burglar’s skull with it (I have 100% confidence that this solid wood guitar would win both of those fights). In other words, normal wear and tear will not be a problem for this guitar.

But how does it play?

The low-profile fret buttons allow you to play fast and fluidly up and down the neck. They don’t require much pressure to engage them and don’t make much of a sound when you push them into the neck. The strum bar is not of the mushy Rock Band variety. It’s the Guitar Hero click-click strum device that is louder than the Rock Band strummer, but is much more effective in providing physical feedback when strumming. I prefer the Guitar Hero style strum bar for that reason, and I believe it helps keep my playing accurate. Even when I can’t hear the clicky strum bar I can feel it. There are three ways to engage Overdrive. Just like the Rock Band plastic Strats you can:

Only three concerns worth noting here.

  1. The guitar may be a little heavy for some when having it strapped on for extended playing sessions. The best way to combat this is to buy a comfortable strap. I’ve had the same PlanetWaves locking guitar strap since my band playing days and because this guitar has genuine, metal strap buttons (the plastic Strats have, you guessed it, plastic strap buttons) a real leather or locking guitar strap will work perfectly.
  2. The position of the whammy bar is a bit awkward. Though it’s mounted in the correct position at the bridge, the bar can be fully depressed and touch the pickguard.  When you’re rocking out hard using the whammy bar it’s easy to accidentally press the bar into the select button, which will trigger your overdrive if applicable. The solution to this is to slightly alter your whammy technique. I find angling the bar more towards the ceiling as I prepare to use it so it will clear the Select button and not trigger any ill-timed Overdrive power!
  3. The regular plastic strats have the auto-calibration camera and mic feature onboard; calibration on this wooden guitar is totally manual.

Now go and be a Rock n Roll Giant!

The guitar really plays great and after picking up a few of my old plastic Rock Band guitars I really can’t imagine going back to using them on a regular basis. After playing Green Grass and high Tides on Expert guitar with my old plastic guitar and then this guitar I saw an increase of 3% in my instrument score. BOOM. This guitar means business! If you need a solid guitar that plays better than the stock Rock Band guitars this guitar is for YOU. It will not disappoint — and it’s also on sale for $99 while supplies last from the Mad Catz Store in Candy Apple Red and Sunburst.

The Trust Factor is alive and well!

Oct 16

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. :)